Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Snap Shot of Being God's Spirited People ( Acts 2:29-47)... Fire and Wind: Encountering the Holy Spirit In The Book of Acts and In Our Lives Today (part 2)

Our Bible class at Titirangi recently had a reunion. It was great catching up with people whom I hadn’t seen for over twenty years. One of the things about such events of course is that photos surface of what you were like back then.  They capture you in a certain moment in time, and it also makes you think just how much you have changed over the years and just possibly to do some re-evaluation of who you are and where you are going.

Take exhibit B here,… when I posted this comparison on facebook people commented asking me where the smile had gone. And no I’ve never smoked dope…One person even suggested I needed to give up ministry if it was having that effect on me and making me look so unhappy. It’s hard really to make those kinds of judgements on a snap shot. What I want to focus on today is the snapshot Luke gives us of the early church life in response to the coming of the Holy Spirit and look at what it can tell us today of the Spirit’s work in the Church.  

 Luke separates out incidence in the first part of Acts with short Summary Paragraphs. He paints pictures or takes snap shots of the church at several stages of its progress.  And down through church history how we are to use those snapshots has been a point of contention, some say is it just historical curiosity? They give us a glimpse as to what the Church was like, and that’s all, let’s face it things have changed so much since then.  At the other end of the spectrum people call for a radical reformation of the church back to its roots: We need to get back to being the church like it was in Acts… some do it uncritically without thought to the way things have changed.  John Polhill suggests its somewhere in between that the snapshots in Acts, acts as a lens to help us assess the church today. He says “Luke’s summaries present an ideal for the Christian community which it must always strive for, constantly return to and discover anew, if it is to have the unity of the spirit and purpose essential for an effective witness.”

We are working our way through the book of Acts, the series is called “Fire and Wind: encountering the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts and in our lives today’. And our main focus is the work of the Holy Spirit as it came in power in the life of that first community of believers. And Luke gives us a great snapshot of what that meant for the church in the summary we had read to us this morning and we want to explore it has to say to us today as God’s Spirited people ?


Of course in our reading today we sort of started in an awkward place, we started smack bang in the middle of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.  I wanted to do that because we need to put Luke’s summary paragraph in its context. As we saw last week Jesus had told his followers to wait in Jerusalem until they received the power of the promised Holy Spirit and they would Be Jesus witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.


They had done that and gone back and devoted themselves to prayer. Then at the festival of Pentecost, the promised Spirit had descended on them,  It was accompanied by signs, a sound like rushing wind and tongues of fire, which is where we get the title for this series from and as a sign of the parameters of their mission they had been enabled to speak in different languages, all the languages we are told of those gathered from the extent of the Jewish diaspora. Peter and the other eleven had stood up to explain what was going on to the crowd that gathered. His sermon, which we’ll look at more at Pentecost this year, is a great example of what it means to be a witness to Jesus. It highlights who Jesus is and how people can know what God was doing through him. In response we are told the number of believers grows from one hundred and twenty to over three thousand.  Then we get our picture of what that new community was like. How they lived in response to the coming of the Holy Spirit.


We are given insight in to what they devoted themselves to in verse 42, in v 43-47 we catch a glimpse of their routines and communal life and then in the second half of verse 47 we see the impact that had on the city round them.  John Stott provides a helpfully way for us to explore these verses by saying it shows a community that was known for four things…


 It was a learning church, it devoted itself to the teaching of the apostles, Ajith Fernando says that as they had just had three thousand new converts there was need to teach people about who Jesus was what he said and how it was to affect how they live. It reflects Jesus words in the great commission, that they were to teach those who were baptised to obey all that he, Jesus had commanded them. We don’t have that many examples of what the apostles taught, Paul shows us how he took the gospel and applied it to the situations the new churches found themselves in. Can I say going out on a limb a bit here, I wonder if the sermon on the mount, which I believe is central to church renewal, isn’t an example of the apostles teaching, not that it wasn’t Jesus words pure and simple, but had been put together like it is in Matthew as a teaching unit. It’s interesting down through church history one of the markers of spiritual renewal and revival has been a growth in a hunger for the word of God, and a willingness to allow it speak into our lives. That comes through in repentance and reformation. As we saw as we looked at John last year  the work of the Holy Spirit is to lead his people into all truth. We need to be a people whose minds and imaginations are immersed in and transformed by the Gospel. 


