And though we can’t have that – we get this wonderful window into their life together in Acts today. Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. In this sentence alone – we can learn a great deal about their life together. First, to be a full member of the community – folks had to be baptized. It was possible to come and to learn and to share in the life of the community – but if you really wanted to belong…you had to be baptized. Second – they were devoted – together. Not individually – but the Greek is clear – they were devoted. Collective and corporate devotion. Their life together – their living out of the Christian faith – was something they did together. And because of the way they lived – because of their commitment to these things – they grew in the faith. And they grew in their ability to serve others – even to the point that they could perform miracles. And finally – after struggling to do all this right – they also grew in number – and the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is important. The Lord added to their number. You’ll note here, according to Luke, God adds the number – and God does this in response to their faithful corporate life together. We should be a body – devoted – together – to the corporate living out of the life of a faithful community. We should be a body – that is devoted – together – to the breaking of bread. And to the prayers. We should be a body – that is devoted – together – to following the teachings of the apostles – the teachings of Jesus. And that means – that as a community – together – we are called to these patterns of life that make us more faithful people. We are called to love each other – and to serve our neighbors. To make room in this community – in our lives – and in our hearts – for people who are different than we are. We – together – should be devoted to work in this city that brings about justice for other people – and especially for those who are poor. We – together – are called to share what we have. To open our hands and give it freely. To pledge to the parish. To give to the poor.
And we – together – must be devoted to building of a faithful – respectful community. A place where each person is valued. A place where each person feels safe. I’m probably the only priest in the church who is going to preach primarily this morning on our text from Acts (that might be a bit of an exaggeration – I’m probably not entirely alone in this). It’s short. To the point. Lacks the mystery and excitement – at least at first glace – and in comparison to Jesus as the great Shepherd. And without the drama and intrigue of Peter’s text – without the flare of suffering. But it has teeth this morning for me because this week – I had the chance to sit with more of you. And to listen to stories about your lives – and your loved ones – and about this place. And I am convinced – more than ever – that we have good work to do together. That God is waiting to work through us – together – in this city – and in the wider church.
But first. In Acts this morning we get a sketch of what the church should be and do. Of what it means to “be church”. The sort of – Christian fundamentals – for the basketball fans out there. Now I’m not a huge basketball expert – and I know I’m in basketball country up here – so correct me if I get this wrong – but in basketball – it’s always the fundamentals that are the foundation of everything else. It doesn’t matter how fast you are – if your fundamentals aren’t good. It doesn’t matter how great a leader you are – if you don’t have those sort of core technical things mastered.
So, too, here. See Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – even if I have all these things – and do all these great things – if I have not love, then I am nothing. A clanging gong – or a cymbal. Nothing but noise – with no real depth. You know maybe the old song – “they will know we are Christians by our love.” And that’s the goal. So that when we step outside these walls – together – either to take the Gospel out – or to welcome folks in – they will not be able to miss the living out of our love for God and for each other.
It is Paul who most famously describes this love in his letter to the Corinthians.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
Paul’s letters show us that all communities need to refocus on this love from time to time. All communities experience times of growth – and of rest. All communities experience conflict and struggle – as do all relationships. But in his letters – Paul calls people – together – back to this love that binds up the community. Love that is lived out in honesty, respect, and transparency. Love that is lived out in hospitality – and in a quest for justice. Love that is best lived out when we devote ourselves to our work as Christians – to the core of what makes us who we are. And we find that here – in this place – around this table. In the coming months, we have an opportunity, you and me – to begin anew. To dream a new dream for this parish. And for this city. And to firm up the good foundation that has been here in this spot for nearly 150 years. It is a new day. Christ is risen. And so are we. And when we re-commit – when we devote ourselves – together – to the living of this life – to the breaking of bread, to the prayers, to the quest to learn about Jesus – and to follow in his footsteps. God will work miracles through us. And this city – this world – needs for us to bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ – and to allow God to work through us. We live in a world where many are lost – a city where many are in need of help – and a world where many need to be defended. You need look no further than your own doorstep – or the prayer included in your bulletin today. There is evil in the world – and pain in the world – that is in need of Jesus Christ.
And we are the hands and feet that bring him. And the way to know how to do that – and the way to prepare for that work – is by being church. By mastering the fundamentals. By being devoted to God – and to each other.