Sermon from Sunday, July 2, 2023
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: Acts 2:37-42
Our lesson this morning comes from the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Acts chapter two, starting in the 37th verse, reading through the 47th verse, here are these words:
“Now, when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 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. 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.’
“And He testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized. And that day, about 3000 persons were added. They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.
“All came upon everyone because of the many wonders and signs being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need, day by day. And they spent much time together in the temple. They broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people.
“And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Friends, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.”
I can’t believe these words are going to come out of my lips. What about those tigers? Yeah, you don’t know how bad that hurt me. But what about it? World Series. That’s cool. We have rules related to baseball and who can watch it and who can’t watch it and who can root for a team? Because in our house, we have a jinx that if they’re watching and a certain team is involved, they tend to jinx that team.
And that’s all I’m going to say about our family dynamic. But those last two ballgames were really football scores. Wasn’t nothing to be worried about. It was kind of nice to just sit and relax. And as I was sitting, relaxing, I thought about all the unspoken baseball rules. There are in the ninth inning. You don’t break up a no-hitter with a bunt.
Hmm, you don’t spend your time admiring a home run even if you just hit it. You don’t steal bases if your team is significantly ahead. You don’t talk to the pitcher if he’s right in the middle of a no-hitter. Just stay away from the pitcher. And the pitcher should never indicate his displeasure with a fielder who had just committed an error.
And there are rules in other sports. There are golf rules about breaking sand traps and not holding up play and fixing divots. And there are rules in football about this and that and that and this. And we even have those unspoken rules in church life. Do you know what the most important rule in church life that’s an unwritten, unspoken rule is?
Do you know what it is? Thou shalt not sit in somebody else’s seat. And you guys, you go hmm. I go to the refuge. You guys are worse than the sanctuary people because you have your chair marked. That’s my chair. And this church is like every other church I’ve ever pastored. This church has stories about people who have come into church unbeknownst to them and sat in somebody’s seat and had the occupant of the seat tell them, “Get up, you’re in my seat.”
Unspoken rule of church life. Other unspoken rules of church life: Thou shalt laugh at all the pastor’s corny jokes. It’s going to be one of those Sundays. I can see every potluck, and I didn’t check this Sunday. Every potluck shall include coleslaw, seven-bean salad, and that salad made with green beans and cream of mushroom soup and the onions that go on top of it—the French onions.
Some churches have six unwritten rules that do apply. Look like us, dress like us, talk like us, vote like us, sin like us, and believe like us. If you don’t do those things, perhaps we tell you you need to find another place to be.
We, at the beginning of the 21st century, live in a time that church life has just gotten absolutely weird. When I started out in ministry all those years ago, decades ago, regular church attendance was being in church every Sunday. Do you want regular church attendance is now once a month? If you go once a month, you’re considered a regular church attender.
We have lost the notion of being devoted, being devoted to Christ, being all-in or devoted to the church. Luke says it. They were what they were devoted to: the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. Jesus even talks about this in the Gospel of Luke, about your devotion, as they were going on the road.
Someone said to him, “Lord, I’ll follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To another, Jesus said, “Follow me.” But that fellow said, “Lord, let me first go bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “I’ll follow you, Lord, but let me first say goodbye to those at my house.” And Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
They devoted themselves. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. And Luke uses the same verb in the 46th verse, “day by day.” And this is awkward because the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, didn’t translate it well. “Day by day” they devoted themselves together in the temple. They broke bread at home. They ate their food with glad and generous hearts. I gave you the Doug translation of the Greek verb.
They were doing church things. They were doing things that put them in the position to deepen their relationship with Christ. And in the Book of Revelation, we read about the church at Laodicea, and the church at Laodicea is criticized for its failure to be devoted. Jesus said, “I know your deeds, you’re neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.” But the readers at that time and the hearers knew what was going on.
Near Laodicea, near the ancient city of Hierapolis, there was and still is a hot spring. It was a hot spring where Cleopatra and the Roman troops quartered and refreshed themselves. And at Hierapolis, this spring comes out of the ground, absolutely hot. But by the time it wanders down to Laodicea, it’s only lukewarm. And the message is clear and unwritten and normative. It’s the rule of church life. It’s the rule that of those who follow Jesus, that we are called to be devoted. We’ve got to be hot, not lukewarm.
