Being a Dynamic Church

3rd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14, 32-33; 36-47                                                   

4 May 2014

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                        

They went quickly from being a frightened and doubting little group of Christ-followers to a dynamic church.   Remember how overwhelmed Mary Magdalene was when she realized the gardener was Jesus.   Remember how their hearts burned within them when Christ broke the bread, and Cleopas and his companion realized who he was.   Remember in the upper room that Christ appeared and they were startled and joyful, yet disbelieving and wondering.    It was not long before Christ had ascended and the Holy Spirit came upon them like the rush of wind and fire, and the church was born.   These are the words that follow the story of the Spirit’s rush upon the church.   These are the words that describe the character and practices of the early church.   These are words that to this day describe the character and practices of any faithful, dynamic church.   The word “dynamic” originates with the Greek word, “dunamis” meaning power.

Let us pray:   O Holy Spirit of power, fill us as you filled the early church that we might add to our number many who are being saved, transformed, healed by your grace and peace.   We are here for your purposes.   Open us now to be changed and renewed.

Acts 2:14, 32-33, 36-47

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

 32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear.

 36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 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. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 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.   (NRSV)

When our daughter Emily was at Davidson College, very small Presbyterian college, less than 2000 students, the basketball team, led by guard Stephen Curry, now playing for the NBA Golden State Warriors, made it to the Elite 8.   When this happened, someone on the Board of Trustees was so enthusiastic, he or she paid for busloads of students to attend the game.

When your children get married, you are so excited, you spend thousands of dollars hosting a rehearsal dinner and wedding reception, giving everyone invited a free meal.

When this church was trying to find a home, having learned that we could not extend our lease at the Realtors’ building, within three months’ time, you came up with $1 million dollars in gifts and pledges.  

What do these stories have to do with this scripture?   Well, the early church had just shared a phenomenal experience together.  The Holy Spirit had come upon them in a way they could barely understand, much less describe.   They were caught up in the power of that experience.   Those who are overwhelmed by a positive experience usually are extravagantly generous.

So don’t get put off by the verse that says they sold their possessions and shared everything in common.   We shared a budget in common with each other.   We all contribute to it.    We have a representative group (the session) with ultimate responsibility to manage that money well, guided by the work of the Admin Team, who carefully oversees the budget, and makes sure we have diligent and trustworthy people in place to handle all financial matters.

That shared budget allows us to do more together than we could do separately.   How much better it is that many of you have helped Jenny and Rebecca to go on mission trips, so even though you are not going yourself, you are going vicariously through them.   Those of you who did not go to Mission Beth-El on Thursdays are still participating in the work there by your gifts of money.  You may not go to N. Florida to help with the flooding damage there, but your money given to the One Great Hour of Sharing helps.

What we are talking about is Responsive Stewardship, one of Peace’s five goals.  

And let’s see the other goals and work our way to the top of the list.

Notice on the left we have Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations alongside Peace five goals.   His first book was this title, and his second book was called Five Practice of Fruitful Living, which spells this out for our personal discipleship.   I recommend these books to you, even as I recommend your participation in our shared vision work around these goals.    Seems like Schnase and Peace Church arrived at nearly the same conclusions about what really matters, what makes a church healthy.    Look at the similarity of goals/practices.   We wrote ours in 2005 – everything but the Stewardship part.    It was only after reading his 2007 book that I realized we had left off a key goal.   We are called by God to be responsive to all the blessings we have received, to share what we have been given, to faithfully manage or steward what we hold in common.    That’s what happens when our Building Vision Team gathers on Monday to look at a first draft of a sanctuary plan for this property.    They will be seeking to faithfully manage the resources given to the building fund.   That’s what was happening yesterday when six of us gathered to prune and plant in the rain, to respond to God’s gracious gift of this building and land by doing all we can to keep it beautiful, along with the Property Team.   

That’s what happens when the Gratitude Team reads a book called “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate” and learns that people in this current generation want to be more involved in giving to particularly projects, in being responsive not just to God, in ways that we can better understand where our money is going.

