May 11, 2014
As you turn to your Bibles we move to Acts 2:42-47.
When we last left our disciples, Peter had preached an amazing sermon,
And 3000 people were baptized!
What happens next?
It’s interesting to me what they don’t do…
They don’t build a megachurch
So they can all get together at once.
They don’t build anything it seems.
Without skipping a beat,
they begin meeting in small groups – in homes.
And in verse 42 we see that when those small groups meet,
they do 4 things together;
(actually it says they devoted themselves to these activities);
Circle these four:
– Breaking of Bread
Some call these 4 things the ‘marks’ of the early church.
(You could write ‘marks of the church’ in the margin of your Bible.)
These 4 marks of the church aren’t bad to think about today.
When you’re looking for a church,
Look for one for which teaching is important, that values fellowship, that breaks bread, and that prays.
The building isn’t important…
As we teach our children – it’s the people
and what we do together that counts.
Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people!
I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together!
This description of the early church has not been lost on church people.
If you do a Google search for “Acts 2 Church”[i] (and it’s okay with me if you do it now!)
You’ll find 117 million hits.
There are churches who have called themselves “Acts 2” in Nebraska and Florida,
Oklahoma and North Carolina.
There are Baptist and Methodist and Lutheran and nondenominational “Acts 2” churches.
Some choose to a little more edgy in their names…
There’s one called the “A2” church and there’s the “A242” (for Acts 2, verse 42) church.
Everyone want to be (it seems) an Acts 2 church.
Everyone wants to start an Acts 2 church.
You can even purchase a booklet called, “The Acts 2 Church and Implementation Guide.”[ii]
The name of a church sometimes says a lot about a church.
Can you guess the most popular name of a church in the United States?
It’s First Baptist.
When I was in Atlanta (I think it was), there was a First Baptist, and a 2nd Baptist, and a 3rd Baptist,
…when I ran into an 7th Baptist, I thought I knew something about that church….
it wasn’t very creative!
Good Shepherd has an interesting history of its own name of course!
We used to be called “Advent Lutheran” but changed to “Good Shepherd” so as not to be confused with the 7th Day Adventist church around the corner!
We could think of today as our church “nameday”
because every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter,
we hear the 23rd psalm (the Lord is my shepherd)
and the gospel reading talks about Jesus the good Shepherd.
So on Good Shepherd Sunday, let’s think about ourselves as church – of our life together.
Are we an Acts 2 community?
Let’s look at these 4 marks of the church again.
The church community is devoted to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.
These 4 things are the primary activity of the church.
Since there was no written curriculum for education,
the teaching would have been at that time, the scriptures
and the apostles’ proclamation of what they had heard Jesus say and do.
The fellowship described here is the Greek word koinonia…
It’s about relationships … the quality of our relationships with each other,
and also about welcoming others into relationship.
Every church thinks it’s a friendly and welcoming church…to those who are there already…
but if you’ve ever been a visitor at a church,
you know that sometimes your experience can feel different than welcoming.
Fellowship and welcoming others into relationship
is a hallmark of the early church.
The members of the early church liked to eat it seems!
They break bread together.
Most likely that meant both the Communion meal as well as less formal times
of eating together.
And finally, the early church was in prayer together.
Notice that the text says they devoted themselves to “the prayers…”
So likely there were some familiar prayers that they prayed together – like the Lord’s Prayer.
But also, likely they devoted themselves to relationship with God and prayed for each other’s needs and concerns and thanksgivings.
Notice what’s missing from those four marks of the church in verse 42…
there’s nothing about service.
There’s nothing about caring for the poor….
Well, there’s nothing about caring for the poor in verse 42,
but let’s go on to verse 43.
As a result of their being together, awe came upon everyone.
They were inspired by miraculous wonders and signs,
not the least of which was what happens in verse 44:
“All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all,
as any had need.”
(Now I was looking for a different translation of that text and couldn’t find one.)
Pope Francis created a little controversy again this week when he
said something about ‘redistribution of wealth.’
Sounds like he’s trying to start an Acts 2 church…
and more particularly, an Acts 2 verse 44 church.
Now if truth be told,
this way of living doesn’t seem to last very long.
Luke doesn’t mention it again.
It doesn’t seem to be a model of the church as it expanded.
According to Eusebius, an early 4th century historian,
as the church expands in Rome
“it builds structures and hierarchies until it becomes something that fits in nicely with the Roman Empire.”[iii]
(Please note the sarcasm in my voice!)
Let’s forward to today…
these church structures and hierarchies are having difficulties.
Buildings built to house hundreds of worshippers are now feeling rather empty.
Church leaders struggle to find ways to keep their buildings from falling into disrepair because they can’t afford them any longer.
I was talking with Dan Carlton, pastor of Downtown Baptist Church this week.
Last Sunday instead of their regular morning worship,
their congregation had a morning of service projects throughout the city of Alexandria.
Dan was driving from place to place to check on the various service projects…
and he noticed several things…
one of which is that church parking lots in our town were painfully empty on a Sunday morning.
There were people up and about – walking dogs, jogging along the street, sitting outside coffee shops –
there were people around, but they weren’t at church – at least not in the church buildings.
I doubt this is very surprising to you!
In the United States we are following a trend that has been going on in Europe for years now.
What is God calling us to be as church in this day and age?
Perhaps God is calling us back to be an Acts 2 church.
Perhaps God is calling us back to those simple 4 marks of the church:
devotion to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.
Perhaps God is calling us back to devotion to community rather than structure;
to compassion and mutual support rather than hierarchy.
The Roman Empire had plenty of structures and hierarchy.
Alexandria has plenty of tall buildings and institutions.
But none of these buildings and institutions will do what the church does.
Alexandria needs us to be the church –
To be the people of God among whom the Word is taught and lived.
We need to be the place to proclaim to all we can reach
In the words of Lutheran rock star Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber:[iv]
“That there is a God who created us and all that is,
this same God spoke through prophets and poets,
claimed a people to be God’s own
and freed them from the shackles of slavery.
This same God led those people
through the wilderness to a land of milk and honey,
and told them to always welcome the stranger and
protect the foreigner
so that they could remember where they came from
and what God had done for them.
Then in the fullness of time,
and to draw ALL people to himself,
God came and broke our hearts like only a baby could do
and made God’s home in the womb of a fierce young woman
as though God was saying, from now on this is how I want to be known.
And as Jesus, God the Son kissed lepers and befriended prostitutes and baffled authority.
Jesus ate with all the wrong people
and on the night before he died, he gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom.
He held up bread and told us to do the same thing
and he promised us so much: that he would be with us,
that forgiveness is real,
that we are God’s,
that people matter and that death is done for …”
If this doesn’t create a sense of awe in us too,
I don’t know what will.
No one else in Alexandria will tell this story.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church – we are here for a purpose.
This community needs to hear what God has to say.
So let us continue in teaching, in fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in prayer.
This is our life in community together.