I’ve got two sermons to post today, one from yesterday and one from last week. Last week I preached from Acts of the Apostles and I talked about doing church – church as a verb, not as a noun. During my children’s sermon I had everyone do the wave. At one point I yelled, “freeze!” and we looked at how everyone was doing something different. And even though they were all doing something different, together they were all doing the wave. I explained that’s the way church works – we all do something different, but together we’re all doing church.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 8, 2018
When I was in high school, my dad and I used to bond over three things: Broadway, Basketball and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
You can imagine our delight when two of these worlds collided in the fall of 2001 and The Warner Brothers Television Network started advertising a very special musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling.
As it usually went with the plot of this show, there was a demon stirring up all sorts of trouble. This particular demon, however, was musical and it cast a spell that caused everyone to spontaneously break into song and dance.
Those of you who share my fond affinity for musicals might be wondering what the big deal was.
However, there was a catch. People were not just singing and dancing, their songs were actually exposing hidden truths; the characters were revealing secrets they had previously been keeping from one another.
At the end of the episode, with all of the secrets they had been holding onto for weeks out in the open, the characters were kind of left with a sense of, well, where do we go from here? Where do we go with all of this information, with these previously kept secrets, with this new perspective on one another? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before.
Not surprising, at that point they broke out into a song conveniently titled, Where Do We Go From Here?, complete with an underscoring dialogue between Buffy and one of the other main characters discussing what might happen next.
I always think about this song right after Easter because I can only imagine Jesus’ followers were going through the same thing immediately following the resurrection. Perhaps they were not breaking out into song and dance (although that’s a Gospel you know I can get on board with!), but they had to have been asking themselves the question, where do we go from here? Something big happened and life cannot go back to the way it was before, right?
Jesus was put to death on the cross, but death did not win; God’s love was victorious over the grave and, in a bold witness to this truth, resurrection happened and it was real and powerful and life changing. This was a monumental moment, not just in Christian history, but also the world as it was and the world as it would be.
But now what? Where do we go from here?
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which, as a book, kind of takes a crack at answering this question. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke; it picks up right where the Gospel leaves off, starting with the ascension of Jesus. It is a firsthand account of the formation of early Christianity. It is filled with stories of what early Christians did in those days and months and years, even, following the resurrection. Acts is the only book in the bible that contains this narrative of the early church.
It is no coincidence that the title of this book is Acts of the Apostles, because it there is a very deliberate shift between the Gospel, which is about Jesus, to this continuing narrative of Christianity, which has to do with the acts and the actions of Christians.
Without the media we have today to transmit news, the earliest Christians relied heavily, of course, on the oral transmission of these stories. Because of this, not everyone had a clear understanding of what, exactly, had happened. But I think, for the most part, everyone understood the basic gist: Christ had died, Christ had risen and, they believed, Christ would come again.
But what now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?
To some extent, I believe we are still asking ourselves this very same question. Sometimes it is in response to something big that has happened in our lives or in the world – we ask ourselves this questions every time there is a mass shooting or a natural disaster or we lose someone we love – but very often it happens in those moments in our lives where we pause for a moment and think about how we are living up to the grace God has given us.
What now? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?
In just four verses, I believe the passage we just heard gives us a powerful, yet tangible and attainable answer to this question.
We have to do church.
This passage describes the earliest church. There were no bylaws, like we have today; no bazaars, no board and committee meetings and no discussions containing the phrase, “We’ve always done it this way.” Church was not a noun, it was a verb. There was action and a united sense of purpose.
The earliest church was not an organization to be involved in, but a way of life for a group of people who fervently believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was gathering with one another, sharing what they had so that no one needed anything. It was giving testimony to the Gospel and to the grace God bestowed upon them. It was taking care of one another, in the name of Jesus Christ.
They did church.
Now, did they always do it right? Probably not, because they were human, after all. But what a beautiful testimony this is for us to read today as we continue to discern how we want to do church in our own lives and community.
