A Vital Community of Faith May 7, 2017

Text: Acts 2: 42-47

Prayer:    O Lord, how do we live as Easter people? What does it mean for us to live out this faith in resurrection and new life? Speak to us from the words of this text.   Help us to understand with our minds and embrace your Truth with our heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There is a tendency to idealize or romanticize the past sometimes. We can look back through rose colored glasses.  Our memories can become idyllic.

It’s why you have a second baby, because somehow your brain makes you forget the child‑birth, the sleepless nights, the colic, the poopy diapers and all you remember is that little baby and you think, A it wasn’t that bad, let’s have another one. How quickly we forget.

We do that with vacations and holidays. We only take pictures of everyone smiling; we don’t take pictures of the temper tantrums and bad traffic. Thus our memories of the event are slanted to the ideal experience and not the actual one. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but life is messy.

We do that in the church a lot. ARemember the days when the sanctuary was full, the children all knew the Bible by heart and everyone loved each other and everything was perfect?

The Book of Acts is the one book that tells the story of how the disciples formed the church after Jesus was resurrected. It tells the story of how the disciples created a sacred community. I imagine that Luke wrote this with future communities in mind and so on their best days this is what the church looked like:

Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and the fellowship, and the breaking of the bread, and the prayers” and so on.

For the early Christians this kind of supportive affirmation of faith and community of believers was vital, not only to their faith but to their very lives. Many of them had left family and friends and familiar surroundings to come and follow Christ and to allow themselves to be recognized as Christians. What is significant for us to see is that the fledgling band of believers became a vital Christian movement. The Roman Empire, seeking to destroy the movement, fell.

We live in a time when it is difficult to be Christian. There are not so many people who are actively and aggressively trying to destroy us as a way of getting rid of the Christian movement. There is, however, a kind of passive indifference which asks, “What difference does it make? Why bother?” Is it possible then that this understanding of what it means to be the people of God, claiming it for ourselves and being willing to be that for others, has something to commend itself to us in this generation of Christianity? And what does it take to keep growing in this kind of vitality?

After the Christians had endured much of the persecution under Nero, Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles. He told the story of how they accepted their life in Christ and lived it out with vitality. He gives us some of the ways in which they were able to be supportive to each other in doing that. Let’s consider them.

First they “devoted themselves to the teachings of the Apostles.” It was important that they learn what they believed. It was important that they listen to the teachings of the Apostles because they had first‑hand experience with Jesus in his life, death and resurrection.

The Apostles had heard what Jesus had to say about life, how to live it and what they could expect in it. The first letters as we have them in the Bible were not written until fifteen to twenty years after the Resurrection. The first gospel was not written until another fifteen to twenty years after that, so they had nothing recorded that they could read and learn for themselves.

They devoted themselves to the witnesses of those who did believe and helped them come to a point of believing. It was important so they could distinguish themselves from others. It was important that they knew what they believed and why so they could live out of this new‑found faith, energy, love and life, which they had found in Jesus Christ. “Be prepared” they were told “at all times to give an explanation for the faith which is within you.”

Can you do that? Can you say what you believe as a Christian, or why you are a Christian? I am convinced that one of the reasons many persons do not experience more of the power of the Christian faith, and why it is diminishing in its influence and impact upon our society, is because we have not devoted ourselves enough to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.

Too many Christians do not know what they believe and why they believe it. They cannot give an explanation for it. I am constantly amazed, at times I am appalled, when I see and hear how many people are preaching and teaching bad religion, and the number of people who are listening and following them just because they are talking about Jesus. The early Christians were warned about taking it so lightly and we need to hear the warning as well

It was critical for the early Christians to know what they believed and why they believed it if they were to survive, much less to live. As surely as it was critical for them, I believe it is also critical for us. Our faith and our future as a significant, meaningful, life‑changing, world‑altering religion depends on it.

It is important that we devote ourselves to our teaching and know what makes us different. Why do we live as we live and believe as we do? You owe it not only to Christ but also to the Church, and even more to yourself, to know what you believe and why, especially in tough times. It is like putting money in the bank so that you can draw a check against it. It is like storing up food so that when you are hungry you can be fed. It is important so that you may draw upon that faith, which you have stored up for life.

They devoted themselves to the teachings of the Apostles. Second they devoted themselves to “fellowship.” When we are in life with other persons, it is important to feel that we are not simply alongside one another but that we are together. The early Christians believed that one of the most important assurances they could claim for themselves and share with each other was that they counted for someone and therefore for something in the world.

