The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for the fourth Sunday in Easter, 2015

Based on: Acts 4: 5-12 and John 10: 11-18

Given by:  Liz Bowyer

With the people at Knox United Church, Vancouver, B.C.

Opening Prayer:  God of grace and God of glory, may the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.

Its been quite a week, hasn’t it?  Just when I get to thinking I have an understanding of who we are and who God might be calling us to be during the season of Easter, a whole string of ‘never to be repeated’ events came to pass. 

It all began last Sunday with news of Helen Smith’s passing and the family’s request to hold the service here next Sunday afternoon.  Now that will be a first for me and possibly for some of you as well.  

Then we had our celebration of life service for another one of the longstanding faithful here at Knox on Wednesday for the Reverend Doctor Reginald Wilson.  With no less than 14 clergy in the mix of those attending and four clergy co-shepherding us through the service, it was a one of a kind experience! 

Then we had our very successful annual Thrift Sale (my first and possibly your last using the current fellowship space), and then later this morning we will be introduced to Julianne Kue, our newly hired first ever communication specialist.

Quite a mix of old with new, I would say.  That’s my take on this past week and also on our readings for this morning-a real mix of old with new that seems to have us diverting away from the more typical risen Christ encounter stories from the last three Sundays.  What I am learning to do when caught between this blend of old and with new and all the surprises in between is to remember and celebrate that God is in the mix of it all!  With that in mind, then, let’s take another look at today’s readings.

In both cases, it came as something of a surprise to me that the readings spring from other stories about healing, witness, and restoration to community.   Thinking back on the story from the Acts of the Apostles, I am reminded as I re-visited the verses around this morning’s readings, that actions do have consequences.  This same awareness may have come to Peter and John when they are held to account for a number of pivotal acts including  healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus proclaiming a resurrection of the dead and expanding their number by some 5000 or more members! 

Though Peter’s bold declaration of Christianity as the only path to God might feel somewhat politically incorrect in our own postmodern pluralistic culture, for those first followers it was important to distinguish themselves as unique.  Regardless, the response to the healing of the crippled man and Peter’s boldness has garnered an impressive start up response which we will hear again when we celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks’ time.

Then we have a story from John’s gospel that has us turning back the pages from Chapter 20 to Chapter 10 bringing us into another pre-crucifixion story between Jesus and the Pharisees, one particular group of the religious elite.  Here we are privy to a story about Jesus’ claiming of a new identity as “The Good Shepherd” or we might say as God’s co-shepherd of all of Creation.  It’s a familiar and probably comforting story for many of us here but I learned something new when I came to my preparation for this morning by taking another look at the verses surrounding this morning’s readings. 

By doing that, I learned that the context of this morning’s story flows out of another healing story and that is the story of the man born blind who is miraculously healed by Jesus.  From there the man, like Peter and John, is held to account by the religious leaders as he bears witness to his experience of Jesus’ healing presence. 

Here, then, in both readings, we have ordinary, uneducated individuals, some of whom were formerly shunned by their communities now become witnesses and teachers to the power of Jesus as they testify to their experiences under the probing scrutiny of the authorities of the day.

Quite a lot to consider, yes? 

In summary then, here, this morning, we are invited to wonder

Just who are the sighted and who the blind? 

And

How God and Jesus are intertwined in their midst and in our own. 

 At the start of my message this morning, I mentioned that the events of this last week have caused something to shift in me in our relationship as pastor and congregation.  What is becoming clearer to me as we journey together is how you live out your call to be the church in the various highlighted experiences we shared together this last week.  This reminds me of a couple of resources I had tucked away in my filing cabinet. 

 One of the resources speaks to the various ways that churches live out their call.  For example, some churches driven by tradition versus others driven more by events or buildings.  As well, I want to share with you some information about how church size and location affects how churches live out their ministries a little differently so do come and see me and get a copy of that information.   All that said, the article I really want to draw to your attention this morning is an article entitled ‘Thirty Common Characteristics of Smaller Churches’ that comes from a book written by David Ray entitled

 “The Indispensable Guide for Smaller Churches”.

All of these resources are available for our ongoing consideration but for today, I will read you just a few vignettes of how I experienced you this week and you can let me know if they ring true or not:  In a church family of less than 100 regular participants

  • almost everyone knows almost everyone else
  • almost everyone feels and is important and needed
  • organizational functioning is simple rather than complex and sometimes immediate, not delayed

In a smaller sized church, folks tend to

  • be more rooted in history and nervous about the future
  • understand and respond to mission in personal and immediate terms
  • prefer their minister to be a pastor, friend, and generalist as opposed to being a professional, specialist, or chief executive officer

 And

 Last but never least for today the message I want to leave you with is this: 

 In smaller sized churches,

  • the children belong to the whole community
  • people are relationship centered and oriented

 and guess what? 

  • Lay people are more important than the pastor

and

  • worship and eating are their favourite activities! 

 For all this and more as we celebrate the  midpoint of the Easter season, I say ‘Praise be to God’ for our similarities to the early church!

 Hallelujah!  Amen.