Sermon: “Building a Stronger Community” (SUMMER THEME) Acts 2:42-47 (5/7/17)


A few months ago, in the middle of a sermon, I got an idea for our Summer Theme.  At the time, I told you I had the idea, but not what it was.  Today is the day….to tell you that that’s not the theme we’re going with.  It was a great theme…but the Spirit had other ideas.

The first theme was–hospitality.  Hospitality–welcoming others, all others–has been part of this congregation’s life from the beginning.  It’s part of our DNA.  It’s a key reason that becoming ONA 20 years ago made so much sense.  Of course, we’ll welcome all people, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Hospitality would have been a good theme, but the process of deciding what to do about the Next Generation House has led to a different one.  Building projects always call on communities to reassess who they are, where they are on their life’s journey together, and where they feel God is leading them in the future.  What we decide about how to replace the Next Generation House and how to deal with all the long-overdue maintenance items in this building will say a lot about who we see ourselves becoming and about where we sense God is leading us as a community.  So, who are we becoming?  How do we figure out where God is leading us?

Three things will help us figure some of this out.  The first is a congregation-wide visioning process.  The planning team for that met yesterday.  You’ll be hearing more about it very soon.  Based on what we’re reading, I think it’s going to be a boatload of fun…and it’s something we’ll do together as a congregation.  Stay tuned.

A second guide for our discernment will be our worship services this summer.  Are you ready to hear the summer theme?  I’m almost ready to share it!  J

First, let me tell you about CREDO.  A week from Tuesday, I’ll fly to New Hampshire for a CREDO conference.  CREDO is a program for mid-career clergy.  In a week’s time, clergy in their early 50s assess their spiritual, vocational, financial, and health lives so they can live the last half of their ministry with intentionality.  Last Fall, I received an invitation from the UCC Pension Board to participate.  It’s part of the denomination’s ongoing support for its congregations by ensuring that clergy are as healthy as they can be.

As I’ve been filling out pre-conference paperwork, it’s struck me that our Pilgrimage community also might benefit from the kind of reflection CREDO invites.  Next year, Pilgrimage will celebrate its 40th anniversary.  We can debate whether or not that’s “middle aged,” but 40 is a great time to assess where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed in the future.  As we seek to live into the next phase of our community’s life, we too will benefit from reflecting on our where we are spiritually, vocationally, financially, and physically (aka our facility).  You know what else will happen?  We’ll grow stronger as a community.  How could we not?  Hence, our summer theme: “Building a Stronger Community.”

In your bulletins you’ll find a summer worship schedule.  I don’t usually share this, but this is how I do long range worship planning.  It helps me to see on one page the overall arc of worship for a season.  Planning worship is so much fun!

It’s so much fun, I want to invite you to share in the fun this summer. 🙂  The main thing I want you to see right now is the four sections.  (They’re color-coded.)  Three Sundays for each section:  our community’s spiritual life, vocational life, financial life, and facility life.  If one of those topics interests you and you’d like to help plan worship services or other activities that will help us to engage the topic, let me know.

As we reflect together about who we are, where we are, and where we’re headed as a community of Jesus’ followers, as we reflect on our community’s spiritual, vocational, financial, and facility lives and ask God’s guidance on how to strengthen all four, one Scripture text will guide us—today’s lesson from Acts 2.  That’s the third thing that will help us.

The story thus far—Jesus did his thing, teaching, preaching, showing people God’s hopes for the world…which, as you’ll recall, got him killed.  Then God raised him from the dead, Jesus spent more time with his followers, then—as we read in Acts 1—Jesus left the scene for good.

Unsure of what to do, the 11 remaining disciples turn to administrative matters—they find a replacement for Judas, voting on Matthias to join their ranks.

Shortly after that, God’s spirit shows up.  And how!  All along, Jesus has been promising his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit.  On the day of Pentecost, the gift arrives!  God’s Spirit swoops in like a mighty wind, bestows the gift of tongues, and literally lights a fire in the community.  It’s little wonder that 3,000 people joined the Jesus movement that day.

At Pentecost, there’s a fundamental shift.  Before Pentecost, Jesus’ followers had focused solely on Jesus.  But as they open themselves to the moving of God’s Spirit at Pentecost, they begin opening themselves to each other.  They come alive!  It’s like they suddenly can see the power of their togetherness.  That revelation leads to what we discover in today’s text from Acts.

The first verse describes the practices in which the community was engaging; the rest of the passage describes what resulted from those practices.  What were those post-Pentecost followers of Jesus’ doing?  Verse 42:  They were “devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Image result for picture Acts 2:42

And what resulted from the community devoting themselves to study and fellowship, to eating and praying together?  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

These few verses of Scripture are so densely packed with insight and instruction for living as a community of Jesus’ followers, we’re going to use them to guide our reflections through the entire summer.  We’ll look at other passages, too, but we’ll always go back to this one…Which means we won’t try to unpack the whole thing today.

The part I do want to point out is the last sentence:  “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  That last line always blows my mind.  All the community did was study together, and fellowship, and eat, and pray together.  It doesn’t say they had some big outreach program…not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It doesn’t say they engaged a marketing guru…not that there’s anything wrong with that.  It doesn’t say they went out into the community to serve others…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

All it says is that the community studied, fellowshipped, ate, and prayed together… “and day by day God added to their number…”  The community tended well to their life as a community of Jesus’ followers…and the life they found—rooted in the moving of God’s Spirit—is what drew others to the community.

As I reflected on what to say to you all today about community, I read a devotion by Trudy Stoddert that blew me away.  It goes to the heart of what makes a community strong.

“Community. That’s what we’ve been hearing about in Kim’s sermons for some time now. And it’s for good reason. There are tons of references to community in the bible. Even Jesus knew the importance of community. He didn’t just go around by himself teaching folks about God. He brought his posse with him, knowing that spending time with them would help keep his fire burning, would help give him strength to keep on spreading the Good Word, and to keep going when times got tough. He was leading us by example in this regard.

We need community to keep our fires burning, too. Community feeds our soul in so many ways.  Not only does community make us glad…glad to see our friends and to have fun with them, it also helps us when things seem overwhelming. When thinking about living our life as the best Christian we can be, helping those less fortunate than us, helping those struggling in this world, it seems like it is just too much. It’s too big a task for us to take on ourselves. How can we ever make a difference in the world? But when we come together with the same purpose, we can do so much to make a difference, each of us doing our small part. Then when we step back and see what we have done as a community, it is not so overwhelming anymore.

“Community also helps us see the light that we sometimes lose sight of.  When we’re struggling with our faith or our happiness, engaging with our community can help us stave off the doubt or the unhappiness. Through our community, we can see our God working, hear our God speaking, feel our God loving. Simply spending time with others or coming together with others to make a difference in the world can work wonders to cast away our doubt and our unhappiness. When we need to hear from God, we may just need to look to our community to hear or see the answer.”

Through our community, we see God working, hear God speaking, feel God loving.  Through community, we grow stronger in faith and good works.  Through community, we act each other and the world into wellbeing.  Through community we meet God.  Through community, so many good and positive and necessary things happen.  What say we work together this summer to make this community just as strong as it can be?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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