It takes a community

Acts 2: 42-47

Last Sunday, we read the story in Luke about two disciples walking home from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus. The one they thought was a great prophet of God had just been crucified. The one they had followed and loved was dead. And then Sunday morning, tomb was found empty and the women reported seeing a vision of angels who told them that He was alive. All of His followers were gathered together behind locked doors full of confusion and fear and sadness.  When the two disciples walked the 7 miles home a stranger came and began to walk with them toward Emmaus and their hearts burned as he talked to them about the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures. When they arrived at the crossroads they invited the stranger to their home to spend the night. When they sat down to eat, the stranger took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them and their eyes were opened. Just as he disappeared, they realize it was Christ.

The text this morning jumps ahead some in time. The followers who were previously gripped by confusion and fear and sadness are now empowered to move forward with their new lives as Christians in the Resurrection. Everything had changed and now they were connected to each other in very real and powerful ways. They do not simply come together once a week for worship and then go back to their own families and their own work. They spend mostof their time with each other studying the teachings of the Apostles, in fellowship with one another, eating together and praying together. They take care of each other. The ones who have financial resources sell their possessions so that everyone has enough. Their love and passion drew others to them so that their numbers increased by leaps and bounds.

“Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved,” those who were being healed, who were brought into the community, who were being fed and cared for and loved…the Lord added to their number those who were being made whole.

Being “saved” for the followers of Jesus and all the early Christians had real physical, tangible meaning. The early Christians were Jewish.  Our text today tells us that they spent much time together in the temple. Christianity in the early years was more like a denomination within Judaism. No one was asked to leave Judaism or the temple or synagogues in order to become Christians. The Jewish Christians gathered and honored the Sabbath with their Jewish community as they always had and then they would also come together with other followers of Christ to worship and study and pray and praise and break bread.

In the stories of the Jewish faith that the early Christians knew so well, God literally savedpeople from starvation, from floods, from drought, from enemies, from slavery and from death. Salvation in the Old Testament is a matter of living or dying. This is the salvation the early Christians understood before they came to follow Christ.

The New Testament uses the word salvation is 176 times and 44 times in Luke and Acts. The meaning of salvation in the New Testament grows out of the meaning from the Old Testament – and then as He often did, Jesus took the traditional understanding and added layers and meaning to it. They were saved through a healing from an illness or death, salvation was a spiritual and relational healing as well.

The early Christian community made sure that everyone’s physical needs were met, everyone had a place to sleep and food to eat AND everyone learned about how to be in relationship with God through Christ, saved body and soul.

Through Scripture we see that there is much more to salvation than answering a question about Christ Jesus being our Lord and Savior and getting dunked in a pool of water. These acts are only intended to acknowledge the salvation that has already occurred in our bodies and our souls. They are symbols of the wholeness and the completeness that we have when we are in relationship with God.

Being saved does not happen once but over and over and it is always a personal choice but not individual, not in isolation. Salvation happens in community, in relationship. Without communing with each other, without a relationship with creation, salvation is next to impossible. God is relational. We are absolutely dependent on the earth to live. And unless we are hermits and live off the grid with no water, sewage or electric service and grow our own food and make our own clothes, soap, etc our lives depend on our community – lots of different communities actually: family, school, work, clubs, military, Peace Corps, and virtual communities like Facebook.  Our communities vary in importance and we move in and out of them as we journey through life. But some of the communities are vital and help define who we are and how we understand ourselves and our world. God is too big, too complicated, too mysterious for us to even approach without learning and reflecting together.

Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and of Acts, presents an idealized life of the earliest church. — Later stories show that the ideal practices we see here in this passage were not universal and did not last forever. Nevertheless, Luke holds before us a picture of discipleship in which Jesus’ own lack of selfishness and his concern for others was realized. Luke holds this picture before us today as a model and a challenge to go and do likewise.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.— If someone had never been to Providence Christian Church, I would say that sentence gives a pretty good description of what we do as well, and what most churches do. We study and teach Scripture and the apostle’s teachings, we worship together through prayer and communion, and we fellowship together at potlucks and talent shows, 10 minutes before worship and at Rupp Arena concessions.

But if we had to hold up one thing as most important in all that we do together, I think we would all agree. I know this because many of you have told me. I know this because every Disciple’s church I have been part of has told me the same thing. Communion, The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist is most important to the Disciples community. It is the act that best symbolizes who we are and how we understand God. It is the ritual that most fully represents our relationships – with each other – with creation and with God. It is not something done on our behalf, it is not something we just observe, it is not something that we listen to – we participate in the Lord’s Supper with all of our senses and with all of our being – that is part of what makes it so meaningful.

It is a practice found in all the Gospels, Acts and the letters. It is a tradition so important that we call it a sacrament. The words we hear at the table vary a little but the constants, the words always present, the remembrance always there bring us such comfort: Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave and he said this is for you, “This is For You!”

In community some of us have been hurt, maybe just a little or maybe very deeply. Our culture tells us thousands of times each day that we should be light skinned, physically fit, tall, with thick shiny hair, clear skin, straight white teeth and long legs. Our culture tells every day that how we dress is very important.  Our culture traps us in a never-ending cycle of competition with perfect people in magazines and on television that is not winnable.

In communities that we trust, we have been told that we are not smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough. In family communities we have been made to feel – that we cause bad things to happen, that we can’t ever do anything right, that we are destined for failure. In faith communities, some of us have been told that we are not worthy to be members, that we need to change before God will accept us, that we are not loved by God.

But Jesus said “This is for YOU.”

“For YOU” carries the weight of an impossible, unbelievable mystery that the Creator of all that is seen and unseen cares about you – every single YOU. It is the mystery of the infinite, unknowable, whole and holy one who yearns for us and reaches out to us through bread and wine to make us whole – to save us. Those words make a claim on each person who receives, to trust that God has acted in Christ for you and for you and for you.

When communion is at the center of not only our worship but of all that we do, we will be living much closer to the kingdom of God. Because at the Lord’s Table everyone is invited, everyone is accepted, everyone offered salvation – body and soul. At the table everyone is equal, everyone is holy. At the table everyone is fed – no one goes hungry. At the table there is spiritual thread connecting each person to each other, to the earth from which the grain and grapes were grown and to God, creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.

Church communities should be inclusive, not exclusive. Churches should support each other in love and care. Church communities should challenge each other, educate each other and grow together in faith, help us define who we are and whose we are. Our church should help give us the confidence to be who God created us to be and to live as God calls us to live each and every day. Being part of a church should not always be easy but when things in life get hard our church community should be there to feed us, to hold us up, to sit with us, listen to us, and pray for us. The church should save us.

“This is for you”

First we must fully accept the gift of salvation that has been given to us and then we must accept it again and then again. And then we must offer it to others – salvation I mean. We offer it when we offer a food box. We offer it when we help build a house. We offer it when we listen to someone hurting. We offer it when we accept someone without asking them to change. We offer it when we love someone who feels unlovable. We offer salvation when we see God in each person. Because when we see God IN another person, they will begin to see God in themselves and they will be saved! God’s salvation is for each of us and yet not for any one of us alone. It is not an individual affirmation but an invitation to sit down at a table with all the other hungry, broken sinners and to hear the words, “this is for you.”