“Being the Church God Wants Us to Be”

Easter 4

May 7, 2017


Text:  Acts 2:42-47


    As we spend some time in God's word today, let's begin by reminding ourselves once more of our local church mission statement:  “The Woodward United Methodist Church is an open and caring family of persons seeking to experience, share, and grow in the love of God through worship, and prayer, community life, study, and service.”

I notice there is a lot of similarity between this statement and the description of the earliest church found in today's lesson from Acts. In particular, listen again to Acts 2:42 with a little connective commentary: “The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (there’s study), to the community (there’s service), to their shared meals (there’s community life), and to their prayers (there’s worship and prayer).”  In addition, in our mission statement we aspire to being an “open and caring family” and to “experience, share, and grow in the love of God.”  Verses 43-47 tell of the sense of awe that came over the believers as they experienced God’s mighty acts, of their sharing of their possessions and food as acts of caring for others, and of their growth in numbers as they opened their fellowship to others (“The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”).  Our church’s mission statement shows evidence that we aspire to be the kind of church described in our lesson from Acts, although we may not always live up to our aspirations as well as we might like.

But there is more to the description.  I also find parts of the description that challenge us and the whole church to live our congregational lives much differently in our level of relationship and commitment.

We read in Acts:  “God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.”  I sense that many churches don’t really expect all that much from God.  Yes, we do encounter the occasional experience of prayer being answered beyond our wildest dreams, of someone being healed of what had been diagnosed as a terminal illness, or some other occurrence in our lives that defies rational explanation.  But I wonder:  What do I really expect from God?  What do we really expect?  I think many times all we really want from God is for God to approve of and bless what we are already doing.  But maybe God has something else in mind that would totally blow our minds if we realized what it was and got on board with it.  Is that somewhere we are ready to go?

It is also reported in Acts:  “All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.”  This is not something we generally do.  It sounds extreme to most of us.  And the truth is that even the first Christians were not able to uphold this economic model for very long.  But what about the principle behind it--that everyone should have enough, that no one should be lacking in the necessities of life?  Isn’t that something that we should be doing, not only for ourselves, but for others, in ways that are more than charity (which we are already pretty good at doing)?  What if our sharing of our material resources actually helped people to better be able to fend for themselves and share with others?  For instance, in some of the world’s poorer countries Christians have created microlending programs.  The small loans from these programs have enabled previously impoverished people to start their own businesses and support their families and communities.  And the loans almost always get paid back so the funds can be loaned to help someone else.

Acts further tells us:  “Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes.”  They gathered for worship and fellowship daily.  We don’t do that, do we?  Many of us think we have done all that we need to do if we show up at church for an hour once a week--and for many more, it is actually less often than that.  Now some of us do get together more frequently on a social basis.  But the primary purpose of those gatherings is not that of encouraging and strengthening each other in our faith and discipleship.  What would it look like to be more intentional about gathering together more frequently to encourage each other in trusting God with our lives and living the Jesus way in our dealings with each other and with others?

I believe the description of the earliest church found in Acts is a description of how God wants the church to be even today.  

I believe God wants his church to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, both in learning what that teaching is and finding and practicing ways to live it out in today’s world.

I believe God wants his church to be devoted to the community.  The church does not exist only for itself.  It exists to show God’s love to others through humble service.

I believe God wants his church to be in fellowship with one another, to eat together, to share what we have with those among us who have little, to have frequent contact with one another, to have genuine relationships with one another.

I believe God wants his church to pray together, to pray not only for ourselves and for each other, but to pray for the needs and concerns of the world, and to pray for God’s guidance in responding to the needs and concerns of which we become aware.

I believe God wants his church to praise God and demonstrate God’s goodness to everyone.  Too often the church seems to portray God as the bad guy, just waiting to clobber those who don’t measure up.  But consider how Jesus ministered to those who were classified as “sinners”.  Did Jesus clobber them?  No.  He showed them God’s love and forgiveness.  In fact, the only people Scripture ever depicts Jesus as clobbering are the self-righteous prigs in the religious establishment who went around clobbering “sinners” and claiming they were doing it on God’s behalf.  Today the church is the religious establishment, and too often the church acts more like self-righteous prigs than like those who show God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Neither God nor this world need any more self-righteous prigs.  Instead, God and the world need people who show God’s mercy and compassion, especially to those who have totally messed up their lives and those the world rejects.  They need to know God believes in them, wants them, and loves them.

I don’t know what you are going to do with what I have just shared with you this morning.  Since I am not going to be with you much longer, I may be just spouting hot air that is not going to get any results.  But I do hold before you this vision from the pages of Holy Scripture of what God wants his church to be.  I challenge you to find a way to live into it in this place.  It is a vision that can be lived into no matter who your pastor is.  But it can only be lived if you, the people of the church, choose to embrace it.  No pastor can force you to embrace it.  No pastor can embrace it for you--and any pastor who attempts to embrace such a vision without the congregation on board is going to end up frustrated (I am speaking from experience).  It is up to you whether to claim this vision or not to.

This church’s mission statement is a good starting point toward claiming the vision.  I find that many times churches put long hours into crafting a mission statement, and once it is completed it is never heard from again.  Instead, a mission statement can be a guide to where we believe God is leading us, and a source of challenge at times when we become complacent in our discipleship.  I encourage you to use your mission statement, not only as something to be read at the beginning of the worship service each Sunday, but as something to be practiced in how this church lives out its faith.

Let us be the church that God wants us to be.  Amen.

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