April 30, 2023   Fourth Sunday of Easter

Readings: 1st Peter 2:19-25; Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10

Are You Devoted?

I challenge you to truly examine for yourself where, how, or even if you are devoted to God, to the church and to this religious community of individuals we know as Hope UMC. Wow, that’s a mouthful and quite discerning. Is there the possibility that you’re not? In the passage this morning in Acts 2 we are given the ideal church for God. As great as this community sounds, not many, if any, modern churches achieve it, or even come close. Although, it is a good aspiration that we should continue to strive for, it is hard to achieve even with all the right intentions. Remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Within the passage there are three challenges and attributes to be a model of Christ’s Church. The attributes include adherence to the teachings, spiritual communion and sharing which also includes meals, and prayer. Well, we got the meals and prayers fairly well covered.

The first church persevered in listening to the apostles’ teachings, took regard in fellowship and adhered to the breaking of bread and in prayers for one another. We read that every soul in community was in awe about the teachings of the apostles, with that amazement they were able to see many signs and wonders done in the name of Jesus the Christ. Let’s compare that early church to how a church of today could/should or does not function.

A learning church needs to persist in listening to those placed in position to teach, and then live how those in charge are instructing. One of the things I’ve noticed with the modern church that tends to be one of the greatest pitfalls, is that we constantly look back in history on how we used to be. We failed to look forward to what we can be and thus continually live as if we were still in the past. Now there is a push to eliminate or re-write the past rather than learn from past mistakes or successes. It is ok to see where we come from and learn from our mistakes but to consistently look back as if they were the good times, we are blinded to what good times are yet ahead. The riches of Christ are never ceasing and always abundant therefore we should always be looking to the future so that we can move forward. Our day is just completely wasted when we fail to learn something new about Christ, God’s love, and the love of God’s other creations. Our time is also wasted when we fail to look more deeply into the wisdom and grace of God. We waste just as much time when we bicker on the good ole days.

Another failure is to look too closely at resources. Resources include monetary, supplies and people. If we suspect or fear that not all the resources are in place, then we will not move forward. I’m not saying that we should not be cautious, we just need to remember that with God ALL things are possible. Do we not believe, recite, and proclaim that to others? Do not forget Jesus fed 5 thousand with three fish and five loaves of bread.

We must forever be a church of fellowship. Again, we fail by looking at oneness only as individuals and not oneness of community united together. When we work together there is happiness for all of us, we become a community. That is when the church is a real church, we become truly a community of believers. Being a lone wolf does have its qualities and blessings however we become a better church of God when we work together and not against each other. It is true that one person can have an idea and start to put something into motion but not until others pick up on it does it become a work in process.

We are also called to be a praying church. The early church in Acts knew that they could not meet all the demands of life with their own strength nor were they meant to. The early Christians always prayed to God for guidance and understanding before they went out into the world thus, they would be able to meet the problems of life simply because they first sought God through Jesus Christ the Lord.

Last Wednesday at our bible study of the series “The Chosen” there was discussion of what fears we have that prevent each of us from connecting to God and becoming more reverent with God. These days we have lost the understanding of being a reverent church. In verse 43 some translations of Scripture identify this fear as an idea of awe and wonder. It does not mean that we should be afraid, yet we should have the utmost respect for God. Fear can also prevent us from moving forward in our missions for God.

Early Greek Christians stated that He moves through this world, therefore the world is a temple of God. Everything in this world is created by God and we should treat it with reverence. We do say that we should treat our own bodies as a temple of God because Christ lives within us. So, the world should not be any different because we are created by Him, and a temple is everything He created. I myself find peace and presence with God when I walk through the woods. I feel closeness with the Holy Spirit as I am watching all the living creations go through their life patterns. That is when I can hear God talk to me, and yes, He does talk to me. I know because Scripture’s pop in my head. My fear is that I am not finding or taking the time to go into nature and renew my spirit as I need. I also fear that if I take that time, I might be needed by someone and not be available in their time of need. That my friends is my flaw.

