Happy “Low Sunday”! I celebrated by spilling grape juice during communion. Not one of my finer moments.
Enjoy they sermon!
Being An Intentional Church
A little boy was overheard praying in church, “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a really good time like I am.”
The Sunday after Easter is typically known as “Low Sunday” – it does, after all, follow one of the busiest Sundays in the Christian year. The numbers, preparation and excitement rarely – if ever – match up to that seen on Easter morning.
Out of curiosity, I googled the phrase “Low Sunday” this week; I was brought to the page, thefreedictionary.com and came across the following definition:
Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms: The Sunday after Easter
[Probably so named because of its relative unimportance in contrast with Easter Sunday]
Unimportance? Sheesh. What are we doing here, anyway? It is supposed to be 59 degrees today – maybe we should all just pack up and leave and spend the rest of the morning outside.
This morning’s scripture comes from the Book of Acts. Most scholars believe that the Book of Acts is the second volume of Luke-Acts; it is widely believed that the same person that authored the Gospel of Luke authored Acts. The book acts as a continuation of the story that ended with the ascension of Jesus at the end of the gospel.
Acts of the Apostles – the book, in simple terms, highlights the acts of the apostles of Christ. It tells the story of the lives and ministries of the earliest followers of Jesus. These followers are no longer called disciples – Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Now they are called apostles.
The word “apostle” is from the Greek word “apostolos” – which means:
One sent forth, a delegate, a messenger
The apostles were the earliest messengers of the Good News; they taught, worshipped, healed and praised God for the miraculous resurrection of Christ and promise of salvation.
In this morning’s scripture we see that the apostles were moving throughout the people of Jerusalem and beyond, performing “signs and wonders.” New believers were accepting Jesus into their lives and the sick and the tormented were healed.
But – like many things in life – it was not that simple. The earliest Christians did not have it easy. The high priest and the Sadducees were jealous of the apostles; they felt threatened by these men and their teachings and so they arrested them and put them in prison. When the apostles were set free by an angel of the Lord, they were found again and brought in front of the council.
But the apostles stood firm in their convictions. “We must obey God rather than any human authority,” they said. “And we are witnesses to these things.”
Eventually the apostles were flogged, but let go; they were ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus. But as they left, they did not show defeat; rather, they celebrated. They rejoiced that they were able to suffer in the name of Jesus.
It is a shame that this story is typically told on such an “unimportant” Sunday. After all, it is such a beautiful testimony of the sacrifices made by ordinary people called to follow Jesus. We always remember the sacrifice made by Jesus – we remember that beautiful and miraculous Easter morning – but what about the sacrifices made by Christians?
What about the lives and ministries of the apostles?
What about the lives and ministries of us?
Sometimes it is hard to relate to some of the earliest Christians. These apostles eventually became martyrs. They – and so many others like them in the years that followed – died because they were preaching in Jesus’ name.
Are we supposed to stop at nothing, even death, to share our faith?
Is this why the Sunday after Easter is considered “Low Sunday”? Because we want to proclaim the Good News, but stop at the resurrection? Are we not ready to be martyrs?
I read an alternative definition of martyrdom this week written by Dianne Bergant, who is a professor of biblical studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Bergant defines martyrdom by implying there is more to it than death.
A martyr is a witness. The Greek word suggest that a martyr is not so much one who dies for the faith as one who lives it so completely that the person is willing to suffer any consequence, even death, in order to be faithful.
The apostles said before the council, “We are witnesses to these things.”
And do you know what? We – all of us here today – are witnesses to the Good News.
And we are called to be martyrs, to live our faith completely.
I finished a book this week called The Practicing Congregation: Imagining A New Old Church, written by Diana Butler Bass. In this book, Butler Bass talks about moving away from traditional classifications of “liberal” versus “conservative” churches. She thinks we need to add another dimension to our grid and also look at churches as either “established” or “intentional”.
Our church is established. The Rehoboth Congregational Church is nearly 300 years old; it rests on histories and traditions.
Established churches function – but do they thrive?
We will not be around for another 300 years if we do not look forward and move from simply being an established church to also being an intentional church.
What does being an intentional church look like?
Being an intentional church means going back to the basics – going back to living a life like the apostles led. They worshipped together, broke bread together, healed together and preached together. At the core of all that they did was spreading Christ’s message.
“Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the disciples.” (Acts 5:12)
Being an intentional church means not sitting back and being passive in this community – it means being active! It means getting involved in something that already exists or finding a way to create something new. It means being the church that you want to see. It can be something big or something small. But at the end of the day, you should own a piece of this community. What piece will you own?
“When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.” (Acts 5:21)
Being an intentional church means being proud of your faith, being willing to talk openly and honestly about it to the people in your lives. Being an intentional church means inviting people your church, actively helping not only to grow your church, but also to spread a new kind of Christianity in the world.
“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.’” (Acts 5:19-20)
Being an intentional church means coming to church on Low Sunday (hey, you all are already halfway there!), because you know that martyrdom – the call to live our faith completely – is just as important as the resurrection.
“We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)
Being an intentional church means looking at and addressing the needs of the community now.
“A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” (Acts 5:16)
Being an intentional church means picking ourselves up after we stumble – and yes, we will stumble! It means – like the apostles did so many years ago – not being afraid of obstacles we might encounter along our faith journey, but feeling blessed to be taking the journey.
“After they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.” (Acts 5:41)
Being an intentional church means actively proclaiming Christ’s message every single day.
“And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.” (Acts 5:42)
Being an intentional church means writing our own book, the Acts of Christians of the 21st Century.
And we will have the opportunity to say, “We are witnesses to these things.” (Acts 5:32)
Being an intentional church means having fun!
You know, the little boy in the prayer told God that he didn’t need to become a better person, because he was having a really good time the way that he was. But I think we can ask God to help us have a really good time while we are living out our faith completely, while we are creating the intentional church. Others will see what fun we are having and want to be part of it.
“More than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women.” (Acts 5:14)
How will you be part of an intentional church, how will you live your faith completely?
Thanks be to God!