Please listen once again to the words of our First Lesson, Acts 2:42-47… They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  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, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

If these words do not describe every pastors’ ultimate dream for their congregation, they really ought to.  This scenario is so ideal that some scholars have been led to believe that it is Luke’s description of how things should have been in the church, hoping to steer his readers in that direction.  I don’t know about that, but it describes something so perfect that it’s hard to imagine that any gathering of God’s children could ever really have been that good.

If you were to ask me if there was one thing that I’d like to see become much more widespread in our church family, what do you suppose I would say?  More consistent church attendance?  No.  Have our members’ generosity increase enough to double our budget?  No.  See a big increase in people volunteering to help out with Zion’s mission and ministry?  Nope.  How about having all of our members agree on everything?  Still, no.  Any guesses as to what I would love to see grow most significantly here at Zion?

The truth is, all of those good things could happen if the members of Zion “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship.”  In other words, I would love to see all of the members of our church family be committed to going deeper and deeper into the written word of God, so that the Living Word, Jesus the Christ, might go deeper and deeper into our hearts.  God’s Spirit does His work of strengthening faith and transforming lives primarily—perhaps exclusively—in connection with the word of God.  That is a core teaching of the Christian faith.

Yes, we can and must spend time in the word on our own, and in our homes with our families.  That is why I write “Going Deeper” devotionals almost every weekday morning.  I’m just trying to get each of us into the word.  But I have been committed for a long, long time to the belief that gathering with others around the word is absolutely essential to Christian growth.  It is essential to church growth.  If we individually and collectively desire to do the right things for the right reasons in our mission and ministry, we must be grounded in the Scriptures.  This is especially true for those who serve as leaders in a congregation.

A big component of these gatherings around the word is “fellowship.”  When you gather to study the Bible with others, you are not only drawn closer to God, but at the same time you are drawn closer to one another.  Ask the Tuesday night group!  It’s all about relationships—loving relationships with God and with one another.

When this happens, all of the other good things I just listed begin to unfold as well: attendance at worship will increase, as will generous stewardship of time, talent and treasure.  The unity in mission and ministry of the church will grow as we experience the truth that when we are rooted and grounded in love, God will accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine.

It is also important to note that there are two references to “breaking bread” in our text.  While we would see a sacramental connection here, we ought to also note that this calls for having fun together.  They broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” sounds like a party to me.  Strengthening our relationships-- our friendships-- with the people of our church family is also essential to everything else we do.

Some might take a look at the verse that says “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles” and conclude that such things are missing in most churches today… including our church.  No, I can’t point to any great and obvious miracles that have happened here at Zion…. And that is probably a good thing.  Miracles have far too often drawn attention to the human “miracle worker” rather than to God, or have become the focal point of everyone’s attention, rather than on God’s love and grace in Christ, and our mission.

At the same time, I do believe that “wonders and signs” can sometimes be seen in our day and in our congregation, but most often in the extraordinary acts of love, support, grace and service that can so powerfully mark the lives of God’s children.  Second century historian Tertullian reported that, upon observing the early Christians, the Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”  In this dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself world in which we live, a community of people who truly love one another stands out as the most powerful witness.

And when that love extends beyond the church to the surrounding community—and even to the ends of the earth—then the light of the Gospel shines most profoundly.   Zion, your light shines through the Wellington Food Bank ministry.  Zion, your light shines brightly in your homes and neighborhoods when you care for your friends and neighbors.  Zion, your light shines brightly as you touch lives in your outreach to Harvest Farm.  Zion, your light shines as you reach out to both churched and unchurched youth with the love of God in your new Monday night youth ministry.  Zion, your light is just beginning to burst forth as you seek to establish grace-centered cradle-to-grave ministries that have the potential to touch a multitude of lives in the near and distant future.  

Zion, the light of God’s love is shining right now in India as we have helped Desirae go there to do ministry and to perhaps prepare for a future mission trip for youth and adults from our congregation and community.  Zion’s light will shine through Blake Knipple as we do our part to help send him to Ecuador on a mission trip later this month. And our light will shine into the pervasive darkness of the Pine Ridge Reservation as youth and adults travel there next month for a week of service.

See how we love!  And rooted in the Word, in worship, in service, in love, “many wonders and signs” will be done among us.  As we continue to live “with glad and generous hearts, praising God,” we will experience the “goodwill of all the people…  And day by day the Lord will add to our number those who were being saved.”   

God’s Kingdom strengthened and extended.  There is no higher calling or purpose.  May the Holy Spirit of God so inspire and empower us.  Amen.

   April 2019   
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