More Christians spend more time on Facebook than they do in church. And for some of us that’s a good thing, because some social communities are kinder, gentler, and more welcoming than some churches these days.
Once again it is such a joy to be among you all, and to worship with you in this new way. But as we just learn from our reading, gathering in someone’s home for church service was the norm. As the disciples took the gospel out into the world, the Holy Spirit does its thing, and without much else the body of Christ is formed.
Luke gives us front row seat as the infant church begins to take shape. These few verses give us a glimpse of what it means to be a church community. At New Church Sherman Oaks (or as Hollie calls it…California Church), it’s imperative for us to return to these six verses to understand how and why we are called to gather together. Like Kathleen pointed out last week, this passage teaches us how share our meals and our concerns with one another, read scripture, pray together and hopefully listen to some wise teachings.
If you’ve been a churchgoer your whole life, most of this stuff might seem like second nature. If you’ve been away from the church for a while, it should be familiar enough to jump right in to. However, as some of you have discovered, watching online can take some getting used to. But like with anything new, the more you practice and participation seems to be the keys of success; especially for the early church. So for those who choose to watch at home in your Superman pajamas, we have to figure out ways to eat, drink, pray, and sing together across state lines and even continents.
Raise your hand if you’re on Facebook right now. A few years ago I would have been upset if someone were on the phone during worship service. But thanks to the same Spirit that came upon the early church, we have been given technology that allows us to do exactly what Jesus taught; go to where the people are.
Statistically speaking, Christians spend more time on Facebook than they do in church. And for some of us that’s a good thing, because some social communities are kinder, gentler, and more welcoming than some churches these days.
Don’t get me wrong I like the church. In fact, most of us probably love church. But somehow we’ve forgot how to practice what we preach. I’ve said it before, but when Kathleen and I were discerning our call to be a church plant she said she didn’t want to be “the church” but instead simply be “church.” It made me ask the question, “Where did we go wrong?” What happened?
We want to be good, and do well, right? We want to serve God and help our community. But when was the last time we spent all our time together in awe? Or drunk with wonder? (Noticed I said drunk “with wonder,” Bo…) And when was the last time we really amaze our neighbors? Or saw the Lord “day by day adding to our number those being saved”?
Instead of going to where the people where, we built buildings and demanded that people come to us. And something began to change.
There’s difference between playing “church” and being “church.”
These few verses in Acts 2 are an idyllic reminder of what being a church is all about, or what Nadia Bolz-Weber calls our “10 minute hippy phase.” It was sort of like a utopian commune where believers sold all their stuff and pooled all the resources so there was not a single person in need.
Well, like Woodstock and Flower Power, this communal Spirit was short lived. We eventually locked ourselves away behind walls. And instead of giving our money away to those in need, we invested in 401k’s and IRA’s to ensure our own needs are met later down the road. Is this what God meant by being good stewards of our resources?
Think about it. God had so much confidence in the twelve disciples (and in us) that he left the entire organization in their hands. And the only blueprint or instruction manual they were given was to follow Jesus’ example. We are the body of Christ, and as that body we are called to be one with Jesus in the way we love and care for each other.
But somewhere along the way this body got lazy and unfocused. Like theological engineers, we began to monkey with God’s plans and schematics to fit the particular challenges we face. As a result, we became less like Christ and more like the people who killed him. What happened? Where did we go wrong?
In his book, Organic Church, Neal Cole describes the church as suffering from a bad case of memory loss; “like the slow decay of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.” Cole argues the church has forgotten “who they are and what their lives are all about. Either they don’t even realize it or have simply forgotten something is wrong.” We must turn to the master physician to be healed.
Jesus sees “The church is a living organism, not a building, a dogma, or static institution.” He describes us as living seeds and living stones; yeast that is active and alive; salt that is full of flavor; light that awakens the world.
When the disciples were in awe of the magnificent buildings that surrounded the temple, Jesus proclaims that he would tear down those massive structures and rebuild it in three days. I don’t think he meant a bigger, fancier Mega-church in a more affluent neighborhood with ample parking. Instead, the temple he was referring to was us…you and me…together with the saints and all believers we are the living body of Christ.
The first disciples followed Jesus’ lead. They gathered in small groups, outside and inside the homes of other believers. Early church life was “nourished through normal family and home life. And “it was fed through groups of people who met together and shared Jesus’ teachings…both by example and by word of mouth.”
Just as Jesus had gathered with his twelve, we come together in the name of Jesus Christ; living, learning, praying, and practicing the mercy and grace of a living God. It is by this practice that God adds to our numbers day-by-day, state-by-state, country-by-country. (Snyder)
This way of worship has nothing to do with a building or a religious language or specific dogma. It can be practiced anywhere and in many ways. But it begins by seeing “church” in a new way. A new church, if you will.
Jesus is not calling us to be a religion, but to be his living presence in the world; to proclaim the gospel with our words and deeds. In keeping in line with our teacher, our highest priority must be social justice, communal unity and social harmony. Our real power doesn’t reside in the number of people sitting on pews; our real power comes from the number of people we reach with our love.
These few verses in Acts 2 teach us that the way we share a meal with one another is more important than some sanctimonious liturgy or unbendable traditions. The way we build a living, loving, thriving church community begins in the way we:
Live in harmony with one another; wait for one another; have the same care for one another; serve one another; bear each other’s burdens; comfort one another and build one another up; the way we be at peace with one another; put up with one another in love; be kind and compassionate to one another; submit to one another; confess your sins to one another and pray for one another; forgive one another; love one another from the heart, be hospitable and humble. The list goes on and on.
An authentic church is not a building any more than it is a liturgy, or specific traditions we hold onto. It’s an ethic, an economy and a culture that welcomes friends and strangers alike.
What our structures or service looks like is second to who we are called to be like… Jesus…the Master carpenter who constructs in us a new life – a life to be lived more abundantly, and shared freely – whether we are worshipping in a backyard in Southern California or a the living room in Western Michigan, or live streaming in Northern Ireland or somewhere in the Middle East.
Jesus calls us to go out into the world to be his living body… and put into practice the steadfast love and everlasting grace of God.
This is the good news given to you, go out and proclaim it…using words if necessary. Amen.
Bible. Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV).
Byassee, Jason. "Living in the Word: Scared Sheep?" Sojourners, May 2017: 44.
Cole, Neal. ORganic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Snyder, Howard. Called To Community. Edited by Charles E. Moore. Walden: Plough Publishing House, 2016.