by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are continuing our sermon series, The Church Has Left the Building. We are looking at the development of the very beginnings of the Early Church as the followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It was the time when the disciples who had been hiding in relative safety and security in the Upper Room “left the building.” They released their fear and went out into the world, engaging in and with the public.
Above, we see as Peter proclaimed the Gospel to a crowd. This crowd gathered in Jerusalem from all around the Mediterranean and the Middle East for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, pente to indicate 50 days after Passover. For us it has become 50 days after the resurrection or Easter.
So, these people were all there, and Peter stands up and speaks to them about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit added about 3000 to their group that day. (Acts 2:41) These people formed a community in Jerusalem. Today’s passage shows us what that community initially looked like.
Acts 2:42-47 NIV
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
One of the things that Acts is showing us in this passage is an example of the abundant life, the abundant life that Jesus promised when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NRSV) Our call to worship this morning also gave an illustration of the abundant life.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. (Psalm 23 NKJV)
The 23rd Psalm speaks as an individual. Our passage in Acts today speaks as a community, a community that lived as a single family. How many of you have a sibling or siblings, brothers or sisters? Can you imagine having 3000 brothers and sisters? This is not an extended family with aunts, uncles, and cousins, but a family where ALL were brothers and sisters. These new brothers and sisters in Christ lived as a single family. As thousands of people were added, it became a VERY LARGE family, but a single family it was never-the-less. As with a family, this chair, this table, this loaf of bread isn’t considered mine verses yours. Do we have any milk? Our house. It is shared as part of the family unit. With Jesus and the twelve disciples, there was a common purse. People put into it as they could, and they lived as a single family. In Acts 2, we see this expand exponentially.
The church did not stay this way for very long. But there was this initial time of all of these people living together as a single family … living the abundant life, everyone having what they needed, doing those things that allowed them to live the good news, drawing closer to God, living as citizens of the Kingdom of God … This was the big kick off … or as we are in spring … the opening pitch of the season. The church was given life through the breath of the Holy Spirit, and it was in a frenzy with this power and excitement. It was just the beginning. It would start here and eventually spread all over the globe.
All too soon, it would end. Soon, the church was scattered due to persecution (Acts 8:1, 4), and many went home bringing the gospel with them. When Paul wrote his letter to the Church in Rome, he had never been there. It was not one of the churches he had founded. It easily could have been founded by people who either arrived there or returned to their homes after Pentecost.
However, what those first post resurrection believers, followers, did provides an example of what a vital Christian community looks like. They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, they spent time with each other (what in church jargon is called fellowship). They broke bread together. This probably refers to both that meal that we think of a communion and also regular meals, and they prayed. They continued to worship in the Temple. This may seem odd as the people of the Temple had rejected Jesus and them, but worshiping God was still vitally important. Last, but not least, they met in smaller groups in the homes of the people who lived in Jerusalem.
All of this was being done by this new community, which we would eventually call the church. Their numbers were increasing, but who was doing it? The Holy Spirit. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts2:47b) All of these people were doing all of these things, and they undoubtedly strengthened the community. They undoubtedly got people’s attention and seemed attractive, this abundant life, but they were responding to the Holy Spirit. About three thousand were added to the number the day that Peter stood up and addressed the crowd. (Acts 2:41b)
And you can say, Right, that was great for them, but how does that apply to us, today? One thing is that as we continue to build our Christian community we can feel responsible. What are we doing to reach people for Christ? What are we doing to make disciples? What are we doing to serve those made in God’s image? What are we doing to share God’s love, to show God’s love to the world? Are we doing it in the right way? Are we being efficient and effective? Those are all excellent questions, but there is something that we have to remember that we can see in today’s passage. God is the one who actually does it through the Holy Spirit. God is the initiator. We respond. The people that we come in contact with for whatever reason respond. When we do not get the results that we are looking for, we have to ask the question. Is this about us and our desires or following God?
