The God who wants us home - Acts 2:42-27
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
When people I have never met ask me what I do for a living I normally tell them that I get paid to share with people the best news in the world. Usually, they have no idea what this is involves so I encourage them to guess. Over the years I’ve heard a whole range of suggestions. Someone thought I could be a doctor or a nurse or a teacher and someone even suggested I might be an IT consultant! Eventually I have to put them out of their misery and explain that in fact I get paid to tell people all about who Jesus is, what he came to do and the new community he wants them to join.
Fascinating to read the facial expressions. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t seem to compute or make sense. How can joining a local church be linked with the best news in the world?
A few years ago Rowan Atkinson starred as Mr Bean and for the next few minutes I want to show you a clip of when Mr Bean went to church. I think it illustrates what many people imagine a local church to be like. So for the next few minutes sit back and see if you can relate to anything on the big screen behind me.
Show Mr Bean clip
Many people imagine church to be like this. Old fashioned. Meets in old buildings. It’s full of old people. It’s outdated, it’s irrelevant to modern culture.
It has no authentic connection to daily existence – which is of why the preacher in the clip never utters a comprehensible word. People are unfriendly, you don’t understand what to do or sing – apart from the word Hallelujah.
If that’s your view of church then it would seem absolutely bonkers to have a career where your whole purpose is to persuade people to join such a community.
Let me be straight with you. I have absolutely no interest in persuading anyone to join gatherings such as these.
However, what I do have is a passion to persuade people to join local churches which follow the pattern we read about in Acts 2.
Listen to what these people did. Verse 42. They devoted themselves to four life-changing activities. Did you see them? They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
First of all, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.
The word apostle simply refers to someone who is sent on a particular mission.
For example, if Melvin felt particularly hungry after the service and couldn’t wait for one of his wife’s extravagant Sunday lunches he could send me on a mission to get him a sandwich and I would be his apostle.
But when the word apostle is used here in the Bible it refers to a group of people whom Jesus had especially chosen to be sent out into the world as the guardians of his unique message.
Other Christians were sent out as well. But the apostles were a group of people with a particular responsibility. Give the correct understanding of who Jesus was, what he came to do and the implications for everybody else.
Special position of the apostles – from verse 43. Look at what we are told. “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
Miracles don’t happen on every page of the Bible. But there are concentrations of miracles at special moments of human history when God was doing something very special.
o After Jesus. Done by his apostles.
These early Christians couldn’t get enough of this.
And today we have their words for us in the Bible.
Secondly, they devoted themselves to something called the fellowship.
Not mean they drank lots of cups of tea together. Not went round to house, had tea and cake and called it fellowship.
The word fellowship was all about partnership. It all about sharing your life with other people.
It was about a passionate commitment to be involved jointly with other people in a particular project or mission.
Even today this rings true. First of the Lord of the Rings triology called – “Fellowship of the Ring.”
It wouldn’t have worked if Gandolf simply had a tea party. Called up Sam, Pippen, Legolas, Frodo and said, “Why don’t you come round for a cup of tea?’ No one would go to see the movie would they?
Why is it so appealing? A group of people supporting one another to achieve a mission.
All these different people working for the same goal and sharing what they have to help them achieve it. A passionate concern for each other.
And that’s what true churches who follow the pattern of the bible should be like. In fact, what they are like.
What we see in these early Christians.
Vs 44-45: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone who had need.”
Not forced confiscation of their possession but a generous sharing where people shared what they had for the benefit of others.
A place where you could be cared for, loved supported and a place where you could do the same for others. A place where people were devoted to the fellowship.
Thirdly, these Christians devoted themselves to something called breaking of bread.
Technical term for what we call communion. Not as formal as we have it here at St Johns. Not a church building, with a big table, where you went forward and had a piece of bread and a sip of wine.
Over a meal with other Christians they remembered what Jesus had done for them when he died on the cross.
Not embarrassed by the cross. Trying to sweep it under the carpet. But of all the achievements of Jesus – and there were many. Virgin birth, teachings, miracles, resurrection they had a special symbol to remember his death.
Place where they knew the King they had chosen to follow had died to save them from their sins. They knew they were rebels who were heading for danger. But they also knew that when they sought refuge under the wings of Jesus that they were protected from harm.
Lastly, they devoted themselves to prayer. No wonder. If you are part of a community where God speaks to you, where God’s people look out for and look after you, and where you have been rescued for eternity by God’s Son then who is not going to speak to God in response – which is what prayer is all about. Talking to God.
Model type of church. So different from a Mr Bean church and it’s what we strive to be here at St Johns. We are not perfect but this is our target. It is what we are trying to achieve.
