Being church (in the good old days and the great new day)
Preached at HCCUCC May 11, 2014
Based on Acts 2:42-47
Listen. Listen one more time to these words from Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
Man, those were the days, huh? And they gathered to teach and to learn, they enjoyed the company of one another, they ate together and every day they prayed together. In a way, it sounds like a rose-colored, stained glass nostalgia trip for the good old days when Christians lived together in seemingly perfect harmony, accomplishing god’s purposes.
But it’s not pie-in-the-sky waltz down memory lane. It is not a fuzzy, half remembered picture of the good old days when so and so was still here, when that such and such program was such a success, when the watchmacallit attracted more people here than could fit in all the pews.
Acts does NOT say that the church grew in numbers and Spirit because of a terrific sermon series, a really innovative Sunday school program, or even the best coffee in town. Instead, it’s like a guide to the most basic aspects of Christian community life. It’s a primer – the ABCs . These are the basics – teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayers.
Acts it’s a guide to the most fundamental (and I mean that in the best possible way) aspects of community. It’s not a guide a programs or projects or a building.
Because the truth is, we do not need a building in order to be a church. We don’t need offices or computers or changing tables or parking lots or elevators or this beautiful room, imbued with memories though it may be. We don’t need those things, but we have them. We’ve had a lot of discussion about this buildings, this space in the last few years. But one thing that has never come up in all our hours and hours of talking is any hint of a suggestion that we attempt to operate as a church without a building. Some communities have done this, and successfully. But “all the believers were together and held everything in common.” Says Acts. And this building, this space, and our gathering in it day by day and week by week is what we hold in common.
So, if we are going to collectively inhabit a building, this thing we hold in common, it’s imperative that we be good stewards of it. Not so we can be building caretakers, but so it can be a tool for the other four things – how can our building be a tool for teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, prayers.
And as we talk about this building in the weeks and months to come, let’s remind one another, that the early church was made up what were not called disciples (followers) but apostles – apostles go OUT – tell and live the word. Perform so many signs and wonders that EVERYONE is amazed. As we talk about this building in the weeks and months to come, remind one another that this is our home base, yes, but not our home. The world is our home – and we are drawn to this space together to be lifted up, energized, filled with the spirit, so we can go out into the world.
Difficulty can come when we forget that we are a community of teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer – and start thinking we are something else.
“…Society will still have the Fortune 500 for profits, and non profits for service and day care centers for children and the ELKS Club for socializing and Starbucks for overpriced coffee and many other things we may not ever be. But we should never judge ourselves as the church according to these things because you know what the culture around us will NEVER do? Preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and proclaim forgiveness of sins. You know why? That’s OUR job. That’s our main job and while we are free as the church, to participate in any number of other activities in the world that seem bigger and more impressive let’s remember: We are those who have been, and continue to be, entrusted with nothing less than the Gospel” – The good news of Christ Jesus.
They devoted themselves to the teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the prayer. Long before my time here, not lose sight of them, Hillsdale Community Church UCC created a mission statement that reflects each of these.
Our mission statement is says that in Answering God’s call as an open and inclusive family of faith, we are committed to sharing Christ’s word, embracing all, and making a difference and worshipping God joyfully.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awful lot like: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Teaching (and learning)/share christs word.
Break bread/make a difference
What are these four fundamentals – the mission statement of the very first church, and ours?
Recently, development experts are exploring the many different kinds of intelligences – besides our intellect there is also emotional intelligence, kinesthetic, etc. What we develop here at Hillsdale is one of those - Spiritual intelligence – a spiritual understanding of the world. According to Stephen Covey, "Spiritual intelligence is the central and most fundamental of all the intelligences, because it becomes the source of guidance for the others." (yes, this is a quote from Wikipedia, so take it for what it’s worth.)
We are a community of teaching and learning.
Love one another. I was at this preaching workshop last week and of course there was a fair amount of hang wringing about the millennial generation and What They Want. One of the things that stuck with me that gen y says about themselves is taht they are lonely. In spite of uber connectivity – twitter, texting, etc – this is the generation that describes themselves as lonely. Just face to face friendship itself is a radical notion.
We are a community in fellowship.
When we share communion, all are invited to an open table, one that we pray expands out the door, down the street, around the world. Here we work toward the day when all are fed, spiritually and physically.
We are a community that breaks bread.
Our worship life is all the ways we connect to God – in Sunday morning worship and many other ways too. We connect in worship this morning with our UCC brothers and sisters across the nation by praying by name for each of Nigerian girls recently kidnapped from their school.
The good old days have come and gone. It is today, May 11, 2014. It’s a great new day for Hillsdale church – next week, we’ll have a congregational meeting to catch up on where we are as we consider some changes to our building. As we vote and take and vote – remind each other that we we are not just a bunch of people and building we are supposed to be caretakers of. Let’s remind each other that we are an active, living growing community – following Christ and those early apostles in learning, fellowship, feeding all, worshipping.