In the epistle today from Acts chapter 6, the apostles have a problem: there is too much for them to do in the growing church community in Jerusalem; and they need some help. The same is true in this church and in many Orthodox churches throughout the world. There is much to do in a growing church community.
This is a sermon about how we can each give more of ourselves—of our abilities, our insights, our time, our energy, our prayer life—to Christ and to this parish church. As my wife Khouriyeh Sylvia said to me last Sunday, “This is a happy parish. No one is moaning or groaning at each other, but I don’t think the congregation realises how much work there is to be done.” Khouriyeh Helen made the same point at the parish council meeting: “People don’t realise how much work there is to be done in this parish.” At the end of the Liturgy you will be able to examine a “Situations Vacant” list at the back of the Church—essential jobs that we need more people to look after by getting involved. Listen up, those of you hearing this sermon on an Ancient Faith Radio podcast, because your parish might need help, too—singing in the choir, serving in the altar, reading the epistle, helping with financial and secretarial work, helping to teach the children after the liturgy, joining the parish council or working on the building and maintenance team.
Those are some of the jobs that need to be done. If you think that you can help, have a word with Khouriyeh Helen or Father Gregory or me or Efrem, who supervises the Rota, or Photini who leads the Sisters of Martha and Mary. This sermon is titled “Called to Serve,” because we are each, old and young, called to serve.
Children, what do you think you might give to Christ and this parish church? Father Gregory has some ideas to share with you for you to consider: . . .
Let’s look more closely at that epistle for today from Acts chapter 6. The local Church in Jerusalem chooses seven men to become deacons and help out the apostles. Two of those men, Stephen and Philip, become outstanding Church leaders. Stephen preached openly to the Jewish Council in Jerusalem of how many Jews had chosen, to use Stephen’s phrase, “to resist the Holy Spirit.” As you will recall, Stephen was then stoned to death and became the first martyr—the first person to die for the Crucified and Risen Christ—the first person to die for the newly formed Christian Church. Now, I am not suggesting that any of us are going to be stoned to death for preaching our faith in Christ, but we should be careful not “to resist the Holy Spirit”—not to run away when we sense that God is calling us to a specific task and that we have the ability to complete that task.
Philip was led by the Holy Spirit out onto the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza; and there he came upon the carriage of an Ethiopian who was the treasurer of Queen Candace. This Ethiopian, whose name is not recorded in the Bible, had come to Jerusalem to pray, and was reading the words of Isaiah the prophet. In Acts chapter 8, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The wealthy, intelligent Ethiopian replied, “‘How can I [understand], unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” and teach him. Then Philip taught him so beautifully and so comprehensively that when they came to some water the Ethiopian treasurer asked, “‘What is to prevent my being baptised?’ And [the Ethiopian] commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water . . . and Philip baptised him.” Then Philip was taken up by the Holy Spirit and returned to Azotus, that is, to his home in Caesarea in Palestine, where, as St Bede tells us in his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles 8.40, Philip lived with his wife and four daughters. Again, I am not suggesting that any of us are going to be taken up in the Holy Spirit, but note that Philip simply listened to the Holy Spirit and went out on a desert road, brought someone to Christ, baptised him and then returned home.
There is in the Orthodox Church a strong Tradition of diakonia—of serving the Church whether or not we are lay people or clergy. St John Chrysostom points out that the word “ordination” means in Greek, “stretching out the hand.” That is what I believe the Lord is doing for many of us today. He is stretching out His hand and saying to us, “Be a more important part of this local church and of the global Orthodox Church. Become aware of your abilities; and use those abilities to serve Christ and serve the Church.”
When I spoke with Sylvia about how we could move from where we are now as a parish to where we hope to be, she offered some helpful advice. She said, “We have to pray to God that He will guide us to be the parish that He wants us to be.” I think that’s true, but it will only happen if I pray and you pray, if we all seek together, what Christ wants each of us to be and to do to build this parish as a small part of His Kingdom.