Saturday, November 24, 2018

Take Hold of Life

Busy weekend.  Wait.  No, it wasn’t.  Thanksgiving, time off, food and family and dozing in front of the TV while the NFL entertained us again.  Hardly busy.  Maybe we took a walk, or a turkey trot.  Maybe we indulged in some Black Friday kamikaze activities.  Maybe there were dishes to do or decorations to put up.  But busy?  No, not really.

True, but I meant here.  In this sacred worship space.  In this lurching our way through the liturgical year. This is busy space this weekend.  We’ve got Thanksgiving, first of all.  The one most evident before our eyes.  While it isn’t a religious holiday, it certainly has theological resonance, as we are all called to live a life of gratitude not just once a year but always.  It is central to who we are as God’s people.  We live in gratitude to God and to one another, recognizing that we are who we are and we have what we have because of others.  And we are thankful.

As if that wasn’t enough to build a worship experience around, it is also Christ the King Sunday.  Though New Year’s Eve and Day is still over a month away on our calendars, in this worship space it is around the corner.  Advent begins the Christian year.  And since next weekend is Advent, this is the last worship of the year.  And to declare who we are at the end of the year - even as we begin the year in anticipation of the One who comes again - we declare that this is Christ the King Sunday.  The day we pledge allegiance to Jesus as the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. The last Sunday of the Christian Year is a 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 needs 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 came 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 wasn’t to be noticed, and yet noticed they were.  Yet not in an “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.

They were alive.  That’s what drew the ones on the outside, that’s what made the family appealing. They were alive.  The third dimension of our weekend is that it is the conclusion of our Stewardship emphasis.  And Paul has some advice for Timothy on how to talk about money.

1 Timothy 6:17-19  As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,  19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. 

Take hold of life, that’s Paul’s advice.  Take hold by giving away.  Cling tightly by letting go.  Which sounds like what Someone else said before him.  Take hold of life by taking hold of the family.  The new family, the children of God family.  Those in need, those reaching out.  Take hold of those who gather for worship and who devote themselves to the Word.  Take hold of life by giving it away, freely and joyfully.  Take hold.


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