On the beginning of the first Christian community and how we follow in their footsteps. Preached at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Comox May 7, 2017.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. –Acts 2:42
Sorry…who are they? They are the three-thousand who, having heard St. Peter preach at Pentecost, were baptized and let their stories be totally remade in the story that God is writing in the world. They are the three thousand who, hearing who Jesus was and what He had done, were cut to the heart and reached out to receive Him.
What did they do? They devoted themselves. In response to the liberation from their old ways and identities into the presence of the Holy Spirit they devoted themselves. They clung. They submitted. They turned in discipline and commitment. Beloved this is about the Christian life. This is about life in the Spirit. The living out, the response to the life that was poured out into them, was the practice of clinging to the teaching of the apostles, clinging to the fellowship of the new community, clinging to the breaking of bread and clinging to the way that is prayer.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They had the advantage of knowing Peter, James, Thomas, Bartholomew, Mark. They could sit at their feet and learn. They even later would help Paul understand who this Jesus was that he encountered. We don’t have that advantage.
How do we cling to the apostles’ teaching? Well in part we read the words that these new disciples held on to. We receive the words of Peter and Mark and John and Paul and Luke recorded by their scribes and students who were steeped in this community of disciples. We learn from them to cling to the Word of God, the Old and New Testaments opened up for us by the movement of the Holy Spirit and the person of Jesus Christ. We see how the apostles’ understood Jesus’ teachings and the law and the writings and the prophets to test our own understanding. We read others who were close to the community, we see the history of the understandings they rejected and why they were rejected through prayer, study of God’s Word, events of providence and the movement of the Holy Spirit. I hope that I as a pastor have a role in this for you. For Jim and I and others are set apart to help you in this work devoting time and energy to study and discernment for the preservation, continuity and teaching of the apostolic witness. That’s what we’re doing here, right now, is clinging with our whole selves to that teaching.
They devoted themselves to fellowship. The call into the Christian life is the call into Christian fellowship rooted in that teaching. Another way of saying that is that the call into the Christian life is the call into the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. You know those words. We’re called into loving one another in the love and peace we receive from Christ Jesus. We are called to spend time together as a people set apart. To work together. To encourage one another. To challenge one another. To rejoice together. To have fun together. To praise God together. To be members of Christ’s body for our identity is now tied into his body and our being is tied into the unity of the saints. One might say the blessed company of all faithful people.
They devoted themselves to breaking bread. On one level we may understand from this that they ate together. It is good to eat together and I think a good thing for Christians to do. We may also see it to mean that the three-thousand kept a commandment that Jesus left for them. That commandment being to take bread, bless it and give thanks for it in remembrance of Him. Jesus promised that in the breaking of the bread the faithful would receive forgiveness for our sins, and his body given for us. We gather here to receive the satisfaction of God’s wrath against us fulfilled in his atonement upon the cross. We gather here to receive the unconquered love of God for us made manifest. We gather here to receive the resurrected life and a foretaste of its fulfillment in the age to come. We gather here in the breaking of the bread, the breaking out of who we are, out of our pain and rage and impatience and discord and destructive impulses, into who we are: the Light of God shining forth in the world.
They devoted themselves to prayer. The Holy Spirit made His home in them. And in this renewed story, this renewed relationship with God they devoted themselves to the conversation; to the dance. We are called into prayer that we might know God and let ourselves experience His deep knowing of us.
This is all a package deal. We are called into the reception of the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship of the saints, the break that breaks us and is broken for us, and communion with God in prayer. They all come together in the reception of life by the Christian from God.
Lancelot Andrewes is one of my favourite preachers. When he talks about this passage he finds it necessary to talk a lot about imagination. Our hearts have an amazing capacity to imagine and that can bring glory to God as we fulfill his imprint in us creating as images of the Creator in harmony with the reality of who He is. But we also have to guard our hearts for true prayer is rooted in an encounter with the Truth of he who is the Truth. We don’t conjure up God from the imagination of our hearts. Such a conjuring is idolatry. Lancelot Andrewes reminds us to anchor our experience of prayer in the reality of who God is. We test our experience against the teaching of the apostles, our eternal community that is the fellowship of the saints, and Jesus whom we meet in the breaking of the bread.
And so we, having encountered God in our lives, or hoping to encounter Him, join in fellowship here with those three-thousand. We follow their example clinging to the teaching of the apostles, that fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the lifting up of our Hearts to him always in prayer.