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Two Things to Do

Thomas J Parlette

“Two Things to Do”

Acts 1: 6-14

5/28/17

There is lots of talk these days, at least in the religious circles that I travel in, about where the church is headed. Mainline denominations like Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians – have changed so much over the last two decades that people wonder, what does the future hold. What will the church look like in the next decade.

Charles Killian, a Professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, has described a mythical modern worship service in the not too distant future like this:

The Pastor begins the service by saying, “Will everyone please turn on their tablet, PC, ipad, smartphone or kindle Bible to First Corinthians 13:13. And switch on your Bluetooth to download the sermon for today.” There is a slight pause, you can hear people tapping away on their devices.

“Now, let us pray, committing this week into God’s hands. Please open your apps, Twitter, snapchat or Facebook, and share your joys and concerns with God and with your online community.” Another pause, more tapping, and of course, no one looks up.

“And now please enjoy some live music from our choir.” The choir members sing from church owned ipads that give them access to the sheet music – no more of those old-fashioned black folders and pesky pieces of paper.

“As we continue our worship by offering our gifts to God, please have your credit or debit cards ready – our ushers will around with scanners in just a moment.” Another pause, more tapping and an occasional “swiping” sound.

“As todays service comes to a close, I would remind you that small group meetings and bible studies will be held at the various Facebook group pages as noted at the church website. The choir will be rehearsing on Thursday via SKYPE at 1900 hours, Greenwich Mean Time, and you can follow your Pastor on Twitter this week for counseling and prayers. God bless and have a nice day.”(1)

That is one man’s tongue-in-cheek description of where the church might be headed in the near future. Well, we’re not there yet – but who knows what the future holds. The amazing thing is that the church has survived as long as it has – especially since it depends on people like me and you to keep things going. We all know the Church is not perfect. We have our flaws. Still, it’s the best vehicle we’ve got to spread the Good News.

Once upon a time, there were two little boys sitting in Sunday School, learning about Noah and the Ark. They were thinking about the smells and the noise and the inconvenience of being cooped up on that boat with all those animals – about how crowded it would have been, how dirty and smelly it would have been, and how do you keep the animals from fighting or trying to eat each other. And of course – why even bother to bring the mosquitoes and the spiders in the first place.

One of the boys finally said, “I just don’t think I could stand all that.”

And the other little boy, “Yeah, it must have been awful. But it was still the best thing afloat.”(3)

The Church may be imperfect, we certainly have our flaws, we are not always the most exciting place to be – but when it comes to sharing God’s word, I believe we are the best thing afloat.

What’s amazing is that after 2100 years or so, the Gospel is alive and well, and the church is still around. Oh, we have changed, that’s for sure. But we’re still here.

There is a story about General William Westmoreland who led our troops during Vietnam. The General was reviewing a platoon of paratroopers, and as he went down the line he asked them each a question: “How do you like jumping, son?”

“Love it, sir!”

“How do you like jumping?”

“The greatest experience of my life, sir.”

“And how do you like jumping, son?”

“I hate it, sir.”

The General paused, “Then why do you do it?”

The young man thought for a moment and said, “Because I want to be around guys who love to jump, sir.”(3)

There are many reasons why people join a church, but I suspect the main reason is because they want to be around people who love God and Jesus Christ.

This morning, we find ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with some men and women who indeed loved Jesus Christ. They stood on a Palestinian hillside and watched in amazement as Jesus ascended through the clouds into heaven. After 40 days of post-resurrection appearances and teachable moments – Jesus was gone. They stood there with their mouths open, watching the clouds, and suddenly two men in white robes were standing with them – “What are doing standing here and staring up toward heaven, Jesus is gone, but he will come back in the same way you saw him go.”

So the whole group heads back to Jerusalem. They walk all day, and they end up back in the upstairs room where they were staying – quite possibly the same upper room where they had celebrated the last supper with Jesus. And it wasn’t just the 11 named disciples who were there. Earnst Haechen, in his commentary on Acts, notes that “at least eight other persons, forming two distinct groups, must be added to the Eleven: “the women” are well-to-do followers of Jesus, some of high position; and Jesus’ relatives comprise not one, but several families, since you must picture his brothers as married.”(4)

And one woman in particular is named – Mary, the mother of Jesus. Biblical scholar Gail O’Day argues that the presence of Mary “establishes continuity between the birth of Jesus and the birth of the church.” In other words, just as there could be no birth of Jesus without Mary, there could be no birth of the Church, the body of Christ on earth, without the leading role of women.”(5)

And so, with 11 disciples, a group of women, including Jesus’ mother Mary, and Jesus’ family present, the first congregation is formed.

