The following sermon was preached on Sunday April 30, 2023 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is the fourth Sunday in the Easter season and this Sunday is commonly referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Most of today’s readings focus on the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

But actually, if you go and look at the gospel reading, Jesus does describe himself as a shepherd but he also devotes a decent amount of time to saying he is a gate.

But maybe “Good Gate Sunday” just doesn’t have the same ring as “Good Shepherd Sunday.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God’s abundance.

We lie down in green pastures, we walk beside quiet waters. Our heads are anointed with oil, our souls are refreshed, our cup overflows and we feast at a table lovingly prepared for us.

We can walk through the darkest valley without fear, and proclaim confidently that “surely goodness and mercy will follow [us] all the days of our [lives.]

It’s beautiful but what the psalm doesn’t say is that usually shepherds don’t have just one sheep, they usually have a flock.

The psalm also doesn’t say that while following the Shepherd can be hard, getting along with the other sheep is often way harder.

The book of Acts, where our first reading came from, tells the story of the first people who chose to follow the resurrected Christ. It’s the story of the first sheep. The first Christians who had to figure out how to get along with each other.

And in today’s passage, they’re doing a really great job, but spoiler alert for the next few weeks, things aren’t always this rosy.
Although we often refer to the Bible as a book, it’s really a collection of books or, even more accurately, a collection of various types of writing – there are historical books, books of prophecy, books of poetry, letters, all kinds of writing.

The lectionary doesn’t cover every single verse in the Bible, and it can be really interesting to see what it chooses to leave out but generally speaking, in our three year cycle of readings we read most of the Bible.

We read four passages from the Bible every week, one from each of the four main sections of the Bible.

The first reading is from the Old Testament, which many people are now calling the Hebrew Scriptures in an attempt to be respectful to our Jewish siblings who also consider these to be holy writings. Calling them “old” feels disrespectful and dismissive.

So first we get a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures and then we get a psalm. The Book of Psalms is sometimes called the songbook or prayer book of the Bible which is why I ask you to pray it with me, not just read it with me.

Next comes a selection from the second part of the New Testament. These are letters or other writing by people who lived after Jesus, most of whom had never met him. They detail the lives of the earliest Christians.

And then we get a reading from one of the first four books of the New Testament. We call these four books the gospels. Gospel literally means “good news.” Each one of these books tells the story of Jesus’ life on earth. Because we are hearing words directly from Jesus or about Jesus we treat this reading with a bit more reverence. We sing before and after it, and we stand up – if we’re able – while the gospel is being read.

Standing can be seen as a sign of respect, but it also has a different purpose in the liturgy. The gospels are meant to inspire us to act. So the idea is that we’re all standing at the ready and if you are so inspired by the reading that you need to leave and go do something about it you’re ready to walk right out of the church and do whatever it is you’re feeling called to do.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone actually leave at this point in the service, but if you ever feel so inspired, please do!

So that’s how our cycle of readings normally works, until it doesn’t.
In this season after Easter, our first readings don’t come from the Hebrew Scriptures, they come from the New Testament book of Acts.

And because we’re going to be in the book of Acts for a little while, I thought it might be helpful to talk about that book in general, before diving into our specific reading for today. I want to thank Willie James Jennings for his excellent commentary on Acts which I have found to be a really helpful resource.

Acts is story of revolution. It’s a story told by a master storyteller about the “disrupting presence of the Spirit of God.”

Listen to how Jennings describes it:

“The book of Acts is like the book of Genesis. It announces a beginning but without the language of a beginning. Like Genesis it renders without pomp and flag-waving a God working, moving, creating the dawn that will break each day, putting into place a holy repetition that speaks of the willingness of God to invade our every day and our every moment.

This God of Israel waits no more for the perfect time to be revealed. Now is the time, and here is the place…God moves and we respond. We move and God responds… Cards are on the table and the curtain is drawn back, and God acts plainly, clearly, and in ways that are irrevocable. There is no going back now.” (1-2)

The book of Acts unfolds at a breakneck pace and each chapter shows the early Christ followers learning just how inclusive their new community was going to be. Group after unexpected group receives the Holy Spirit and is added to their number.

The reading we got from Acts this morning is one of my favourites. It paints such a beautiful, inspiring picture of the first community of Jesus followers.

It’s a short passage, so let’s listen to it again. As I read is there anything in particular that jumps out as you as inspiring, or challenging or even scary?

Listen with curiosity not judgement:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

It’s beautiful isn’t it? These early Christ followers “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

They shared everything they had with each other, but not just with each other like some exclusive club, they also sold their possessions to help anyone who was in need.

And this way of living, this generous outward focused way of living was so attractive that every single day more and more people chose to join them.

If I saw people living like that I’d be inspired to join them as well. But I haven’t found many examples of Christian communities that function like this today. I know a few, but not many.

So what happened? Why don’t most Christian communities today look like this?

A lot of people look at these early Christians and write them off – sure that was fine for back then, but it’s impossible now. It’s just not practical for us to share all of our possessions and all of our money with each other.

Other people look at the current church and try to write that off instead –the current church has failed, we just need to go back and behave like they did in the book of Acts.

My strong preference is to be like that second group of people, and I’ve tried. I spent a long time trying to build a community like that and connecting with other people who were doing the same. It’s hard, and the number of people who are willing to try is small.
But as with most things, I think it’s unhelpful to stick to extremes. It’s not helpful to just dismiss this passage as impractical and it’s not helpful to be judgmental and just check out of modern expressions of the Christian faith either.

The world is very different than it was in the book of Acts, we can’t simply travel back in time or transport that model exactly as it is into the present day.

But I do think we can be inspired to try and make our current Christian communities look more like the community in Acts.

Even if we don’t all empty our individual bank accounts and create a single joint account tomorrow, we still have something to learn from our Christian ancestors.

The first thing I think we can take from this reading is that the way those first Christians were living was different and distinctive. They didn’t just blend into their society.

So the question for us could be, is the way we’re living, is the way we function as a parish, different and distinctive from the people around us? How so? And if it’s not, why not?

The second thing is that those first Christ followers had a very generous way of living. The first Christians gave everything they had to the community and as a result they had so much that they were able to meet not only their own needs, but the needs of other people as well.

So the question could be, how much of your resources do you use to satisfy your own wants and needs and how much do you give to others? And as a parish? How much of our resources go to meeting your own needs and how much to meeting the needs of others?

This generous outward focused way of living means that those first Christ followers lived with open hands, they rejected notions of scarcity. They lived without fear and they were rewarded for doing so.

What would happen is we leaned more into living like that?


There are a lot of other things we can take from this passage and from the Book of Acts but here’s the final one I want to look at today. Their way of living was attractive. It was different, it was generous, and people were attracted to it. Every single day more people chose to join this group and live in this way.

So the question is, are we living in a way that is attractive to others? If not, why not? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I do think that it’s worth pondering. Is our way of life different, generous and attractive to others? And if it’s not, why not?

What could we do to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm and generosity that those first followers in Acts had?

Honestly, after the past few years, the first thing we might all need is a really long nap. It’s hard to be inspired when you’re exhausted.

But then, I wonder what it would look like to be inspired by the people in Acts and to begin to dream big, distinctive, generous Christ – like dreams.

Because that sounds like good news to me. And I suspect it would look like good news to other people too.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.