ALL THINGS IN COMMON
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This is our third week in the book of Acts. If the book of Acts were to end where we were last week, and it was about, say a sports team rather than the Christian faith, and it were about one person, it would probably be called “Peter.” We might imagine it something like the movie “Rudy”, about the young man who got to play for Notre Dame. The big game. The big day. The coming of the Holy Spirit. The Advent of the Holy Spirit if you like. We’ve said before it’s like Christmas for the Holy Spirit. The rushing wind. The divided tongues of fire. A huge day! People from every nation under heaven hearing about God’s deeds of power. Peter raising his voice and addressing them. The plucky underdog fisherman from Galilee proclaiming the word. The crowd cut to the heart and saying to Peter and the other apostles “Brothers, what should we do?” The answer coming from Peter, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.” Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. If this were a movie called “Peter” instead of “Rudy” then Peter would be carried off the field at this point on the shoulders of his fellow apostles to the adoration of the cheering crowds and the credits would roll.
Of course this is not a story about Peter. We talked about this at the beginning, it’s a story of God’s actions through people. This is not the end of the story. The story is ongoing.
And we get this thing about big moments. At a TBM pastor meeting recently someone said about wishing it were like Easter every Sunday. While we don’t chase numbers we like a crowd as much as anyone. Big crowd here at Easter to hear the words proclaimed, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Christmas is a big deal too. A big day. Our summer camp is another event that’s a big deal. One hundred people milling about Flemington PS or BRBC being told the good news of Christ and shown the good news of Christ. Children making decisions for Christ. These are big days.
What about the other days though? What do we do with those? What do we do with days and times that are a little more routine? I sometime call it the grind of life, or the grind of ministry, though I don’t mean there to be any inference that daily life or ministry is onerous necessarily. So let’s go with routine. What do we do in the routine as people who belong to Christ? What is the community that is filled by the Holy Spirit to do?
We persist. “Nevertheless, she persisted” has become a bit of a catch phrase south of us. It fits here. Nevertheless, they persisted. They devoted themselves. There is an element to this word of being steadfastly attentive to, of giving unremitting care to, or perseverance. Luke is describing the early church and in this we have a model for the Spirit filled church of any time. As we look at this passage we ask ourselves how are we doing with these things?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. We have an example of this teaching earlier in the chapter through Peter’s sermon. The good news of Christ. The good news of God’s grand redemption plan. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Peace. Justice. Grace. Love. We frame these things differently depending on whom is being taught. We’ll see how this works as we go through the book of Acts. Paul’s message to the people of Athens is much different to Peter’s message to the people of Jerusalem. The message is not just for those outside of the Christian faith of course. We need to be hearing it often and meaningfully. We need to be asking what it means in our lives to be the recipients of God’s grace. To ask ourselves what it means that Christ walks alongside us. To ask what resurrection power is. To ask what it means that God is with us, because Christmas and Easter are not just for one day a year each. Are we making these opportunities available for people? Are we availing ourselves of opportunities to learn? The better that we might have a share in one another’s lives.
Fellowship. That word that we keep talking about and we’ll keep on talking about. Koinonia. Not simply what goes on in our fellowship time after church, though that’s very good. Koinonia. Participation. Sharing. Sharing one another’s lives. Church as something different than the things that we might gather for with others through our lives. Seeing a show or a movie or a concert. Everyone coming in and sitting and consuming whatever is on offer and then going out and going their separate ways. Not seeing church as something which exists for our benefit – not something that is resulting in the question “What can I get out of this?” What are we putting into this is the more operative question. A turn away from the rugged individualism that is so prevalent in our society. Showing a different way as we follow the Way along his way together. It is not for nothing that Tolkien called the book “The Fellowship of the Ring.” A group of disparate (and sometimes desperate) people (actually a couple of people, a couple of hobbits, an elf and a dwarf) joined in a common goal. A group of people bearing one another’s burdens and in so doing fulfilling the law of Christ. How are we doing with that? In large part we see it happening and we’re thankful for it. Have we written the book on it? Probably not. All who believed were together and had all things in common. What might being together look like for us? What has it looked like? They had all things in common. While this idea was taken on as a rule for monastic communities, it needn’t be thought of as prescriptive. We see later on that Barnabas, the son of encouragement, sold something to help support something else. Luke doesn’t tell us this was a rule or a requirement for entry into the community of faith. Social arrangements were turned upside down. For this group they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. It wasn’t done on any other basis than according to who had need. The same sort of thing worked across churches as we see in Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth. See 2 Cor 8:15. No one had too much. No one had too little. It wasn’t all about grasping onto what was mine in this community. Someone has said that the first two words we learn as infants are often “mine” and “more”. It’s something that the Holy Spirit was doing in this community of believers as they shared one another’s lives. It wasn’t all about me and my stuff. They were family. NT Wright notes in his commentary on Acts that in a family we don’t talk about our table or our chair (though we might have our favourite chair) or our food. It’s ours.
