We’re in This Together

Acts 2:32, 42-47

The Believers Share Their Possessions

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Dear Friends in Christ,

If you’ve ever spent time reading or studying the book of Acts in the New Testament like our LifeLight class did last year, then you know that this is a book that contains a wide variety of miracles that God allowed to take place in the early Christian Church in order to confirm the message of the disciples and to help the church grow.  For example, Acts begins with the miracle of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, enabling these uneducated Galileans to speak in languages they’d never spoken in before so that the diversity of people in Jerusalem at that time could hear the Gospel proclaimed in their own native tongues.  Then in chapter 3 we find Peter and John healing a crippled beggar at the temple. Later on we have Saul the great persecutor of the church experiencing the miracle of conversion and being transformed into Paul the apostle and great proclaimer of the Gospel.  Elsewhere we find the disciples being delivered from prisons by angels who suddenly appear and open the doors and lead them out.  We find Paul surviving a bite from a poisonous snake without so much as a fever and even raising from the dead a young man who fell asleep and then fell out an upper story window when Paul got a little long-winded in his preaching.  And you thought I sometimes preached long!

But on and on it goes – one miracle after another demonstrating the power of God and the power of his Word over sin, sickness, nature, and even death itself.  Well, today I want to talk to you about what some would consider to be the greatest miracle in the early Christian church.  It might come as a surprise to you and you may not agree that it deserves that designation, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I’ve become that it does.  Care to guess what it was?  One word:  UNITY.  These folks, as different and diverse as they were, were unified.  They loved one another.  They got along with one another.  They genuinely cared for and supported one another.  And I believe we 21st century Christians can learn a lot from these 1stcentury believers so let’s spend some time today examining them and how they were able to attain such unity among themselves.

Now who exactly were these people that we meet in our text?  Well, these charter members of the New Testament church were Jewish people who had come to Jerusalem from all over the world to observe an Old Testament harvest festival known as Pentecost.  Little did they know, however, that the harvest they would celebrate would have nothing to do with crops, but rather the souls of men as the Holy Spirit would birth the Christian church while they were there.  And most of you probably know the story about the tongues of fire appearing and resting on the disciples’ heads as the Holy Spirit filled their lips with the glorious Gospel message about Jesus whose life, death, and resurrection had paid for their sins and opened up to them the gates of everlasting life.  The result was that 3000 people were brought into the church that day. Imagine that! In just one day member-ship skyrocketed from about 120 faithful souls to over 3000.

My friends, this is what you would call a dynamic church.  By that I mean a church that was experiencing a lot of change.  Our text says, “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”   Everyday there were new faces.  Everyday you had to learn new names.  Just when you got comfortable meeting in one location you had to move to another because you’d outgrown the previous one.  Indeed, the church was constantly changing.

But not only was it a dynamic church, it was also a diverse church.  In Acts 2 we run into this list of places where all these people came from.  It says this group of new believers consisted of “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.”  Different cultures, different styles of dress, different colors of skin, different languages, different traditions, different economic statuses – this was one very diverse church!  And you know as well as I do that when such diversity comes together, one of the toughest things to attain and maintain is unity.  Yet that’s exactly what happened here.  The last verse of our text says:  “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.”  Now how did they do that?  How did they attain such a high degree of unity?

We could ask the same questions of our church here, couldn’t we?  For are we not a dynamic and a diverse church?  Have we not experienced significant change over the years?  Some of you can remember the days when Salem Lutheran Church was this small group of German Lutherans who met in a very small church on Ohio St. in town.  But under Pastor Schrage’s leadership and with God’s blessing this church exploded.  And praise God, the explosion continues.  I did some quick figuring while working on this part of my sermon and came up with an approximate number of over 300 people who have been added to our church during the nearly 22 years that I’ve been here.  Now I share that not to boast or to get caught up with numbers, but to show you that this is a dynamic church, a church that has changed a lot over the years and continues to change.  I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me,“There are so many new faces in church these days.  I just don’t know everyone anymore.”  And just when you learn somebody’s name and connect it with the right face, somebody new shows up and you have to start all over again.

Well, my friends, I would suggest to you that that’s the way Christ’s church is supposed to be.  At least that’s the way it was in the New Testament church.  It’s almost like they raised the sails of the church on Pentecost and the wind of the Holy Spirit blew and off it went.  And even though the leaders of the church weren’t quite sure where it was going, they knew God was in control because they asked him to be.  Sometimes I feel the same way about our church.  I don’t know exactly where we’re going in the next few years when it comes to worship and Bible study and ministering to our youth and so many other things.  But I do believe God is in control because our leadership very much wants him to be.  And that, for me, is not only comforting, but very exciting.

