Apr 29, 2023
Today I want to speak as briefly as I can on a huge topic. What
is the church? These six verses Acts 2:42-27 describe the church,
as it was when it first began 2000 years ago and as it shall be
through all eternity and as it is now. In one sentence the church
is about teaching the Gospel, gathering in genuine community,
breaking bread together and worship. From this, flows care and
provision for those in need, signs and wonders, and growth. In
short the church at its best is the embodiment of the Good Life,
and this side of the new creation it is the closest thing to life
in all its fullness. This is what Jesus came for and although I am
sticking to the Acts reading this morning. The 23rd psalm and John
10 Like our Acts reading give us a picture of what the church is
like. We are the sheep, the flock, a community with Jesus the Good
shepherd leading us out to green pastures, leading us through dark
valleys, generously providing for us in time of trouble, and in
times of celebration, so that our cups run over. This is what the
church should be and it is what is described at the end of Acts
If we skip forward a little to Acts 3 to the healing of the lame man at the Temple it is important to remember that all of this is the work of God. When the crowd gathers round Peter & John in wonder to see who had done this healing Peter says "…why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" (Acts 3:12, NRSV) And he goes on to say "…the faith that is through Jesus has given [this lame man] this perfect health in the presence of all of you." (Acts 3:16, NRSV) To swap back to the image of a shepherd for a moment, it is Jesus who gathers us as a flock, who leads us to fresh water and green pastures, and indeed it is Jesus who created the world with the Father and the Spirit including the pastures and the water. It is Jesus the Good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep who keeps us together, keeps us alive and gives us fullness of life.
In other words in Acts just as in John 10 and the 23rd psalm, the signs, the wonders, the growth, the genuine community, and even the acts of sharing and giving to those in need come from God. It is because of Jesus' faithful life including death, it is because he has been raised to new life and shares that life with us, and it is because of the pouring out of the Spirit that the church has come into being and done all the good that it has. (In fact it is our human striving that has often led to corruption abuse and much that is bad. When we seek to make a full life for ourselves instead of accepting it as a gift, it is then we may be tempted to use others for our pleasure, and seek to steal what is not ours.)
I know for myself that my life would have been vastly different if it was not for the work of God in my life. I would not be in ministry. I would not have been a teacher. I would probably not have got married and had children. This is not to say God cannot use me or you or the church and our efforts, but in the end, it is all the work of God graciously including us in God's work. Part of my story is that God used my mum and dad, and many other Christians (church members) to bring me to where I am today.
In response then to all that God has done and is doing for us in Jesus and in the pouring out of the Spirit, this is what the church does and is:
First: It is that group of people who devote themselves to the Apostles' teaching. The Apostle's teaching is what we have in the New Testament. It is the Good News or Gospel concerning Jesus. It is Jesus' life and death, his teaching, his example, his new life, and his sharing with us of the relationship that he has with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Apostles saw that this Jesus was the one who the Old Testament pointed to. So, the Old Testament forms part of their teaching too. Therefore we should study the Bible, reflect on it by ourselves and with others, in sermons, Bible study and personal devotion.
Second: The Church is the group of people who share in fellowship, or genuine community. Perhaps because of our sinfulness or because of changed circumstances, we can't be as radical as the early church and have "all things in common" and sell our possessions and distribute the proceeds to all according to need. But at a minimum, it means we should spend time in each other's company, weep with those who weep, celebrate with those who celebrate, support those who are weak in body, mind or faith and yes even give to those who have need as we are able. Even when we were in lock-down that meant phone calls, sharing of devotional notes, and emails, zooming, facetime and skyping, etc. and dropping something needed or encouraging at people's doors or in their letter boxes. Out of lock-down, now that we are living with COVID rather than trying to stop it, we can add, visiting people, sharing in meals and hospitality, being part of community groups and activities. We can add our fellowship and support activities such as CaMEO, fellowship, and FAN-C. And of course, the teaching of the Apostles is that genuine community is not just for fellow believes, but we should also love our neighbours as ourselves, for God loved the whole world so much that he gave his only Son.
Third, the church is the group of people who devote themselves to prayer. We are the ones who wait upon the Lord. We are the ones who present our prayers and petitions our fears and hopes to God. As we do so God speaks to us. We grow closer to God and to each other, and we bring not only ourselves, we bring our families our neighbours and indeed all the world to God, and we join with Jesus in his prayer.
Fourth the church is that group of people who break bread together. This phrase probably refers to communion and not just a shared meal. As it happens we are going to share in communion today. We don’t just share in it as this group of 30-60 plus the 20 plus online. For when 30-60 people gather in Campbell street as the South Rockhampton Uniting church, another 50 or more Uniting people gather to do the same thing in North Rocky and Mt Morgan, and thousands more for other church groups do the same, tens or hundreds of thousands in Australia and millions maybe even more than a billion across the globe. We celebrate our unity in Christ, that he is with us, and all he has done and is doing for us and in us.
And today's passage tells us that where the church is, where there is breaking of bread, prayer, community and devotion to the Apostles' teaching, God will bring signs, wonders, generous sharing and growth in numbers and in faith.