44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [NRSV]
The Community Shared of what they had to meet the needs of who they were.
They spent time in the temple sharing in worship and witness
Sharing Leads to Growth
It has struck me in this season of preparing for our Stewardship Campaign and our church’s Charge Conference reporting that while a great deal of emphasis and assumption is placed on numbers and statistics, very little is said of the life we are challenged to live.
I would say that greatest piece that is missing from the modern church of 2013 is the storehouse of faith experienced in the generations between Wesley’s and that of the church in 1968.
At the point of our uniting as the United Methodist Church, we merged different traditions, with many similarities, yet we cashed in many of our denominational credits to increase numbers. We spent our hearts to insure our diamonds to use a playing card metaphor.
As one born in 1964 I have been witness to much not thinking that I had much responsibility along the way. I suppose it is wisdom that comes from experience, that I see more clearly now. The flavor of church known as United Methodist is missing something important from the earliest expression of church that is at our core.
We are expecting to make withdrawals from a bank of giving to which we have not not invested.
It is a great thing to check your bank balance and find it positive. Maybe you have seen interest grow, investments pay off, incomes increase and the balance has grown. For most folks to see a balance that is even and above the read line is a comfort. The reality is that many folks are living in a deficit with number of credit and denial keeping afloat hope and economy.
We know too well the news of budgets, economy, expenses and liabilities on a national level is debilitating and we detach ourselves from the news and tune out the notion that they are talking about our money because it is the government’s money.
Something our nations could also learn from the early church is the example of sharing based on a relationship with have with the community.
I have learned in these nearly 50 years that it would be great to give everyone everything they needed at the expense of those who have, but once those who have either give it all to the collective or withdraw from the community, the problem is worse than at the beginning.
The thing to learn from the church in Acts is that they community of faith shared each others lives together.
They prayed, worshipped, and shared themselves.
There is a value in being a faith community. The is a desire in the heart of God to be in fellowship with us and us with each other.
The General Church asks of us to report out Vital Statistics of worship and members and giving with an basically unspoken hope that in seeing our numbers we would be driving to increase our numbers. But they are not offering the method how and even greater they are not inspiring us to ask why.
Why comes to church? Why serve the poor? Why give to the needs of the community? Why share our faith with others? Why?
The easy, Children’s sermon answer, that is correct and direct is, Jesus told us to.
But that is not a complete answer: Why does Jesus want us to do these things?
For some will read this passage of Acts and see the early church growing and jump ahead. If we don’t share and meet needs of the poor, we won’t grow and we can manage to be the church with out them..
The chapel model of church, where things are neat, orderly, defined and sterile with no expectation of more, instead maintain. It’s not too often you hear of a church or hospital tearing down their chapel to build a bigger chapel. It would not meet the definition of chapel if it grew.
Take some time to review any story or example in scripture where people manage the situation within their own ability and resources to keep the status quo and maintain the tradition that God speaks up and says, well done good and faithful servant. You won’t find one. That is not how God works.
God speaks and things come into being. God creates and calls for multiplication. God reaches out the unlikely individuals to transform the community and nations. If we jump ahead of God, we will not find God calling for maintenance. God is all about sharing and growth.
It is helpful to step back into the Acts 2 church to focus on what is being shared. Real life is shared and read needs are placed on the table. Acceptance of people despite they needs and problems builds the community. An interested fact that is that people have problems, failures, fears and needs if they are rich or poor.
It is assumed that wealth is what are shared, but from our economic lessons, the thing that drew people to the church was the people’s needs were shared, and addressed. Real people’s lives were placed at the alter and the community shared these needs in worship and relationship with God.
That is very different from what we do on most Sundays.
For the past fifty years we have looked at numbers more closely than we have looked at the needs people have and are willing to share.
Sunday school lessons are prepared so that even a person of no faith could read them and ask a few questions and we would call it Christian Educaiton
Orders of worship of dutifully filled with liturgy and familiar songs and we hope people will connect the dots of tradition with the holes in their hearts and find Christ on their own.
Buildings are maintained, debt notes are served, and programs are funded, but are people sharing their need for Jesus Christ and the church responding with a relationship that confirms salvation, live, community and belonging in the heart of God?
What are you supporting with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?
I am proud of the faithfulness that my church has taking on a growing budget this year and with great generosity have met the challenge in this economy and we will continue to increase what we give and share… but there is a danger to avoid.
We are are not buying salvation. We are not paying for someone else to be the church for us. We are not hiring someone to do our service. We are not perpetrating a system that is focused on serving ourselves first.
We answer the ‘Why’ question today with our pledges saying… why do support our church?
Because Christ is found here and this is where we want to share Christ.
This is where God is bless and stretching us and we want to grow
This is where the Spirit embodies and empowers us and we want to go where the Spirit sends us.
This is why we give. because we belong, and we are connected and committed where we belong.
The TV sitcom Cheers was a community of flawed people who share ritual, sorrow, joy, celebration and everyday life, because that is where they knew and were known.
That is fertile grown that will grow disciples for the transformation of the world.