Summary: The early converts created a community of faith that reflected what they believed was life in the kingdom of God.
Acts 2:42-47 “Heaven on Earth”
Psalm 23 is the most well known and one of the most comforting Psalms. Countless people have found comfort, strength and hope in its verses. During times of grief and struggle individuals imagine the Lord making them rest in green pastures, leading them to cool, quiet waters, and walking with them through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The stress has been on the one on one—the me and God—aspect of the Christian life.
In reality, though, the shepherd leads a flock and a flock does not consist of one sheep. We experience the green pastures, cool quiet waters and banquet tables with the other members of the flock—the other Christians of our faith community. Usually the comfort, strength and hope do not suddenly appear in our lives. They are gifts given to us as we live in community with our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
The early Christians understood this—perhaps more than we do in our modern world that places so much stress on individualism. Acting on their insights, our Christian forefathers began to shape a community that would be what they imagined heaven on earth would be like. Their action reminds us of how God often moves in our lives and uses the community of faith we call a congregation or church.
Luke records that the early Christians, “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” We could simply say that they worshipped together. There is perhaps no more likely place to encounter our living God than in our worship with others. We understand that God is present in the community of two or three people. The words we hear, the songs that we sing, the bread and wine that we eat and drink give us comfort, strength and hope. In worship we ascend the mountain top, catch a glimpse of God’s presence and begin to understand what life in heaven might be like.
We understand that heaven is not necessarily a geographical location—such as an hour flight south of Miami, or just out of Denver. Heaven is God’s presence. Wherever God is, there is heaven. We also understand that one of the goals of the Christian life—of being saved—is to eventually go to heaven and experience God’s presence. With these two thoughts in mind, it amazes me that so many people avoid God’s presence and experiencing heaven on earth in their daily lives. Worship has become an option and not something that is vital and life changing, for many people. This modern day view is certainly not the understanding of worship that the early Christians had.
Worship and fellowship are vital in experiencing the comfort, strength and hope of the Christian faith. Last week, with my laryngitis, I couldn’t sing, but I could join in the singing by my brothers and sisters in Christ. They sang for me. Other Christians help us in several different ways, also.
Sometimes we can’t pray. I know that there is a point when a person is dealing with cancer when one feels that he or she is the only person who has ever been cursed with the disease. A person feels abandoned—even by God. The thought, “if God really loved me God wouldn’t have allowed me to get cancer” runs through the person’s mind, and prayer is impossible. The person doesn’t want to pray and if prayer was possible the individual doesn’t think it would work. This is when one’s brothers and sisters in Christ can pray for the person who can’t. They can pray for healing—and believe that it will happen. They can pray for peace, comfort, strength and hope, and open the door for that to become a reality in the person’s life.
We experience heaven on earth in worship and fellowship—in the community we call the church.
Luke goes on to write, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
When the early Christians envisioned what heaven would be like, they saw people who, in God’s presence, were no longer poor, hungry, sick, or excluded. God’s kingdom was where justice reigned. Like us they struggled with how to establish justice in this broken, sin filled, and unjust world. They determined that their communities would be places of justice. Wealthier Christians sold their possessions so that poorer Christians could have enough to live. Food was purchased so that no one went hungry. The sick were cared for and not left to die, and everyone who identified themselves as a follower of Jesus Christ was included in the community—master/slave, male/female, Jew/Gentile.
Those early Christians did not allow their struggle for justice to be contained in their faith communities. They traveled the world caring for the sick and needy, standing for the rights of the afflicted and the inclusion of those who were marginalized. Caring on the ministry of Jesus Christ, the church has a long history of seeking to enable others to experience heaven on earth. In doing so, Christians have experienced heaven on earth themselves.