Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Early Church and Us

This Sunday's Scripture is Acts 2: 42-47.

I will be away this Sunday at a conference. Rev. Dub Pool will be filling the pulpit and he will be using the scripture above as the focus for his sermon. It was interesting to be at the Bible study last night and studying a passage together that I wouldn't be preaching on.

However, I do get to share with you here some of my thoughts about that passage. Here they are:

These verses outline in simple, direct form what the early Christians did (we're going to get to that in a second). And we're told in verse 47 that as they "praised God" (by living the way we'll get to in a second) that they "enjoyed the favor of the whole people and day by day the Lord added new converts to their number."

The early Church grew because of the way that they lived and how attractive that was to the people who observed them.

Those of you familiar with 12-Step programs will know that AA talks about being a "program of attraction, not promotion." That means that it is a way of dealing with addiction that grows because people are attracted to it because of what they see and hear about how others have gotten sober...not because they're running a 'high gloss' add campaign. And they grew because recovering alcoholics told friends who were still drinking addictively about the help they'd found. Sorta like the old description of sharing our faith being "one begger telling another begger where to find food."

Now I've got nothing against ad campaigns per se. I've heard some lately that aren't bad. But once folks get in the door, if our walk doesn't match our talk, folks will drift on out just as quick as they came in.

So what did that "walk" look like in the early Church? Christians were, in the beginning, called People of the Way...what did that "Way" look like to outsiders?

First of all, we're told that they learned the Story. The "teaching of the Apostles" was those who had known Jesus and traveled with Him telling the same stories and sharing the same teachings that you and I find in our Gospel accounts. So they heard the Story and tried to figure out what it meant for them.

Second, they had "fellowship." Now this wasn't a "Hi, how are ya?" kind of thing. This was a view of fellowship rooted in Jesus teachings (for example "I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me...") that caused some of these folksto sell property and "share all things in common" so that their brothers and sisters would be taken care of.

Third, they "broke bread" together. Now this is important. I mean really IMPORTANT. It wasn't just that they ate meals together potluck style (which they probably did) moving from house to house. But more than this, each meal became a reminder to them of the Last Supper where Jesus talked about being 'broken' and 'poured out'; and how Jesus, following the resurrection, was "known in the breaking of the bread." And beyond even this, their meals stood as a counter cultural statement about who was in and who was out...reflecting the way in which Jesus ate with others during His lifetime. (We're into next week's sermon, so I'll stop there).

And finally, they prayed. Prayer became a natural, ongoing part of their life together.

I would challenge each of us-myself included-as we look at our identity as a congregation, and as we search for our next pastor, to examine our lives and see how well we reflect these early Church values.

I wish I could tell you that the church has lived up to this lifestyle; but very quickly this mode of living broke down (again, we're into next week's sermon); and we as current 'Followers of the Way' struggle with it even now. How will we...you and I....seperately and corporately seek to engage in this committed, disciplined struggle to understand and live out the Story and teachings of Jesus.

When we figure that out, we'll find, as once commentator (Al Wynn) said, that folks will be trying to break in to such a fellowship.

See you in two weeks.

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