Life Together.1

by admin on May 2, 2011

Life Together—1 Reflection for 1 May 2011
Acts 2:42-47

Been an interesting week in the life of “church.” Packed to overflowing were some places. World’s biggest Easter egg drop plus house give-away in another. 17 services to serve you was another claim…complete with rock band, light show and fog machines. Don’t forget the tree-lined central aisle of London’s Westminster Abby for the Royal Wedding complete with colored coordinated clergy gowns and top hats. And did I mention packed into Rome all weekend for the vigil and liturgy that makes John Paul a saint. (As if he needed some special ceremony to award him status every Christian already has through baptism.) It was grand, glorious, awesome week.

I wonder how many folks took to church after it was all over.

When I say, took to church, I mean, got on board with Jesus that largely forgotten head of the church. In that poignant scene in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, “The Grand Inquisitor,” Jesus comes back to the Inquisition only to be asked to please leave….you’re causing too much disruption. We have replaced you with miracle, mystery and authority.

Do you think this is what Jesus intended when he gathered those men and women throughout Galilee and showed them the wonders of the Kingdom of God? Is what we know as church in line with the intentions of God? I’ll be bold here and say that there’s a good chance it’s not working out according to plan. When you hear the word “church” what do you think about? Images, impressions, feelings, experiences?

For the next several weeks here at Nova—New Faith—we’re going to investigate and discuss what could be and should be and see what happens as we discover together this thing called church.

In a very ironical way we are deeply indebted to the Nazi Gestapo for the publication of without a doubt the most provocative modern writing on the nature of this social entity called church. Pastor Dietrich Bonheoffer was serving as rector of by then a clandestine seminary in the German province of Pomerania…it was subversive to the Reich because it placed Jesus Christ before any other dogma, political conviction or national interest, The seminary was training young pastors to serve in what was called the Confessing Church because the German State Lutheran Church was too busy coddling up to the political big shots. Once the seminary was permanently closed Bonheoffer committed to paper his thoughts and designs of a radical community of disciples whose life would be given for the life of the world. He called the small volume Gemeinsames Leben—Life Together.

We are not going to give a book report about it; but we will borrow its title as the focus of this series of messages, conversations, studies, sermons. My intention is two fold: preaching is an invitation to do two things: deep reflection on your own life and world and a call to courageous action to do something with it. We will be looking at the book of Acts during this time. Today: 2:42-47.

WHAT?
This comes at the end of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, telling again the story of Jesus and offering a fresh start for everyone through his death. Cut to the quick the people ask: what to do? Repent and be baptized. Let God in Jesus take over your life. Luke says 3000 came forward. Now we have what happened after everyone went home.

We do know from pagan critics like Pliny the Younger than whatever it was, was astonishing and eye opening for the surrounding culture. “They love each other.” They believe in resurrection of dead and have immense ability to curb sexual appetites.

Here is an idyllic portrait which may not always have been reality but it still offers the early Christian ideal to which the growing number of Jesus followers aspired.

Four characteristics

  1. Held fast to apostles teaching—apostolic tradition—kerygma (We will talk more about this later this summer in our series on the formation of the Bible)
  2. They enjoyed a fellowship beyond the realms of just friends. Spiritual communion and the sharing of possessions.
  3. They ate together in each others homes: sharing of food—observing Lord’s Supper.
  4. They upheld the Jewish custom of praying several times a day and attending the services in the Temple.

SO WHAT?
In the beginning these four characteristics were all functional. They were the vehicles through which something important—death defying—occurred. None other than the living presence of Jesus Christ. If these four were incorporated and used it was reasonable to expect God would move mightily among us. Of course you know where I am going. Eventually what was functional became traditional and prescriptive and condensed into a magical formula such as “miracle, mystery and authority.”

Apostolic Teaching. “We preach Christ crucified,” Paul said. There is a difference between what is said to outsiders (the new converts) and what’s said to those who know—but not much. Even though Luke is careful to draw the lines between believers and those who aren’t, one thing is apparent. Those on the believing side of the equation still need to be reminded of the basic truth of Jesus. Why? Wealth and technology hold sway.

Acts is an ongoing attempt of the Jesus movement to reflect upon the implications and applications of the Gospel—in JC the Kingdom of God is here now—so that the movement will be faithful to its calling. Be the contagion of the kingdom. People can actually live the way Jesus did.

Compare that thought with the ways we understand “church.” It’s a lot easier to talk in terms of three points, four spiritual laws or six fundamentals.

Fellowship. From a diverse assembly to a unified body of believers—more than a coffee klatch. Please don’t get the idea that everyone thought and acted the same—we will look at that idea in the coming weeks. One thing did happen however—it was a fellowship that produced signs and wonders (v.43) not the least of which was that they had all things in common—they took care of one another’s needs. Somebody go call Washington with this news, ok.

Before you start thinking “socialism” this common goods idea is a concrete testimony that something specific, substantial and probably unsettling was happening. When was the last time any church did that? In OT—Deuteronomy 15:4f—there is a promise that there will be no one on need in the community (of Jews). There is something striking about this idea of friendship that even surpasses the ideals of the ancients such as Cicero.

Breaking Bread. Lots of hungry people back then….as now. So when the Our Father was prayed here was actual fulfillment to that petition. Again, here is tangible, visible expression of the Holy Spirit at work. In Luke each dinner episode is a time of fellowship, revelation and controversy.

When the Berakot is recited the whole table becomes a holy place and eating together is a sacred activity. (The ideas of “corporal” and altar find roots here). This should tell us the central importance of Eucharist beyond four times year. Glad and generous hearts should also be a clue as to the expression of exuberant joy in the gatherings. Far different than the mad scramble at the end to get out the door and onto Sunday brunch.

Prayers. I think this is Luke’s way of saying the Jesus movement was firmly rooted in Jewish theology and tradition. There is no new religious invention here. Praying several times a day—much akin to the Islamic five times—keeps one focused on essentials: God is god and you ain’t.

NOW WHAT?
What do you think might be some implications to this?

Jaroslav Pelikan: Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.

One thing is certain: we should always be contemplating what the nature is and calling of the Jesus movement? Our Nova faith? Taking Jesus at his word—how do the five core values: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, humility and hope get played out in your life?

Somewhere along the line my own journey crossed over from being a religion of promotion to being a faith of attraction. I want what you got…how do I get it?

Today’s reading focused on the main concern of Acts—Christian community. It’s a summary statement set between two major speeches by Peter, but the real interest in not in a biography of saints and famous Christians. Remember the lead protagonist here is the Holy Spirit—enlivening and driving the church. Are you on board for that?

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