May 11, 2014
“Where two or more are gathered”
Recently my mother went on a cleaning spree. For whatever reason, she was inspired to pull boxes out of storage and to sort through their contents. And the consequence of her cleaning and sorting was that packages started to show up on my doorstep, packages filled with what turned out to be memorabilia from my childhood.
Last week, I received a fairly large box. In it was one of those large envelopes that accordion out and that is closed with a string that loops around in front? In it was an anthology of my childhood art. My mother had selected the finest works from each year of my early life. There was my first scrawl of crayon across the page to what I dare say was a quite sophisticated self-portrait, in the medium of uncooked pasta and dried beans that could only have been from my late elementary school days.
It was odd to see these things which were clearly products of my lived experience but of which I had no recollection. It was also very moving to do so. I found it moving that my mom had taken the time to tuck these memories away and had kept them safe over all these years and that she was now sending them to me when I am now older than she was when she first took one and then another off the refrigerator, dated it and lovingly tucked it way.
Similar to my mother’s careful chronically of my early years, the writer of the book of Acts sought so many centuries ago to set down and preserve an orderly account of events and experiences of the early church, keeping and preserving images and stories from the church’s childhood, so to speak. I find it moving to think that how he did not want it to be lost to us, thinking perhaps that we too may need to remember.
So let’s see what it is that Luke has in store for us, But first, let us pray:
Holy God, mother to us all. May the words that I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts help us to touch again the heart of who we are and to guide us as we grow into our becoming. Amen.
What I notice as we lift up this picture of the early church in the scripture reading today from the book of Acts this morning is the importance of being together. Community is crucial for a life lived fully and lived in faith.
Now, I feel like I have to come clean. I feel that I have to tell you that I have only, of late, come to religion. For most of my life I had been one of those “spiritual but not religious types” which is really code you know for “I can have my own relationship with God without needed the mess of community and without being burdened by tradition.”
I had thought that church existed so that I could get something out of it, church was supposed to enhance my personal relationship with God. I thought that being part of the gathered community was an efficient way for all of us individuals to work on our own relationships with God. Instead of all of us doing it individually we could pool our resources and time and do it together. And even as I served on many committees and did a lot of work over the years for the church, but I did not ever really see or feel, I am sorry to say, how what I did for the church had anything to do with my relationship with God or my own spiritual growth. Community was the price to pay for it seemed like it was nothing more than a lot of work, a lot of money and sometimes a real head ache.
But the picture Luke holds up is something entirely different. The early church was not a collection of individuals pursuing individual ends and doing what was needed because they had to. But instead the early church, our beginnings were people who saw themselves as one body, together, pursuing not individual ends but pursuing a common life with each other. If we take a good long look at the passage, we see people not doing what they must, tolerating each other, while hoping for some personal spiritual enrichment, but instead we see people who were devoted to being together; who really loved each other; not because it was prescribed but because love really described how they felt about each other.
And when I take a look at this picture, I see all of you. Over this last week at our Council retreat and then on Friday night at our All Comers I heard and saw a people with glad and generous hearts. People who were marveling at this community that is devoted to each other; “That helps us be our best selves,” “that is warm and welcoming and feels like home” that is “where we are known and loved.” This is some of what you have said as you reflected on this community and what it feels like to be a part of it.
But it in the picture that is held up for us today in the book of Acts there is more. What makes the people gathered together is not just the devotion they have one to another but also what they do together. Their intention and purpose. We see a people devoted to learning together; devoted to being in fellowship together; devoted to sharing not only in the communion of the bread and cup but in the communion of their possessions and lives; devoted to joining their hearts together in prayer. These activities of learning, fellowship, sharing and joining together in prayer are foundational characteristics of the church.
As we move into the final weeks of this program year and start casting our eyes to the fall, I would invite you to consider how it is that we could engage as a community more deeply in these four foundational characteristics or activities like our brothers and sisters did so long ago. How could we deepen our learning? How could we open our hearts more and more fully in friendship and love with each other? How could we more fully share in our worship life and share of what we have more fully with the church and how could we pray more often and with greater intention?
I ask these questions because what I also see in the picture from Scripture today and in our life together is that when gather in love and act with intention, amazing things happen! One of you said at the Council retreat last week as we were reflecting on our life together that we are “accidently religious.” And I think what you meant by that is that when we are in this way with each other, we suddenly begin to see something of God.” The scripture says “Awe came upon everyone!” Somehow when we are present to each other in love and with intention, something new and wonderful arises in our midst. Something that is not of our making but is of God. The scripture says “the people were in awe because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles” though a better translation would be “through” the apostles. When we are with each other with love and intention, wonderful things happen through us which could never happen if we remained just a collection of individuals pursuing our own individual ends.
And I have to say, I am in awe because many wonders and signs are being done here through you all of you, through our life together. Awe as you open your hearts and your arms in welcome making this not only a home but a place of intention where we meet something of God in and through each other. I had said that I had thought that the purpose of church was to help me deepen my relationship with God and of course that is in fact true. But the surprising twist on being church it is through being a part of a loving, caring, sharing, intentional community that we can come to know something of God and that it is through deepening our relationships that we deepen our relationship with God.
What I find so striking is how this early picture of the church still resembles us today. That first community of followers is this community still. We gathered in love, devoted to intentional practices of learning, fellowship, sharing and prayer and we are in awe of the wonders and signs that God is doing in and through each of us and this beloved community. And the purpose of all of this? All that we are doing and has been done as church through out the millennium, the purpose is so that Isaiah vision of a reconciled people of peace dedicated not to death dealing ways but committed to life and nurture can be enfleshed in our living. We are church so that we may experience the transformative power of God’s love and be agents of transformation in the world. It is as simple and as awesome as that!
So let us gather in love. Let us act with intention. And let the transforming power of God’s love rise in our lives and in our life together so that we may be agents of that transformation, ambassadors of that love out in the world. Thanks be to church. Thanks be to God. Amen.