ďA Special Comm-unityĒ
Over the next four weeks, we will be focusing on four words that are not only descriptive of Christian discipleship, but are also ways in which the church embodies Christ in our faith and life.† Not only will these four words be the focus of our four-week sermon series, but they will also be the four themes of our Sunday Nights in November program as we prepare ourselves for Advent.† Over these next four weeks, we will be talking about these four words: community, compassion, comfort, and companion.
††††††††† Our text for this morning from Acts starts us off on our four-week journey, with our first word: community.† Community means different things to different people.† For some, community might mean a neighborhood or a town in which a person lives.† For others, community might mean a geographical region, an ethnic identity, a socio-economic status, or even a vocational field.† The reality is that in many ways each one of us are members of several different communities at one time, some are just more important to us than others.
††††††††† For us Christians, we add another community to the mix and that is the community of faith we call the church.† But the community of faith to which we belong through baptism is very different than the other communities to which we also belong.† In many ways, and in the most important way, the church is a very special community.† Well, itís supposed to be a special community anyway.
††††††††† In our text, Luke gives us a wonderful description and vision of the 1st century church, a grand vision of the church at its best.† Perhaps the grand vision that Luke gives us is a little on the idealistic side to be sure, a romanticized portrait of the church in its golden years, of the church the way its supposed to be, the way it should be.
††††††††† We all know that the church can be as dysfunctional as they come as we, the Church, struggle often with our beliefs, our identity, and our purpose.† We are not a group of perfect people, but imperfect people, who confess to be sinners, who come to be forgiven and to forgive, who come to receive grace and give grace, who come to be made new, whole, and transformed, who come to give and not to get.
††††††††† Lukeís favorable description of the church, of this special community, may be more from nostalgia than anything else, but the reality is that Luke is looking back over the last fifty years to describe for us the beginnings of the church, the beginnings of the church which for him were a time of excitement, harmony, and phenomenal growth from 12 to 120 to 3000 people in just a matter of days.†
††††††††† Listen to how
Luke describes the church, ďThey committed themselves to the teaching of the
apostles, to their life together, the common meal, and to prayer.† Everyone was in awe because of all the
wonders and signs done through the apostles.†
And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything
in common, selling everything they had, and pooling their resources together so
that each personís need was met.† They
followed a daily discipline of worship in the
††††††††† There is some real potential here for helping us to see what the church looks like when it is at its best.† This is more than just an example for us to copy or duplicate or even a collection of ďhow toĒ steps for church growth.† What Luke is giving us are reminders of what church, at its heart is all about, the direction we are to aim, and a challenge for us to look closely at our own church and whether or not we are truly becoming the special community God has called us to be.
Over the past 2000 years the church has become more adept, more professional, and more sophisticated in presenting the gospel than our 1st century brothers and sisters.† We now offer Masters and Doctoral programs in Missiology and mission strategies.† We hold empowerment seminars for maximum impact in evangelism.† Through technology, we can present the gospel to local congregations in dramatic fashion, we can mix our hymns with contemporary music, and we can play other instruments besides the organ or piano.† We offer leadership training, provide spiritual gifts discernment, hold seminars on marketing the gospel, and hire crisis management consultants to help fix our problems.† We are good at doing a lot of things, but I wouldnít say we are at our best.† Maybe its time we get back to the basics.† Maybe itís time for us to take a closer look at the characteristics of the Church at its best, at the heart of what the Church is all about.
††††††††† Luke describes for us the six critical areas of being a Church: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, service, and worship.† Luke tells us that a Church at its best focuses on the teaching of the Apostles.† A church that gets away from the Biblical roots of our faith and life looses its foundation upon which it is based.† We are a church who believes in certain things, in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.† It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that tells us who we are to be, how we are to live, and what we are to do.† If a church wants to be at its best, it must maintain and conserve the Biblical teachings and witness of the Apostles.
††††††††† Luke tells us that a church at its best is a church that fellowships together.† We are not and cannot be Christians in isolation.† We are meant to be together, because we have been called to be together.† God didnít just call individuals, God called a whole race of people to be in relationship with Him, and that is why we must be in relationship with one another.† God in His very nature is a relational God, and so are we.† How important it is for us to know that there are others who care deeply for us, who rejoice with us in our good times, and who cry with us in our bad times.† We need relationships to be a healthy people, just as we need relationships to be a healthy church.
††††††††† A church at its best is a church that breaks bread together.† This is more than just the monthly practice of eating together at the observance of the Lordís Supper.† The 1st century church ate together in their homes.† They carried their relationships into their personal lives.† They shared with each other the resources of food that they had, because Jesus promised them that when two or more are gathered he would be with them.† The Gospels are full of stories of Jesus teaching others when they were at the table, and it is in these stories where we learn the most about who Jesus is, that Jesus ate with those who were on the outside, with those who were outcasts and sinners, with those who needed reconciliation and forgiveness.† How important it is for us to know that we are included at the table of our brothers and sisters, that in our eating together we embody Christís own reconciling love to each other.
††††††††† A church that is at its best is a church that prays together.† In prayer, we commune with God and lift up to God the joys, sorrows, concerns, and hopes of the community.† But we also, lift each other up, because prayer helps us keep in mind the others who are part of us.† In prayer, we embody the unity of our calling as Godís people.† We need to be in a church that prays together, because we canít go through life in isolation.† What a joy it is for me to pray for all of you, and what a blessing it is for me to know that you pray for me.† I need that strength in my life of faith, that Iím not in this journey alone, that Iím not being forgotten.
††††††††† A church at its best serves one another in the most sacrificial way Ė in the sharing of our resources, in the sharing of our possessions, in the sharing of our money.† This may be the most radical of all the characteristics of the Church at itís best, but that is exactly what the Gospel is Ė radical.† Jesus was very clear about what it means to be a disciple.† Jesus doesnít call us so that we can stay where we are comfortable, where there are no expectations, or where there is no sacrifice.† Jesus calls us to change and become new people, a new people who sacrifice for the other.† A church at itís best does just that, it sacrifices for the other in the most radical and dramatic of ways by giving to the other as they have need.
††††††††† And finally, a church at its best worships together.† From the very beginning, Christians came together on the first day of the week to worship, to sing and give praise to God in Jesus Christ.† Worship was a sacred time when time and space stopped for a brief moment, and the worshipping community envisioned a new heaven and new earth.† This worship was not just a time when these Christians received the blessings from the Spirit, it was a time for giving, for the giving of their very selves, for the offering of their heart, mind, soul, and body to the worship of God and to the service of Christís church.† A church at its best has worship at the center of its identity, because that is what all of us are called to do both as Godís people in the world and as Godís people not of the world.
Teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayer, service, and worship.† These are the first steps we must learn, the steps which make all of the other things we do as the church possible, the first steps we must master if we are to truly become the special community God has called us to be.†† Amen.