Sunday April 12, 2015.
I love my church
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
When I was 20 this vision of the very earliest community of the resurrected Jesus meant a lot to me and those around me. We wanted this community. We longed for this “one heart and one mind” life. We longed for this kind of “shared possession” life. We chased it as we did lots of serving among young people in youth groups and camps and local church activities. We read books, went to seminars, ask our questions and shared answers….
This vision of Christians fully committed to the living of their faith in generous and loving community around the word of God and prayer and breaking of bread and the fellowship they shared in God’s Spirit (Acts 2:42) shaped our vision of what we thought the church needed to be.
I remember having serious discussions with like-minded young adults about what it would be like to be this kind of Christian community. We wondered what it would be like to move in to a town or suburb in the city, live in close proximity to each other, look after each other’s kids (when or if we had them), share each others homes for meals and conversation, welcome in the stranger, share our money, our possessions, our lives.
We saw this vision Luke gives us of the first community of Jesus and we wanted this to shape our lives. I see this in people today. I see it in those who are 20+. I see it in people now pushing 65+! I see it in the Lutheran young people who put huge effort into gathering and befriending teenagers at the Christian life Week camps and lots of other camps and gatherings. I see it in older people who have pretty much given their lives to serving people.
Leanne and I probably had something of this vision of Christian communal life at this radical level when we upped and left our home in the West and took a Youth Director job at Flinders Street, in Adelaide as newly marrieds. There, we and others worked at creating this kind of community of sorts – camps with high school kids, young adults, 4WD trips to the Flinders, playing in a band, playing music at worship every Sunday, mid-week bible study small groups, – a band of 30 young people – single and married, attempting to live this vision of the first church as described here by Luke in Acts.
But something else happened on the way to this place. On our way to our striving to be this vision of Christian community I can say that at times we got judgmental of others. At times we thought less of people who did not seem to share our vision for how the church should be.
Even worse, and it is such a regret to say it, we sometimes assumed that because others did not always want to buy into our high expectations of what we believed God was calling everyone to live, we judged people as lacking in faith in Jesus – somehow “lesser Christians” – lesser to us, “real Christians”.
Back then, anybody over 40 was old. Anyone with a job and a house living in the suburbs with a couple of cars, a few kids, a dog and a lack of interest in our visionary goal to live in Christian community (as we defined it) were judged by us as mere Church goers lacking in real faith in Jesus’ power and provision.
But one day as I read Luke’s account of this earliest church again I realized, with the help of someone else, that this vision of a post-resurrection community sharing everything and living their lives at close quarters did not last. In fact, it did not last very long at all. In the very next passage we have big trouble.
There was trouble when unlike Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira held back on giving all the proceeds of a sale of land to the community. But that was not the real trouble. The real trouble in this outwardly good looking act was that underneath it they were self-focused. They were holding back from God.
You can tell this because they tried to deceive the community and deceive God as they covered up their self-centredness with fake outward show. The giving was not honest or real. The heart was not open and trusting.
That’s our perennial problem no matter how big the show or how great the outward behavior looks. That is always the problem the believer and the community of believers has.
I think it was then that I realized that Luke shows us this picture of the earliest resurrection community not make hold it up as a model we all have to copy to be “real Christians” or ‘perfect’ churches’, but for a couple of more helpful reasons;
- to show us that wanting to be god is our perennial problem as people and as a local church community (like Ananias and Sapphira),
- and thankfully, that the church is not a result of our vision or work or expectations or even giving, but the gracious working of the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers and enlightens” everyday people into the extraordinary community of God grace which he poured out in the resurrection of Jesus.
Friends, we are given this witness to how we began to encourage us to place our trust in the Risen Jesus who can do wonderful things with the imperfect people because of what he has done in his mighty resurrection from the dead.
This grand vision of a community of Jesus’ resurrection is not a blueprint for how all of us have to perfectly be as a church, but really good news about the dynamic power of God at work in his gospel word among human beings, and what that can look like in any given time and place.
Now I am one of those “old people” over 40. I have the cars, the mortgage, the kids but not the dog! I have been living in close community with 5 other people for a long time now. It is called a family. I have worked at close quarters and shared life’s journey with close colleagues and friends in different states and countries for a while now. It is called the church. I love my church because God loves me and it.
God’s vision of how we live in the power of the Holy Spirit under his gospel Word is far beyond what I thought it was when I was 20. It is far grander, wider, challenging and wonderful than I imagine now. We have an open future in his grace and power and I love it.
I love my church because I see the grace of God at work in this church community. I see him at work in you. I hear the gospel being shared and see it being lived in all kinds of places: an 8.30 Service, a 10.30 Service, a Ladies Guild meeting, a Visitation Team meeting, a Governance Council meeting, a React gathering, a Barossa Village Service, a HOoT play group gathering, a parenting group in a Family Centre, conversations at Foodland, a man mowing the church lawns, the dollars on the offering bowl or deposited electronically, all acts of Christian sharing their lives, giving themselves to their Lord for the greater good and work of the gospel.
The Lord has expended my vision of authentic church and heightened my awareness of what is central – In the ordinary and inspirational, easy and hard, recognized or unrecognized the resurrected Jesus is still at work by his Spirit calling people, gathering people, enlightening people and the and the church goes on and on and on. This vision of loving community is here and continues. I love my church! Praise the Easter Lord!
Read through the text again carefully. note the description of the church in its infancy. Notice the natural move to serve others in generosity!
it might be worthwhile to then read the following account of Ananias and Sapphira and hold thee two passages together – comparing an contrasting Barnabas and his generosity and then Ananias and Sapphira and their deception. Look at the Apostle’s response to the situation and the reason for such a harsh judgement on what would have outwardly looked like a generous act that came from faith in Jesus, but underneath turned out to be a fake action with the self at the centre and little faith in the resurrected Jesus.
I said that this vision of a loving community that is often held up was something that iI and many Christian long to be a part of. have you ever viewed this description of the first church as something you have wanted to pursue in your own life? If so how. If not, how come?
i said there was a danger in holding this description of the first church up as a blueprint to be followed can lead to real trouble – the trouble of judgmentalism and division in the body of Christ. I said that Luke describes the first church not so that we should all copy it and try and be like it in every detail or at its fullest expression, but instead, he describes the first church so that we marvel at just what the Holy Spirit can do in creating loving communities. the point is to trust in the Holy Spirit and the resurrected Jesus, not to copy the first church exactly. As we trust in the Spirit’;s ability to call us together and enlighten our hearts and minds, we will be church in whatever place or shape.
Do you think that our church has aspects of this first church? Share your thoughts.
I said I love our church because I see God’s grand vision of a loving community serving the needs of others at work right here in Nuriootpa. Would you agree that this is true? Do you think we could improve on our serving? In what ways?
Lord, thank you for calling us together as your resurrection community in Nuriootpa. Enlighten our minds and hearts more and more as we know you better so that we love and serve generously in your name.