Acts 2: 42-47
It’s very hard to avoid being in a community. It’s very hard to avoid people. We have to eat, so we have to go buy food in stores. Very few of us can hire someone to do that. We have to mail stuff periodically, and we don’t always have the right postage, or the thing needs to be weighed, so we have to go into town for that. We sit in audiences for concerts, and we sit in crowds for sports.
Truth be told, we need community. The computer and the internet have enabled a lot of people to spend a lot more time alone, but even that isn’t truly alone—what’s the one thing many people do when they get online? They check the sites of the groups they are a part of, the communities that they have joined online. They check their e-mail to see who has written to them.
Even the earliest hermits of the church, who went out into the Egyptian desert to truly be alone and to wrestle with their sins in the presence of God and no distractions, got the reputation for being very wise, and therefore had the problem of people coming to them for advice. Besides, they needed groceries brought to them, too!
While we need silence and solitude sometimes, we all need people around us. To be human is to need companionship—God recognized this very early, in Adam. To be Christian is to understand the need for fellowship, of people around you who can help you grow in Christ, and whom you can help in return. No one can be a Christian alone, in any sense that means anything.
The early followers of Jesus, who had just had the Holy Spirit descend on them at Pentecost in this mornings’ reading, are living together in joyful community. Together, in the Spirit, they “devote…themselves to apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. . . “
And churches have not been much different, since. Churches have lived together in communes. Churches have died together inside their buildings, as rival tribes or oppressors burn the building down. Churches have lost their way together, and found it again together. In the second verse of a hymn we all know, it says
Sometimes the church is marching, sometimes it’s bravely burning, sometimes it’s riding, sometimes it’s hiding, always it’s learning.
Nearly a hundred and eighty years ago, this church was planted as a local class meeting in this area, in the midst of farmers and shopkeepers and whomever else lived here. They had a mission in mind. True, it was to study and grow in the word of God, but Methodist Class meetings weren’t just classes. They were local outlets of mission and ministry as well, seeking to serve their local communities in the name of Jesus Christ.
In James, it says that:
1:17Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
We are the inheritors of a great tradition, the Wesleyan tradition of social assistance and justice being tied to traditional Christian piety and language. One of Wesley’s most enduring legacies is the story of Foundry church, which was a combination church, school, and medical clinic. As Methodists all over the world have planted churches, they have also sought to lift up the people, to take care of earthly needs.
For Methodists, it has always been more than “how can I be saved?” It has also been “how can I reform God’s creation in His name?”
We have before us, at this time and this place, an array of gifts and graces. Some of it may be financial, some of it is the array of talents that the congregation carries within it. What are we to do with it? It is not in the call of a United Methodist church to languish. It is not enough that we go along, show up every Sunday as a habit, spend an hour being pleasantly informed and mildly inspired by word and music, and then go home. We are not called to play it safe. We are called to serve our communities. We are called to adapt to the communities as their needs change. We are called to risk, to we are called to serve, which is not a very popular sentiment in the modern world. Indeed, our community is in existence to serve the greater community in Christ’s’ name.
Many of you have lived here all your lives. You know what the current needs are among those who have less than you. You also know your own needs, and know others who have the same needs. Do we need a school? Do we need a clinic? Are both of those needs being met in this community today? Don’t be afraid of what dream God plants in your head. Well, perhaps, be cautious, certainly discern the Spirits, but don’t be afraid.
I ask you to pray. Read Scripture. Pray again. Listen. Spend some time listening to God, and focus on the life of your church.
How can we be the church together? How can we all follow Jesus, with those from all around the world? And especially right here? How can we be the community we are called to be?
I ask this knowing that the asking of the question is the Lord’s intention—not because I have a direct line to God, but because that question is the question we are always asked, by God. Amen.