And they broke bread together. They spent time in the Temple together. They praised God together. They broke bread together. Jesus revealed in the breaking of bread. Recall Jesus in Luke’s Gospel going from table to table, sometimes causing controversy, revealing truths of God’s kingdom. We spoke a couple of weeks ago about Jesus the truths of Jesus that are revealed to us when we gather around this table. They broke bread at home. They were in each other’s houses. It wasn’t about someone’s home being their castle, complete with ramparts and a drawbridge and I assume a moat too. They broke bread at home and did so with glad and generous hearts. They welcomed one another as God has welcomed us to his table and they did so gladly and generously. They were joyful about it.
They prayed. They prayed together. How are we doing with that? Not too badly maybe. Perhaps we could do better. We pray singly. We pray in our small groups. We have a prayer time before our service every Sunday that we would love to see you at. 10am every Sunday in my office. How are we doing with praying together as a community? It is in prayer together that we are actively submitting to God’s direction. It is in prayer together that we actively acknowledge our dependence on God. Someone has said that it is in prayer that we acknowledge that heaven and earth have been brought together in the person of Christ. Touching heaven changing earth is how one song puts it.
The four activities of the early church. The apostles’ teaching. Fellowship. The breaking of bread. The prayers. Someone has described it like this – “… an ideal for the Christian community, which it must always strive for, constantly return to and discover anew, if it is to have the unity of the spirit and purpose essential for an effective witness.”
May God make these things true of us.
Awe came upon everyone. Fear is the other way this is translated. Awe. Wonder. Wonderment at the signs and wonders that were being done by the apostles. Christ’s work continuing in the community of Christ. Signs of the kingdom. New life. Healing. Peace. Joy. We’ll be talking about these as we go through these weeks. Fear of the Lord. Not terror. Not a fear of making a mistake and getting zapped with a lightning bolt. Not a servile fear but the spirit of adoption into God’s family as beloved children. Someone has put it like this – “… an attitude of reverence before God which… frees us from earthly fears such as anxiety over the disapproval of others.”
Others were involved too though. This community was not just existing for itself. They ate their food with glad and generous hearts. They praised God. They had the goodwill of all the people. They had goodwill toward all people. People had goodwill toward them. This fellowship, this being together, this spending time, this generosity was never just supposed to be all about us. They had the goodwill of all the people. The favour of God was upon him. This is how Luke describes the young life of Jesus. Here the favour of God is upon the young church.
This was their program. We hear talk in church about outreach programs, evangelistic programs, mission programs. This was the church’s program. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being rescued.
A measuring stick for the church. Friends we see these things happening here and we thank God for them. We want more of the same. We want an awareness of where we’re failing too. This is not just for myself and Pastor Abby though it’s for us too. It’s for all of us. I want to end with some words from NT Wright on this passage which outline our challenge and present a challenge to us – “Where the church today finds itself stagnant, unattractive, humdrum and shrinking… it’s time to read Acts 2.42-47 again, get down on our knees, and ask 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?”
May this be the question of all our hearts my dear friends.