“CONVENING A CONSTRUCTION CREW”[1]

ACTS 2:41-47

JANUARY 10, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            We have been in our house for a little over fifteen years, it was newly constructed when we bought it, or just around the time when things start to stop up, peel, and break down. Given the fact that I’m just as handy with tools as Donald Trump is with subtlety, we have a contractor/handyman on speed dial. He’s very reasonable, comes in a timely manner and he does something I really appreciate. That is to say, he calls in help. Take the time we had a leak in our upstairs bathroom. He had to come through the back wall of the shower to fix it, and replace the fixture, innards and all, and while he did the dry wall and the painting, he brought in a plumber to do the rest.

            This morning we continue our “Building a Life in Christ” series where we are looking at things we need to do, instructions we need to follow so that we can become all we can be in Christ. Last week we looked at how it all begins … accepting the invitation to follow Christ and today we look at another thing we need to do. When building a life in Christ we need to remember we do not do so alone. Like our speed-dial contractor did with that plumber, we need to call on other people from time to time to help us build our life in Christ.

            That’s what I want to talk about today, and in so doing turn with me to Acts 2 beginning in the 41st verse.

 

            So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 

            Luke here is speaking of the crowd’s response to Peter’s Pentecost sermon. They loved his sermon, did what he asked them to do, that is repent and be baptized, and in a blink of an eye, the church went from 120 believers to 3,120 believers.  Verse 42 …

 

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

 

            To what are we devoted? Some of us are devoted followers of Downton Abbey. Some of us are devoted Husker fans. Others of us are devoted to our children and grandchildren, and rightly so. Note to what the early converts devoted themselves. Four things … the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer. Let’s continue reading. Verse 43 ..

 

            Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

 

            Contrary to popular opinion the word “awesome” did not originate in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High where a young Sean Penn, playing the role of the stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli, seemed to pepper just about every sentence with the saying, “awesome.” No, it looks here like the term originated with the early church, referring to what the Holy Spirit was doing in the early church fellowship.

            Speaking of the church I love Lloyd Ogilvie’s definition of the church. He said, “The church is the fellowship of those committed to be to each other what Christ has been to them so that they can demonstrate to the world the new humanity for which Christ died and lives to make possible.” I love that definition. We see this new humanity in the next couple of verses. Verses 44 and 45 …

 

            All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

 

            Yep, that’s in the bible. It sounds like socialism, not capitalism. Well, it was and it was probably necessary at the time given the fact that the first converts were poor folk. Sure, every now and again you would get a more affluent person like Joseph of Arimathea or Barnabas, but mostly they were poor folk who pooled their resources to help one another.

            The way they related to one another reminds me of Schuyler Rhodes. Schuyler Rhodes’ mother saved just about everything from his childhood …  little clay sculptures, drawings, and of course, report cards. She saved his report cards all the way back to his elementary school days. At times the are a bit comical. One teacher noted wryly that as “Schuyler got older he might settle down a bit.” Another teacher praised his good spirit but chided his talking and passing notes in class. Then there was one report card from the third grade which his third grade teacher had scrawled in red ink, "Shares well with others...."

            Sharing is something we try to teach our children.  On the playground or in the sandbox we want them to learn how to share toys and building blocks. We hope they will learn how to take turns on the swing sets, and we hope, as we raise our families, that they will learn to share of themselves.

            The early church had that in spades. They shared well with others. Let’s finish up …

 

            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, 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.

 

            I want to say two things and then we are done. First, we were created for community, and we build a life in Christ in community.   

            When God hung the planets and the stars, when God made each little flower that opens and each little bird that sings, he crowned his creation with a human being made from the dust of the earth and the breath of heaven. He put Adam in the Garden of Eden with the responsibility to take care of the place. But something was missing. “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for a human being to be alone.”’ We are created for community.

            One of the worst forms of human punishment is solitary confinement. Even children despise it. They hate time outs. Children do not like being sent to their rooms for disciplinary reasons. Vietnam POW’s survived the isolation of the Hanoi Hilton by developing a tapping code that kept them in communication with one another. As former Air Force pilot, Ron Bliss, said, “Sometimes we sounded like a den of runaway woodpeckers. On Sundays we joined together in the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance without our captors ever deciphering our system.” We were created for community.

            On a hot July night in 1977, the lights went out in NewYork City. Looters took to the dark city streets, smashing windows, robbing stores, injuring hundreds, including fire fighters and police officers. One woman was seen returning a stolen black and white TV cursing disgustedly that she had failed to steal a color one. The lights went out again in New York City on a hot August night in 2003, two years after 9/11. Tourists were stranded outside their hotels; commuters were grid-locked from getting home. Reporters wondered out loud what might happen when darkness came. Instead of panic, there seemed to be a party. People slept safely on the streets. Strangers tried to help one another. An obviously pleased mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said to the world that since 9/11, the people of New York have learned to be a community.

            Not everyone has learned that. Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone, reports that over the last twenty-five years civic club memberships are down 58%, families eating dinner together have dropped from 50% to 34%, inviting friends over to your house dropped 45%. He said that we have become a generation of people who live cocooned lives tethered to our home entertainment systems, barricaded behind our electronic devices, isolated from one another even in our own homes.

            You’ve heard me say this before. In fact, I preached an entire sermon series on one of the great phrases of the Bible. The phrase is “one another.” There are twenty-six of them in the New Testament including “Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, greet one another, serve one another, teach one another, accept one another, honor one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another.”

            In other words, we are not to do it alone. We are to help one another build a significant life in Christ.

            That leads me to the second thing I want to say. We can construct community.

            In fact, being a small church we may be at an advantage in this regard. I think of the words of a pastor, a man named Steven Burt. He pastors a small church like ours. And here is what he said about a wedding he attended. He writes,

 

            A while ago I attended a wedding at a Roman Catholic church on suburban Long Island. I had never been there before, and when I drove into the parking lot and saw the church, I was stunned. It was huge, almost twice as big as the high school I attended, where our graduating class consisted of 76 students.

            Inside it was more of the same. The sanctuary was like a small cathedral and it awed me. It could seat between 1,500 and 2,000 comfortably, and the 125 who came for the wedding were swallowed up in it. The parish newsletter I picked up at the front door stated that there had been forty-one baptisms in the church -- during the month of June! I wondered what it would be like to be a pastor there and to serve Communion on Sunday morning to a small intimate group of 1,300 -- then repeat it at the second mass, and the third, and the fourth.

            Let me answer that myself. It would be cold and impersonal. I certainly wouldn’t know everyone by name or even be able to recognize most of them by face. As has become the case in many large Protestant churches as well, the focus would not be on true community for the Communion, but on individual and personalized religion -- each person trying to get him/her self right with God. Somewhere in the Middle Ages we got headed wrongly into that direction (individuality); and later, particularly in this century as large churches developed, things got further depersonalized and further away from a theme of community. It’s ironic that the more people there are in a group, the less it acts as a community, and the more alone its individuals feel.

 

            We already know one another, so let’s help one another. Let’s be a part of each other’s construction crew. What might happen if you got together with a few friends after church to eat lunch and discuss the Sunday sermon? What difference would it make if a few friends or couples got together once or twice a month to intentionally explore growing in Christ? What would happen if we, in community, devoted ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and prayers and broke bread together and prayed for one another on a regular basis?

            You know the answer to that. I know you do.  Amen.


[1]Sermon idea from a message by Dr. J Howard Olds.