Acts 2: 42 – 47
42 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.
A while back, a pastor friend of mine recounted a walk that she was taking on a trail by her house. That day she encountered a young man walking in the opposite direction who was wearing a white shirt which read in bold red letters “Don’t go to church.” Surprise and a bit irritated by the slogan, she looked back at him after they passed and saw that the back of his shirt said—in equally bold letters “Be the church.”
Don’t go to church. Be the church.
The story of those earliest disciples that we read about in today’s scripture is a story of about being the church. It’s a window for us into those who sought to become something worthy of what they had witnessed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, well before the term Christian was ever coined. They had embarked on a faithful journey that we have joined.
Renowned poet and author, Maya Angelou, once spoke about her Christian faith in this way—she said “It’s not a condition. It’s a path; it’s a journey. I’m always amazed when people walk up and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I always think, ‘Already? Got it? Goodness gracious. Lucky you.’ Well, I’m trying to be a Christian.”
I think there’s so much truth to her remark—because there’s no moment in time where we arrive at some pristine state as fully formed and highly polished disciples. Or for that matter, there is no instant when a church has finally ‘got it all figured out.’ Instead, we are invited to this lifelong process—this journey of faith.
We are always striving to become more Christ-like. More like what we know of the kingdom of God – we are always in the process of becoming the church.
So how do we become church? You’re familiar with the Proverb that the ‘fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. And we nod along and say sure that sounds good. And theologian Soren Kierkegaard is famously quoted to say that we are ‘always working out our salvation in fear and trembling’. And for a lot of people, church has been about doing, or not doing, out of fear. But here’s the thing …
In the Hebrew, the word that we’ve come to translate as FEAR, is actually more closely translated as awe or wonder. Our translation of that Proverb has been leading us astray! It’s being in awe and wonder of the Lord that is the place where wisdom begins. It is the daily striving to see the wonder of God that makes us vibrate and tremble with the joy of being in God’s presence.
And it’s who we, in this church, have said we are. Years back, we spent time sitting and listening and talking and praying and we’ve come to understand that we are people called to BE … we claim that in our core values: BE LOVED, BELIEVE, BECOME. In this season of transition … when there is great hope and confidence and community, we know there is also a small quiver of ‘oh no!’. Who are we now? What does it mean to be church in this way, with – and without – the people we’re used to? Who else will come to be part of this, part of us, in the pulpit AND in the pew?
A few weeks back, Kevin and I spent some time sitting and listening and talking and praying and it seems like this first series, this first at bat in a new season … and because honestly neither of us wanted the pressure of having to be the one to knock it out of the park on this first Sunday after the departure of a ten-year Lead Pastor … In the last month or so, and in this last week, we’ve rediscovered this truth: We are who we are – as a church – because we are here together.
So our first thoughts, our greatest call, the Spirit’s movement in our hearts, is to simply to remind us of WHO WE ARE: who we have been, and who we might be, and what we’re called to do in the inBEtween.
For better or worse, Peter and the other early church leaders did not have the wealth of church growth seminars and congregational consulting firms to help them be church. But you know what they had? They had the teachings of Jesus. They had the fellowship they had shared in ministry. They had the acts of breaking bread and praying together. And so they devoted themselves to these things.
The apostles taught the lessons that had been spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry. Eventually, many of these teachings would be recorded in the scriptures we know as the New Testament, keeping in mind that all those teaching were under-girded by the holy Jewish texts—the Hebrew Scripture or Old Testament.
These teachings speak of God’s story as experienced by God’s people throughout the ages—they are still as relevant for us today as they were to those first disciples.
Do we have a fundamental knowledge of the scriptures? I ask this because it’s all too easy to sit in a pew or a bible study and receive what someone else has told us about the text, or to grab the latest Christian best-seller, but not know the actual stories that those commentaries are grounded in. I would encourage all of us to crack open the bible—to read and come to know and wrestle with the stories and teachings that are found there.
One of the first things that should be apparent in the Scriptural texts is that teachings about faith apart from the practice of faith is pointless. And in a world that loves to consume information—in a culture where some faith communities have reduced belief to simple exercises of mental agreement and recitation of checklist doctrines—I want to stand upon the word of God on this point: faith must be lived out in our lives.
Those first disciples learned what Jesus was talking about by walking the walk. And so it is for us that our teaching and curriculum must include the practice of those teachings.
It is why we engage in programs like making and serving meals at the Day Center for the Homeless, and practice the art of hospitality in this facility through Family Promise, with families that are in situations of homelessness. It is why we go to the hospital to check in on those who are sick, and travel to as far away as Nicaragua to show solidarity with our sisters and brothers in that part of the world. It is why we give of our resources to the church and to other ministries like Week of Compassion, because if we’re ain’t doing it, we ain’t learning it. The disciples dedicated themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
And through the scriptures and our actionable engagement in ministry, we are invited in this community of faith, to be invested in those teachings as well.
The earliest followers – well before the name Christian ever really landed on them –gathered for the apostles’ teaching and for fellowship. You don’t ‘gather’ by yourself. You gather with other people. Fellowship was the requirement for everything else that happened.
A thousand years ago when I was a youth minister, I would start each year as most groups do, talking about expectations: sharing my expectations – hopes, really – for them, and asking these young faithful to share theirs too. And by the time we got to the planning stages, and we sorted through the calendar, and everything was lined up, it COULD have looked like any other community group gathering: eat together. Play games. Be with friends. Talk about life. Do some projects. Meet new people. Be of help in the community.
