A sermon I preached this morning on the short passage from Acts 2:42-47.
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 favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
A Church that Cares
I wonder if you’ve ever been in the situation when someone has mis-identified you. Well, a few months ago, Conservative politician and party leader David Cameron got a severe case of mistaken identity.
Mr Cameron was introduced to the supermodel Kate Moss at a party.
“[As I was being introduced] I thought, what on earth am I going to say? And I remembered she actually has a house in my constituency and we’d had these terrible floods in West Oxfordshire and so I said, ‘Very nice to meet you, very sorry about the flooding in your house. I know your local pub has been flooded, I’ve been to see the publican and I know you like to go to the pub and so I know it’s going to reopen in six months. So I went on like this, twittering on, and she turned around and said, ‘God, you sound like a really useful guy, can I have your phone number?’“
So, David Cameron met Kate Moss, but unfortunately she though he was in the business of fixing drainage and plumbing problems.
How many times do people get our identities wrong – or even, how many times do we get it wrong ourselves.
When asked about who we are, we usually, in this country, start with our job or some sort of role descriptor – I am a bricklayer, an accountant, a golfer, a democrat, a mother, a child. In fact, we often go off searching for our identities, looking for activities that we like or groups to join, so we can cobble an activity together that we are comfortable with. All this is very individualistic.
There is a proverb from the Khosa people in South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s tribe, which says “A person is a person through persons.” Many other cultures see relationship as our principle form of identity.
My wife and I went on honeymoon to Mauritius, where I have very distant relations. In the three weeks we were there, we met a lot of people in my very extended family. They all called us, simply ‘cousins’, when in fact we were more like third or fourth cousins. In the whole time we were there,not one were we asked what job we did. They were much more interested in how my family was. For them, family relationships were the primary identity.
There is an element of truth in this – the primary aspect of our identity is in relationships. And as Christians, our primary relationship is with God.The Bible says that we are Children of God
Rom 8:16-17 “ The Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
We are so intimately brought into God’s family that he treats us as his own children, set to inherit what is passed on to us. So our primary identity is as children of God, part of God’s family, and our primary relationship is our relationship with God. And if we’re all part of God’s family, then we are a family – we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Acts community
OK – well lets get to today’s passage. Jesus has ascended into heaven and left the apostles with a task – to spread his message and to baptise in his name (Matt 28:18-20). But he doesn’t leave them alone to this task. The Holy Spirit comes upon them in a quite dramatic fashion, and they preach. Peter gives a great sermon in Jerusalem (ch 2 of Acts) to a huge number of people from all nationalities who had come to Jerusalem for a festival. And the Holy Spirit draws more people to repent and come to God through Jesus.
So, from being about 100 followers of Christ, we now have this group of over 3000 Christians. What sort of things do they get up to?
Well there are 3 characteristics of this fledgling church. The first two are fairly predictable…
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
1) apostles teaching – It was a learning church
It certainly wasn’t anti-intellectual. They did not leave their brains at the door. But they studied the old testament scripture (which is what they had at the time), and listened to the apostles tell them to works of Jesus. We no longer have the apostles, but we do have their teaching recorded for us in the New Testament. An authentic mark of the church is one that is gathered around the Bible, learning from scripture and the apostles teachings. Discussing it, explaining it, preaching from it, debating it. Through it we learn about God’s dealings with the world and our relation to him in that.
2) They devoted themselves to worship – to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
They used to gather together to worship, both formally and informally. In the temple courts they prayed and praised. They probably no longer took part in the sacrifices, as they were learning from the apostles that Jesus took care of all of that by become our sacrifice for guilt and shame and sin.But they still met in large groups int he temple.
The breaking bread was probably done in a much more informal way than the eucharist as we know it. They probably broke bread and wine as part of a meal. But still, as Jesus as commanded them, remembering the story of his death and resurrection, as part of a meal. It would have been in someone’s home – in small groups.
So their worship was both formal and informal, in larger groups in the temple, and in smaller groups in homes.
3) They devoted themselves to the fellowship
This is the point I’m going to spend a little more time on this morning.
They devoted themselves to their fellowship – their community. The word used for fellowhip is koinoinia – it is the same word used for communion. When we think of communion we think of a relationship that is very closely knit together. The comunity was a communion of people.
Community is something that is lacking in our western society these days. Often people don’t know their next door neightbours, especially in cities. There are people who love alone who don’t know how to meet other people. There are fewer ‘hubs’ in society where the community naturally meets. When we do spend time with others, it is often with people who are just like us. Society is crying out for authentic community.
