|Text: Acts 2:42-47.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)
Have you ever thought to yourself, "Now thereís a church! Oh to be a member of that church!" Or even better, "I wish my church were a bit like this one. Look at how excited the children are about Sunday School and look how well attended the adult Bible Studies are."
"And look at their worship. Not just a wonderful crowd of people but they look as if they want to be there. The music is terrific; the participation of the members of the congregation out front and in the pews is wonderful. This congregation has so many talented people. Both young and old worshipped as one, sharing the best of the old and new."
"And look how they care for one another. The feeling is there immediately you approach the church door. The people are warm and friendly. No cliques here."
"Oh, I wish my congregation was a bit
more like this." Have you said something like that? I know I have. There
are times when I have looked with envy at what other congregations are able to
do. At times, I have had to give myself a good dose of reality. What is possible
in one congregation may not be possible in another because of
the abilities and ages of the members,
the culture of the local area in which the congregation is established,
the financial resources available,
and at what stage of its spiritual journey the congregation is at the present time.
No two congregations are alike.
While saying this, we have to be aware that itís very easy to make excuses. You and I are members of a church that is, more often than we like to admit, very human Ė full of flaws and faults. We see in the church bad decisions, poor leadership, bad management, lazy members, but that doesnít give us permission to throw our hands up in despair and say, "Well thatís it, Iíve had enough. Iím outta here." Itís easy to criticise but much more challenging to be understanding and patient, and to keep on trying to do the best we can".
To be true to its calling, the church, the
local congregation, is always working towards fulfilling the mission that God
has given us to the best of our ability. Notice I said, "working towards
fulfilling the mission that God has given us". We canít ever say,
"We have arrived;
we have the perfect Bible study program,
the best worship services,
the most effective caring plans,
the most active congregation Ė everyone is doing their best.
Congregations, like individuals, are on a spiritual journey Ė things change, the culture and community around the congregation change, people change (we are so aware of the differences between the expectations and needs between the generations), not forgetting the influences that technology, travel and the media have on the way a congregation carries out its mission. And because things change, so also a congregationís approach to fulfilling Godís mission changes. In fact, the church should welcome change because with every change we expect new opportunities, new ways, and new resources to enable it to bring the Good News of Jesus to the world around it. In this light then congregations need to keep on reassessing what they are doing, not just to ensure their survival, but more importantly, to ensure that God's Word is getting outside of the circle of believers to others.
Jane Saville almost considered giving up the sport she loved Ė walking races. You might recall seeing her on TV at the Sydney Olympics. With just 150m to go, she was in the lead. And then she was disqualified. We can still visualise how distraught she was. Walking races have strict rules about the way a person walks. These ensure that the athlete is actually walking and not running. Last weekend she was successful in qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. To achieve this result Jane had to make some changes. It was obvious that her hunched shoulders and tiptoe walking action had led to her disqualification. She had to try a new method and a new approach to gain success. Likewise when a congregation finds that former ways are not working, including ways recently tried, then the church needs to reassess and keep on moving forward towards fulfilling its mission.
All of us have adapted to change of various kinds. Older folk have had to adapt from horse and wagon to cars Ė there are few who regret this change. We have had to adapt to the changes that telephone banking, ATMs, plastic cards, EFTPOS, email and computers have brought. Iím sure that we will have to keep on adapting our ways to future changes. All of us need to keep on moving forward adapting to changes as the need arises.
The church is not immune to change. The church needs to keep on moving forward so that the Gospel is heard clearly by people of the 21st century. However, we would all agree, Iím sure, that not all change is good. When assessing what changes the church should make we need to consider whether that change will alter any of our core values.
The early church was an exciting, dynamic,
rapidly growing community. Things were changing all the time. About three
thousand people were baptised on the Day of Pentecost.
Can you imagine what changes happened to the small group of believers when suddenly there was an additional 3,000 believers? And that wasnít the end of it. We are told, "The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved".
Can you imagine what a sudden increase of three thousand members would do to this congregation? We would have to make heaps of changes to deal with so many people, all newly baptised.
I can imagine that the early church had to make lots of changes because of the sudden increase in their number, but they always kept the important things in focus in spite of the changes.
