Monday, May 16, 2011

Sermon for 5/15/2011 "They Continued"

Sermon “They Continued”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

When we modern Christians look at the early Church we’re impressed. How did they do what they did? Sometimes we think of these people, these early believers, the people who turned the world upside down with their doctrine, and we think they are some sort of incredible superstars. They must have had real faith. Maybe the Holy Spirit was working in them a way that he doesn’t work in us. Maybe we don’t trust God like they did. We wonder all sorts of things about those early saints. What held them together?

We can’t tell for certain what they did that made such a difference in their world. The world is more complicated than that. So it isn’t a good idea to try to follow some sort of formula. “The early Christians did this with that result, so if we do it we’ll have the same result.” Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. But in our passage from Acts today we do see four characteristics of the early Christians which we know are for the good of Christ’s Church. We see that the believers continued in doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Let’s look at each of those in order.

In verse 42 we see the early believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (ESV). Then in verse 43 we see that God was doing signs and wonders through the apostles. Devotion to the doctrine, the teaching of Scripture (doctrine is just another name for “teaching”), in this case leads to miraculous work. We believe God does works of healing. We pray for people to be healed. And what do we see? Our Lord is a God of healing. Not everyone always recovers, yet we see that God works through his people, bringing healing of bodies, healing of relationships, healing of all sorts of hurts. And many times this happens as we look to our Lord and we see his loving kindness, his mercy, and his grace. We see how he has commanded us to live with one another, we’re moved to repentance, and we seek forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is another of those miracles God works. Do you believe that when I stand up and proclaim forgiveness of all your sin in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that his forgiveness is worked in you? Jesus, the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth, has sent his believers to proclaim forgivenss of sin in his name. It’s in his authority. Your sins are forgiven. I announce the forgiveness of God to you and you receive that forgiveness. It’s truly miraculous. He takes your sin and your guilt away and you don’t have to carry it any more. This is a sign and wonder. Nobody else can do it, only Jesus.

What about conversion? What about repentance for sin? Is it not God who creates a new heart in us as we receive faith by the Holy Spirit and believe that he has redeemed us from sin? Every time someone believes on Christ, every time someone receives the life-giving washing of baptism, that’s a miracle. God works miracles around us and we don’t even notice them!

How about this miracle? In Holy Communion God gives us assurance of life, assurance of his presence with us, assurance that we have been forgiven of our sin. As we hear and receive His words, “take and eat, this is my body which is broken for you” we also hear and receive his words, “this is my blood which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” As we continue in the apostles’ doctrine we live a life full of God’s miracles. All we need to do is open our eyes and see that miraculous provision.

The early Christians also continued in fellowship. We see that the fellowship of believers in the New Testament is, among other things, a fellowship of belief, a fellowship of possessions, and a fellowship of concerns for one another. we’ve already touched on the commonality of belief. But that’s one of the reasons I’m so big on study of the Scripture, the Confessions, the Catechism. Do we gather around a common body of doctrine? Where there’s thoughtful unity of belief we see we have a great deal in common. We have a lot to hold us together. Again, we think about communion. As we gather around the table, we confess that we hold the truth of Christ’s death on our behalf, his promise to be with us, and the reality of his bodily presence in common. We also gather to eat together, expressing our common regard for the well being of each other. This is fellowship indeed.

We also see in Acts that the believers shared their possessions and the profits of their businesses. They took their resources and used some of them to benefit their neighbors. They continued in fellowship, seeking each other’s good. How do we do this? Certainly we receive an offering. Do we help one another? What about when someone is moving? How about planting or harvest time, when life is really busy? Do we get together and help one another? You may not believe it, but sometimes to a family with someone ill, bringing a pot of soup and a loaf of bread is an incredible act of kindness and fellowship.

Third, the believers continued in breaking of bread. Does this refer to communion? As much as I’d like it to, I think it probably is not. That’s part of the doctrine and fellowship. Here, and in many places throughout Acts, I think it’s referring simply to believers eating meals together. The term “breaking of bread” is used both for communion and for eating a meal. But here it seems they are doing this from house to house on a daily basis, maybe as particularly small groups. But dining together is also important, as is communion. Do you invite others over to eat? Do you accept invitations to dine together? Eating together is a significant sign of peace. It’s a sign of concern for each other. It’s a time when you lay down your defenses and show the welcome for each other that our Lord has shown for us.

Finally, the believers continued in prayer. They were giving praise to God. They were praying for one another. They were praying for their enemies as well. Do you ever wonder if you could pray better? Spend time doing it. Do it together. Borrow words that other people have prayed and make them your own words. Your hymnal has a pretty good collection of prayers for all sorts of needs. There are other prayer books available as well. One well known one is Starck’s Prayer Book. Concordia Publishing House publishes the Treasury of Daily Prayer which is a great book, with Scripture readings, prayers, and brief readings from historic confessions and famous Christians for each day. I find that as I study and pray prayers by other believers throughout the ages I start praying more about what the Scripture says and what God’s priorities are rather than letting my prayers center on me.

So here we have it. The early Christians continued in doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. It was a big feature of their lifestyle. And it won’t hurt us in any way. As we join together in doctrine, fellowship and prayers weekly in the Divine Service, maybe we can continue in those as we gather throughout the week, adding some breaking of bread now and then too. It’s a revolutionary life. It changes society. It changes us. And it’s done as God works in and through us, encouraging us, building us up in His holy name.

Let’s rise to pray together.

Our Lord, create in us a hunger for your word, for fellowship with other believers, for time spent together rejoicing in you, for prayer. Let us have the mind of Christ, considering our neighbors as more important than ourselves. Give us a concern for those who would oppose your will and your kingdom. Let us think your thoughts after you as we pray in Your name and authority, this we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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