Born To Belong
Experiencing Biblical Community: Acts 1
TV Guide recently came up with a list of what they consider the top 50 TV shows of all time; the top 5 were (source: http://www.tvguide.com/50th/features/020429a.asp):
5. The Sopranos – “A complex drama built around a thinking man’s mobster who struggles with two families — his wife and kids, and his gun-toting gang.”
4. All In The Family – a show about a family in all its dysfunction, and how they related and interacted with one another.
3. The Honeymooners – about two couples, the Kramdens and Nortons, living in the same apartment building and sharing life.
2. I Love Lucy – very similar premise – about two couples sharing their lives and wacky adventures.
1. Seinfeld – the only one of the bunch I’ve watched; about “four neurotic New Yorkers… with quirky takes on the seemingly mundane events of daily life.”
Do you see what each of these has in common? They are about people in community – about people sharing their lives and interacting. And with the exception of “The Sopranos”, each of them is about normal, day to day life, and the things that can happen to people in relationships. I don’t know exactly why people watched and loved these shows, but I can take a pretty good guess: something about those communities they are watching resonated with them – they recognize a need deep within themselves to be in relationships like these tv personalities.
Born To Belong:
Mother Theresa of Calcutta knew an awful lot about poverty; she wrote this: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible type of poverty.”
We live in a lonely world. I think that the vast majority of us, when we stop and take an honest look at our lives, would recognize that we feel that was also. I shared last week that I have been feeling that way. We feel isolated. We feel disconnected. We feel alone. Mother Theresa’s observation rings true in our experience – we are poor in terms of the depth of our relationships with other people.
John Milton observed, “Loneliness is the first thing which God’s eye named not good.” We mentioned that last week also – how in the garden of Eden, surrounded by perfection and paradise, and where there was yet no sin – God looked at Adam and recognized that it was not good for him to be alone. And remember, Adam even had direct, personal contact with God, and yet God recognized that Adam needed something else. He needed to be in relationship with others.
You and I have that same need – to be in deep, personal relationships with one another that are safe, that are intimate, where we can love and be loved deeply. Where we can be ourselves without pretending. The “family groups” which Sue talked about earlier are the way we have strongly felt God leading us as a church to see those needs met. And so I want to invite you to make a decision to be a part of “Experiencing Biblical Community” – to be a part of a place where you can love and be loved deeply.
One of the best examples of community in Scripture is the early church, so throughout the fall we are going walk together through the first nine chapters of Acts, looking especially at how this fledgling group of believers in Jesus interacted together. Jesus left them a “new commandment” on the night of His crucifixion – to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34); the first nine chapters in Acts describe how they did that. Let’s begin that journey this morning in Acts 1.
As you are turning to Acts 1 in your Bible, let me set the stage. The book of Acts is book 2 of Luke’s record of Jesus’ impact on our world. Book 1, the Gospel of Luke, describes all the things Jesus “began to do and to teach”, and this second book describes all the things Jesus continues to do and to teach, now through His disciples. Acts opens with Luke’s description of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, after promising the disciples again that the Holy Spirit will come in power and enable them to be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus is the resurrected Son of God. That brings us to verse 12, where I would like to begin to read what happens next.
Experiencing Community – observation 1: they were together (vs 13):
I want to make three simple observations about Biblical Community from these verses. The first is from verse 13, and it is very simple: they were together. The disciples had spent the last 40 days learning more about the Kingdom of God from the resurrected Jesus, now they have seen Him ascend into heaven and they know they are not going to see Him physically like they have, and what do they do? They stay together. In fact, they were all living together in this upper room, which certainly could have been the upper room where they had eaten the last supper. Living together, in close quarters, is a great way of building community – I spent a lot of time in summers past at camp, sharing a tiny cabin with about 7 other people, and I can attest to this fact.
Now I am not suggesting we go and form a commune! I believe we are called to engagement in our world, not isolation from it, so that is not the point here. The point is this: the early community of Christians spent time together, face to face, the mundane chores of life as well as the incredible highs and lows. We are going to see this theme repeatedly as we walk through the book of Acts – the early Christians spent a lot of time together.
