WONDERS AND SIGNS
A sermon preached at Lyonsville Congregational United Church of Christ on September 7, 2014 (Gathering Sunday/Communion Sunday)
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day 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, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
– Acts 2:38-47
Welcome once again to this “Gathering Sunday” (or Rally Day) worship after many of us have been away for summer adventures and vacations. Worship is a vital part of what we do as a church and as people of faith. God is worthy of worship. Worship is good for us, because it reminds us that we are NOT God, nor is any human or anything that people have created. Worship can help reassure us after a difficult week of trying to live as followers of Christ in the world, and inspire us to try to do better in the week to come. And worship provides a vital witness to the rest of the world.
The reading from Acts this morning gives us a picture of the early church and its life and worship together. It portrays a church in which everyone loved one another, and shared their gifts with one another. It is a beautiful picture, but it may be unrealistic – like a picture that has been airbrushed and photoshopped. We know from other parts of the Bible and other documents from the early centuries of the church that life was far from perfect. There were disagreements and even arguments.
But the fact that they were together at all – after Jesus had been crucified – is a miracle in itself. And those folks in the early church were clearly doing something that was attracting others. Our reading for this mornings says that people were “in awe” because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
What were those awesome wonders and signs? Maybe there was something about those early apostles — the people who had known Jesus and witnessed his ministry. There are stories in the book of Acts about Simon Peter – who had once been a simple fisherman – preaching powerfully, and healing people. Folks were deciding then and there they wanted to change the direction of their lives and be baptized, so they could move out of the ruts they had gotten themselves into and get a new start. Maybe some people came to see that there really was more to life than just being rich, or popular, or beautiful, or tough.
Maybe there was something in that baptismal water – something like grace, and forgiveness, and salvation, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
But that was long ago – almost 2000 years ago – in a land far, far away.
But what about now? If only we had apostles like old — witnesses of the risen Christ – doing awe-inspiring wonders and signs.
Well, maybe we do. I think many of us have seen signs of God powerfully at work among us. And we still do some wonderful things that the early church did:
We devote outselves to the apostle’s teaching: Sharing the stories of Jesus and those who believed in him – enough to change their lives and even risk their lives. The stories of Jesus continue to show us what God is like, and how different that is from the way many people live. We learn about wondrous things like resurrection, and grace — taught by Pastors, Sunday School teachers, Musicians, greeters, mission volunteers, and others.
Fellowship: Our church community is a group of people with whom we can share our lives. It’s nice to be able to celebrate our successes and joys, but hopefully the church is a place where we can be real – where we can confess our failings and our shame to others and still be accepted and encouraged. Where else can we do that?
Breaking Bread: The early church was a marvel in the ancient world because of its unity in diversity — even when it made people uncomfortable. Who you ate with was a big deal. It still is. Men and women were part of the early church community; rich and poor; slave and free; Jews and non-Jewish Gentiles. These days, many businesses and schools and other gatherings can be inclusive because it is mandated by law. Experience has shown that can be a good thing. But the church can be a voluntary, intentionally inclusive community: people of different races; young and old; married and single; gay and straight. When we break bread together at the Communion table, or at meals or coffee hour after worship, we are an awesome wonder and sign that Christ is alive among us.
Prayers: We pray together. And hopefully not just that God would make our lives easier, and the lives of those we love – we can pray that God would help us to be more faithful to God’s will. We can confess our sin and ask for forgiveness and healing. We can pray for people we do not know. We can pray even for enemies. Like that song we sometimes sing at prayer time: “Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.” (“Spirit of the Living God”). Now that is serious prayer!
Giving and Sharing: In a world in which people do not want anyone telling them what they must do with “their” money, we offer back to God and share with one another the gifts that God has entrusted to our use and care. We don’t possess our treasure – our treasure can threaten to possess us.
These are the wonders and signs we are here to do on this “Gathering Day”, and in the weeks and months to come. They set us apart as a strange, counter-cultural community, who actually believe there is something bigger, and better, than ourselves. In doing them, we desire to be a people who are saved – saved from selfishness and self-importance; saved for the Realm of Heaven. And we pray that our life together in Christ’s name may inspire awe in others who desire the richness of life in Christ that we have found here.
Robert J. von Trebra