Pastoral Care Revisited

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

Acts 6:1-7

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.

So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food programme. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.

So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Homily by Rev’d Kate Massey

There is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

We are revisiting the subject of pastoral care in our sermon this week for a number of reasons. Firstly, pastoral care is an important part of church life and so it is important to think about it regularly. Secondly, the pandemic has brought about some changes in how we offer pastoral care at St Paul’s and so it is a good time to review things. Lastly, some key members of our pastoral care team are stepping back after many years service, and we are sure God is calling some new people to be involved in this work.

A few weeks ago, Jo preached a great sermon on the foundations of pastoral care. She reminded us that pastoral care is about being alongside someone, being human and recognising the humanity in others. I found this very powerful, as I have been reading a bit about trauma theology recently. One of their key findings was that trauma can be lessened or event prevented by the person not having to go through a difficult experience alone. Being alongside is so powerful.

And pastoral care is something we all do. The noticing, caring and being alongside is simply part of being a Christian disciple. Our Gospel reading today shows that in noticing the needs of others and responding as we can, we serve Christ himself! It needs everyone to care about pastoral care, or as Norma reminded us last time, it won work. The pastoral care team are not psychic, and can only respond to the needs or sometimes joys they know about. So noticing and caring and – if we cannot help – passing information on to the right person is for everyone.

But as the silly story at the start reminds us, if we simply say this is everybody’s job and anyone can do it, we might assume somebody will do it and find out nobody has! In the reading from Acts, everybody agreed that caring for members of the church in need was important, but a lack of organisation was leading to inequality and tension – in short was leaving some feeling less loved than others. I do always struggle with the apostles’ response that they are too busy doing other stuff to run a food programme (or wait on tables, as other translations put it). Nobody should be above serving. But neither can we leave a few people to do everything, or else nothing will be done well. The early church identifies some people to take responsibility for this important part of their shared life and to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

Two thousand years later, we have the same task. How shall we organise ourselves to ensure that the care of one another and our community is done well, so all may know themselves beloved by God. At our PCC meeting this week, we will be thinking this through, but we need to know who is interested, who has gifts and skills to offer, who feels they have nothing to offer but God might be giving them a nudge… Some pastoral care tasks are regular, like helping at a monthly lunch club, while others are more as needed or even annual. Some are people facing. Some are coordinating a prayer list or sending a card through the post – good admin can be good pastoral care!

And this matters. It really matters. One of the opponents of the early church used to complain ”see how these Christians love one another!” They couldn’t eliminate these early faith communities because the love they showed amongst themselves and to others was so compelling it brought people to know the love of God in Jesus. Our faithful love for one another and our community is a powerful testimony to the Gospel, and is a gift of the Holy Spirit in us. So as St Paul writes, never weary of doing good and if you would be interested in helping us as a Church to make our pastoral care as good as it can be, please please let me know.

Prayers

As I adventure with you today
be the compass that guides me,
the light that shines on my path,
the only one I follow.
As I adventure with you today
be the word that encourages,
the hand that reaches out,
each time I stumble
As I adventure with you today
let me glimpse our destination,
and appreciate the places
through which you lead me.
As I adventure with you today,
be the strength I need to follow,
and as the day draws to a close
let me rest in your embrace.

(from Faith and Worship website)

Closing Worship

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