(sorry for all the caps and underlines, this is a copy of my presentation version.)
In the early church, as is true now, nothing is more important than what Jesus taught.
Yet, The Church of the Brethren patterns our faith practices after the early church. There is a reason: We not only want to do what Jesus did and follow his teaching; we take the simple style of the early church as our own.
You heard Sue read a modern interpretation of today’s scripture from Acts 2. It was from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, and It tells the story of church life in the early days. Peter is speaking to the people who will be known as Christianity’s first converts: Their practices of meeting in homes, sharing meals, and teaching & remembering Jesus’ last supper, form the traditions we follow today.
Listen again to a few verses from, the new translation called the Common English Bible.
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community - those who were being saved.
Living together, really together is the primary definition of the early church. They lived so connected to each other that they held things in common, and distributed food and items as each had need. And they spent regular time praising God.
This may sound like an idealistic “faith community”. Yet, I suggest that it IS the community we live in today, however close we come to the ideal, and it is a way of living which we are challenged to offer others.
Everyone wants to be part of an energizing and vibrant community. We want to find one and join “one.” Yet we can’t always make one.
We carefully tend the dynamics of church groups to encourage growth and health. And yet, as you know if you have ever been part of a group that just couldn’t stay together, TRUE ‘community’ can be elusive. So elusive that we have no clue what went wrong when it does NOT form, in spite of valiant efforts.
Community has an interesting organic quality that lives or dies depending on the strength of the relationships within.
The early church had no trouble creating community.
· They were vibrant and dynamic people, and very alive, even when individuals were being killed by the government.
· They grew from a small band of disciples to a movement that spread the ‘good news’ around their part of the world.
· They practiced their faith by teaching, praying and regular worship and when they did, amazing things happened.
The infusion of the Holy Spirit gave them power to speak boldly about their experience and to enact signs and wonders.
I believe they had the one-sure-fire dynamic that is known to foster community. - A - LIFE-BOAT.
You’ve heard the expression “a life-boat experience” which refers to a group that goes thru a trial or crisis of some sort. I think this describes the early church.
Often the crisis is a life-threatening. If you are in a life-boat, rations are limited,
water is scarce, and
rescue is uncertain.
Some Christian commentators say today’s church is in a life-threatening situation, now. With the declining numbers in ALL churches, (Mainline AND Evangelical) some writers say we are in NEED of a lifeboat.
Perhaps they are right yet I am sure that God is not finished with us yet.
We already have strong relationships that support community, right here here, available to anyone who will
grab a paddle and get in the water. (Paddle)
Now I’ve not been in a life-boat, but I’ve been in many a CANOE. And on canoe trips, I’ve been part of a dynamic community. I saw groups of strangers develop into vibrant Christian community every summer and it all began on the Shenandoah River.
When I was in Outdoor Ministry, I had several roles to play in staff training at the beginning of each summer. Weeks of training concluded with a two-day trip to the valley for a long and beautiful float down the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.
Teaching: Before even thinking about a River Canoe trip we – (the staff of summer camp, including =counselors, nurse/medics, and directors) would get out on the lake and practice paddling.
This first attempt on the lake was usually hysterical. To watch 30 people standing on land with paddles practicing a J-stroke and a C-stroke is funny enough. When we anxiously climbed into canoes, and pushed out into the water, it got even funnier.
The days were hot and no one minded the ‘accidental’ splashes or even an ‘accidental’ “Man-Overboard.” Splashing turned into frayed tempers when we tried to paddle out of the cove into the larger lake and instead kept going in circles.
Energetic paddling without having mastered steering skills creates – havoc.
But the experienced canoeists patiently taught us. They taught us how to steer. AND We learned:
how to wear a life-jacket AT ALL TIMES,
that gloves can help minimize blisters and
that paddles hurt when you get smacked in the back of the head.
Some of these things we had to learn by experience.
Eventually we learned that communication between front and back of the canoe is vital and that the person in the rear- really does command the boat.
We learned a lot in those lessons on the lake and we became FIRM believers - - - in sunscreen and bug repellent!
As we packed for the river trip the night before departure, we constantly reminded each other of ALL we had been TAUGHT. Can you imagine the first Christians encouraging each other in the same way?
Fellowship: Paddling together in a canoe with someone makes you instant friends, or instant enemies. In our cases, partnerships formed during the lake practice that we wanted to continue on the river. But the director was a wise woman and created new pairings which intentionally placed strong paddlers with weaker ones so that “no canoe would be left behind”.
Canoe trips are designed with some smooth water at the start. So we had another chance to practice our paddling skills as the leaders took us under low-hanging branches and around a sunken tree. We learned to steer for the V in the river, which indicates the narrow path between rocks that lie hidden just under the water’s surface.
