I was reading a portion from the book of Acts in a children’s Bible awhile back, and in its conclusion ran across this description of the early church: “Soon there were people in many places who knew about Jesus. These people got together…to help each other, to eat together, to remember the things that Jesus said, and to talk about living in God’s way. When people came together like this, they called it a church.” (The Family Story Bible, p. 270)
What a great line: “when people came together like this, they called it a church…” For wherever people come together like this, they do call it a church. And what a privilege it is, to do so many of the things that make us a church, in a single day.
I invite you to pull out your bulletin for just a minute and walk through it with me. First notice this back and forth movement throughout the service, of hearing and then responding to the word of God. Our lives of faith are always lived in response to the amazing grace of a God who loves us, calls us, reaches out to us first.
And then that central movement of hearing and responding to God’s word takes shape for us in particular ways.
We come together in worship to celebrate the gifts of God, to offer our praise and thanks, to lift up our whole lives before the God to whom we belong. So we call ourselves to worship, and lift up songs of praise.
We admit to God that we’ve messed up, and we hear an assurance of God’s pardon, remembering that every one of us is both flawed and forgiven. We offer one another signs of peace, for who among us cannot benefit from a smile, a kind word, and above all the gift of Christ’s peace? Later on we’ll pray for one another, and pray for our world. And while we fall short of the level of generosity demonstrated by the early church, where all of their worldly goods were given over and shared in common, we do encourage one another to be as generous as we can be, with our possessions. We remind each other regularly that all that we have and all that we are comes from God, and it is only fitting to give back – not in a stingy or grudging way – but out of an overflowing spirit of gratitude.
Before worship this morning, some of us studied and learned together (the younger ones among us are in their classrooms now) and some of us sang together, and some of us were welcoming newcomers, and there were folks setting up food for us downstairs so we can eat together after worship. For when we come together at coffee hour, we call that the church too, don’t we? Ask any of our kids; they’ll tell you it’s an important part of what we’re all about around here. And to be fair, the Church has been eating together, since day one.
The list goes on and on – of the many ways this morning will, in the end, reflect what we’re all about, as a church. For really, we pray that every Sunday demonstrates at least some of what Acts 2 describes in connection with the earliest Christians. Might we, too, find ourselves spending time together day-by-day, breaking bread together, eating with glad and generous hearts, praising God, and having the goodwill of all the people. (Acts 2:46-47) Not a bad list of things to aspire to, is it?
Finally, this morning, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism, a sign of God’s grace, a sign, says Peter in Acts 2, of the promise of God’s Holy Spirit. We’re told it’s a promise that “is for you, for your children, and for all… everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:39)
One of the great gifts of being part of the Church is the privilege of making the promises we make at every baptism. Will we love, encourage, and support these boys, share the good news of the gospel with them, and help them know and follow our Lord? You bet we will! We look forward to being the church for Matthew and Jack, to watching them grow into young men, to befriending them and praying for them along the way, and finally to sending them off wherever they may go from here, with God’s blessing: “May God be with you there!”
We won’t always get it right. Sometimes we’ll be the ones to stumble, or screw up. Sometimes it will be others in the Church who hurt us. Remember Peter talking about the need for repentance in this morning’s text from Acts? That’s built right into our DNA as Church too. Hence the need for that weekly prayer of confession and assurance of pardon, reminding us we’re both flawed and forgiven.
But here’s the thing. Nowhere is it written that we have to be perfect, to be the Church. Somehow, simply offering what we can seems to give God plenty to work with. Take Peter, for instance. No one’s idea of a perfect leader; he’d only recently denied the Lord whose resurrection he now preached with a passion. Yet God used Peter to do amazing things. He offered up his weaknesses right along with his strengths, and the Holy Spirit went to work, and the Church took off!
So much so, that (again to quote that children’s Bible) “soon there were people in many places who knew about Jesus. These people got together…to help each other, to eat together, to remember the things that Jesus said, and to talk about living in God’s way. When people came together like this, they called it a church.”
It’s encouraging to hear stories of just how busy the Holy Spirit can be, behind the scenes, bringing folks together in the Church. Pastor Lillian Daniel tells a story of the time when she found out that her son had diabetes. It happened just days before Holy Week. Because she loved Palm Sunday, she had planned a lot for that day. There was to be the usual grand procession with the palms, the special music, and the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. And because she had assumed it would be a celebratory day, she had decided that it would also be the day when new members would join the church.
Early that Sunday morning, with the news of her son’s diabetes hanging on her shoulders, she sat at the desk in the front office with no celebratory feelings whatsoever. One of the new members who was to join that day, a young man who worked in the medical field, had arrived bright and early. “How are you this morning?” he asked innocuously, not realizing he would be the first person she had seen at church that morning, and that he was about to really find out.
“You know what?” Pastor Daniel said, “I’m not doing too great. My son is in the hospital, diagnosed with diabetes, out of nowhere, and he may or may not get to come to church today…So how am I doing? To be honest, I’m a little shaky.” She realized after she spoke that she had said too much, so she quickly said, “Sorry.”
“Juvenile diabetes or type-two?” he asked, appearing to know a distinction that most people do not. “Type-one?” She nodded.
“Well, I have type-one diabetes,” he said. “In fact, it’s what drove me to go into medicine. I’m passionate about helping people to live healthy lives with this condition. I think that’s why I am joining the church today. I’m going to be a friend to your son, and help you all to deal with this.”
And that’s exactly what happened. His friendship changed their lives in the years that followed, and none of that would have happened had they not been joined together in the body of Christ, not just in their good news but also in their bad.
That new church member probably thought that he was joining the church that day because he needed it. And he was right. But in addition, sometimes the reason you are part of the church is because somebody here needs you.
Helping each other. Eating together. Remembering the things Jesus taught us. Doing our best to live together in God’s way.
When people come together like this, we call it Church. Thank you for being part of our living witness to what we’re all about.