We visit the practices of the early church to remind ourselves of the roles that we are called to perform. But before we get into details of what happened in those days I wish to take some time to appreciate our laity today. Very often people make a mistake when they think that the minister is the key person in the church. But the reality is that the laity are the central players in the kingdom of God. With that I wish to thank and appreciate you all this morning for many things that you have been engaged with in the church. I realize that not everybody plays a leadership role in a committee but whatever little thing you do just know that you are appreciated. Here is the list of appreciation to anyone who has ever served or been involved in:
- Worship (liturgist, acolyte, special music, scripture reading, communion, small groups, media booth, choir, praise band)
- Children’s Ministry (nursery, children’s Sunday school, vbs)
- Youth Ministry (camp, retreat, mission)
- Church Committees (SPPRC, Trustee, Finance, Lay Leadership, Worship, Outreach, Evangelism, Mission, Membership)
- Groups (UMW, UMM, Adult Sunday school classes, scouts)
- Community Ministry (God’s Helping Hands, Food Pantry, Wednesday Meals, Sunday Breakfasts, quilting, knitting)
As believers we have certain responsibilities that are within our control if we choose to grow in our faith. I would like to explore a few of these practices that we can embrace in our setting as we learn from the early church practices.
- Time of learning: Our Christian faith is grounded in our willingness to learn more about God and how we can develop a deeper relationship with him. When it comes to learning, educators tell us (I am not one of them) there are many formats of learning. What is important is to apply what works for you. If you are a student and especially if you are at the college level, you quickly have to figure out what format to apply because sometimes professors can throw a surprise. I discovered over time that I am not able to do my assignments way in advance, even when I am given the assignment at the beginning of the semester (there is a word given to people who wait until the last minute but I choose not to use if for myself today). There are people who have that same mentality when it comes to faith. They think they will figure it out at the last minute to make that choice. The word disciple simply means a student. God has called you to be a disciple, not a member. As disciples of Christ we have to commit ourselves to some form of learning. We have different avenues open for us today: small group, adult study groups, using apps on our gadgets. Some use music from movies to learn more about God. We can’t depend on what we learn on Sunday morning alone. Let’s create a habit of learning more in regards to our faith-growth. Usse whatever format works for you. I remember when studying Greek in college I had to make flash cards, which was a different method of learning that I had not used before.
- Time of fellowship: The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the importance of the people of God to fellowship. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as it is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Fellowship times are wonderful moments of getting connected. In Jesus’ time there were no cell phones or any other gadget that would connect people. Today fellowship can be enhanced (we can’t neglect the physical meetings) when we us we our electronic media: creating a discussion or sharing group on facebook, twitter, instagram, whatsapp). Lets value those times when we can physically meet. Here are some avenues of meeting together: Sunday breakfast with a friend, taking some time after worship for a visit, going out for lunch together. Let us seek opportunities for fellowship. Food was and is an important item in our fellowship time.
- Time of communion: We can’t think of breaking bread without being reminded of the Paschal meal or Passover meal that lead to the deliverance of the israelites from bondaged in Egypt (Exodus 24). It was a meal of freedom from bondage. As we partake of this meal or Lord’s supper, Eucharist, Last Meal, Communion, we have to believe that through it we are set free from the bondage of sin. The Israelites called it the Passover meal when the angel of death spared their first-born by passing over because they had marked their doorpost with the blood of a lamb as they had been instructed. Breaking of bread was a practice initiated by Jesus himself when he invited his disciples and friends to the upper room (John 13:1ff). Jesus wanted to have one meal which was a unique opportunity because it symbolized his body and his blood. The bread represented his body on the cross while the cup (juice and wine) represented his blood that was shed on the cross for our sin and redemption. Breaking bread together opens our spiritual eyes and we see something we had missed. I wish to remind you of the story of the disciples (Cleophas and his wife) walking to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). The road to Emmaus is familiar to us all. It is the road we are on when or hopes are dashed and our eyes cast down; all hope is gone. But when they broke the bread with Jesus, this encounter restored hope and hoy once again. This morning you might feel like you are on this Emmaus road bt Christ is here to meet you and open your eyes to see hope and joy. We encounter Christ during communion then our eyes get opened anew. Jesus joined them but could not recognize him until they invited him to their home and he broke bread with them. The Bible says their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus. As we participate in the eucharist meal of bread and wine, Christ grants communion with himself. As we receive the eucharist it is an assurance of the forgiveness of our sins (Matthew 26:28). We can consider the Eucharist in the following aspects: a) as a thanksgiving to the father; b) as a memorial to Christ’s death; c) as an invocation of the Spirit; d) as communion of the faithful; e) as a meal of the Kingdom – a kingdom of justice, love and peace. It is the New Covenant that christ gave to his church as anamnesis (part of the Eucharist in which the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ is recalled).
- Open to sharing: From the beginning the church believed in sharing what they had with the less fortunate among them. The Bible brings to special attention the widows, orphans, poor, the maimed and all the marginalized in the community. In order to make sure the above group was somehow able to find food it was required for people to leave some crops in the field. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to the edge, nor shall you gather the gleaning after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourners. I am the LORD you God” (Leviticus 23:22). The early church knew about this truth and that is why they were willing to share to make sure none among them would go hungry. The disciples also found out quickly that there were so many needy cases among them. They prayed to God and they were directed to appoint seven deacons who would wait on the tables (Acts 6:1-6). One of the seven deacons we know much about was Stephen who was stoned for his witness. We read that Paul was in the crowd that stoned him before Paul (Saul) was converted. Let us not forget the less fortunate in our community. This means we have to build bridges from our neighborhood to our church. We have to learn a new language that speaks to the less fortunate that may not speak to us. This is why the language we use is so important, it might be that what is normal for us may scare someone else. This will be possible if we start by creating some relationships in that neighborhood as well as in other public gatherings…at school meetings or other community events.
The early church shared among themselves to make sure everyone had something. Perhaps we should all consider that as we continue to build our church, Christ’s church.