And they engage in two things according to verse 14 of our passage for today – “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer…” So the two things to do as a Christ-following community – stay together, in fellowship. And pray.

Our word “fellowship” comes from an Anglo Saxon word “fee-lowship”. Fee was an old Anglo-Saxon word for cow, which was a form of wealth way back when. Neighbors would put their cows together, breaking down the fences between them, to show trust in one another. They were creating fee-lowship through the mingling of their cows.(6)

We all need some place in life where we can trust other people – where people will accept you just as you are and will not take advantage of you. Church is a place where you can be loved just because you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

Fellowship, as we have come to understand it, refers to a quality of interaction, of caring, of looking out for one another.

In the earliest days of the church, a Roman named Aristides described Christians to the Emperor Hadrian like this: “They love one another. They never fail to help widows, they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing; if they see a stranger, they take him home, and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don’t consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God.”(7)

It was that quality of caring, so unique in that pagan empire, that most impressed those who encountered early Christians. That quality is still the church’s greatest earthly asset. Fellowship, that sense of caring for each other and looking out for each other is vital for a strong and healthy church. Evangelist E. Stanley Jones was fond of saying: “Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to everyone who belongs to Christ.”(8) We are a family. We belong to each other. The quality of our fellowship determines to a great extent the power of our witness. Fellowship is essential to the life of the body of Christ.

Which brings us to the second thing the early church did – Pray.

With fellowship, we draw power from one another.

With prayer, we tap into the power of God.

Many of you know that some of the fastest growing churches in the world are actually in South Korea. Richard Wilke, in his study of churches, tried to interview a Korean pastor about the marvelous growth of the Christian churches in Korea. He asked about such things as class meetings, bible studies, worship services and evangelism strategies.

Finally the Korean pastor threw up his hands in frustration and said, “You Americans are all alike; you want to know about our programs, but you never ask about our prayers.”(9)

Prayer is the other indispensable element of a church making a difference in the world. Prayer not only opens up the storehouses of heaven, it also causes us to take to heart the causes for which we pray. Some of the greatest moments of history have occurred when Christians prayed so intently that God was able to use them as answers to their own prayers.

Consider Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most influential men who ever lived. Gandhi was a lawyer, already in his forties, living in South Africa, when he conceived the idea of freeing his native India from foreign control. He never used a gun, he recruited no armies, he possessed no great personal fortune, he resorted to no fixes, no payoffs and no compromises. Virtually the only source of his power was prayer.

Even while he was in South Africa, he began to crusade for his people’s rights. At that time, South Africa was not a very good place to begin a crusade. Gandhi once wrote, “There was a law directed especially against Indians in South Africa and I had come there to oppose it. My ship was met by a hostile mob, and I was advised to stay on board for the sake of my physical safety, for the crowd had come with the announced intention of lynching me. I went ashore, nevertheless. I was stoned and beaten a good deal. But I had not prayed for safety, I had prayed for the courage to face the mob. And that courage came, and did not fail me.”(10)

God used Gandhi and his prayers to answer Gandhi’s own prayers.

Somewhere I read a story about Archbishop Desmond Tutu that sums up the matter well. During the darkest days of the fight to end apartheid in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu visited America. He was to speak in a large church in a major city. The church was packed, and the media was there in abundance. The world wanted to hear what the Archbishop would say.

When the moment arrived, he stepped into the pulpit, and looked over the crowd for a long moment. Then he spoke one word – “Pray” – paused for another long moment, and stepped out of the pulpit. The sermon was over. Desmond Tutu knew what had to be done. God’s people needed to pray. And the rest, as they say, is history.(11)

Fellowship and Prayer. The horizontal and the vertical. Whenever both are present in the life of the church miracles are likely to occur. Fellowship and Prayer, these are the two things to do as we wait for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fellowship and Prayer – may that be true of this community of Christ-followers here in Rochester.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, p. 55.

2.    Ibid…p.37.

3.    Ibid…p.56.

4.    Michael Joseph Brown, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.525.

5.    John S. McClure, ibid…p.523, 525.

6.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, p.38.

7.    Ibid…p.57.

8.    Ibid…p.57.

9.    Ibid…p.57-58.

10.                       Ibid…p.39-40.

11.                       Ibid…p.58