Christian Community at the Table

Written by Joel on May 21st, 2011

May 15, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47

We strive to be the ideal Christian community.

So far in our celebration of the Easter season we have considered various meanings of Holy Communion. We began with celebration on Easter Sunday, the next Sunday we considered it’s role in reconciliation, last Sunday we discerned Christ in the feast and how we are in communion with him as we approach the table. This week we will consider how Holy Communion is communion with each other, the Christian community.

We focus on the first reading today from Acts. The full name of that book is the Acts of the Apostles. It is part two; the sequel to the Gospel, the story of Christ. This sequel tells the story of the early church through it’s apostles, deacons, martyrs, converts, church councils and acts of the Holy Spirit.

It was written by Luke, who wrote the Gospel which bears his name. In many ancient manuscripts The Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are on one and the same scroll. If you have not had the opportunity to read in its entirety, I certainly encourage you to do so – it is really quite interesting.

Our reading comes from Acts after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, after Judas is replaced by Mathias as an apostle, and following Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon the people of the church, and Peter preaches a sermon which brings in 3000 new believers who are welcomed into the church. We read today about the church in it’s infancy.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayer. They were filled with awe. There were signs and wonders.

They held all things in common – they were a family. They went so far as to sell property whenever any of them was in need of anything. They met in each other’s homes; they had meals together, they broke bread together.

They were a contagious community, people looked in and wanted to be part of that, and God added to their number daily.

Well, that sounds like a pretty good church, doesn’t it? Where is this church? Sign me up! I’ve been part of several churches in my life, they each had their different strengths. They each did community a bit differently. They all reached out in the community in different ways. But none of the churches I have been part of met the expectations of the idea we read from Acts.

Why is this ideal so hard to reach? Especially for the church? A deep and committed community sounds like it has much to offer, and it is a quite attractive idea to be part of. The love, the connection, the sharing, the responsibility.

Yes, it seems that a close knit community also has quite a few risks and challenges as well. Others who affect your life every day, others who know you deeply – worts and all; more people to be concerned about. That is a lot to ask in our modern, individualistic society we live in today. Yes a community like the one described in Acts is both compelling and scary all at the same time. Perhaps this is why couples spend such a long time discerning whether they wish to spend their lives together – do I really want to eat with this person every day of my life, share my all my hard earned stuff with this person forever?

Are we asked this same level of commitment when it comes to the community of God, which is his church? How does being a member of County Line church change our daily life? How often do we consider the fellowship of this community outside of Sunday morning?

It is a difficult ideal to reach.

Not long after this ideal description of the church, Ananias and Sapphira ask to enter the community. In Acts chapter 5. They sold a piece of property, but held back some for themselves. They basically lied about the gift. Peter confronts him and Ananias falls down and dies. His wife also lies about the gift and she drops dead too! Later, a fight breaks out over whether Gentiles can be Christians too.

The community fought over the issue at the first council of the church. Paul argued with Barnabas over whether or not to include a third evangelist on the trip. It got so heated that they parted ways.

It would seem that the ideal community did not maintain for very long. And yet, the church remains a viable community today. It may have always been written as an ideal to look up to; and it is certainly a good ideal to strive for.

Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. As the flood waters reach record levels in Memphis, the interfaith community is providing assistance for its neighbors. Hope Presbyterian Church is serving as the largest shelter for residents displaced by the floods. But this shelter is not run by the Red Cross.

The church stepped up to the plate. The pastor of the church said “We just want to take responsibility for the citizens of Memphis, and we’re willing to fund it…We believe that’s what the faith-based community should be about.” He says “I think the church realized that they had abdicated part of their responsibility in society and they wanted it back.

The church gave as there was need, they showed love in community. In this tangible way Hope Presbyterian was striving to live up to the idea of the Acts 2 church.

And there are small ways we as the people of St. Luke’s County Line Church strive for the ideal community of God. By a member’s initiative, we have designated the last Sunday of every month a special collection of food for the local pantry; we have begun again this year to collect Christmas boxes for children in need;

and as new needs arise we bring them up as a community and strive to meet them. Today we are going to eat together; not for a special occasion – but because we strive for the ideal of eating “together with glad and sincere hearts.” We must strive for this ideal, in ways which may make us uncomfortable because that is part of the hard work of building community. Others may hear of this community and say: Have you heard about County Line Church?

Those people who are devoted to the apostles teaching and to each other, those people who break bread together (every Sunday in Easter!), now that is what I call community! Let’s strive to make community contagious, that’s strive for that ideal.

And today we again celebrate Holy Communion. Here, we declare that we are striving to hold these things in common, we are striving to be the church. We know that we will imperfectly embody this example from the early church, but in this feast we make that ideal more of a reality. We break bread together. In this feast, where we take our place at the table, we share a family meal. When I say “this is the body of Christ” I am talking about us as well. We partake of Holy Communion and thus declare we are in communion, we are devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to each other through fellowship, to this meal, and to prayer.

Let us approach this table, and be a Christian community.


 

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