Saturday, November 20, 2010

Things in Common

Families, eh? I know, the holiday season is upon us, but just barely. What right do I have to be moaning about families already? It’s not like we’ve had time to get on each other’s nerves. Though it is sometimes surprising just how quickly that can happen.

But that’s not my point with that opening comment. Seriously. It wasn’t a whiny, “families, eh?” It was a word of wonder. It was an exclamation of affirmation and acceptance. It was an acknowledgment of God’s plan for human community. “Really,” you are saying, “really? In those two words: “Families, eh?” All that was tucked away in there?” Yup. You’ll just have to trust me. It was a celebration of families.

But not my family, or yours for that matter. It was more our family. The family we are supposed to be. The family that Jesus called us to be a part of, the family that reflects the intimacy and the mutual support of the Trinity.

Sorry, had to get theological there, this weekend is Christ the King Sunday. The last Sunday of the Christian Year is an celebration of the head of the family, the authority and the power, the grace and the mercy that flows from the throne upon which sits the Lamb of God, the sacrificed one, the crucified one. But also the Risen one who serves as the great High Priest, the Judge of the living and the dead.

Whoa, sounds awesome - in the strictest sense of that word: inspiring awe, a portion of which is fear and trembling, but also an attraction that draws us nearer despite the recognition of that power. And here’s the amazing thing, the description of that connection, that community is family. “Wait,” you’re saying (and don’t you love how I supply all your lines in this “conversation”?), “you mean my family - the way we get along or don’t - is the model for how the kingdom community is supposed to be?” No, of course not. How silly! Actually, it is exactly the opposite. The model for how your family is supposed to function is the kingdom community.

Ooh, now that adds an interesting flavor to the next squabble in the family, doesn’t it? And is it possible to have a squabble anywhere but within a family? That’s one of those words only designed to describe familial relations, it seems to me. But what if instead of a squabble, instead of turf war, instead of a clash of wills, the family was the place where the kingdom values took precedence?

“OK, smart guy, what does that mean: kingdom values? What should this family look like, or act like?” Good question! Thanks for asking. Because now we can get to the passage for this week. I know you thought that we were still in the stewardship series, you thought that we were still talking about generosity. Where did all this family stuff come from? Well, from that other community reflecting the values of the kingdom - the church.

Acts 2:42-47 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

I added a couple of verses to those we will read in church. But I wanted a little bigger picture for us to consider. What is the church supposed to be, who are we supposed to be? You say family, but what does that look like?

Here in these six verses in the second chapter of Acts we have a depiction of the church as it was designed to be. You have to look quick because it doesn’t last long. Succeeding chapters reflect the troubles that arose as they sought to live out what it meant to be a family in a difficult world. The values of that world crept in and things like racism and classism brought dissent and ill-feeling into the church. But for a brief moment, recorded here in this chapter we have a picture of what we are all longing for: the true family.

First of all this was a community that wanted to learn. It doesn’t say that they took time out to listen to the instructions or the wisdom, but that they “devoted themselves” to it. It wasn’t just another thing that they had to do it was a focus of energy and desire. It was a longing to know more, to grow deeper, to be honed as instruments of God. They were a learning community.

But they also loved each other. There was a devotion - just as strong as toward learning - to fellowship, to spending time together, to eating together. But more than that they took care of each other. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (vs.45) They didn’t consider their own needs were met until the meets of all the members of the community were met. They didn’t consider their possessions to be more important than the welfare of their family. It wasn’t that they were taking a vow of poverty, that they couldn’t own anything. Verse 46 says they broke bread at home (and some translations say from house to house) showing that home ownership hadn’t disappeared. But they elevating caring for people above accumulating riches. They were a caring community

And they were a people dedicated to worship. Worship at home and worship in community, corporate worship in the temple. They knew that the source of their goodness, the ability to act in loving ways comes not from their own inner resources, but by depending upon the resources of the Holy Spirit. They needed worship like they needed food and fellowship and learning. It was worship that shaped their hearts - their glad and generous hearts. It was worship that directed their service to those in need, opened their eyes to opportunities to give. It was worship that made them into the people that they were. They were a worshiping community.

And it was noticed. Their character stood out. Their sharing, their generosity was notable. Luke says they had the goodwill of all the people. But he is careful to note that the object of their notoriety was not that good will. They were directing their praise, their worship toward God. It was to be noticed, and yet noticed they were. Yet not in a “aren’t they cool”, kind of way. It was a tell me more, show me more, I want some of that kind of way. The Lord added to their number day be day. It wasn’t a church growth program, it wasn’t an evangelistic ministry, it was the church, the family being generous, being caring, being worshipful, being taught. That’s what drew them to the fellowship.

Families, eh? God chose them, whether the small one that shares your house or your name, or the large ones we call the church, God chose them to show the world what it means to live in the kingdom, to live in eternity. At our best, it is wonderful. And the Lord adds to our number day by day.

We are in this together, you know? That’s what holding all things in common means. It’s up to all of us. So, how are we doing?

Families, eh?


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