Sermons

"It's About the Love," Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

"It's About the Love," Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 07, 2017

Passage:Acts 2:42-47

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Easter

Category: Love, Discipleship

Keywords: discipleship, love, transformation

Summary:

The early church was committed to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and the prayers. How might our world be transformed by God's love if we committed ourselves to these practices?

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen

At first reading, this glimpse of the first century church, brings to mind the stereotypical image of communes from the 1960s.  People live on a farm together.  There’s no strife or disagreement.  Everyone loves each other and walks around giving “peace” to one another.  They share the work according to their gifts and talents so there’s no need for money.  They grow their own food without the use of pesticides or modern machinery.  They eat together and practice their spirituality.  Everything is “groovy.” 

Doesn’t that sound nice?  Wouldn’t it be great to just escape to a community where there’s no pressure or stress?  Where everyone loves everyone else and takes care of each other?  Of course, it would!

Today’s passage describes a rule of life that is beautiful in its simplicity.  It says:  “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  The rest of the passage is how life looks if we follow these four practices.  If we dedicate ourselves to studying the Scriptures and engage in loving relationships with one another....  If we share meals and holy communion with one another....  If we pray with and for one another..., Earth will surely come to resemble the Kingdom of God.   

The writer of Acts paints a picture of people who are just beginning to build the Church.   These are faithful Jews who incorporate the teachings of Jesus into their Jewish tradition.  The Book of Acts frequently refers to this group of people as part of a movement called “the Way.”  “The Way” is not only about believing that Jesus is the Son of God. “The Way” embraces living out Jesus’ teachings of God’s love in the world.

With any new endeavor, the faithful followers of this movement struggle.  The writer of Acts creates a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God on Earth, but sets a high bar for any group of people to attain.  Even the people in the first century church aren’t able to live up to this vision.  Nonetheless, they continue to wrestle with what it means to follow this “way” in everyday life. 

The early Church was a work in progress.  The Church has always been a living entity that continues to adjust to the needs of God’s people at different times and in different cultures.  Sometimes we demonstrate this beautifully in the fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching.  And sometimes we fail miserably in showing each other and the world a Church that cares more about love and people than rules and conformity. 

If we listen to the media today, we’ll hear that the Christian Church is a failing, dying body.  The news provides us with devastating statics about the decline of the church in the United States and other Western countries.  Clergy and vestries and administrators lament the decline in our numbers.  Everyone seems obsessed with the numbers.  We’re constantly asking:  “How many people were in church this week?”  “How many people came to Christian Formation classes?”  “How can we be more like “so-and-so” church whose attendance is phenomenal?”  Even in this passage of Acts, the writer concludes with a statement about how the numbers of those being saved increased daily. 

But numbers aren’t really the focus of the Acts’ reading today.  It’s about the kind of lives these early Christians committed to live.  They tried to go about their days with “glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”  They gave to those in need.  They went to temple daily.  They shared meals with one another.  They offered gratitude for the food they ate.   They lived out the Kingdom of God on Earth as best they could, despite the messiness that inevitably happens when people are involved.

As a parish, we continue to talk about the Presiding Bishop’s visit and his message about the Episcopal Church.  This passage exemplifies the core of Bishop Curry’s message.  The people in the first century church were filled with the love of God!  They wanted to share it with everyone they encountered!  They took seriously their devotion to this new “way.”  Of course, they didn’t always agree on what this new “way” should look like.  And they sometimes missed the mark.  But their devotion didn’t allow them to give upon on their commitment to bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth as Jesus had taught. 

We may actually be more like the first century church than the church of our parents and grandparents.  Yes, there is a decline in attendance.  Yes, we can’t assume that a common knowledge about the Bible and Christianity exists as it did half a century ago.  Yes, the divisions within Christianity are great and seem almost insurmountable at times.  If we only listen to the news or read the many books and articles about the demise of the Christian church, it honestly looks pretty bleak. 

These first century Christians were part of a movement committed to sharing and living out God’s love.  Bishop Curry refers to our current mission as the “Jesus Movement.”  He calls us “the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.”  This is actually the same movement our early Christian brothers and sisters followed, but today we’re faced with new challenges in a new world.

As our Deacon Chris preached a couple of weeks ago, there are two things required to be part of the Jesus Movement:  (1)  you have to have Jesus and (2) there has to be movement.  We can’t escape to a “commune” where life seems perfectly peaceful.  We have to move.  We have to move just like the early Christians did.  The whole of the Book of Acts tells of people who took this movement out into the world.  They didn’t hide in the safety of protected communities.  And like them, we must take this wonderful love of God that we know outside of these walls into a hurting and frightened world. 

So why are we here?  Why do so many people in Amarillo, Texas, voluntarily spend so much time devoted to the Church?  I’m sometimes overwhelmed with emotion when I see how many people give of their time and money and talents to support one another within this church and outside of its walls.  I’m filled with joy when I see the glad and generous hearts that come together to share a meal and enjoy one another’s company.  I’m in awe of the infinite ways in which people in this parish step up to help one another.  Yes, there are the formal ministries that we engage in, but people also quietly enter into the lives of others and are there for them and with them whenever they need it.

Church attendance in the Western world may be in decline, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Maybe this is an opportunity...an opportunity for us to return to the rule of life of the first century church, to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers. 

But what does living this rule of life look like in the 21st century?  It won’t look the same as it did then.  The world is different and God’s people have different needs today than they did then.  But imagine...how we could transform the church, and even the world, if we seriously devote ourselves to this way of life.  How would we be transformed? 

What if we stop focusing on the numbers and redirect our attention to sharing of the love of God?  Of course, it’s not something we can measure...not information to put in our parish reports.  It’s not hard data to evaluate our success or failure.  But . . .

  • What if we could see this transformation in the stories of hearts changed?
  • What if it’s in the sharing of lives and meals?
  • What if it’s in the sharing of grief and sorrow?
  • What if it’s in the assurance that none of us has to walk through this life alone?
  • What if it’s the healing that hope provides?

The Church of the first century faced many of the obstacles we face today.  They experienced division about the structure of the church.  They argued about who should lead the church.  They disagreed about who should be included in the church.  But if we follow their devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship with one another, breaking of bread together, and prayer, we may find ourselves with a transformed church.  A church that is not so concerned with numbers, but with sharing and showing the Good News of God’s love to everyone.

Our world will be radically changed if our hearts and minds are drenched in the love of God.  We’ll be radically changed if we take this limitless love that Jesus teaches us about out into the world to everyone we encounter!  It doesn’t matter what the media says, the Good News of God’s love changes us and changes the world.  No matter who we are.  And no matter where we are.  Amen.