Does This Look Like A Church?
May 7 2017
It is truly a blessing to me to be standing here today and to be back involved in the life of the Church. Your support during the time I needed to be away on medical leave so that could get the help I needed to deal with my grief and depression after Sally’s death was a blessing for me. I now feel stronger than I have felt in a long time, and your support and encouragement has helped me get to where I am now.
I told someone the other day that I was “back and better than ever”. Your support and prayers, and the strength God has provided me, have certainly played key roles in my healing, and I thank each of you for what you have done and are continuing to do. Edgewood is like a family to me, and I have heard a lot of you to say that it is like a family to you also. It is a loving, caring, praying, supporting family for many of us. That’s what a Church should be. That’s the way a Church should look and be like. The passage from Acts 2: 42-47 gives a picture of a group of believers who devoted themselves to learning, worship, sharing, and supporting each other. That’s what a Church should look like.
I heard about a church that a street person once visited. Everyone in the church was dressed well and was well groomed, except for this street person. His old torn clothes made him stand out in the crowd, and he felt uncomfortable with the way people stared at him. After the service the pastor greeted him by telling him that he needed to ask Jesus what he should wear to attend worship at that church. The next week the homeless person returned, still dressed in his old, torn, clothes. The pastor asked him if he had asked Jesus what he should wear when attending that church. The street person looked at the pastor and replied “Yes I asked Him. And He said He didn’t know – He was not welcomed at this church either.”
Acts 2:2-47 gives a picture of a Church that Jesus would be welcomed in. It gives a picture of a church that is built upon Jesus’ teachings, and was a community where the members devoted themselves to Jesus’ teachings, worshipping Jesus, sharing with each other and supporting each other.
So what made this community of believers different from others? Let’s take a look at this passage and see what made this community so different. In Acts 1, Jesus tosd his followers, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8). Then he disappeared. His words came true according to the account in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Acts 2:4 says that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” Immediately, the followers of Jesus became witnesses. They began to speak about God’s deeds of power in languages that were understood by the international crowd gathered in Jerusalem. Then Peter began to speak about the life and death of Jesus, giving testimony to how “God raised Him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power” (v. 24). These words resulted in the baptism of 3,000 people in one day alone! But the power of the Christian message was communicated not only by words, but by deeds. Acts tells us that the members of the church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”. They shared everything — in fact, “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v. 45). Because of this just and generous way of life, rooted in prayer and expressed in compassion, the church had “the goodwill of all the people.” It continued to grow, day by day, as “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47).
Clearly, this is the kind of religion that resembles Jesus, and a church where Jesus would be welcomed. In fact, it is precisely the kind of church that Jesus would want to belong to — one defined by a loving way of life. So what does such a life look like?
First, it is way of life that is not attached to material things.
A pastor was met by a church member at the door after worship. The pastor commented on the great tie the man was wearing. The man smiled, thanked him and immediately took it off and gave it to the pastor. Everyone seemed shocked by such a radical act of public generosity. After the pastor received the tie from his church member, his associate pastor told him that he should have complemented the man’s car instead of his tie!
Jesus wants us to be generous and not attached to material things. His idea of a church is one where members “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v. 45). Such congregations today emphasize missions and give generously to programs that feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.
Second, it is a loving way of life that is open and receptive to others.
Jesus is a model of receptivity, and He challenges us to be open to the needs of others. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus gets out of a boat and immediately receives a request from a leader of the synagogue to come and heal his daughter. As Jesus is going to her, He is interrupted by a woman with a bleeding problem. Instead of being annoyed, Jesus attends to her, and then finally makes it to the leader’s house, only to find that the little girl is dead. But Jesus is not discouraged. He tells the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” And then He raised the little girl from the dead (Mark 5:21-43). Jesus shows us that the power of God is seen clearly in a life of openness and receptivity to the needs of others. In Jerusalem, “awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles” (v. 43). They cared for people around them, and as a result they had “the goodwill of all the people” (v. 47).
Third, it is a loving way of life that is marked by spiritual maturity.
In the Jerusalem church, the members “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). They made sure that they were nourished by teaching and preaching, communion and prayer. Spiritual feeding was needed before church members could go out and feed the hungry around them. Acts also tells us that “as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (v. 46). Their worship and fellowship strengthened them as followers of Christ, changing their behavior and making them more interested in the fruits of the Spirit than in the works of the flesh.
Jesus calls us to be a church that is spiritually mature, rooted in prayer and committed to helping others. He want us to be church as is described well by the apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy, where he challenges his fellow Christians to “do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share” (6:18). The result, says Paul, is “the life that really is life”
Jesus wants us to enjoy this kind of life, one marked by a lack of attachment to material things, by openness and receptivity to others and by spiritual maturity. He wants us to build a community of justice and generosity, one that is rooted in contemplation and action.
In the 5 years that I have served Edgewood, particularly the past 8 months since Sally’s death and most especially the 4 months I was on medical leave to get the help I needed to deal with my grief and depression, I have experienced Edgewood as the loving, sharing, caring, praying, and active Church Jesus calls us to be.
I have experienced Edgewood to be a Church committed to learning about God and how we can live in God’s ways. From our Sunday morning Sunday School and Worship to our Wednesday night Bible Studies, we devote ourselves to learning about God and His will for our lives.
I have experienced Edgewood to be a Church committed to praying for each other and others. From the Prayer Book we read the names off of and pray for every Sunday to the Prayer Famlly of the Week to the Prayer Chain the members of Edgewood pray for each other and for others. I have experienced the power of your prayers as you have prayed for me over the last few months, and I believe that it is by the power of God and your prayers that I stand before you today a better person. I give praise to God for the blessings of the prayers members of Edgewood lift up.
I have experienced Edgewood to be a Church devoted to helping others. From the monetary donations and manpower we give to CUOC to the many different special offerings we collect to the Hispanic Ministry we help support, Edgewood is a Church devoted to helping others. I have experienced that help in many ways, mainly over the last months, and it is a blessing to serve such a giving Church.
Edgewood is indeed the learning, praying, giving Church God calls us to be. It is indeed a Church that welcomes Jesus and others. And it is indeed a Church I feel blessed to serve and that I am glad to be back to work with, learn with, pray with, and share with all of you.
Nicolas Kristof wrote that “It is not the bureaucracy of the Church that inspires me, or doctrine, or ancient rituals or even the most glorious cathedral,but rather a missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims, or a missionary physician achieving the impossible in rural Angola. … They fill me with an almost holy sense of awe. Now, that’s religion.”
That’s a church that would welcome Jesus – and others! Amen.