They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
In this chapter of Acts, Luke paints the perfect portrait of what a church community ought to look like. One that shares meals and concerns with one another; reads scripture and prays together; and does the will of God and makes its content applicable to everyday life.
Somewhere in that space between then and today, the church abandoned this model, leaving it to the dusty pages of history.
I mean, just randomly walk into any Catholic or Protestant church building on any given Sunday, and there’s a good chance it will look nothing like the one Luke describes here. Yes, they are reading scripture, praying and learning something, but what's missing is the awe. People are no longer being blown away by what the priest and pastors are doing. Instead most of them are just going through the motions.
Now back in Luke's day, people were in awe not because of what they were hearing, but because of what they were seeing. Men and women, slave and free, Jew and gentile, rich and poor, all sharing fellowship, food, and faith together. There was no judgement, no shame, no rejection. Just Christ-like love, given and shared to all. No one was without.
When Rev. Dawn and I decided to start Anamesa, we did so believing that despite our distance and the way we reach out to people, we could actually be like this Acts 2 church. A place where people from all different walks of life could share faith and fellowship no matter where we were, our when we watched.
The early church had a word for this kind of living: koinonia, which in ancient Greek means “fellowship.” Or more specifically, “participation in a shared life.” This means everyone came together – with one heart and one soul – to love God, love others and serve both.
The first followers of Christ participated in a shared life together - in good and bad times. They didn’t preach the gospel, they simply lived it. And God added to their numbers. (To think God had so much confidence in the first Apostles that God left everything Jesus began up to them to complete. Talk about God’s faith for us.)
Jesus came and announced to the world that the Kingdom of Heaven is here. And his disciples believed him. Having been a witness to what he did, they took what Jesus said at face value, and lived a kingdom life; one that was centered on God’s will and not their own. This should be a lesson for us.
watch the message here
Like the great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, noted, this kingdom is not a place we go to when we die. Instead, it requires us to be "fully alive." He writes, “The practice is to touch life so deeply that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality. This is not a matter of devotion. It is a matter of practice.”
We proclaim the truth that Jesus spoke of by practicing it, over and over again. Leaving people in awe by what they witness through us - a proclamation of the gospel both with words and deeds.
The church isn’t a static building, institution, or doctrine. It’s you and me. Us and them. We are the Body of Christ - a living, breathing, thriving organism. One that Jesus described as living seeds and living stones; yeast that is active and alive; salt that is full of flavor; light that awakens the world. He commissioned his followers to enter every space, not as a religion but as his living presence.
As his followers, our only task is to love as he loved; heal as he healed; forgive as he forgave. It’s a daily practice of dying as he died; giving up one’s ego for the sake of others in order that we might fully live the way God intended us to live.
Philosopher Burach Spinoza wrote, “I can’t tell you if there's anything after this life but I can give you a tip live as if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.” I added this quote because at the end of the day, our validity doesn’t reside in the number of people sitting in our pews. It comes from the number of people we reach with our love.
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. It lives by the words of Jesus who said, “If you love me, then you will love one another.”
The shared life of koinonia is a life build upon love. Beginning with accepting God’s love for you and me, and then sharing that love with others.
Love is the goal. Love is our purpose. It’s how people will see our faith and come to know who we are, both as individuals and as a Christ-centered community. We must enter Anamesa, that space between us and them, and sow the seeds of God’s love.
When others divide, we must unite; creating communities of care. When others hoard, we must help; sharing the blessings we’ve received. When others are hateful and rude, we must be kind and respectful; loving fully and faithfully as if we are loving Christ himself. Believe it or not, this way of love is still a threat to those in power. It is still revolutionary.
In the podcast Faith For Normal People, actor Rainn Wilson described what was happening in Acts 2 as one of the greatest revolutions of all time.
He said, “For the first time in human history, there was a meeting of people from all different races, nations, classes and genders. [Sailors, rabbis, Roman soldiers, widows, carpenters, prostitutes] all gathered together to share a common purpose: to worship God and remember the legacy of Jesus.”
Given our current, divisive political climate the church must remain revolutionary. It has to be willing to stand up and face power with weakness. Offer people mercy instead of retaliation. Grace instead of shame. Help instead of harm.
The first church transformed communities, not by closing themselves off but by opening their hearts and hands to those the world had rejected, despised, or left for dead.
More than a new religion, theirs was a revolutionary new community that faithfully followed the way of Christ who showed us that it is possible to live in accordance to the will of God. And God added to their numbers.
The question for us then is: how can we reclaim and rekindle that spark that set the first church ablaze?
The answer is simple. By spreading love. By creating joy. By waging peace. By serving the poor. By going into homes, and businesses, and social platforms imitating Christ; proclaiming the good news by being the incarnation of God’s love.
If you ask me, there’s no better way to leave the world in awe.
Adapted from a sermonA Gathered People: What Are You Doing Here? May 21, 2017 (Accessed May 28, 2023.
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.
Rainn Wilson interview from Faith For Normal People, April 19, 2023.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”