I remember years ago; the church was referred to as a place where things happened. Some believe that things can only happen in the large mega-churches, I strongly disagree. Things do happen wherever the Holy Spirit is. God tells us that we should expect great things from him. When He is with us, we can help by being the instrument of those great things for God, but most of all with God. I think more things would happen if we truly believed that God and us, as his creation, work together towards those great things. It’s not that God’s not there; we are not present in His presence. We say that God can create all kinds of miracles; but do we believe those words in our hearts?

One of the biggest things that we read in the passage this morning from Acts, was a sharing church. That early church had an intense feeling of responsibility for each other. Too many times we get into the false sense of what church must be like. Yes, this is the ideal church, and we should strive to be that kind of church. I am also realistic, that kind of church, as we interpret it, is extremely hard to achieve. John Wesley says strive for perfection, but will we ever achieve it? Nor do we understand in the modern church, those early Christians shared in their excess. If they had more than they truly needed, instead of sitting on their excess, they shared it with those who were doing without. That kind of sharing is achievable in the modern church. The early Christians also shared within their community of those who are in need. Let me put it to you this way; if one of you had just finished building a mini barn and had left over lumber that you did not need. A fellow Christian, just a couple doors down was building his own barn, but was four 2×4’s short would you not share with him? That’s the type of sharing this passage is talking about. That is doable in the Church. Look at the success of our meal-site. Small steps toward perfection.

The early church was also a worshiping church. Those Christians never forgot that they needed to be in God’s house weekly if not daily. God was always first in their life because they believed that without God, they would not have life. I have heard so many people say that their religion is a personal and solitary thing, just between them and God. It is true that we do need alone time with God. I try take Wednesdays and Fridays to be alone with God. But alone I am incapable of accomplishing the things that God has in store for this world. Things can only happen when we come together as a community to do the work of God and allow the Spirit to move upon and thru us worshiping. True that one person can have an idea or plan for worshiping but unless it involves more people, it doesn’t become a true worship experience. Remember that a worship experience is just an experience. If no one else is there to experience it. The experience can go off like fireworks but be a boom in the distance. On the other hand, if more are there to experience the fireworks, it can excite others to the worship experience.

As a bonus to the worship experience, joy can be experienced. That joy creates a happy church that fosters gladness. There are those that say a gloomy Christian is a contradictory term. In some respects, I understand what is meant by that rationale. A gloomy Christian sees no hope. Yet that’s what Christ is brings to the world, hope for the future. As Christians that is what we are all about, Hope. That is not to say that there will never be disappointment or sadness because that would be contradictory to life itself. God did not promise us that there will not be disappointment or grief. However, when those times do come in our lives, He did promise to be with us and that there is hope for better times. If nothing else, we have the hope and assurance of eternal life to come to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So just as that church so long ago, if we as a church in modern times were to follow the examples laid out for us today, we would be a church, who other people could not help but like. We could be a church that not only looks good but one that is good to others. Therefore, have a winsome attractiveness about us. You must admit real Christianity is a lovely thing. In this world there are so many people that appear to be good but only have the appearance on the surface because deep down they have an unloving darkness. It would be something beautiful for Christians to practice the things that are expressed in Acts 2:42–47. The early church was all about helping others and doing beautiful things for each other. As it says in the passage their numbers grew daily. We sit back and we wonder why our churches in modern times are not growing, well it’s obvious we don’t practice what the early church taught us. We do not listen to what the apostles taught us. We say we have heard the words that are read to us each Sunday, yet we fail to listen, and we fail to pray wholeheartedly. Because you see we then forget what James 1:22 says to us “be ye doers of The Word and not mere hearers only for you deceive yourselves”. If we do not do what we have heard, what we have been taught and just simply listen to the words than we have deceived ourselves on what Christ has called, commissioned, commanded, and suffered for to give us; the salvation we need.