The Gospel Embodied in Community (A Sermon on Acts 2:42-47)

Remember where we came from last week. Peter has just finished the speech of all speeches connecting the dots of how the hope of Israel is realized in the death and Resurrection of Jesus. You have now three thousand people who have all subscribed to this way of seeing the world. The movement is now on it’s way. Luke, trying to give us an idea of what happens next, gives us an idealistic picture of what the earliest Christian community looks like. Let’s read it together.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47

Luke doesn’t just leave us hanging with the story about 3000 people getting saved. He shows us the very quick realization of what this looks like when 3000 people do get saved. Now let’s just clear the air right now. I probably shouldn’t be doing this message. By now, most of you know that my preferred way of living is in community and we all sell everything we own and live in a box somewhere with fast Internet and make sure the poor are taken care of. So I might be a little biased in approaching this particular part of scripture. So I’ll do my best to not use this as absolute proof why you should all drink my koolaid and sell all your stuff and give me all your money. So if I start to go too off the deep end this morning, just stop me, and bring me back on course.

This verse here is one of a few summary passages that Luke writes to kind of give us an overall picture of what is going on all the while making theological statements along the way. He is basically saying that this is, what the first believers did and looked like when they came to the realization that Jesus was the real deal and the realization of their hope and salvation. Like any description like this, it is meant to be a summary but not to describe the entirety of an entire movement. It’s also not meant to be prescriptive. Luke isn’t telling us that believers have to do these things either. I can sense the sigh of relief when I say that. It’s amazing how much of a relief it is when we get off the hook for what we don’t want to do. It’s also interesting at how we will never let other people off the hook for when we think something is mandatory.

Luke basically outlines four ways that the church started living out her life together. They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, they were in fellowship, they engaged in the breaking of bread together, and they prayed. These things are all pretty basic and don’t need a lot of explanation. There is some debate around the idea of “breaking bread together.” Some thing it is referring to the Eucharist and others think it just meant eating together. However, both of them probably happened together, so it’s probably not that important. We need to keep in mind that the things that these first believers were partaking in were not all that unusual. Odds are that many of these people already had some sort of similar ritual or tradition that they were participating in already and it was a continuation of there life already. Remember these folks were Jews, they had a way of life already very much steeped in prayer, eating together, studying and fellowship. I don’t tell you this to make light of what they were doing but only to show you that it’s probably not a normal occurrence for someone to become saved and then all of sudden do all these things the next day. But Luke is showing us this is what the early church looked like. These were the the marks of the early church that set them apart as a redeemed people of God.

This was the way that these people embodied the good news of Jesus and what the realized about him. That is the first sentence, telling us about the kind of rituals that the early church participated in. Then Luke goes on to tell us that because of these rituals, awe came upon every sole and many wonders and signs started being done by the apostles. This isn’t just the people that were in the community that were in awe. Everyone was in awe. This isn’t just because of the miracles but because of the way that this community was living. It was like nothing else mattered. I’m convinced one of the miracles that Luke is talking about here is the fact that this community could live the way they lived and actually share what they had, and not be obsessed with the rat race of wealth and pleasure. Look at how well they took care of each other! This for many, is actually a miracle, something to be in awe about.

I was speaking with an unchurched friend of mine and we were talking about the inner workings of the church and how it functions. She asked how a pastor got paid, like where does the money come from? I told her it came from all of us people that are part of this community, week after week giving of our hard earned money to this community so it can function the way it does. She was in awe. Why in the world would a bunch of people give their money to an organization that just runs a service once a week? Obviously she didn’t get it. But I understand the awe. I still see it on people’s faces today when I tell them about theStory or about some of the decisions that I make.  This is the kind of awe that the people around the first believers were experiencing. Who are these people that are selling there stuff just so everyone else is taken care of? Who are these people who eat together in each other’s homes? This isn’t the way the world works normally. Life then, as it is now, was plagued with individualism, greed and a constant chasing after instantaneous results and pleasure. It is awe inspiring to see a community of people reject that way of living and take the narrow path toward a life of community, learning and downward mobility.

Q: What do you think inspires people about the church today? Does anything?

