Living as brothers and sisters in Christ Acts 4: 32-35 First St Johns April 12, 2015

[for the audio version of this sermon, please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are brothers and sisters in Jesus said … AMEN! Then we said He has risen! He has risen indeed!

As you have probably realized, one of my main themes is the resurrection of Jesus. In his commentary on the Book of Acts, Dr McGee points out: “…in the early church the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the very center and heart of the message, and no sermon was preached without it. The theme of Peter on the Day of Pentecost was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[1] Another observation Dr McGee makes, a subject that comes up in terms of Jesus being in heaven: “…He has ascended … But He is still at work! He has moved His headquarters. As long as He was here on this earth, His headquarters were in Capernaum. Now His headquarters are at the right hand of the Father.”[2] That’s more of a discussion for Ascension Day, but can never be overemphasized. Jesus is in glory at the right hand of God continually interceding for His people, for us!

The other thing that we overlook in the Acts church is the fellowship of the church. Lots of people like to say they’re an “Acts” church, but really I haven’t seen it and I’m not sure it can really be replicated. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” This is something that you just don’t see in the church anymore. I believe one big reason is that we are all so immersed in the world, that we project that life into our church life. Too many people see the church not as a place to worship, to truly lift up and glorify God at which the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us the faith, strength and integrity we need to go into the world for God. Instead it’s where we lift up to God our wants in the sense of “ok God, I’m here, You owe me, come on and back me up, help me with my agenda.” We may never be able to replicate the Acts church, until, I imagine the resurrection, but we should always strive for that as a goal. Our mission statement here at First St Johns gives us that focus: “Spiritual Warriors, Faithful Servants, Disciples of Jesus”. Are we focused on what is in Jesus or our agenda? Certainly the church of Jesus Christ has an agenda, Martin Luther put us back on that agenda: ““Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is always and forever about God’s Word and not about our agenda. In a world where we see Scripture being tortuously warped out of shape, the Lutheran Church, at least should be, all about His Word.

Yes, we all have lives, but, as Christians it’s not about how we make God’s Word apply to our life as it is how is God working through us, according to His Word, to shape not just our life, but the world around us. We are way too quick to discount that we are all in the Body of Christ, all indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We take Jesus’ Body and Blood as very real sustenance, if you don’t understand and accept that, then you abuse His Body and Blood. The Body and Blood that were abused to give us true forgiveness of sin. How can we then reabuse that same sacred body? We become part of His Body when we are given the Lord’s Supper, but too often when we hit that door on the way out, it’s no longer about Him, it’s all about getting back to life. Our life is in Him! How can we justify trying to impose our agenda on Him who gave Himself for us when He has promised us “life and life more abundant” in Him? We are complete, when we are together in the Body of Christ, His church, His people. That is very much how the Acts Church was, totally about the Body of Christ.

We have to remember the extremely difficult life that people came in to when they became a Christian. In our reading from Palm Sunday we read: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12: 42-43) What we have in Acts is the result of what happened when people were put out of the synagogue. Anyone could be thrown out. Today, people change churches on a whim. In that time, it could be the difference between making a living or being in poverty, possibly even being left to starve. No Jew would do business with someone who wasn’t a part of the temple, they would not hire them as an employee. When these people became Christians they often had little or nothing in terms of money or material possessions. They usually needed the basics, food and clothing. The Acts Church found itself in the position of having to support its members. We sure don’t have that today. I’ve had this discussion with a few people lately. We do things to help our non-Christian neighbor, but that is not what we are about. We cannot be a general social service agency, the Holy Spirit leads us to do good works and we do good works. But our priority is always about our brothers and sisters in Jesus. First St Johns is a great old church, it has been sustained marvelously by its members. Many who came here at the beginning had nothing and many members of this church gave in order to support those who were in need. We need to recapture that focus here. We don’t have a lot in terms of resources, time, treasure and talent, we have become dependent on what has been left by members and feel that should be enough to further our mission. It is just not enough. We have become way too self-focused, what I get out of the church and that was not what the Acts Church was about. Many Christian brothers and sisters would have starved except; “for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Your church, First Saint Johns, does much, but there is so much to do. When we rely on what was left to us and decide that should be enough to get what we need, we certainly have forgotten what the church is all about. In a way this is a sermon about stewardship, about how we need to portion our time, treasure and talent to the church. But it is also about how we need to be Jesus’ church the way it was originally formed. The Book of Acts is often called the Acts of the Apostles or the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because it was a church that followed the Acts that the Holy Spirit guided the church in. Are we living that today?

Let’s take a look at how we share with our brothers and sisters in Jesus, which is part of our Christian life as the original church Acted in the Book of Acts. The apostles gave “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.” Me, you, we can all do better, it’s not to say that we’re going to sell everything we have. But as a church we can share, we can share space in our marvelous building and not begrudge its use, we can share our time to serve brothers and sisters and then others, we can share what we have, including but not limited to money. But as always we dedicate more of our time to growing in our faith and sharing that with those who do not know Jesus and helping them in ways that will show them the love of Christ and His church.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Acts” p ix

[2] Ibid p viii

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