But we also always started the year by saying that it mattered that we did those things together, at church. Given the freedoms and privileges of our community particularly, you could do that entire list of things: eat, play, meet friends, talk, help out – absolutely anywhere with anyone. But the fact that we choose to do those things here with these people, connected to this place, suggests that there is something, some bit of holiness, some bit of mystery, some bit of awe and wonder that has made us wise to the fact that it matters to be part of faithful community.
You have more than once heard this Connections Pastor say (what she borrowed from someone else) : It is entirely possible to believe by yourself. To be faithful requires community.
It’s why we’ve named our membership inquiry events – where a team of a dozen people take turns opening their homes to welcome people they do not know, simply to spend the evening talking about what it means to be church – we call them BE HERE! events.
If you’re going to be loved, believe, and become, it’s not just a thing that happens on its own; it really does matter that you choose fellowship. Community. To Be Here!
Why did you come to church? Not necessarily this morning, though I’d be interested to know that as well. I’m talking about the first time. What drew you in to worship on a Sunday morning, or Bible study, or a fellowship dinner, or mission project?
For some, of course, the initial choice was not yours. You were carried into church in the arms of your parents or grandparents. But I’m willing to imagine that for many here you were sold on church because somewhere along the way, you felt like you belonged. You were felt welcomed. Like there was space for you at the table.
That welcome for folks to participate in becoming church is what Jesus was all about: radical hospitality. The first disciples shared many meals with Jesus, who was always taking bread, blessing it, and sharing it with those around him. Even when the disciples thought that there wasn’t enough to go around, Jesus broke bread and shared it; everyone was invited to the meal.
What takes place at this table each Sunday, is modeled after that radical hospitality. Communion is not about religion, it’s about relationship; being welcomed into relationship with Christ and one another.
At the Lord’s Supper, we remember that Jesus himself was broken and shared for the world, a gift of radical hospitality and welcome.
When we do this, we invite Christ into our midst. We see a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like, where all are also invited to be in unity and in loving relationship with our Lord.
When we break bread, we are nourished and strengthened to model that radical hospitality and welcome after that which we have receive from God. A radical welcome that looks like being a little more gracious and accommodating than we might otherwise be. Extending our hospitality even to the point of discomfort. Radical hospitality might even mean giving up a spot in your self-assigned lifetime pew-chair; extending God’s peace to a total stranger; learning to appreciate differences in dress, music style, and worship response. All of this is an extension of that radical welcome that made us feel like we belonged in the church.
The disciples dedicated themselves to the breaking of bread, and for more than 60 years, this community of faith—in this place—has broken bread and shared it with the radical hospitality and welcome of Christ.
When Jesus is with the disciples at that last supper, showing them how to do what they would eventually do over and over for years all the way til it gets to us this Sunday, the first thing he does after he picks up the bread, or takes the cup, is BLESS it. When Jesus goes up a mountain to get himself prepared for the work that is ahead of him – he PRAYS. And he takes people with him. (As it happens, those guys needed a little work at praying and a little less time napping, but that’s a different sermon for a different day.)
Turns out one of the great marks of faithful followers is prayer. And it’s a great mark of our faith right here too. When you put a note on a Connection Card or send an email or a text message or come to see us or ask someone to pass something along, that is itself a prayer. Our prayer list grows every week with the prayers you take the time to scribble down. That prayer goes to our pastoral team. And to staff meeting. And to our prayer group. And to our elders. Your name is said, your joy or need is shared.
The moment our email went out about Mark’s call to a new ministry, messages started coming in from every avenue, to every one of us. I have lost count of the ways you’ve found to say: We’re praying for you. God’s with you, with us. We are praying for the church and the process.
In just the last 24 hours, I’ve had messages asking prayer, and offering prayer, over hospitalizations, diagnoses, test results, surgeries to come, decisions to make. And over the state of the world. No sooner was there a first headline about the horrific violence in El Paso than the messages started coming my way: That’s your hometown! Are your people okay? We are praying for you.
And this morning, we wake up and send those prayers back out, to Dayton.
The world moves. And we are moved. And in-between, we pray.
Last night, in sending a note of prayer for me, a friend said, “I know you’re carrying a lot for a lot of folks.” And I replied immediately what is very true: Carrying it WITH all of you is our great honor.
Prayer moves. It is active. We cannot just be still and pray. We are to be still and KNOW, and knowing God means living like we do.
Bless those who carry their prayers not just in their hearts,
but in their feet.
Remember the part I mentioned before about the Proverb? About replacing FEAR with awe and wonder and realizing that that’s where connecting with God begins? Well … this passage from Acts, where the scene is so clearly and beautifully drawn of the earliest believers in their simplest gatherings … this passage says that when they did these things – gathered for the apostles’ teaching, for fellowship, for the breaking of bread, and prayers – that awe and wonder came upon everyone. That’s how it works!
When we are doing what we’re called to do …when we remember who we are, and that we are who we are because we are together … that’s what happens! Awe and wonder happens.
- We see signs and wonders – God’s at work in the world!
- We collect all we have and share it so that everyone has all they need!
- We spend time in worship AND in our homes, giving thanks, sharing meals, and praying for one another.
- We are glad, and generous, and we are always becoming … we are always drawing nearing to God.
- And then what happened? The Lord added to their number.
- We become more of who we’re supposed to be, and we are made more, because we’re supposed to be.
God has us. We have God. THAT is how, and who, and where we should be, in the inBEtween, and always.