Lets look through the passage and see how many of the words used emphasise the community aspect, the togetherness of what they were doing:
- v44 they had everything in common.
- v45 they gave to anyone as he had need.
- v46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
- v46They broke bread in their homes and ate together
- v47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
It was close knit communion that looked after the needy, studied together, prayed together, supported each other, broke bread together, was generous with their possessions, and hospitable with their homes.
Now, lets get this straight – it wasn’t a commune. They did not surrender all their possessions have have a central shared ownership of their stuff – some of them owned houses (which we hear they met in to eat together – verse 46) and they still owned possessions and goods. But when a need arose, when they saw needy or hungry people amongst the believers, they were willing to sell their things and help each other, for the good of the community. They were helping a brother or sister in the same family. They saw that they were each children of God and therefore their identity was as part of God’s family. As a result, they looked after other members of that family. They were all in it together.
God’s plan all along
This community aspect was not a new thing. Back in Genesis 12 God appeared to Abraham and made him a pormise. This pormise was not simply that he would be brought to God, but that his descendants would be made into a nation – a holy nation. This nation would be such a community living for God that it would draw others in. And that was the intention. Deuteronomy (4:6-8) expresses the desire that the surrounding poeple will see how close God is to them.
And when it started to go wrong, the prophets called the nations back to God. how did they do this? By saying that they had not only neglected God, but they had neglected their community – they had neglected things like justice for the poor and needy. (see Amos)
So the promise came that there would be an Anointed One, from God, who would be the focus for all who want to come to God. He would be a light for the nations.
This new community is now gathered around Jesus, with Him at the centre. The culmination of the community that God promised to Abraham in Genesis is us. The church. The family of God.
Can we be this community?
How can we be this community which loves and supports each other and has everything in common? Well, we can look at church and small groups in two ways.
The first way is as an individual
We see church and small groups as something extra to go to. It is one of many things we are juggling in our lives. So for example, someone might be juggling a busy job, keeping up with friends, trying to look after a family. Lots of things on her plate. How lets say, her mum falls ill and she has to arrange for care and visit more often. Now, in an individualistic world, that person is left to do it on her own, and unsurprisingly, some of the balls she is juggling get dropped. The church group is often the first to go.
What’s the alternative? Well, if our primary identity is as God’s children, and our primary community is as God’s people. Therefore, when something happens to one member of the Christian family, it has implications for the whole group – because we are a family. We are accountable to each other.
So, back of our example of a lady who is juggling a busy job, running a family and whose mum suddenly falls ill. This is a family issue, for the Christian family. So the community gathers around and perhaps offers to take her children to school, offers to look after them so that her and her husband has time together. They might offer to drive her to the hospital if she can’t get there. And of course, they offer prayer for her and her family.
This may mean that she turns up less at church meetings and small groups, but she is more involved than ever in the life of the community. That’s appealing isn’t it.
So how do we create Christian communities like that?
First we need to be in these small groups giving and receiving support from each other. Things such as homegroups of Bibles study groups. They could be simply an informal group of Christians gathered which meet regularly. Or it could be a group that is centred around an acivity. There is a group of ladies in our church which meets together to sew and knit. And as they sew, they chat and share their lives with each other. Any group which looks at scripture, shares fellowship, and worships together can be such a community.
Second, we need to model it. We model this Christian community so that others see and catch the vision of what communities could be like. So, Within each group, become a blessing to each other – being generous with our possessions, hospitable with our homes, popping in on people to see how they are, listening to each other, supportive in time and prayer. Sharing our lives fully and authentically with each other.
And people will see the authentic community that this world is crying out for.
When I was at university, I drifted away from church in my first year. One of the things that helped me drift back was a group I became a part of. It was called MethSoc, and was a society of Methodists. I say it was for Methodists, but actually, very few of the members were actually Methodist. There were anglo-catholics, evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, gay and straight – just about every type of Christian. It was a tremendously accepting group, which supported each other, had fun together, looked at scriptures together, and generally learnt how to be Christians together.
In fact, it was so such a welcoming community that one of the people who came was a girl who has lost her faith. She had lost her faith but she kept coming. And slowly, God found her again.
My prayer is that all of our church communities can be like the loving, supportive, generous community of the early church in Acts chapter 2. And maybe, like the early church in Acts 2, the Lord will add to our number daily, those who are being saved.