It was a loving church; they shared meals, they meet regularly, they meet in each other’s houses, they shared table fellowship, helped to meet each other’s needs from their own resources, it’s summed up by the word koinonia or fellowship, they had a ‘common life’ and shared things in common. They were known for their hospitality and generosity. People often wonder if this wasn’t some form of early communism, but the sharing of possessions dos not seem to be forced; rather they saw other people’s needs as more important than private ownership or their own comfort. In Acts 4 Barnabas is picked out for special mention because he sold a plot of land and gave the money to the apostles to distribute to the poor.  I often comment that the barriers to us loving one another are, the backs of each other’s heads at worship; which is why we have morning tea and a greeting time; the doors to each other’s houses; Christian community is all about hospitality, often our Bible’s, in small groups we can focus on the bible and forget to share our lives with each other, and our zips… no not that kind of zip… but the zips of our wallets. Again historically marks of moves of the Holy Spirit result in a genuine desire for unity and compassion and generosity for the poor.


Thirdly, it was a worshipping church: they devoted themselves to the prayers, in v 42 and attendance at the temple, these things show that they had regular times of public worship, and that they were still very much part of the Jewish community at the time. They also had their own times of worship, they regularly broke bread together, they celebrated communion, they experienced the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst, as we know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians this seems to have been part of a gathering for a common meal.   But is also tells us that they meet by themselves to worship, it says when they meet they rejoiced and praised God shows that in their meals together in their homes that they carried on that worship in everyday life and in small groups.


 It tells us that they were filled with awe at the signs and wonders that the apostles were preforming. There was a sense that they were aware of the moving of God in their midst. The words ‘signs and wonders’ are the same words used of Jesus miracles I the gospel and again show these miracles served the same purpose, they witnessed to the reality of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.


Again one of the markers of the move of the Holy Spirit or genuine revival is worship. People respond to God’s grace and God’s action with praise and thanksgiving. Not just in songs and singing, although music seems to come out of times of renewed encounter with God. But also in changed lives, new ways of living: The movement for the abolition of slavery can be seen to be a reaction to the moves of spiritual renewal in England and America.  People tend to equate moves of the Holy Spirit with manifestations of the Spirit in ‘signs and wonders’, maybe, it more that we become aware of God’s presence with us, while its right to be in awe of these things, genuine renewal is a rediscovery of the manifesto of the spirit, living as God’s spirited people, more than the manifestations of the Spirit.


We also need to be aware of the importance of prayer in the life of the church as well. There is some debate over whether this passage talks of set times of liturgical prayer, which would have been the case with the temple being in Jerusalem or being an element of everyday life. Once again the desire to pray is a sign of the move of the Holy Spirit.


Lastly, they were an evangelistic church, (yup Howard said the “E” word) both their message spoken and proclaimed by the apostles and their communal life witnessed to the Risen Jesus Christ. It resulted in them finding favour with the people and God adding to their number those who were being saved.  You may have heard it said ‘proclaim the gospel and if you must, use words’ that is not a biblical statement. Here we see that the way the new community lived attracted people to the gospel message, as generosity, hospitality and genuine love will do, but in giving thanks to God they must also have told the story of what God has done for them. But alongside that we know that the apostles were teaching and preaching, we will see their actions in healing the lame beggar leading to chances to share about Jesus Christ. We also need to remember that this whole summary comes out of Peter’s sermon and peoples responses. Possibly the best way to understand it is the metaphor that Joseph Aldrich uses of the gospel being a great song… the proclamation is the lyrics and our lives are the tune which makes the words catchy. Either way Luke is quick to tell us that it was the Lord who added daily to their number those who were being saved. AS Paul says to the Corinthians ‘one plants one waters but it the Lord who bring growth. One of the signs of the Holy Spirit moving in a church  is a growing concern and car for those outside the faith, in prayer and in action.  


Ok how do we bring this from the then and there to the here and now.


A couple of challenges, the first is the challenge that the idea of Christian community has to the individualistic society in which we live. Which seems to go contra to the Koinonia or common life of the Acts church, we tend to see ourselves as Christians first and community or church second, our faith is an individual thing, but in scripture it is inseparable from being part of a Christian community.  Of having a common life that has a regular rhythm to it. It’s not just to be fitted in round everything else.  I know we don’t get much information in acts about how they fitted things in with work and family and education and entertainment and sports and well life really. It does give us the word devoted themselves, which speaks of prioritising and persevering with. Many new communities are finding that having common rhythms and rituals of daily prayer, regular gatherings and meals help to build that sense of community and encourage each other in the faith. Being God’s spirited people actually calls us to be a prophetic people, to live in a new way, and I wonder if that change in priorities may not be what our busy-ness addicted society actually needs.


Finally, the power and vitality for community comes from the increasing presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Darrell Bock says   A Vibrant Community extends itself in two directions: towards God and towards neighbour." -.


Our vision here at St Peter’s reflects that  

That we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable Community

Growing as followers of Jesus Christ

And inspiring others to join us on that journey .


Let pray for more of the Spirit’s presence and power to continue making that vision a reality.


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