Today’s sermon is based on the First Lesson for this day, from Acts 2:42-47
Here are the notes from which the sermon will be taken:
Richard Rohr writes:
At their most mature level, religions cultivate in their followers
a deeper union with God,
with each other
and with reality — or what is.
The work of religion is to re-ligio — re-ligament or reunite
what our egos and survival instincts have put asunder,
namely a fundamental wholeness at the heart of everything.
Religions don’t always resemble their founders.
Former pastor Brian McLaren takes this even farther.
In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, he writes that “our religions often stand for the very opposite of what their founders stood for.”
Why is this? The founders of religions are usually bold and charismatic visionaries.
They inspire people with their fresh insights and their moral imaginations.
But over time, their teachings are preserved by religions that are run by risk-averse bureaucracies.
Instead of being bold and visionary, religions become obsessed with money and power.
That’s why there was a popular video produced a few years ago called, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”
Because Christianity has become disconnected from Jesus,
many people are getting sick of the church.
People want a church that is true to Jesus,
aligned with his ministry and mission.
So we have to ask ourselves, as McLaren does,
“What would it mean for Christians to rediscover their faith?”
What would it mean for us to rediscover Christianity as “a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion?”
For this to happen, McLaren says that we need to migrate, moving from one way of life to another.
In particular, he challenges us to move from expressing our faith only as a system of beliefs
“to expressing it as a loving way of life.”
This is a migration away from religious bureaucracy and back to the vision of our founder, Jesus Christ.
It’s a move away from pointing fingers in condemnation
to opening our hands to alleviate human suffering.
It’s a migration from going in debt for a building program
to spending time making disciples –
that is, living like the first Christians did as described in Acts and today’s text.
A just and generous way of life,
rooted in contemplation
and expressed in compassion.
That’s the kind of religion that Jesus founded.
And it’s the answer to the question: What church would Jesus belong to today?
In Acts 1, Jesus tells his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (1:8). Then he disappears.
His words become true according to the account in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit comes upon them — Acts tells us that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (v. 4).
Immediately, the followers of Jesus become witnesses.
They begin to speak about “God’s deeds of power” in languages that are clear to the international crowd that is gathered in Jerusalem (v. 11).
Then the apostle Peter begins to speak about the life and death of Jesus, giving testimony to how “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (v. 24). These words resulted in the baptism of 3,000 people in one day alone!
But the power of the Christian message was communicated not only by words, but by deeds.
Acts tells us that the members of the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42).
They shared everything — in fact, “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v. 45).
Because of this just and generous way of life, rooted in prayer and expressed in compassion, the church had “the goodwill of all the people.”
It continued to grow, day by day, as “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47).
Clearly, this is the kind of religion that resembles its founder. It is precisely the kind of church that Jesus would want to belong to — one defined by a loving way of life. So what does such a life look like?
First, it is a life that is not attached to material things.
Second, a loving way of life that is open and receptive to others.
Jesus is a model of receptivity, and he challenges us to be open to the needs of others.
Third, a loving way of life that is marked by spiritual maturity.
In the Jerusalem church, the members “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). They made sure that they were nourished by teaching and preaching, communion and prayer. Spiritual feeding was needed before church members could go out and feed the hungry around them.
Jesus wants to be part of a church that is spiritually mature, rooted in prayer and contemplation.
Josh McDowell writes in See Yourself As God Sees You.
“We study the Bible not primarily to learn what to do as Christians but how to be as Christians,”
“As we understand from Scripture who we are and what we are becoming, the doing part of our faith will practically take care of itself.”
Chandler Stokes, who’s now a pastor in California, tells of an epiphany he had when he was a student at New College in Edinburgh a number of years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
While Chandler was there, he had the rare chance to hear the head of the East German Church, a Protestant church trying desperately to survive behind the Iron Curtain.
But instead of feeling sorry for himself, this leader remarked on the struggle of his audience.
“Almost every time I come to the West, I am asked by serious and well-meaning church people, ‘How are you able to be a Christian in a communist society, with so many pressures and impositions from the state?’
My usual response is to ask, ‘How are you able to be a Christian in a capitalist society? With every pressure to self-centered consumption and self-gratifying indulgence?” …
Capitalism, tempered by compassion, can accomplish great good.
Capitalism can inspire creativity, encourage independence, and most importantly, raise people out of poverty.
But capitalism can’t teach us to care …
and it can’t teach us that greed is ultimately empty …
and it can’t teach us that, in the long run, sharing what we have brings us much more joy than owning things.
Capitalism can’t teach us any of these things.
But the gospel … the gospel can.
They devoted themselves to the disciples teaching
To the breaking of bread
And the prayers.
By focusing on what JESUS focused on
And inviting others into that relationship
We ARE the church of Jesus Christ!