And I thought about how all that sounded as I was committing exegesis this week. And then I realized something about what we’re hearing from the text about being devoted. And here’s what I discovered. We’re told that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ on the same day. So what I want you to imagine are 3,000 kindergartners running around Jerusalem, because that’s what you’ve got. You have 3,000 brand new, immature Pentecost-produced Christians. They don’t know all there is to know. They don’t know about being a church. They don’t know how to sing songs and stand up and sit down and respond.
They’re just living out of their joy and they’re living out of their love. And what we have in the Book of Acts in the early chapters is not a recording of what the church should be. Rather, what we have is a recording of how those kindergarteners, how those kids in the faith, how those children in the faith bonded and came together and how they were living.
And I think as we look at that, we can learn something important for ourselves. The first thing we learn about these folks is they loved learning. They loved learning. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. Why that? Because the apostles had known Jesus. They had heard Jesus teach. This is before the New Testament was written, y’all. It is still in the oral tradition, and the apostles are telling the stories of Jesus.
They’re telling the stories of the healing. They’re telling the stories of the miracles. They even tell his parables. And those new kindergarten Christians are just sitting at the apostles’ feet, and they’re amazed, awed by what they’re hearing, but they’re also hanging out together. Fellowship. They’re participating in the breaking of bread. And you can argue that may be a hint that communion’s going on.
And I would probably say you’re right. And they’re also praying. They’re praying corporate Jewish prayers, but they’re praying as individuals. So the first letter I want to give you is they are nurturing each other and deepening their faith. They are nurturing each other and deepening their faith because they love learning. They’re going to do anything they can to learn about Jesus.
If it’s listening to an apostle, they’ll talk about Jesus. If it’s hanging out with other Christians who know Jesus, if it’s breaking the bread, if it’s praying together, they’re going to do whatever they can do to learn about Jesus. They nurtured themselves and each other. And this group who loved learning also loved other people. When you have 3,000 people suddenly joining the church on the first day, you’ve got a lot of new folks hanging around with new habits and new languages and new ways of expressing their faith and learning about each other.
And they came together in this wonderful community. They loved each other. They loved each other. There’s my other letter. They were other-oriented. It wasn’t about them. It was about other people. Jesus, when he’s talking about the judgment, the nations, says that there’s going to be this great separation of the sheep from the goats. And you put the sheep on his right hand, the goats on his left, and the king will say to those on his right, “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” And the sheep, going, “When did we do that?” And Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it unto me.”
The church is the only organization or institution or body that I know of that has been created, that exists not for itself, but for people who don’t belong to it. Our calling is to the world. Our calling is to help with human hurts. Our calling is to encourage hope where there is hope. Our calling is to be the hands and feet and the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ.
This early church was all about getting together. They were all about fellowships and these meals. And what you have hinted at in the second chapter of Luke is not only communion, but another meal that broke out in the early church called the Love Feast. They would do anything to get together and be with one another, and we know this orientation to others impacted the world because we’re told that they had the goodwill of all people, and that day by day, the Lord was adding to those numbers, the ones that were being saved.
Well, what’s going on? Is there some worship service we don’t know about? Is there an evangelist in town? No. It’s what happens when people come to faith in Christ. They come to faith in Christ most often when other people share that journey with them. They are a nurturing community. They are an other-oriented community, and they love to worship. They were a worshiping community, whether it’s in their homes or going to the temple. They are gathering, being corporately and individually, to worship God.
There’s a balance here for us. How can we be a church for the now in which we live? We create a nurturing community where we encourage each other and deepen our discipleship. We understand we’re a church for others. That means missions and outreach. It’s not just a line item in an operating budget. It’s not really a program. It’s the core out of which we operate. It’s who we are as Jesus followers. And we worship. We worship privately in our devotional times, and we worship publicly in gatherings like this.
You see, their devotion came from something else. That’s why I couldn’t pound the word “devoted” because it’s a Greek participle, but it’s a passive participle, which means there is something acting on those people to make them devoted. There is something that creates this desire to be devoted. And what that is, is their love. Their love for learning, their love for other people, their love for Jesus Christ, and their desire to serve and love Him. Our devotion arises out of our love.
It’s true. As human beings, our devotion arises out of our love. And so as we seek to be a church ministering in the now and ministering out of now, we do that through the power of Christ’s love for us. His love that said, “This is my body broken for you” is love that said, “This is my blood shed for you.”