Monday, July 11, 2016

Pushing Boundaries - The Shared Life

Preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016

Scripture reading: Acts 2:36-47

There was a man who finally let his friend drag him to a Bible study, and what surprised him most was that he actually enjoyed it. He told the people he worked with about it the next day: “It was amazing. None of us knew anything and we all taught each other!”
Orange County California Coast
June 2016
In the beginning of what we call the church, being a follower of Jesus was a little bit like that. Everything was a surprise. The apostles were in charge, but they had no idea what would happen next. They had no idea what they would do next.
Peter didn’t know he was going to preach that sermon we just read the end of. He didn’t know that anyone was going to listen to him. He didn’t know that following Jesus was going to be like running through a series of explosions.
One of my favorite Christian jokes is this. Do you know how to make God laugh?
Tell him your plans.
After Jesus was crucified, after the disciples thought that Jesus’ plan had failed, Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus was stronger than death. Jesus must have had a good laugh over the plans of the godly people who had crucified him. What a surprise he gave everyone!
Let’s say that this was the first really big surprise? So then the disciples planned to watch Jesus conquer the world and rule as King in Jerusalem, which is what they had hoped for all along. Jesus had surprised them by dying, and then by rising from the dead; king of the world.
It’s as if Jesus laughed at this plan, because his next move was another surprise. Jesus promised to be with them always; and he did this by flying up to heaven, and leaving them on earth.
For at least the next few minutes, they expected him to come back with an army of angels to become the king of the world. But there were only a couple angels and these told them to stop looking up at the sky and standing around for Jesus. The reminder was for them to go back to Jerusalem to wait for the Spirit of God to come and fill them up.
Well, Jesus had told them that the next big thing coming was that the Spirit of God would make them able to be witnesses for him all over the world. The Spirit would enable them to speak for Jesus and to be the living evidence of Jesus to the world.
So when the Holy Spirit came, like wind and fire, into the room where they were praying, they went out onto the street, and some people said they were acting and sounding like babbling drunks. That was a surprise. Then Peter said that that couldn’t be true, because it was only nine o’clock in the morning. And so, by surprise, Peter gave the first sermon joke. And so, three thousand people believed that Jesus (for whom a lot of them had shouted for him to be crucified) was the true king of the kingdom of God.
What could be more natural? Or else, what could be more completely unexpected and unplanned? Jesus had always been the master of surprise, and he was still doing it.
I would say that the really big change, the really big surprise, after the Holy Spirit filled the disciples, was that Jesus, the master of surprise, was making his followers, and their life together, into a great big surprise.
The first surprise after the surprise of Pentecost, and all those new followers of Jesus, was the surprise of their new life together: this shared life.
There are about ten different components to that new life; that shared life, and that’s too many to talk about now. One of those things I have noticed is the presence of words like: “together”, “everyone”, “all”, “anyone”, “common”, and most of all “fellowship”.
Fellowship is the key issue for me today. It’s a strong word and Christians both overuse it, and scale it back, and weaken it. The word, in Greek, is “koinonia”. The root of the word appears a second time in our reading where Luke says that “all believers were together and had everything in common.” Later on, in the fourth chapter, Luke says this: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)
I’ve seen some of that sharing between you and me, since I crashed my car, and I have been offered multiple cars, if I need them.
In Spanish the famous phrase for sharing hospitality is: “Mi casa es su casa.” My home is your home. The first followers of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit meant that literally.
There were special circumstances and special needs that made that sharing necessary, but there are many times when we refuse to do what’s necessary. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many churches choose not to do what’s necessary.
The big surprise, and the actual miracle, was that the Holy Spirit made the merely necessary into the possible. And the Holy Spirit took what was possible and made it actual. The Holy Spirit inspired his people to do a human miracle. The Spirit made the life of his people into a miracle of partnership.
Even “partnership” is too weak a word for koinonia. The people of Jesus (the people of the Holy Spirit) belong to each other. That’s what fellowship and the shared life means.