We're not trying to make a copy of that Jerusalem church, but what was important to them might give us a clue about what should be important to us. We are told, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer". Letís take a closer look at this.
They devoted themselves Ö to the apostlesí teaching.
These early Christians made it a priority to grow in their faith and understanding of God's Word. They wanted to find out as much as they could about Jesus through the apostles, who had been eye-witnesses to everything he said and did. This wasnít just a passing fad; they were devoted, dedicated to studying what the apostlesí said, and then applying it to their lives. We can never say that we have done enough learning from God's Word. There we find Jesus our Saviour; there we read of God's promises, and the hope that he has given to us through his Son, Jesus.
This was a priority of the early Christians, is it a priority for us today?
They devoted themselves ... to the fellowship.
It was more than just a brief "Gíday" at worship. They were joined together with their fellow brothers and sisters through their baptism. They liked coming together to get to know their fellow Christians. They built relationships within the worshipping group. People were free with their hospitality. Their life revolved around their faith, and the community of the faithful. They were glad to be in each other's company.
Itís worth noting that there was a real attitude of "we" and "us" and not "I" and "me". They were determined to work together and to do what was the best for the community and not to seek what "I" want. I can't help but contrast this with the impoverished individualism Ė the "me" first attitude that we live by today. As someone said, "We are going to spend eternity together in heaven, we might as well start getting along now". How often do we put ourselves and what "I" want ahead of what is best for the community of the church?
When they got to know one another they realised that some of their new-found friends were in desperate need. And so they cared for one another. They made sure that no one went hungry. They even sold their belongings and helped those who were in need. These people weren't giving to a budget, or even counting 10% of their income. They simply knew that everything belonged to God. Without God, they had no future. They didnít tolerate a piecemeal and Ďleft over crumbsí approach that typifies church giving today.
They devoted themselves Ö to the breaking of bread.
The reference to the "breaking of bread" is to Holy Communion. The early Christians loved to get together for worship and share Christís body and blood in the sacrament. Worship was so important to them, they met together in the Temple and in their homes, not just once a week but daily. Nothing was more important; it wasnít a drudgery, a duty, dull and boring. They enjoyed praising God together. Remember we are talking about 3,000 new converts from all kinds of backgrounds. They got over their differences and found a way they could all worship together.
They celebrated Holy Communion once again
acknowledging the common life and faith they shared in Christ.
Christ binds us together.
We share the same bread and drink in Holy Communion; the same body and blood of Christ.
We are reminded that we all belong to the one Saviour.
We all belong together in the one church.
In his life and death he sustains us as a community to be committed to one another, working through differences, caring for needs, struggling to understand what it means that Jesus is Lord of our lives. Holy Communion deepens the fellowship between members of a congregation.
They devoted themselves to ... prayer.
Prayer wasnít something that fitted in when
they had time. They were devoted to prayer; they went to the Temple every
day to pray.
We need people to pray for the sick.
We need people to pray for the pastor and the Pastoral Assistants.
We need people to pray for the children and youth.
We need people to pray for our government, and the world scene.
We need people to pray for the church, this congregation.
We need people to set time aside every day and pray.
Prayer builds fellowship in the church community.
It is hard to commit myself to pray for someone without allowing myself to be, at least, part of the answer to that prayer. When I pray I must ask myself, "Do I want God to answer that in a way so that I don't get involved? Or am I desiring God to work through me to help my brother or sister in need? As we care for one another, our fellowship deepens.
And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. This church community was a magnetic group that drew people by the sheer joy and positive nature of their life together. Evangelism wasn't an extra - this was a community that people found it a joy to be a part of!
There can be no doubt that the changes that took place in peopleís lives were tremendous on the first day of Pentecost but somehow they were able to rise above the effect of those changes and maintain their unity and oneness in Christ. They kept before them what were the most important things as far as they were concerned. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
God is doing many wonderful things among us. I pray he will make us just as positive about the Church as those early Christians were. Here we share something that can be found nowhere else except in God's church
Think about your Church. Pray for it. Serve God by contributing to its life, worship, and service. May God's blessing continue to shine on us here at St Lukeís (Good Shepherd).
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
21st April, 2002