“A SENTENCE”

ACTS 2:42-17

MAY 7, 2017

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women elected to Congress and the first American woman ever to serve as a foreign ambassador, offered President John F. Kennedy some advice. Concerned about Kennedy’s seemingly scattered and fragmented priorities, she said to him, “A great man is a sentence.” Beyond the need to focus, her thought was a great life could be compressed into one sentence.

            Let’s try that with some esteemed American leaders:

 

            George Washington:  “He led our nation through its first crucial days, both in war and in peace.”

            Abraham Lincoln:  “He preserved the union and freed the slaves."

            Ronald Reagan:  “He restored America’s hope and helped us triumph in the Cold War.”

 

            How about our sentence?

 

            “‘He raised four kids who became happy and healthy adults.’”

            “‘She invented a device that made people’s lives easier.’

            “‘He cared for every person who walked into his office regardless of whether that person could pay.’

            “‘She taught two generations of children how to swim."

 

            Well, let me read you the sentence of the early church. Now last week was a bit of a cliffhanger. Peter preaches that Pentecost sermon and 3,000 give all they know of themselves to all they know of Jesus Christ. 3,000 people. That's a lot of new converts, and what did they do next? Well, here’s what follows. It’s the sentence of those early converts … verse 42 … They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and prayers.

            That would be a great sentence for our lives as well …They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and prayers. Let’s look at one of the words in that sentence. Let’s look at the word “devoted.” Synonyms include, loyalty, commitment, allegiance, dedication, faithfulness. Speaking of dedication I love the World War II story about Gurkhas, not Sherpas … those are the Mt. Everest dudes … but Gurkhas.

            Gurkhas are natives of the multi-ethnic highlands of Nepal.  Over several centuries they have earned global notoriety as fearless warriors. Working closely with the British Army during World War II, Gurkhas earned roughly 2700 awards for bravery and suffered 32,000 casualties in war zones far from home.

            So, here’s the story. When the British were preparing a risky invasion into Japanese-held territory in Southeast Asia, their first option was to deploy gung-ho Gurkhas. A British commander asked one of the Gurkha leaders if his men would be willing to attempt something they had never done before – be airdropped into the combat zone.

            The Gurkha leader pondered that for a moment.  Then he said, “Let me go ask my men.”

            That surprised the British commander.  The Gurkhas normally responded unhesitatingly, even to extreme peril.

            When the Gurkha leader returned he said, “My men will take this assignment, but we’d like to have three assurances. 

            “First, when we jump from the plane, will we be landing in an area with only a few rocks?”  “That’s affirmative,” said the British.

            “Second, will the plane slow down before we jump?”  “Absolutely,” answered the Brits.

            “Well, then,” said the Gurkha, “can you ensure that the plane will be no more than 100 feet above the ground when we jump?”

            “Impossible!” said the British.  “That wouldn’t provide enough time for your parachutes to open.”

            At that the Gurkha’s eyes brightened.  “Oh, we get parachutes?  In that case, count us in!”

            There’s dedication.  And then there’s dedication. Well, the early church dedicated themselves, devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.

            Let’s break that down. First, they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching.                    After work each evening the believers would break into smaller groups and gather at someone’s home, share a meal, and they would listen to the apostles teach.

The apostles had been with Jesus. It was important for this new church community to learn about him. In fact, they had an insatiable hunger to learn all they could about Jesus.

            Admiral Byrd, the famous explorer, found himself about 100 yards away from the safety of his South Pole hut when a sudden blizzard hit. The temperature was several degrees below zero, and the snow was blinding. There were no landmarks in the white expanse of snow and ice that would help him get his bearings. He knew that if he didn’t find the warmth and safety of his hut, he would freeze to death in a matter of minutes.

            He also knew that if he struck out blindly, without a central reference point for a sense of direction, he would become hopelessly lost. Refusing to panic, the admiral assessed the situation. In his hand was a 10-foot pole that he carried with him to probe for holes in the ice as he walked. He struck the pole in the snow and tied his bright-colored scarf to it. Then he began looking for the hut, keeping the pole in sight as a central reference point, knowing that he could always return to it if necessary. On the fourth try, he found his hut.