If I said that I own you, I would be completely off base on this belonging thing. There are people (including some Christians) who think they own other people; or they think they own their church.
Koinonia just means that I belong to you and you belong to me.
Maybe being family would be another way of saying it. In some churches they call each other brother and sister.
I believe that this shared life goes much farther than the brothers and sisters of a family. Although the early church also thought of themselves as brothers and sisters within a common family. It’s much more than a church thing. When you read the Book of Acts, you can see that the first followers of Jesus saw the whole world that way. Surely this is why their partnership enjoyed “the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:47)
I can’t say “I own you” but I can say “I owe you”. If I am full of the Holy Spirit (who is also the Spirit of Jesus) I will start looking at everyone I meet and think: “I owe you. I owe you Jesus.” That is part of our belonging to each other and it’s even part of our belonging to the world.
In the next chapter, Peter and John were going to worship in the Temple and they saw a lame beggar begging for charity. The beggar looked at them and asked them directly for money. It was how he made his living.
This was part of the faith of the Jewish people, to give to those in need. Those in need were needed by everyone else so that they had someone to give to. This continues to be part of the Jewish faith: you need to give to the needy, so the needy are completely necessary if anyone else is going to express their devotion to God.
With Peter and John, a first, quiet miracle happened. Luke tells us that “Peter looked straight at him, as did John.” (Acts 3:4) They experienced a miracle of looking and seeing. They looked at the beggar and they saw a person to whom they were going to give Jesus. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6)
When the Holy Spirit fills you, you look at other people and you say to yourself: “I owe them Jesus.”
This is the life the first followers of Jesus shared. This is what made some people fear them, and hate them. This is also what made many people love them. This was the “koinonia” that the people of Jesus shared. It was the new life that they owed to everyone.
When we look at the people of faith around us, the miracle of looking at them and really seeing them shows us that we belong to each other. That’s what we see. When we look at the people who are not in touch with the greatness and beauty of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, the miracle of looking at them and really seeing them shows us that we belong to them and that they belong to us.
We owe them Jesus. This comes from the gift of the shared life, and that life comes from Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t come from you or me. It is a miracle. It’s a miracle that comes from something real. It comes from what Jesus has done. It comes from the cross. It comes from Jesus dying for your forgiveness and mine, and for everyone we see, when we really see them.
It’s in the message that Peter preached on the street.
It involves repentance. It begins there, but repentance is never a thing you leave behind, because you have built your life on it. The foundation of our life is Jesus, but repentance is the first layer on that foundation. Our life, built on Jesus has to be Jesus-shaped. But it also has to stay repentance-shaped. And the shared life depends upon repentance. There is no other way that we can succeed at belonging to each other.
In the Old Testament Hebrew, repentance means turning around, making an about face, and retracing your steps, and going backward. In math, you often check your work, and fix it, by doing it backwards. Repentance means the willingness to change.
The Greek word for repentance means to get a new mind. It means leaving your old mind and your old heart, and getting new ones. We can never succeed at living a shared life without this.
The forgiveness of sins is a powerful gift that comes from Jesus wounded, and bleeding, and dying for us. For me, firming up my commitment of my life to Jesus required me to say “yes” to that gory and bloody mess on the cross. Since he did that for me, I can’t say no to him. I can’t say no to that.
Being forgiven, I must forgive others, and this can be so hard to do. That doesn’t matter. Because of Jesus, I owe forgiveness to others and to you, and you owe that same debt of forgiveness. The shared life is impossible without that power.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is the power of God and the work of Jesus. With this, all things are possible. If we share this among ourselves we will be changed. We owe this to each other. But we also owe this to the world. Jesus and his Spirit have made this necessary, if we want to live the life to which they call us.  

The Lord’s Supper tells us what we owe to each other and to the world around us. It also gives us what we owe. The Lord’s Table is the gift of Jesus. Jesus has given it to us as the place where we meet him and receive, by faith, a new shared life: a life we share with him, and with each other, and with the world.

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