The first Christians beliefs lead them to have all things in common and sell their possessions and belongings and distributing the money to anyone that had need. The commonality of goods is set forth as concrete testimony that something unsettling, specific and substantial has happened to these people.

Q: What would have lead these first Christians to sell their things and give it to the poor? What caused them to live out there convictions in that way?

I don’t think what Luke was doing here was trying to paint a picture of an ideal society. Again, this isn’t a list of commands for Christians. As much as I don’t want to say that. In fact, by reading Acts and the Epistles we can be quite sure that this ideal society never actually happened. They certainly had their fair share of struggles and problems and had lots to work through. Acts, as we will see, is full of problems amongst it’s people. So we know that Luke isn’t telling us that if we live a certain way everything will be perfect. Rather he is showing us that when you realize what these people realized, then you respond in a certain way that is full of generosity.

See what these people were doing was was the best response they knew how to give based on what they now knew. For them, at this time it meant taking care of those who were around them and facing into oppressive systems. This was bringing to fulfillment that which was promised to them all along. Like in Deut 15:4-5 that promises a land free of poverty.

“In their eating and drinking the resurrection community is already a partial fulfillment of that promise, enjoying now what shall soon be consummated in the kingdom of God.”
– William Willimon

This is the answer I think to our second question. The first believers were fulfilling and incarnating what they saw as the promise and fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. They were living, to the best way they could, what the kingdom of God should have looked like. Jesus was telling them over and over again that the Kingdom of God was here and now, and they, through there actions were there making that a reality.

We are taught to have things our way and that being able to have our individual needs catered to is how to measure the success of an organization. In our culture, our individual needs and rights come before any needs of the group. The biblical picture is not what someone receives from the church, although one does receive a great deal , but of what one gives and how one contributes to it. The portrait of the early church in acts shows that community and the welfare of the group were a priority. This attitude reflected spiritual maturity that allowed the church to grow. In the case of this earliest community, the believers preaching was matched by their community, making a powerful testimony for their mission. When the early church said that God cared, the care they gave their own demonstrated this. – Darrel Bock

Our culture tends to lean in a very different direction as the Kingdom of God. The world promotes individualism, privacy and taking care of yourself. None of these are healthy. One of the marks of making the Kingdom of God a reality now is to oppose these things in our own life and live out a way that involves community, sharing and caring for those who can’t care for themselves. Our culture pushes towards greed and collecting as many things as possible for yourself so that you are safe and taken care of. The Kingdom of God on the other hand promotes sharing and refusing the right to see the world or anything in it as something you can own or are entitled to. The Kingdom of God sees life as an adventure and not seeing money as something that can threaten you or make you safe. The two directions are quite different but they both demand different things.

What is happening across and through the church with the first believers is truly remarkable. We know that there was lots of boundaries setup between people during this time and many of them were enforced at the dinner table. However, just like Jesus refused to make proper distinctions between person at his table so did the early church. Eating together is a mark of unity, solidarity, and deep friendship, a visible sign that social barriers which once plagued these people have broken down. And now here they were, breaking bread together almost every day facing into the cultural expectations of who they should eat with or not.

At the lead team level, we are starting to ask questions about our community. We are starting to wonder what it means to consider yourself part of theStory. I think these were the same questions that we are seeing the first believers ask and answer in Acts. Is it just something that we do once a week? Is the Sunday morning gathering the end all and be all of what it means to be a follower of Jesus along side of the community of theStory? Obviously this is the default of our world. We want to take the easy way out. Show up somewhere, give some money and then allow it to remove any guilt or obligation that we might feel. We don’t want to be put on the spot. We want to be safe. We want our kids to be taught the right things. We all have expectations. But what does it mean? What does it meant to be part of theStory?

For the first believers it was quite radical. As the story of Acts starts to unfold we are going to start to see how serious this move really was. Selling all your stuff, giving it to the poor, taking care of those in need, worshipping together, praying together…this is what it meant to be a Christian. This was the expectation, but not in a coercive way, but in an obvious way. For us this might look quite different. I can assure you though that it doesn’t just mean show up here on Sunday and sing a few songs and listen to me ramble on about whatever I’m thinking about this past week. Being part of theStory has to mean more than that. For the first Christians they had to be asked “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” The answer to that question is, “We will, with God’s help.” Sometimes this was a three year process of answering this questions for the early Christians. But the lead team is starting to wonder, what is our questions? What are the marks of theStory going to be? How long will this take us?