If this is what church is then it becomes more obvious why people should become a member of these communities.
Let me offer three reasons.
1. You will hear God speak to you
Most people are not atheists.
I’ve found this working in Hull. They believe in a distant vague God who cannot really be known. But they assume everything will be okay.
What if God wasn’t vague?
Yes of course it would be more demanding but it would also be more certain.
We don’t like our religion to be demanding do we? We still love to be in the drivers seat.
I think that’s why people sometimes talk with enthusiasm about church buildings they visit on holiday.
But with certainty then…
God could tell us what he is really like.
He could tell us what we are really like. No more stupid phone ins where people share their ignorance about the human condition.
We need the instructions of God to know how to live.
But where can we hear God speak? Not on a mountain or in the silence of a church building. You will often simply hear yourself.
But listen to the apostles teaching. Spokesmen for Jesus who claimed to be fully divine. Find this in the Bible.
That’s the first reason people should join this community.
2. The person who joins a local church will be cared for and will be able to care for other people.
We are not built to be lonely individuals but participants in a social network.
Bizarre world full of confusion and contradictions. On the one hand, we are separating more and more from each other. We love our protective cars with isolate us from human contact. We love the Internet, home cinemas, ipods.
Just think about trains. Who speaks to you on the train anymore? If they do you can be guaranteed that either they are a Christian or a weird man called Dougie who is wearing a fragrance that would never be sold in the shops.
And yet at the same time we long for intimacy, for connection with other people at a level which is deeper than the superficial. We love watching those programmes that show some sort of community. It was Cheers in the 1980s and then Friends in the 1990s.
Maybe we have something of this if we have a loving family or a few close friends who do stick by us. Thank God for this.
But what I am saying this morning is that even the best of those relationships is nothing in comparison to being a member of a local church acting as it should.
Consider what united us and brings us together. The blood of Christ has paid for us. That we will spend eternity with each other.
A spur to look out for the interests of others.
Not just what we receive but what we can give. We were not made to be passive drifters through an insignificant universe but to be actors in God’s drama. However, for this to work for the best we must trust that the scriptwriter knows best and his directions are worth following.
The problem with the self-fulfillment way of happiness is that is doesn’t work. We were not built like this. In order to live and enjoy live we must be involved in the service of others.
3. The person who joins this community will be a joyful person
David Lodges wrote a novel called Therapy in 1995 and at one point in the book the main character’s therapist asks him to make a list of all the good things about his life in one column and all the bad things in another. Under the good column he wrote: “professionally successful, well off, good health, stable marriage, kids successfully launched into adult life, nice house, great car, as many holidays as I want.” Under the bad column he wrote just one thing: “Feel unhappy most of the time.”
Where can we find joy that continues throughout our lives? Join a local church like the one described here. Not only will God speak and we will be cared for but it will be one that will point us back to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If that’s doesn’t make you thankful then I don’t know what will.
Consider standing in God’s court facing the sentence for committing eternal treason against our ruler. Knowing we are guilty and the sentence is terrifying. Knowing that the courts are fair and justice must be done. But then to know as you go into the dock that someone else has voluntarily saved you from this great disaster.
That’s what this community remembers every time they have communion. The judge has been judged in their place.
Reason I have said so much about this community aspect is because in our individualism the Christian message is too often simply made about me and God. There is truth in this. Jesus has rescued us from the anger of God.
Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. When we show our allegiance to the King we belong to the King’s people. We show we have made a commitment to the King by being committed to the King’s people.
So when God calls us home he invites us to join a new community.
He doesn’t say it’s all about you and me – but all about you me and them.
The home he offers is not a lonely apartment where everyone uses Delia Smith’s ‘One is Fun’ cookbook – one is not fun!
Key question: How do you join this community?
Look what they are called in verse 44 – believers.
Come to believe something about Jesus. Not simply that he existed but about his identity and his mission. Very much like Brian Navier. Comes along thinking he is a Christian but then discovers he is not. What changed his mind? He read the apostles teaching.
That is the normal way. We investigate the evidence and then make our conclusions.
Once we believe we can truly belong. There is true belonging before believing.
Once a person truly hands over control to King Jesus then things begin to change. Our love for the Bible and for other Christians.
Where are you spiritually today?
o Think it’s all nonsense
o Maybe there is something in it
o Genuinely convinced it’s all true.
Challenge to us all. For those of us who have responded already then let’s keep on striving to be a community like that described in Acts 2.
If you have not yet responsed then be keen to investiage the apostles teaching.
o Come to church
o Christianity Explored
When the stakes are this high then it’s worth a look. Box at the back with 2p or £2000. It’s worth a look.
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