After Earl Goff’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, Steve Brasier came up to me and said, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but that was the best funeral I’ve ever been to.” At that point I was on my third cup of peach ice cream, so I really could not argue with him, but do you want to know one of the things I loved so much about Earl’s visitation and funeral? Over the course of those two days – and even in the week leading up to it – we did church and I would argue that we did it right.
You – members and friends of this church worked tirelessly to make sure everything went off without a hitch. You showed up with food, stood in the kitchen and did dishes for hours at a time, sang in the choir, found a way to send a live video feed of the service into Fellowship Hall, handed out bulletins and helped with crowd control. Things happened and, to this day, I do not even know how they happened. You set up, cleaned up and hauled tables and chairs around when it was all said and done. You showed up when you could and usually found a way to stay longer than you originally said you were able to. You shared what you had and never asked for anything in return. In the end, we did not need anything, because this community provided everything we needed.
We did church that weekend. We were united in a common sense of purpose, came together and did church together.
And what a testimony that was to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the powerful truth that love can and will win in our midst.
Our scripture reading for this morning talks about giving everything you have and living in community. “No one claimed private ownership of any possessions,” it says. People who owned land and houses, “sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.” The believers took everything they had and “laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
They are not talking about bringing food to a potluck. This is a bold and radical statement on what it means to live in community, one that is counter to the world we live in today. It is something I would argue is central to much of the political divisiveness that exists in our country right now. I would not even know where to begin to suggest we try to do exactly what these early Christians did.
But I believe we have to find a balance. We might not be able to give everything and live exactly as these early Christians did, but we can do church, every day. We can get involved here, at this church, and give back as we are able. We can stretch the boundaries of our own generosity, see the needs of others beyond our own and trust that God is actively working out the details.
The Friday before Easter, I was working late in my office. Now, have you ever had one of those moments were you were already tired anticipating how tired you were going to be? That was me on Friday night. I was packing up everything I needed for the Easter Sunrise Service, grumbling about the fact that I am not a morning person and I was already tired thinking about the fact that I was going to have to wake up so early and what, exactly, is wrong with an Easter Sun-is-already-risen Service?
But then I stopped myself – and I changed the narrative from have to, to, get to. Instead of saying, I have to wake up early, I said to myself, I get to wake up early and proclaim the Good News of resurrection. I get to hug my church family and wish them a Happy Easter before most people are even awake. I get to bear witness to the truth that love wins. I get to watch the sunrise and remember that, even in the darkest moments, God’s light always shines. I get to do church and, once again, figure out an answer to that question, where do we go from here?
And I do not know if it was that or the fact that I set four alarms for Easter morning, but I just about jumped out of bed when it was time to get up for sunrise this year. I just kept thinking to myself, it is an honor and a privilege to proclaim resurrection, to enact the Gospel, to live up to the grace given to us, to do church together.
And do we always do it right? No!
But I believe, with my whole heart, that, as a church community, we have all reached a point where we want to try really hard to do it right.
So – it is the week after Easter. Where do we go from here?
Friends, let us all make a commitment to do church. Let us gather together, share what we have with one another and make sure no one needs anything. Let us give testimony to the work God is doing in our lives so that others might know of God’s love and grace. Let us ask ourselves over and over and over again, where do we go from here? What do we do with these profound and life-altering ways God is working in our midst? How does this change our perspectives on life and faith? How do we share this news with others? How will we act moving forward? How will our actions define our generation of Christianity?
I believe that, as a church, we are more than simply just the sum of our parts. Together, we can act out our faith, continue to write this Christian story and see to it that people’s lives are changed along the way. We can share what we have with others – our time, our money, our talents, our resources – so that our testimony to God’s grace is a living testimony. We can do this using through our words, through our actions and – if we’re feeling musical – with a little bit of song and dance.
So let us, proclaiming the grace given to us by the resurrection of Jesus, do church.
Thanks be to God!