We remain God’s tool, God’s instrument to be used as God directs, but it is God who does the directing. That can be strangely freeing. We do as God directs, and the results are God’s, whether they meet our expectation or not. It also means that God gets all the glory every time. It is not about us. It is about God, and that frees us. This does not mean that we sit back waiting for something to happen. We have an active part to play, but how do we determine what that is? Today’s text tells us. We do those things that this community did. We worship. We study the Apostles teaching (which for us means that we study the Bible — They wrote the New Testament, and their Bible, their study text, was the Old Testament.), and we pray. When we do those things, we learn how to recognize what God wants us to do. The churchy word for that is discernment.
Have you ever noticed the sayings that are on the white board in the coffee area outside my office? They are refreshed with new wisdom periodically. Recently, a new saying went up that says, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.”
It could be interpreted in two ways that we always have to keep in mind. One is that we see what we want to see. We want something to be true, or we like doing a particular thing. We are looking for confirmation, and we rationalize that what we see supports what we want to do. It could be called “wishful thinking” or “looking at things through rose colored glasses.” We always have to be careful about that in our discernment process.
Two, we can also be oblivious to things that are right in front of us because we are so wrapped up in what we are doing, what we want, how we expect things should be. We effectively are blind to what God is trying to show us. Have you ever seen a movie or read a book multiple times. If it is a good one, you will notice something new every time. For the longest time, I would ask myself, How could you have missed that? It’s so obvious … now. But, I did not see it maybe even the first several times I read the book. How many times does God have to show us something before we even begin to comprehend that it is even there?
The other thing is that we may not believe that God could be working with us in that way. “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Until we believe that God could be arranging circumstances, we won’t even notice that it has happened.
I will never forget a trip I was taking to Houston for a dance competition for a couple of my students. It was a long drive, practically across the entire state of Texas, at least 10 hours. Within a couple of hours, I had a flat tire that cost me a lot of time. This was the first time I had coordinated competition entries and accommodations for any students, and I was a bit anxious about how things would work out. Meanwhile, I was also waiting to hear from the seminary I was going to attend in the fall.
I don’t remember how it all happened, but I was in the final leg of the journey in the outer suburbs of Houston, and I had gotten myself worked up into a state. The traffic was building. I’m crying, not really a good thing as evening rush hour is ramping up. Then, I see this billboard. I don’t remember exactly, but it said something to the effect of “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
Have you ever seen these billboards? They are all over the country with messages from God. They say things like, “That Love thy neighbor’ thing .. I meant that. – GOD,” or “We need to talk. – GOD.” A personal favorite is, “I love you … I love you … I love you. – GOD.” They were sponsored by an anonymous donor, and they have no branding of any kind.
So, I see this billboard, and it says EXACTLY what I need to hear at that moment. I effectively was having an anxiety attack during Houston rush hour traffic, and at that moment, everything changed. I was still in the middle of traffic. I still didn’t know what was going to happen with my seminary. I still had students waiting for me at the hotel, but I was okay. The fear left me, and I knew that God was with me. Soon, I was at a gas station, and I got a call from the seminary. I got the confirmation that the concern had been resolved.
I could look at it all as coincidence. I might not have put these separate incidents together at all. I could have been oblivious to these things and not even have noticed the billboard. I had to believe that a connection was possible before I could perceive it. Some things have to be believed to be seen.
We have to be ready to recognize things (through prayer, study, having our eyes open, being aware of our abilities, gifts, and talents), but then we have to let go of our ideas of success and failure because God is the one doing it.
Sometimes, we do not know God’s purpose. What if that billboard was only meant for me? Is that a good enough reason to put it in that public place, justify the expense? (Not that I think that God is limited to doing one thing at a time for one person.) However, it did affect me profoundly. A chain of negative events got turned around and became a chain of positive events. Who knows where the ripples of these events went?
A couple of months ago, we looked at a passage in 1 Corinthians, 3:5-6. The Apostle Paul is talking about his and another teacher, Apollos’, effectiveness in ministry with the Corinthians. He writes, “What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”
Today’s passage ends with, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” When we feel that our church is stagnate and bland, we need to pray and ask God what isn’t happening that should be happening. The gospel hasn’t changed. God’s power hasn’t diminished. People still need rescuing. What are we doing about it? We need to ask God to help us see. Then, we need to keep our eyes and ears open for what God is telling us. How can we tell? We go to God’s Word and learn about it. We see how God shows people, and then we trust and believe that God will show us because some things have to be believed to be seen.