Fortunately, much of the Shenandoah River is relatively shallow so as we practiced Dealing with CRISeS such as releasing a canoe that was wedged between two rocks or RIGHTING a totally capsized canoe, we were not in deep water.
Soon it became obvious who the strong paddlers were, AND IT also became obvious who should be at the head of the group as natural leaders emerged from each mini-crisis we faced.
We learned how to rest together by pulling our canoes alongside each other and laying paddles across the neighboring canoe. We formed a giant float in calm water in order to rest, drink water, and reapply sunscreen.
In this giant floating community, “all things were held in common”. Sunscreen was a shared commodity, as was chapstick, water, bandanas, and gum. “We distributed what we had as any had need.” -In the hot summer sun, with a long day still ahead, a single tube of sunscreen that has not yet fallen to the bottom of the river - is precious! - AND so is extra water.
Already, early in the day, deep caring relationships were forming as we learned to watch out for each other.
Breaking Bread: This community also broke bread together. A high point of River Trip is the stop for lunch. There were no fancy picnic grounds for us. Sometimes it was a small island, more likely just a very narrow shoreline where canoes were beached and coolers retrieved. Out came the simple lunch of
bread, peanut butter, apples and GORP. (Granola, O-Cheerios, Raisins, and peanuts, sometimes with some chocolate chips thrown in.)
The bread was blessed, with a loud and favorite camp grace that was sung with gratitude and reverence while we stood together by the side of the river. As the ‘amen’ echoed downstream, the bread would be broken and shared.
There was enough lunch for everyone, yet, like the later church, we needed reminding to take turns to insure that EVERYONE got a fair share – especially of GORP.
The most exciting part of each trip is the run thru Compton Rapids. The Class 2 Rapids are great fun but it takes careful navigating and preparation to get the whole group thru safely.
We stationed a certified lifeguard on the bank below the rapids with a rope throw and each canoe would in turn negotiate around a rock hazard, most of which is deceptively hidden just below the river surface. Then we would enter the chute for a fast and exciting ride down to sharp turn into the safety of calm water around the bend.
The ride is a thrill -while being accomplishable for almost anyone who has had some basic TEACHING.
By the end of the day, we had seen nature at her best, a mother bear and cubs on the side of the river, the beauty of Golden Rock Cliff just after Compton’s rapids, and blue herons waiting patiently for canoers to pass so they could catch their breakfast.
An occasional snake swam alongside when we came near the bank, and turtles, with only their head above water, floated along until they found the perfect sun-bathing rock.
The crystal clear water of the Shenandoah is amazing. We could glimpse the bottom of the river any time we chose to look over the side of the canoe.
We were formed as a community on that trip. – a Christian Community.
Following this annual event, the camp staff is a cohesive UNIT, ready for the give and take of summer camping.
The canoe trip was a life-boat experience. The concentrated time and shared purpose formed a community that relied on each other.
Thru-out the summer EVERY camper reaped the benefits of joining such a faith community.
As long as the counselors SHARED THEIR experience of community and didn’t become an ultra exclusive group. New communities of faith formed each week as campers imitated the example they saw in their counselors.
You need not go to camp to experience life the way Jesus intended. It is found right here. Like the early church,
we are people devoted to Christ’s teaching,
who meet regularly for worship and prayer,
and who seek to share as any has need. . .
And when we share OUR experience of Community, we, like the early church, will have an IMPACT on THOSE AROUND US.
Did you notice that the Acts community DEMONSTRATED love? Or as the NRSV puts it they had “the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” . . saved in THEIR LIFE BOAT.
1. The early Christians were closely Watched and people saw that they shared meals equally without class distinction.
2. Regular worship in the temple was a priority. Everyone saw them ‘at church.’
3. & They shared their good AND the ‘good news’ of their lives with others—
Early Christians were known by the ‘manner of their living’. It’s a phrase we like to use in Brethren circles to remind us to live the words we speak.
Christian Community is not isolated from the world. Our behavior, demonstrates our beliefs, and impacts our community by calling us into relationship - with real people.
…When parents come to pick up campers they are astonished at the children’s changed behavior at the end of the week. Friendships form across social divides. Caring attitudes and patterns of sacrifice become part of campers’ ‘manner of living.’
Christian community has such a powerful effect because it is fueled by Christ’s spirit and lives in Jesus’ WAY. It is different than any other kind of life-boat experience because God is guiding the boat.
. . .
The truth is we DO need a LIFEBOAT, but not because we are about to drown. We need a place to bring on-board the people God sends. A place where relationships can form.
God still adds numbers to Christian Community, but not by merely putting people with checkbooks in the pews.
The life-boat fills with those who NEED caring Christian community - and there are always more (out there) waiting to climb in.
So, Grab a paddle and take the hand of. . .opportunity.
As we paddle - TOGETHER towards The Goal of sharing Christ’s Love in the world.