Q: What does it mean to you to be part of theStory? What should it mean?

Again, these aren’t rules. These are values. Christians valued certain things and to become a Christian you basically say “I value what Christian’s value” and then you started changing your life to better reflect what you value. This is the direction that we are going to move into as a church. As we start to land on certain things that theStory values as a whole you will be able to join in with us and value these things alongside of us. If theStory says that we value ‘left handed widgets’ because we think that God has given us a heart to manufacture them, then you will be given the same opportunity to say, ‘i value left handed widgets.’ This is what taking ownership over this community will look like. It will look like this community starting to value the same things and then changing our lives to match what we believe.

Listen, I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel the crunch. The world around us is literally out of control, and it has been since the beginning of time. Corporations now control and own most of the world’s wealth and by law their only concern is for profit for there shareholders. Our children are spending increasingly amounts more time in front of screen to keep them quiet so parents don’t have to deal with them. Our food comes from all over the world with all sorts of chemicals in it. Pharmaceutical companies continually offer solutions to problems they have created.  Our environment is slowly being destroyed by our obsessive shopping and travel habits. Our neighbourhoods are being hidden behind fences and attached garages while other neighbourhoods are made out of cardboard and scrap metal. Our fate is literally being gambled on by the powers that be in the financial district. Our jobs are fragile. The ones who say they are out to help us are really just about maintaining the facade of safety while reeping the benefits at the poor’s expense. Our children are being marketed to a thousand times a day.  It’s not easy. This is difficult. I want to resist, but it’s easier not to. I’m feeling worn out, I’m feeling alone.

But that is what this community is for. Together we are coming to realize that the direction that the world is taking is not all its cracked up to be. People are unhappy. We can see a glimpse of another way to live. People are starting to wake up and realize what Jesus was talking about. It’s called the Kingdom of God. This new way to live has different values. It values love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self control and all sorts of other beautiful attributes. Isn’t this why we are here? We realize that the world’s fate doesn’t have to be our fate. We can oppose it. We can choose to live different. We can choose to be in solidarity with those that are losing and are marginalized because we see helping others as a value and no longer just helping ourselves. For all of us this will look different. For some of us it will mean quiting our jobs and taking care of our kids instead. For others it will mean getting a second job to support someone who can’t work. For some it will mean saving every last penny that comes in and for others it will mean giving away 90% of your income to those that can’t afford rent this month. For some it will mean selling your house and moving in with others and for others it will mean keeping your house and being hospitable to your neighbours. For some it will mean pulling your kid out of extra curricular activities because they are being drowned in activities and for other it will mean homeschooling while for others it will mean leaving your kids in public school. For all of us it will mean becoming a people who is shaped by the values of the Kingdom of God rather than the longings of this world. It will mean we will become a generous people. A selfless people. A people dedicated to a life of service to each other and the world.

I hope theStory becomes a community that navigates its way through this mess of culture and lands on what our values are and then works together to live them out. The first Christians sold their property! This is a big deal. This is a group of people whose ancestral heritage was tied directly to the land that they were selling. I think the kind of sacrifice and community involvement will be just as significant but we have yet to figure it out. It’s coming though. Our marks will be quite clear and our mission even clearer. We will be called to be generous with whatever we have now for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Will we choose to be generous? Will be be like these first Christians who were willing to give up on it all because what they believed changed there lives so drastically? I hope so. I think we can do it. I want to do it. Let’s pray together.

O Jesus,

Who chose a life of poverty and obscurity, grant me the grace to keep my heart detached from the transitory things of this world.

Let it be that henceforth, You are my only treasure, for You are infinitely more precious than all others possessions. My heart is too solicitous for the vain and fleeting things of earth.

Make me always mindful of Your warning words: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Grant me the grace to keep Your holy example always before my eyes, that I may despise the nothingness of this world and make You the object of all my desires and affections.

Amen.

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