Responsive Stewardship is just one of the five goals of Peace that is addressed in this text.   Notice that Peter says the promise is for you, for your children, for those who are far away, all whom the Lord our God calls.    Compassionate Outreach.   Many of the early Christians, like Peter, were Jewish.   The message now from Christ is that God’s gift of grace is for all – not just the Jews.   God’s covenant has been opened to all.    And so they distributed goods to all.   And so they had the goodwill of all in mind, while they were praising God.    They were generous.    No longer was one born into the faith, the faith was reaching out.    To 3000 new people in one day – so transforming was this experience, so full of spiritual power was this new community of faith.   Day by day, the Lord added to their number.   Compassionate Outreach means that all this blessing is not just for us.   We have a Mission Team that from day one at Peace was engaged with the work of Beth-El, caring about farmworkers and their families in our area, who need food and clothing and education and a community of faith.    From day one, the Mission Team of Peace was encouraging you to remember others, to drive to Arcadia to rebuild after Hurricane Charley, to go to Summerfield Park to teach peacemaking skills to school children on teacher workdays, to give generously to all the special offerings out of compassion for those in great crisis, in dire need.   And the Outreach Team was working to help us find ways to connect with those in our own neighborhoods who need a message of peace in this our own corrupt generation, stuck in materialism and judgmentalism, with our relationships ripped asunder by bitterness, greed, prejudice, and infidelity.   And we offer Christ’s peace and grace and call to faithfulness.

Responsive Stewardship and Compassionate Outreach are not the only goals of Peace that are mentioned in this passage.  There is also Nurturing Discipleship.   How does one become a faithful disciple of Christ except by hearing the teaching of the apostles of Jesus, by hearing Peter interpret the events of Pentecost, by hearing the story, the scripture that makes us who were are – people of Christ’s way, people made new by Christ’s love, people who are claimed by the Holy Spirit in baptism.    And our two Education Teams – one focusing on nurturing the faith of adults, and the other focusing on nurturing the faith of children, youth, and families – work hard to provide meaningful opportunities for Bible study, for growth in prayer, for having a good time building relationships across generations, so that we all hear the stories that make us Christian, so that our lives are shaped by these narratives and this love, instead of the narratives that we see on television where many are arguing and disrespectful and cynical about life.

Discipleship is not adequately nurtured apart from the building of Authentic Relationships, and Authentic Relationships are another core value for Peace.   We aim to build them with one another and with those beyond these walls.   Through the wonderful hospitality provided by our Fellowship Team, through the welcome of our Greeters, and the caring attention of our Congregational Care Team and the extra care given in difficult times by our Stephen Ministers, we aim to establish relationships with a depth unmatched in other places.    We aim to welcome you just as you are, to affirm who you are and seek to understand why you are who you are.   We want to listen carefully to you, to weep with you and laugh with you, to invite your personal growth not by trying to “fix” you which never works anyway, but to invite you to discover God’s call in your life, by being a model of the love of Christ for you, and welcoming the love that Christ gives you to share with others.    We want to respect differences, and recognize that by giving room for people to be real, we take risks in our communal life.   We dare to stand secure in our peaceful relationships even if we are not united at every turn, because we trust in the larger relationship with Christ and the Church that holds us all together in a sacramental union, that cannot be broken by disagreement, that compels kindness and patience and forgiveness.

So our goals are Responsive Stewardship, Compassionate Outreach, Nurturing Discipleship, Authentic Relationships, and one more… Inspiring Worship, which seem to be at the heart of this scripture.   Awe had come upon them when the Holy Spirit descended.   We will focus more on this Holy Spirit event on June 8, the day of Pentecost, the day our Sharing the Vision culminates.   But we note in this passage that follows the story of Pentecost, that the people gathered were cut to the heart.   They were overwhelmed and wondered what they should do.  Peter says in this first sermon, just what Jesus said in his first sermon, “Repent and be baptized.”  Can you hear the call to repent with gentleness?   To repent is to work at change, to repent is to turn in the right direction.   To repent is to make a resolution.    Repent is not a negative.   It is a great word.   Repent and be baptized.   Be marked as one of Christ’s own people.   Make a decision to intentionally be part of the Christian community.   Find in that sacrament not magic but mystical change in your soul as you are filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to be like Christ.   Remember the day, find your own day of baptism and celebrate it as a life marker.    Celebrate it each Sunday as you hear the water in the font and are reminded that you belong to God forever.   And keep becoming who you really are.

And the baptized, those who are marked as Christ’s own, gather together regularly to hear the scriptures (apostles’ teaching), to enjoy koinonia, the Greek word meaning intense, meaningful fellowship, to break the bread, and to pray.  Then they passed the plate to share what they have with one another and to be generous toward all.  

I believe people are transformed by being part of churches that seek to live according to these five goals or practices.   Holding all five of these in harmony with one another is what makes us faithful Christians and a dynamic Church.   Notice Schnase’s extreme adjectives – Radical, Passionate, Intentional, Risk-taking, Extravagant.    Keep growing in these five ways, my companions in Christ.   Be a healthy and strong church, filled with Holy Spirit.