Summary: Inaugural sermon for fall 2005 series through the book of Acts
My colleague in ministry, Arnetta Bailey, writes of the fears that we all have when we enter into a new experience with a new group of people:
‘Can you remember what it was like to start a new job or walk into a new church?’ she writes. ‘Perhaps you scanned the room for a friendly face. Was there a sense of relief when you found one? Do you remember what it was like to begin to get to know someone?’
She goes on to say, ‘Do you recall the get-acquainted questions you asked one another about family and interests—anything to find some point of connection? Do you recall how your comfort-level with one another began to grow and trust began to develop?’ Five years ago my family and I and all of you present then probably had some of these same questions going through our minds because it was five years ago today that I preached my first sermon as your pastor.
What a five years it has been. Our world dramatically changed, especially on this day four years ago, and we have recently been reminded in a powerful and provocative way that nature can turn our world and worlds upside down in an instant.
In our own community, jobs have gone and, in some cases, not come back in our community. Economic uncertainty has been a part of the past five years. Bailey’s questions remind us of the anxiety that all of us have to one degree or another, when it comes to feeling at home in the church, and elsewhere and the deep need we have to feel that we belong.
How is this anxiety resolved? How do we find ourselves at home in a world that is deeply troubled? The two passages of scripture that serve as our main text for this morning gives us some important resolution to our anxiety. However, before we hear those resolutions, let us step back and review what has taken place so far in the book of Acts.
Last week we were reminded that seven weeks had elapsed between Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost and that those seven weeks were a remarkable seven weeks during which Jesus appeared and re-appeared to the remaining disciples. It was a period in which Jesus’ command to wait until the Holy Spirit comes was given. It was a time of power and unimaginable transformation through the Spirit and by the Spirit that would launch the Christian faith and the Christian church into human history.
What we observe in this segment of scripture is an act of nothing less that an empowerment by God in the lives of people that brought about a tremendous movement and life change in thousands, and today, millions of people. These chapters reveal the beginnings of a new chapter in God’s plan and purposes for humanity. This is where our Christian faith and church began.
It began with empowerment. Spiritual empowerment. A spiritual empowerment that came through a salvation transformation experience. A spiritual empowerment that is supernatural because it is through the work of the Holy Spirit and not our efforts. A spiritual empowerment that is practical and unifying because it is focused outward to others through the body of Christ into the world.
I am struck this morning by the actions and attitudes of Acts 4:32-35 because they are still part of how the church operates. They went into operation four years ago after the terrible attacks on our nation and again right now in the northern gulf coast:
‘All the believers were of one heart and mind, and they felt that what they owned was not their own; they shared everything they had. [the] people who owned land or houses sold them and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need.’
These actions are evidences of a witness to Christ’s love and power that began in Jerusalem, moved into Judea and eventually outward into Samaria and the ‘ends of the earth.’ They are evidences that our faith has gone deep and transformed our attitudes and actions from self-centered to Christ-centered.
I call this outward moving the result of our personal and corporate ‘faith impact.’ And I suggest that we see our faith impact as a series of concentric circles moving outward. (Overhead 1)
Jerusalem is our home; it is our family and our personal relationships with people at school, in the workplace, and in our neighborhood.
Judea is our local region. It is our Kendallville, our Noble County, and our Northeast Indiana. In fact, it is our Indiana.
Samaria is our nation. It is our New Orleans, or New York, or our Washington.
Ends of the Earth is our world. It is Mexico, Iraq, China, or Russia.
We are known in our Jerusalem and yet there are barriers to community and faith that we encounter just as it was in Jerusalem, as we will see in a few chapters from now. Yet, in our Jerusalem, it is fairly safe and comfortable here.