Sunday, 19 June 2011

How to be the Church 101

Pentecost 1 year A Sermon   Acts series part III

Title slide
Where would you go …to learn how to be the church?

Would you look for books?
How about books on the architecture of great cathedrals  
or on what makes great worship
or books on church growth or the emerging church

Change slide
Would you look on the internet? Do a Google search for
Websites on mission…or church leadership…visit Willowcreek or Saddleback or Spreydon

Change slide
Maybe there is a blueprint to follow somewhere
or some guidelines on congregational systems and
group process… maybe a road map for understanding your community or on making disciples…

Change slide
Hey I know… what about a ‘how to’ manual? I found this on the internet…Church for dummies

Word slide
Where would YOU go to find out how to be the church?
Tell your neighbour ….Discussion

First Christian’s slide
Ok good answers…the Bible…but how do you think
the first Christian’s knew how to be the church?
They didn’t have the Gospels or Paul’s Letters…
or church tradition or doctrines or creeds…or strategic plans What do you think? Discussion

Church 101 slide
What was their vision for being the church and where did it come from. Well, maybe there are clues in what they actually did right from the start.

In the second chapter of Acts after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost…Peter…
who certainly isn’t known for his preaching skills …just blows the crowd away… with the power of his message and straight awaythe believers start being the church …here’s what Peter told them… and what they did next

Clues slide
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God
has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all… whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and pleaded with them: Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!

Now listen for clues in what they did as to their vision.

Those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and held everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily… those who were being saved. [pause]

Slide words 1st text box [put them all up at once]
Ok what did they do?
To be the church… they were baptised in Jesus name for the forgiveness of sins…that took care of any uncleanliness which could exclude them from fellowship with one another.

This was followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit which would soften the hardest of hearts. And immediately they began to devote themselves to learning about Jesus through the Apostles’ fellowship in each other’s homes…to the breaking of bread together
with glad and sincere hearts…and prayer.

Did we leave anything out?  [look to slide…Wait….]

Hey wait a minute what’s this about?
Slide words reveal second text box
They held everything in common and sold property and possessions to give… to anyone who had need. 

Imagine all those people who used to sit outside
the Temple and beg…imagine them being welcomed
into a community where everything is shared. Talk about good news!

Slide ‘what did the first…
Where would they get the idea to hold everything in common and share what they had… with those in needif the Gospels hadn’t been written…and Paul was still Saul … How did they know what the people of God would look like… after the coming of the Messiah?

What did they know? Well from their youth they memorised the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets by heart…they already knew the greatest commandment was to ‘love God’ and the second
to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.  

And for information about the good news the Messiah brought… they had the Apostles who stood before them… those who actually knew the one revealed as the Messiah…in life and death and in resurrection…these Apostles had heard with their own ears…how Jesus taught in the power of the Spirit and what he’d been sent by God to do…
work Jesus had asked them to continue.

They’d been there when Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, when he read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth

Slide words
The Spirit of the LORD is upon me… anointing me to proclaim good news to the poor. Sending me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. And they heard Jesus announce when he sat down
Slide words
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today…the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled…
not one day…not at the resurrection…not at the coming of the Spirit…not at the end of time…but today
in their hearing...The  beginning of God’s new creation is now … the time for Shalom – wellbeing for all…
is now… the time for salvation is now.

blank slide
Jesus…God incarnate…is the good news and his followers were to live as a sign of God’s new creation…
a new Israel which would truly be a light to the nations…
and in this new creation those who are far off and excluded from worship in the Temple for being unclean…are now to be welcomed into the fellowship by baptism in Jesus name.

Those labelled sinners are to be forgiven and restored to the family of believers.

In God’s new creation in God’s church there is good news for the poor…no wonder they held everything in common and gave to everyone as there was need…they were the embodiment of Jesus’ good news waiting for Jesus return.

And because of this… every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Saved?
Saved from what…well in his Pentecost sermon Peter says…‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’

What corrupt generation is he talking about…

He’s talking about his priestly contemporaries who proclaim Caesar as King and not Yahweh…who see themselves as pure and their neighbours as unclean. Who make up the rules about who’s in and who’s out…who exclude the sick …and extort the poor…
who keep slaves and refuse to share their riches
with the weak and the vulnerable…

No wonder the message of Jesus was received as good news. Anyone would want to be saved from that… wouldn’t they? Unless they had something to lose…but there was nothing to lose…God’s reign had broken in…and what was needed was a new Israel who would love God with all their hearts and minds and all their strength… What was needed was a new Israel who would love their neighbours…
as much as they loved their own kind. [pause]

River Slide
Two weeks ago we began this series on the Book of Acts by reflecting on how the great river of the Holy Spirit had wound its way through the centuries …down to today… around obstacles and resistance to the grace of God…through the lives of those who proclaim Jesus Christ as the good news.

Two weeks ago we heard Jesus send his disciples to create a new people who would continue his work…to make disciples of all nations…
and we heard Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower them to bear witness to his good news

Last week Heather helped us understand how the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost and how today the Holy Spirit can work in every part of our lives if we allow it…to strengthen us and bring us life in all its fullness

Today we learned what it means for a community of Spirit filled believers…to act out the good news in their life together…

And two thousand years later as a community of believers in 21st century Otago…we have our own context to deal with. And we must continue to ask salvation questions as the first Christian’s did…Questions like
who needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ?
Who needs forgiveness? Who’s been rejected…and needs to be welcomed and restored to the family and the community? Who’s lost and needs a light for their path? Who needs to be released from slavery to self-abuse or the abuse of others? Who’s imprisoned by poverty or illness? Who’s invisible and outside the gates because of their age or their infirmity?

To be the Church we must be willing as Peter said
to save ourselves from this corrupt generation.
To proclaim God’s reign against other powers and principalities. To share what we have together in prayer and in fellowship and in the breaking of bread…and in loving our community…as much as we love ourselves.

Let us pray…
Beloved God unite us by your Spirit as we worship that we might one with you and effective as a colony of your new creation…the church in this place.
God who weeps with us at the enslavement and corruption of this world…strengthen us to act out your good news that the world might be saved.