            Think about it. Many times a crisis occurs and we just don’t know which way to turn. At these times, we need a point of reference; a sense of direction. We need the apostles’ teaching. We need a working knowledge the Scriptures to get us where we need to go.

            Second, they devoted themselves to one another in the fellowship. In fact, look with me at verse 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.

            Did you catch that? Glad and generous hearts. Any church that’s doing what it ought to be doing is a joyous place to be.  Fellowship suppers, movie nights, picnics, cookie Sundays, pumpkin-patch ventures - these things may not seem very spiritual to many people, but we would be making a terrible mistake if we were to minimize the importance of fellowship in the life of the church. 

            Harry Golden, a wonderful Jewish storyteller, tells of a time in his youth when he asked his father, who was not a believer, “Dad if you don’t believe in God, why do you go to the synagogue regularly?”

            Harry Golden’s father answered, “Jews go to the synagogue for all sorts of reasons.  My friend Garfinkel, who is Orthodox, goes to talk to God.  I go to talk with Garfinkel.”

            Of course, there is a danger in Christian fellowship.  The greatest danger is that we could become just another clique - a group of people who are so turned inward that we are blind to the needs of others. 

            Dr. Eugene Brice tells about a guy who toured a factory.  “This is the world’s largest grease factory,” the tour guide said as they toured the gigantic plant. They walked through rows of machines with gears turning, wheels revolving, cylinders whirling, belts running, huge motors roaring away. 

            Toward the end of the tour the guy asked the guide, “What do you do with all the grease you make here?  To whom do you sell it?” 

            The guide said, “Oh, no.  We don’t sell it.  We have to use all the grease that we produce to lubricate the machinery here at the factory.”

            That’s a parable if I ever heard one.  We can put all of our energy, all of our time in church to lubricating our own machinery, spending all our time planning our services, working on our finances, enjoying our fellowship opportunities and ignoring the needs of the world outside. 

            Of course, the early church did not do that. Look at the last line in our passage. And day by day the Lord added to their number those where were being saved.

            Third, they devoted themselves to prayer.

            A few months ago I was surprised to learn that the actor Pierce Brosnan, despite all those great car chase scenes in James Bond movies, barely knows how to use the stick-shift on a standard transmission car.  At last, I have something on 007. At least I can drive a stick.

            And maybe you are like Pierce. Maybe you cannot drive a stick shift either and are more than willing to let other people have all the gear-shifting fun.

            What a disaster it would be, however, if any of us came to a similar conclusion concerning prayer.  It’s true that many of us have earnestly tried to pray.  We’ve learned the mechanics, but it doesn’t seem to work. Everybody else seems to “get it,” but all we do is mash our spiritual gears.

            If that’s the case I turn our attention to a presbyterian laywomen and author, Anne Lamott, who lives out in the San Francisco Bay area. She wrote a short book on prayer. It’s only one hundred pages long and she titled it Help, Thanks, Wow. Let’s practice her method of prayer right now.

            First gear. Bring to mind something that has blessed you in the past few weeks – something large or small that went well.  Got it? Something large or small that went well over the past few weeks. With that in mind, gently turn your mind toward God, and take a deep breath. As you exhale simply say the words, “Thank you.”

            Time to shift into second gear. Bring something else to mind.  Think of a problem you have to solve or a challenge you are currently facing that appears to be impossible.  It feels like a cloud hanging over your life.  Once again turn your mind to God and take a deep breath. As you exhale, either aloud or in some quiet inner place, simply say, “Help me.”

            OK, third gear. Think about something that’s recently moved you to feel a sense of awe.  Maybe it’s the stunning appearance of the moon and stars, or your first look into the face of a newborn child, or the sudden realization that your daffodils have sprouted two inches above the ground during just the past seven days. Catch a breath, let it go, and say, “Wow!”

            There. You just prayed three times.  Thanks, Help Wow. Not only that, you prayed three significant prayers.  Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not really praying.  That’s just sighing.  It can’t be that easy.” But God has always intended that prayer be that accessible. 

            Help, Thanks, Wow! It’s a wonderful way of shifting out of spiritual neutral and a great start on becoming a church devoted to prayer.

            They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.

            Amen.

 

 

Sermon Index