It is important to know that we belong, that we are connected, not only with other human beings but with God, the sustainer and giver of all our lives.

In spite of the fact that we live in an increasingly crowded city and world, a growing phenomenon of our time is loneliness. Many of the social diseases and illnesses we see manifest in our time are the result of people trying to find ways out of their loneliness. I don’t know about you, but one of the distressing things I experience is to be in the midst of a large crowd of people in which there is so much superficial, shallow conversation happening that words are exchanged but people really do not meet and do not care. So our loneliness, even in the crowded city, is increased.

One of the important things for the ministry of any church is to care about people. Whether you are a visitor or a regular member in the church, it is important to be shown that you are loved by God. You are special and you can feel some of that specialness when you are a part of the fellowship. Every stranger, every lonely person ought to be able to know that here you can find a friend. Every person can know they are accepted and will be helped to find forgiveness. Every person who is confused and has no sense of direction for life can know the way of Christ. The sick and homebound need to be visited. The hungry and homeless need to know someone cares. Young children need help to grow up into significant, contributing teenagers and be confirmed. We are a fellowship in Christ. We are not so much an organization as we are an organism in which all of our hearts beat as one with the heartbeat of God, who is love.

And I see that lived out so many times and in many ways. I see a group of men building a ramp for someone in our congregation as an expression of caring fellowship.

I see people calling or visiting someone whom they know is going through a tough time; an illness, a financial challenge, a time when they need extra support. When we put out an appeal for soup for the food bank we had an amazing response. And we forgot to take it off the announcement list and the soup kept coming in for the two more weeks! I see the support we give a boys and girls orphanage in the Congo and are making a tremendous difference in the lives of these boys and girls. I see it when we come together to worship and praise God and the joy of laughter that fills the air.

They devoted themselves to the teachings. They knew what they believed and why and they lived it in fellowship with one another. “They also devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and in prayers.”

Worship is vital to our lives. It is vital in the sense that we need to be revived, renewed and restored in ways which only worship can assure.

One person said, “There has been a void in my life for many years and I have not really wanted to deal with it. I have a sense it is because I have not been in worship since I was a teenager and I am beginning to feel I need to get back to worship. I would like to get to know God if I am ever going to be a whole person.” That is what worship is about.

In a community of believers, preacher and choir are not performers for an audience. God is the only audience of worship; you and I are ministers one to another. Ministers pray for the congregation, but need the congregation to pray for them. They sing, but want you to sing. They read scripture, but want you to read with them.

In a Protestant service of worship, the preacher would not be preaching a sermon if the congregation had not gathered to respond to the Word. The early Christians believed that in the breaking of bread and claiming of what Christ had done for them their souls could be fed, so they were willing to be at the table to feed each other. Prayer is one of the ways we claim, even when we feel out of touch, that there is someone somewhere keeping us connected. That is vital to life.

Finally, they also devoted themselves to the economic and financial responsibilities of the community. They shared what they had with one another. Like any gathering of people, which becomes institutionalized, like a family or a business, the Church also needs money for the support of its life, a place to gather, food to share and things to do.

To be honest with you, I do not have much patience with persons who say, “I do not want to be a part of a church. It is always asking for money.” Usually I find that the ones who say that are the ones who are not giving anyway.

I think it is important that we are aware of the concerns and needs of others around us. It is important to know the faith, to feel the fellowship; but also when you are hungry, hurting and homeless to know there is someone somewhere who cares and that God has called us to be a means of his presence.

I am concerned that we have not yet recognized that we would not have to ask for money if we would simply care as God has cared for us. There would be plenty. I am concerned, not simply because there are so many who need to receive our blessing. I am concerned because each of us as Christians needs to claim that we have been blessed and can be a blessing in the ways we give. They devoted themselves. They were committed.

And therefore, the Christian movement continued until you and I have had the opportunity of receiving the Gospel of Christ and of entering into its continuing fellowship.

In the United Methodist Church we say, “Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church and uphold it by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?” Will you be a part of the continuity of that commitment that brought the faith to you? The Church will be here for you. The question is: Will you be here for the Church? That is what it means to claim our life together as the people of God; to be a vital community of faith for Jesus Christ.   What a tremendous claim! What a beautiful opportunity to celebrate life!

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Let us pray:

 

Gracious God, you love us so much you are willing to use us, imperfect as we are, self‑centered and selfish at times as we are and yet you have chosen no other means of communicating the good news of salvation and love in Christ than us. Let us see our opportunity then and seize it with commitment, courage and joy that we may know why we celebrate life. We are free to live. Amen