Hello friends! I know it has been awhile, but I was actually on sabbatical! I had a really amazing six weeks off (two of those in the Czech Republic & Hungary!). It felt great to get back behind the pulpit this morning – and we had two baptisms! Here is my sermon. We are halfway through a summer sermon series called, “Why I Come To Church” – this week the theme was community.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Summer Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church – Community
To Stand Together In Community
When we planned the summer preaching series and chose this scripture from Acts of the Apostles to correspond with the theme of community, we actually did not know, at the time, that we would also be baptizing two beautiful children this morning. But what a beautiful opportunity this has been; to bear witness to and participate in the sacrament of baptism allows us to heed the call of Peter in this very scripture to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that … you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
This is a really poignant reminder for us, today, that, when it comes to the church: Where there is community, God is present. The two are synonymous.
When I first started thinking about this sermon, I originally thought that I would talk about the activities that we do together as a community: Suppers, events, the bazaar and various outings. I wanted to pat us on the back for being the “fun” church and for making church about more than religious dogma or strict rules.
But then I thought about this scripture and about the earliest Christians; and I thought about the fact that, from the very beginning, Christianity was a shared practice, a faith that was “done” together.
Day 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. … And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
They spent much time together; and as these new Christians gathered together, more and more people were welcomed into the faith that we now share today.
I want to dispel the myth that the “God stuff” and the “church stuff” is somehow separate from the community piece of the church. I hear a lot of people say, “Oh I do not really come to church for the churchy stuff; for me it is about the community.” And while I think that is true and that the community is so important to who we are, I also think it is also so important for us to remember that the community piece of church is not void of God. God is present when we gather to worship and God is present when we do everything else. God is as present here today, in the safety of our worship space, as God will be next weekend when we gather at McCoy stadium to watch the PawSox play (which, by the way, you can still reserve your tickets for, come see me after worship). Gathering as a community is a scripturally integral part to being the church, to enacting our faith. We cannot compartmentalize the two; they go together.
This scripture that we just heard is a story about a group of people, the Apostles; the earliest Christians who had experienced the Risen Christ and were changed by that experience and wanted to live out their new faith and share it with others. This scripture records that almost immediately in the very beginning of our Christian history, community was formed.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)
They devoted themselves to fellowship.
Christianity was probably one of the first grassroots movements to ever exist. When the narrative of this scripture was playing out – when the first converts were gathering together and breaking bread and being baptized – there were no rules, there was no structure and the Gospels (the stories of Jesus’ life) had not even been written yet.
But do you know what there was? There were people; coming together in community.
This is how God called the Church into being; God called the Church into being by bringing people together; God called the Church into being through community.
And God is still doing that today.
God is calling us to be the Church by being in community. God needs us to come together so that we can serve with one another and learn from one another and pray for one another. God needs us to come together so that our faith can reach its fullest potential of rich depth and beautiful diversity. God needs us to come together so that we can join our voices with one another and boldly share the Gospel with the people around us. God needs us to come together and give hope to a world that so desperately needs it.
Here’s the thing: You can find community pretty much anywhere. You can find community through sports, at the gym, at school and through any activity or organization you are part of. But Church community is different. Church community is inspired by God’s presence and love and grace; being together in Church community means not only that people coming are together, but that God has a powerful impact on how that community will come together and what that community will do.
I missed out on the opportunity to preach on some very significant news stories while I was away. And it bothered me, not because I did not trust Anne Marie and the Board of Deacons to do an outstanding job in my absence; but because I missed being in community when bad things were happening. When the world was hurting, I missed standing with my community of faith.
Because I believe that when bad things happen and there is not a lot that we can do about it, we can still stand together in community.
We may not be able to fix them, we may not be able to understand them, we may not be able to make them better and we may not be able to agree on them; but my God, we can stand together in community, a community that is intentionally inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.
Like the earliest Christians, we, too, can devote ourselves to the teachings of Christ. We, too, can share fellowship. We, too, can break bread together. We, too, can pray for and with one another.
This is what God is calling us to do.
In a world where tragic and uncontrollable things happen and where diversity sometimes turns into hatred and division, God is calling us to rise above and stand together in community. God is calling us to come together and, as a community, choose love over hate, light over darkness and hope over fear. God is calling us to bridge divides, to reach out in service and to show compassion. God is calling us to be honest, humble and willing to compromise. God is calling us to show the rest of the world that is possible to come together in community even if everyone does not agree with one another. God is calling us to demonstrate what it means to be a community of faith, a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace.
Because that will make a difference in this world. That will make this world a better place for the next generation.
I love everything that we do together as a community. I love when we go kayaking together and go to baseball games together and compete in races together. I love Vacation Bible School and Beatles Sunday and the Christmas Bazaar. I love the Rally Day breakfast and the Soup Supper and the Dessert Auction. I love our fellowship and I love that Church is not just a one-hour Sunday morning time commitment.
But mostly I love that, through it all, we demonstrate what it means to be a community that is inspired by God’s presence, love and grace. We are at our strongest when we stand in the presence of God and allow ourselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit. We come together, knowing that it might not always be easy, but that God is always with us. We take the baptismal vows that we make to our children (and to their parents) seriously by creating and maintaining a safe space and community where they can grow, learn and serve. We welcome others into our midst so that they, too, might be moved and changed by the Gospel.
This morning’s scripture records that, “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” (Acts 2:42) I believe that this is still happening today. I believe that, when we come together, God is present. I believe that, even when we experience tragedy, God’s love will win. I believe that, even when we struggle, God’s grace can be uncovered. I believe that our community can and will change the world and make it better.
So today I invite all of us to open our eyes and, like the earliest Christians, stand in awe of the wonders and signs that are being done within our community of faith.
Thanks be to God!