Monday, April 16, 2012

Sermon on Acts 4:32-35, for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, "Faith in Action"

Sermon Outline:
1.      OT readings replaced by readings from Acts—new history of the Christian church, post-resurrection of Jesus. Faith in action.
2.      What can we learn from the earliest Christians, and their example? Their faith united them in heart and soul. One head (Christ) and many members. The members of the body were coordinated, that is working toward a common purpose, not uncoordinated, which makes for great difficulty. Not working together—little accomplished. Of the same heart and soul—great things are possible; “great grace” of God is upon them. Grace motivates and animates the members of the body. It is Christ, our head, who instructs us through His Word, and guides and directs the members of the body to action.
3.      Title of Acts. “Acts of the Apostles”, to reflect the faith-produced response of the apostles to the resurrection of Jesus’ Christ. Continues the story left off when Jesus rose from the dead, how the church became the church and grew massively throughout the Mediterranean, and set the pace for its spread to all the world. Since it’s not likely the original title, some have said “Acts of the Holy Spirit” might be better—God working through the apostles and directing them by His Spirit, moved the church into action and witnessed its early growth.
4.      No one kept their own possessions, but they lived communally. A description, not a command for all future churches. But what made it work? Communism and other attempts to create communal utopian societies have largely been failures. What was truly different here? Totally voluntary. No compulsion, but freely out of thankfulness to God and a desire to help each other and the needy. Could the same thing work today? Unless you’re all willing to voluntarily surrender your land and assets to the church (which I think is unlikely), it wouldn’t work. But isn’t it astonishing nonetheless, how Christ’s love motivated them to do so? What can we learn from their example?
5.      Complete selflessness. Not primarily concerned with ownership and holding onto what belonged to them. Knowledge that they were merely stewards. Our stewardship also: remembering they are gifts entrusted to us by God.
6.      “Communal stewardship” of their belongings. Church and school facilities and assets, that are in our communal stewardship. Expect faithfulness and responsibility, remembering that they belong not to individuals, but to the congregation and ultimately to God. Facilities cared for as our own home and property; encourage others to do the same. Manage the money wisely, committed to a higher purpose—to fund and bless the mission of the church and school to reach the lost with the Gospel of Christ, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, and to run a quality Christian education program.
7.      Reality of stewardship was matched by concern for the needy. So efficient was their system of sharing and distribution, that in the initial gathering of believers, there was no one who was needy, because anyone who was in need was immediately taken care of! Amazing! Later growing pains: the apostles could no longer manage the food distribution; complaints were arising; distracting them from prayer and the ministry of the Word. So both care for the needy and preaching the Word of God could continue, church appointed 7 deacons.
8.      We can learn from their concern for the less fortunate, and find ways to help meet their needs. Larger, complicated society today; variety of services outside the church that address some charitable needs. But where are those whose needs still remain, fallen through society’s “safety net”? Still a unique and compassionate role for the church to play. Small congregation can’t meet all needs, but a body that works together and is coordinated, can concentrate efforts on doing a targeted number of things, and do them well.
9.      Joy motivated the early Christians, the joy of the Risen Lord Jesus. Responding to Jesus death for sin, and rising from the grave in victory over death. Their faith in Jesus, their confident knowledge that came from seeing the Risen Lord Jesus, animated or moved them into joyful action. A message to be spread throughout the world! This news couldn’t stay with them alone, but begged and itched to be shared. This truth and joy filled the apostles with great power to testify of Jesus’ resurrection. Faith should give rise to joyful witness.
10.  What should “faith in action” look like in our community? How can we “coordinate” the body to work together efficiently and toward a common purpose? Strong in the Word; connected to Christ our head. Mission statement: “To share the Triune God through Word and Sacrament, helping all to grow in Christ and to joyfully walk in His saving Grace.” Worship is the central activity for our congregation. Gather in His name, in His presence, and we hear His voice in the Bible and in preaching; brings us into unity of faith, grow in Christ, and joyfully walk in His saving grace. Faith in Christ, calls us into action for Him. And His love, His Spirit, motivates and directs us to the spreading of His Word and care for the needy.
11.  “Synod” means “walking together.” We walk together in coordination, in unison, as the body is united in heart and soul in God’s Word. Only God’s Word can produce that same pure unity and fellowship, not mere human effort. Our own sinful failings often get in the way of working together and being united in heart and soul. But unity comes from God and His Word, as we conform our hearts and souls to Him and His Word. Actively shaping us into the image of Christ our head, and leading us to think with the mind of Christ—counting others as more significant than yourself. Self-interest, by contrast, leads to quarrelling, selfishness, jealousy, and rivalry. Being interested in others, and showing concern and value to them, builds trust and encouragement and community.
12.  We’ll never be a perfect community, as long as we’re sinners here on earth. We’ll step on each other’s toes inadvertently or advertently. Mistakes and difficulties, bearing with one another just as the body does when one part is weakened or injured, the whole rest of the body aching together, or compensating for the weakened part. Like the good arms and leg bear the weight when an ankle is twisted, or like a child grows and learns coordination and overcomes clumsiness by practice, training, and exercise. So also believers will grow together and overcome our clumsy efforts at cooperation and working together—we will talk and figure things out—forgive and seek reconciliation where it’s needed.
13.  Grow from our mistakes; returning to the voice of Christ; hearing from Him of God’s incredible love—unfailing mercy and attention to our need, our helplessness; how He’s gone before us to our eternal home in heaven. We’ll hear the words of law that admonish us, lead us in a better way, guiding us into God’s good design for our lives. Words of Christ in the Gospel, that proclaims us forgiven of our sins, free to live for Christ and for others, and blessed and encouraged to be a blessing to others. When we start to get out of sync, like a clumsy body we’ll hear the voice of Christ’s word calling us again to the unity of peace. When we start to grow lethargic from inactivity, we hear His voice stir us to action, to fight the good fight and run the race. One day the race will be complete, and we’ll arrive in our glorious home in heaven, and then and only then will the community of believers be completely pure of any sin, error, and division, and we will all be gathered in perfect, heavenly, eternal fellowship. That is the kingdom of glory for which we wait! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      During the season of Easter, readings from the New Testament book of Acts replace the Old Testament readings. What takes place in this “new history” of the Christian church? What central events at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry drive forward the action and events of the book of Acts? Why? Luke 24, Acts 1.

2.      Describe the early Christian church as seen in Acts 4:32-35. What do you find remarkable about it? What was responsible for these characteristics?

3.      Where does the church find unity of  “heart and soul”? 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 1:22; 4:14; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:10, 19. 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2

4.      What was basic to the success of the communal living of the early Christians? What later threatened to disrupt this success? See Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-7. What is basic to a Christian understanding of stewardship, even as practiced individually? Who does it all ultimately belong to? How does that change our perspective on how we “steward” what is entrusted to us?

5.      How was the early Christian church attuned to the needs of the poor? What is a focused way that we can direct our help to the needy? What moved them into action, and motivated them? Find that same joy in Christ’s Word and in Worship!

6.      What should the church’s response be to inevitable conflicts and disagreements? How should they be resolved? Matt. 5:22-24; Eph. 4:1-3

7.      How does having Christ as our head keep the body coordinated and working together? How does it shape our treatment of the other members of the body? Gal. 6:1-3; Col. 2:19

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