Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon on Acts 2:42-47, for the 4th Sunday of Easter, "Community of Joy"

1. Early church in Acts, a community of contagious, generous joy—tapped into the fountain of joy, which is Christ. Bonhoeffer said: “What it [the coming of Christ among us] really means, above all, is the joy of God in the world, the joy of God catching fire in humanity, which is hungry for joy. In a thousand ways people today ask, where can we find joy? Church of Christ, you alone know the answer; say it out loud: Christ, my joy”

2. The early church had the joy of God because it had Christ, our joy. Caught fire—the joy of God at Pentecost. World hunger—hunger for joy—feed them Christ! The church is a community of joy because it has that answer for true joy—Christ, who came into the world.

3. The church takes form in the world, around Word and Sacraments and prayer, the same as today. Devoted—not a casual or occasional association, but dedicated, committed, disciples—devoted to what? Apostles’ teaching. Foundation of church’s fellowship, which is the breaking of bread (Lord’ Supper). Services today, punctuated by prayers.

4. Joy in confirming signs and wonders—apostolic age. “It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Heb. 2:3-4

5. Community joy—shared possessions and sold them for the poor. What made it work? A description, not a mandate for us, but what can we learn from or imitate from this? They found joy in giving to those who had need. Joy in people.

6. How can we open our hearts more widely to those in need? Overcome reluctance. Laugh about it. Look for the joy or gratitude in a person’s face. Give more than you expected. Put trust in God. Expect nothing in return. What was joyful about sacrificing and giving up the pleasures they might have otherwise enjoyed? What is the motivation and satisfaction in Christian giving? “The secret to living a good news life in a bad news world is coming to the deep conviction that the high callings of God, the vocations that he regards as great and marvelous, are those in which we serve folks right under our nose.” … “Love does not think about works, it finds joy in people.” Harrison

7. What a beautiful truth! Love finds joy in people! What if you aren’t finding joy in people? Is it because of how you treat them, or how they treat you? The knee-jerk answer to this is that we often don’t find joy in people because of how they treat us, of course! But this is the natural response of our sinful nature. The surprising message of Jesus and His Word is that love isn’t dependent on how they treat us, but how we treat them. And that even if they treat you rotten, we are to love them back. This is a path to finding joy in people. We might be bowled over with surprise to discover how powerful genuine, gracious kindness and love can soften even the hardest heart, if we work at it. We may not always be rewarded with the happy ending to a story, where someone who’s been an enemy has such a dramatic change of heart, but that doesn’t change our responsibility to continue acting with love. There is a joy all in itself in loving and serving and being generous, even if it doesn’t always produce a change of heart.

8. God’s service is not high or lofty things. Under our nose are our neighbors. Time with family, building relationships with love and joy, is a God-pleasing and wonderful thing. Gifts and talents to serve your community. Being faithful, efficient, cooperative, and cheerful in your work is a blessing to all who you work with. Giving of your time and energy at church to accomplish something that you may feel passionate about, or even something that might seem unpleasant. Not every experience or job will be rewarding or exciting or interesting. Part of our communal service is bearing other’s burdens in Christ. Some things just need to be done, and so we do them. But God has set before you countless opportunities for service, and you don’t need to look far to find them.

9. If we do our work with faith and confidence in Christ that our sins are covered and we are serving our neighbor, this is work that the Lord delights in It all comes back to finding joy in Christ, knowing that Jesus has set us free from an obligation to satisfy God by our works, so that our works can be set loose in love and service for our neighbor who needs them. We can live with a deep joy of knowing Christ, and pointing others to Him who need joy.

Sermon Talking Points
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1. What was the earliest pattern of Christian worship, identified in Acts 2:42? How does our Lutheran Service of Word and Sacrament compare to this early outline? What was the foundation of their unity?

2. How did the signs and wonders performed by the apostles provide confirmation of their message? Hebrews 2:3-4; John 3:2; 6:30; 11:47; Acts 14:3; 1 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 12:12. Why are miracles no longer needed as confirmation of the apostolic message?

3. What prompted the early Christians to adopt the pattern of communal living? What made it work in their case? What made it fail under other circumstances? (cf. Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-2)

4. To whom was their generosity turned? Acts 2:45; Matt. 5:42; 6:3-4; 2 Cor. 9:6ff. What is the joy found in giving? (2 Cor. 9:7)

5. How is joy found in the community of believers? What is it about carrying our sorrows and burdens to fellow Christians? In sharing times of rejoicing and thanksgiving? Gal. 6:2; Rom. 15:1

6. How is repentance and forgiveness between one another a source of joy in the community? How does this flow from the knowledge and joy found in the forgiveness of sins from Jesus Christ?

7. How does the love of Christ and the love of serving our neighbor find its joy in people? How can you find your joy in other people?

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