There is no other way to community. Significant relationships take time, there is simply no other way. If we do not spend time with others, we will not build relationships, and we will not be able to love and be loved deeply. There are no end of societal substitutes – the TV shows I mentioned earlier, anonymous internet chat rooms where people can be whomever they want, can respond to whatever they want, and can leave whenever they want, all without ever investing in or connecting with another living human being. We build fences between our houses, we spend money to get away, we retreat to a TV or computer screen, and we email people we live in the same house with. And we wonder why we are lonely. It is because we do not spend time with people, and when we do it is not generally with the purpose of learning to love them deeply as Jesus loved us. The only way to community is by investing time in people.
Did you notice that Luke takes the time to list each of the apostles by name? That is significant – theologically it is significant because it shows us that ALL the apostles were there except for Judas, none of those who had followed Jesus while He was on earth returned to their old life, they all formed this new community. But I think it is also significant because it underlines the truth that these were ordinary people like you and me, now bonded to one another because of their shared experience of Jesus. They were individuals with names and histories and faces and unique gifts, and they were together. Like us here today – individuals with names and histories and faces and unique gifts, who need to be together in community. And that takes time.
Experiencing Community – observation 2: they prayed together (vs 14):
Verse 14 fills in a few more details about who was part of this community, but the significant part is what they were doing together in community: “They all joined together constantly in prayer”. What did they do in this community? They prayed.
This past week I was doing some premarital counseling with a couple who are getting married soon, and we started talking about intimacy. I was trying to help them realize that the deepest level of intimacy they could attain in their marriage was not physical intimacy, but spiritual intimacy – when they were able to safely share the depth of their spirit, and be united in their understanding of and commitment to God. The place where we get to this level of intimacy is when we pray together. And that is what I see as a main characteristic of this early community – they shared their spirits together in prayer.
I believe God is calling us to this kind of intimacy together. To build a place where we can share our spirits and pray together – really pray about where we are at, the struggles we might be facing, our heart concern for people we care about who don’t know Christ yet. Those are the moments that we begin to experience “life to the full,” where we feel known and loved and needed, where we are living in joyous fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one another as He loved us. That is when it gets really really good.
At our last elders meeting we took some time to do this – we prayed intimately together for a couple of people. We did it at our staff meeting this week as well. And it was good. It was Biblical community in action. As we launch a bunch of these family groups this fall, there is much that we are happy to leave to each group to decide on, but this one is non-negotiable. Groups must pray together. That is the characteristic of Biblical Community.
Experiencing Community – observation 3: they got on with the job together (vs 15):
The final observation I want to make covers the rest of chapter one, and it is this: the apostles got on with the job of being Jesus’ witnesses together. Peter stands up and takes charge one day when there was about 120 people there. The number is significant because 120 was what the Jewish law required for the formation of a new community, a synagogue. But Peter takes some leadership and together they launch into the first task of this new community – replacing Judas with someone else to be the twelfth apostle.
I am not going to take the time to dive into how they did this, who they picked, why they felt the need, or any of those questions, because what I want to point out is that the community made decisions and got on with the business of living out the mission Jesus had left them, and they did this together. They recognized that they needed one another, and they needed to be working together and loving one another if they were going to be able to do the things Jesus had called them to do. They embraced the mission together, and as we will see in the weeks to come, they pursued the mission together.
We have a vision of discipleship at Laurier, depicted by a greenhouse. We chose that word picture because a greenhouse is a safe place of nurture and growth towards fruitfulness. As we head into the fall together, we have really felt the Spirit of God calling us to love one another deeply – to spend time together, to pray together, to get on with the mission together. And we have felt the Holy Spirit leading us towards these family groups, to create places where we will no longer be lonely and isolated and disconnected, but where we will be free to know and be known and to love and be loved. We need one another – that is how God made us.
If you are on our church mailing list you should get a phone call this week inviting you to dinner next Sunday evening – if you are not on our list you can use the orange card in the pew to get us your phone number so we can try to make sure that everyone gets invited. Please go. That will be the first place to get connected with others, and will be the chance to hear about these family groups in a little more detail and then make a decision about being involved.
We need community – we were created to need it, and we were commanded to create it. And as we do, we will begin to experience what it is truly like to live in the Kingdom of God.