But it also raises a question.  How does such a dynamic church that changes a lot and such a diverse group of people get along with one another?  How do we attain a sense of oneness, a sense of unity that was the trademark of the early Christian church?  Well, the answer to that question comes out in Acts 2:42 where it says of those early Christians:  “They devotedthemselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  The word “devoted” there means “steadfast determination.”  They were steadfastly determined to grow in 4 areas:  the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread which in all likelihood referred to the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  Now 3 out of those 4 activities are typically done in the context of the church.  You can pray alone.  But the celebration of Communion usually takes place in the worship setting of the church.  And for teaching, you have to have a teacher, right?  And usually that teacher teaches a group.  And as for fellowship, well, the very word implies a group setting.

So the church devoted itself to one another. There was a sense of “one-anotherness” among them.  Now the reason I bring all this up today is because over the next couple of months we’re going to be talking about how we here at Salem Lutheran Church can attain the same sense of one-anotherness in our congregation.  Remember the “Faith Odyssey” sermon series that I began preaching back in June?  Last Sunday we finished the first leg of that journey that found us going deeper in our understanding of the Bible.  We talked about why we can believe the Bible, why we can accept it as absolute truth, how we can interpret it when we read it, how we can better apply it to our everyday lives, and so on.  Well, now we’re ready to start the 2nd leg of this odyssey, this extended journey.  And this part of it will find us going wider in our understanding of fellowship.  Over the next weeks we’re going to be taking a look at some of the more than 20 one-another passages that appear in the New Testament where we are told to be devoted to one another, to honor one another, to encourage one another, to greet one another, to forgive one another, and so on.

Now what would happen if a church, if our church, would really take seriously these one-another passages?  What would happen if we understood that we are all part of the same body, that we’re all connected to one another?  What would happen if we’d begin to treat one another as God wants us to and as we’re going to be looking at in this series of messages?

I think the answer to those questions can be found in a story that author Max Lucado tells about an experience he had on a Good Friday some years ago.  He says that each year on Good Friday he takes part in a community worship service where he lives and serves in San Antonio, TX.  Some years ago one of the other participants was an Episcopalian priest who was wearing a cross…a very large and very noticeable cross.  Now Max comes out of a tradition where the preachers don’t wear crosses or robes or things like that, so at first he thought this large cross was kind of overdoing it.  It was a bit on the showy side.  But when that priest stepped into the pulpit, he told the fascinating story behind that cross.

He said that before he assumed his current position as bishop of the West Texas Diocese, he served a congregation in San Antonio called St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.  He was dearly loved there by his people and he dearly loved them.  It was difficult for him to leave, but he felt called by God to go to this new position.  So when he announced that he had accepted that call, the congregation decided that they would make, not buy or order, but make a very special cross for him as his going away present.  The invitation was extended to the families to bring any of their unused gold so that it could be melted down for this cross.  And that’s what the people did.  And as he began to describe that cross, he said, “In this cross are the wedding rings of widows and widowers whom I’ve ministered to over the years.”  He said, “Inside this cross are the wedding rings of 3 different couples who were divorced and then remarried.   So they had an extra set which they gave to the cross.”  He said, “Inside this cross is the ring of a dear friend that he purchased to give to his bride, but she changed her mind.  So he gave her ring to the cross as a way of surrendering his sorrow and broken heart to God.”  All these people brought these mementos from their lives as a way of thanking this godly shepherd for the ways in which he had led them through broken hearts and tough times.  And the result was a beautiful golden cross.

What happens when the stories of God’s people are melded together?  What happens when your story mixes with his story; when your tears mingle with her tears; when your hand is held by his hand as he prays with you and for you in the hospital?  What happens when your feet are under their table or that couple sits in your living room or your children play with their children?  What happens when all our stories are melted down and so intertwined and intermingled with one another that it’s kind of hard to tell where one starts and the other stops?  I’ll tell you what happens.  The cross is lifted high.  The cross and its meaning is made evident to a community.  And people sit up and take notice.  They say, “You know, those people actually like each other.  Those people get along with one another.  How do they do it?  What do they know that we don’t know?”  The answer is found in the cross – radiant, brilliant, golden with God’s love.  I pray that people will see the cross in us more and more as individuals and as a congregation as we grow even closer and more devoted to one another through our study of fellowship over the next couple of months.