August 21, 2022
Scripture Reading: Acts 2:42-47
What you have here in this second chapter of Acts is a glimpse into the first experiments in being church. This is important not because they did it perfectly and we should model ourselves entirely after them, but it is important because the people in that time had so recently and personally heard the words of Jesus and had come to understand his message and vision.
This was early. It was not yet THE CHURCH. By that, I mean it was not yet even called “Church.” That word is not even mentioned until three chapters later in the book of Acts. This new experiment was a Jewish thing, for the most part. It was probably an extension of the Jewish Synagogue in Jerusalem because the people that are mentioned in this account were Jews and also followers of Jesus. They had just heard a sermon from Peter. (Who would have guessed that Peter would ever be preaching a sermon?)
These Jewish people were steeped in the traditions of Jewish ways and life, trained in the stories and teachings of the Old Testament greats: Moses, Abraham, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah. In other words, these were COVENANT PEOPLE. They understood the business of living as people bound together by covenant! That is, they were people who had voluntarily committed themselves to be God’s People and to live as best as they could, with God’s will and wishes as their guide. You remember the words of the covenant when God said: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” And now that Jesus had appeared into history, he had become the focal point for these followers. Nobody had ever shown them who God was in as clear a way as Jesus.
Now it is instructive to notice how the writer of the book of Acts (probably Luke) describes this new fellowship. Did you pay attention when Mike was reading? They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
It is fascinating to me that this whole passage is about what these early followers of Jesus actually DID! Nothing there about what they BELIEVED! Now that doesn’t mean that they didn’t believe anything. Of course they did, but it wasn’t front and center and particular beliefs were obviously not the criteria upon which people were judged and either accepted or turned away from the community. They were LEARNING and PRAYING and BREAKING BREAD, working MIRACLES, GIVING AWAY their possessions, MEETING together, EATING together and they were filled with a spirit of PRAISE.
It sounds to me like these people absolutely enjoyed this covenant experience – this bond – this commitment they made to be with and love one another. As I look at that snapshot of that Beloved Community, I am struck by its simplicity and its lack of conflict-producing activities. And I am impressed by the balance of things:
The spiritual and physical
Outreach and attention to one another
Fun, praise, and work
Living in the moment and radical trust for tomorrow
And all of that was apparently magnetically attractive to the outside world. Aristides was sent on a mission by Emperor adrian to scope out these Christians and come back with a report about what made them tick and why they had such an appeal to outsiders. He concluded his report with this concise evaluation of the power of this community: “Behold how they love one another!”
The fuel and the glue of the Covenant Community is LOVE. When you are called to be a member of a community of faith, it is NOT about committing yourself to a precise belief system. At least at St. Johns it is not. It would not take much scratching through the surface of any or all of our members to find that we don’t believe entirely alike. We believe enough alike to belong to one another. We haven’t arrived at some destination in our understanding, we are in process. That means that our understandings grow with us!
But what is very clear to us is this: We want to be in relationship with God and with one another. “The Lord is our God and we are God’s people” and “These people are our people” We belong! Practically speaking, we discover that where we see eye to eye with each other, it is so easy to act like we belong. Where we don’t see eye to eye, it’s a bit more difficult, but not impossible. And we promise that we will work on it – we will stay at the table – stay engaged- we won’t walk away and opt out until we learn to love each other in all our differences. We are not going to give up quickly on one another. You see, we are in a covenant. We’ve promised. We have given our word.
The Beloved Community is always a sacred experiment because none of us are far from rank amateurs when it comes to making relationships work. We have plenty of failures under our belt and one would think that we would be very good at it by this time. But we still stumble around and some of us are clearly better at it than others. Part of the covenant is to recognize that and promise not to bellyache about each other’s blunders. We sure don’t have many secular models these days when it comes to living in peace with each other, but then the secular world doesn’t have many models in the church to look at either! But we can be that kind of model! So let’s give each other a break and keep on trying!
I’d rather experiment with you than anybody else I know so let’s keep on giving it our best. Amen.