Thank God! For Community (11am)
Topic: Community Scripture: Acts 2:42–2:47
Alright, this week we are starting a brand new, four-week message series. Our series is called “Thank God!” As in, Thank God with an exclamation point. I’m not talking about the timid kind of thanks we might say during grace around the table. I’m talking the kind of “Thank God!” that comes with an arm pumping, loud voice, whooping with excitement kind of Thank God. It’s funny, we use that term – Thank God – pretty often but if you’re like me, it’s not always or even usually said as a prayer. It’s more of an acknowledgement and a sigh of relief. Like when the neighbor’s dog finally stops barking at 11:30pm at night, or when you were starving and your dad finally got home with the pizza.Thank God has become a statement that really doesn’t communicate much of either of those words. Most of the time the thanking part is more of an obligation than anything else and the mention of God really only seems to be a kind of verbal garnish. For the next four weeks, we’re going to try and change that. We’re going to explore four key elements of our lives and explore how we can not only express genuine thankfulness for those things but we’re also going to try and open our eyes to the presence and generosity of God in each of them and why He gives them to us in the first place
The first element or aspect of life that we’re going to look into is a pretty common one. How many of you have ever had that time right before diving into Thanksgiving dinner when everyone goes around the table and says what they are thankful for? What’s one of the first things to come up? Yeah, family. Friends. We might say family or friends or maybe even our church. The word I want to use is Community.
Community is kind of a buzzword right now, especially for churches. We talk about it in a lot of areas. We talk about retirement communities, community development projects, some churches even include the word community in their name. The word community has a wide usage but ultimately its definition is simple. A community is a group of people who share something or a feeling of belonging and fellowship with folks we share something with.
Recently, I’ve had one particular community to be very thankful for. They are a real gift. Just special people who speak my language and who get me. Folks who I can really let my guard down with and just be myself. We usually get together on Sundays…at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’m talking about a group of fellow Philadelphia Eagles fans in town. The group was organized by a guy named Ed. He’s actually the owner of Teresa’s Italian Ice on Fort Jesse Road. It’s fantastic being able to be with a group of people who share the same passion as you do. People who you can celebrate with and even commiserate with.
The same should be true for the community of the church. From that first time Jesus stood within earshot of common people like Peter and James and called for them to “Follow Me”, the church has been about people walking together in close proximity to Jesus. Not perfect people. Not even people who had it mostly all together. Just people who made the decision to be near to Jesus regardless of how confusing, unbelievable, or dangerous it may be.
That first collection of outcasts, strangers, and every day average people grew to what we now call the church. We get another snapshot of the church. Of what it looks like having known the person of Christ and having witnessed His death and resurrection. In Acts, we see what the church looked like when they have gone from being a people who merely followed Jesus to a people who would be known for their intimacy with and resemblance of Jesus. This snapshot is our text today and it’s in Acts 2:42-47.
* Read Acts 2:42-47 *
There really is no better benchmark definition for what we call the community of the church. It has everything. Commitment, the love of truth, intimacy, excitement, fellowship, quality time, commonality, selflessness, generosity, warmth, devotion, and – because of the love and truth of Christ and the way it was embodied in this community – it was spreading like wildfire. Every day more and more people formerly outside the community were so captivated by the lives of these Christ followers that they decided to join in.
And all of this happened within the vessel of community. We don’t read that individually and on their own time, each person found their own space to do these things. There are no singular pronouns used in Acts 2:42-47. It is all they’s and everyone’s. This is a community.
Now, to be sure, the church is not the only community we should be thankful for. Not at all. In fact, the church should include pretty much all of the other communities we hold close to our hearts. Family, friends, neighbors. This series is about thankfulness but it’s not about the trait of thankfulness. It’s about recognizing the unique and beautiful gifts God gives us and being reminded of both His goodness and the immensity of how He can use each of the things we talk about for the next 4 weeks. This morning, that means community.
That means the affection between a parent and a child. It means the covenantal bond shared by spouses. It means the sometimes annoying but enduring sibling relationship. It means the shared heart of friendship. It could even mean the solidarity of rooting for the same team or even just enjoying the same hobby. When I was in high school my youth pastor told me about the Jeep wave. He owned a Jeep and told us how other Jeep owners just had this sort of wave and nod they used on the road that marked their membership in this exclusive automotive collective. Community can mean a lot of things. And it certainly, definitely should and does mean the church.
Do you want to know one of the reasons I know community is so important? Because Community is the very nature of God. Our God exists within and out of a perpetual, eternal, all-loving communal relationship. We call this the Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit existing as one God in three unique persons. Any intimacy we think we understand is only the slightest reflection of the Ultimate Intimacy found within the Triune God. One theologian says this: “The dance of Trinitarian love has far-reaching implications. It points to the experience of friendship, caring family relationships, and an inclusive community of free and equal persons as faint hints or intimations of the eternal life of God and of the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed.”
If community is the very nature and reality of God and we are created in His image with His breath and if we are called to be a people who follow and resemble the heart of Jesus – who is the very image of God – then community must be a thriving and ever-present reality of our lives.
This isn’t to say community is always perfect and that it never gets messy. In fact, community can be downright dangerous. Just a few weeks ago I had one of you come up to me and say, “So, I hear our associate pastor is quite a rowdy one.” I’m dumb-founded and wondering what she was talking about and I guess it showed on my face. “Yeah, whooping and hollering and carrying on. And all you were drinking was water too.” That tipped it. I asked her if she was at Buffalo Wild Wings on Sunday. You see, I get pretty animated when I watch the Eagles. I drum my hands, jump around, clap people on the back, and basically never lower my voice. Somehow, one of our members knew that now. It turns out that one of the couples in that Eagles group I mentioned earlier is neighbors to this certain First Pres member. They were talking and my name came up and the neighbor told her all about it. In true community, we let our guard down. And sometimes it gets us snarky remarks in return. But community is worth it.
And community is a vital and necessary element of our lives. Perhaps when it comes to family and friends, that’s obvious. But it is also true about the community of the church. The world needs the community of the church. If we look at our text we should notice a profound and powerful ripple effect. In their relationship and devotion to Christ, the believers of Acts 2 built up and enriched each other. The single life of Christ touched and transformed the lives of 12 men. Those 12 then touched and transformed more lives. We then reached the church of Acts 2. Then those lives, in faithfulness to God and neighbor, touched and bettered the lives of those in need. And we read that every day the number of people saved by the grace of Jesus, as expressed by the community of the church, grew every day. Then and now, the world needs the community of the church. There is nothing that can substitute it.
I know this to be true because of my own story. Not only did the world need the church. Matt needed the church. Middle school Matt. Matt who recently lost his mother. Matt who was raw and reeling and lost. I needed the community that only the people of God could offer. And by the grace of God, I found it. In a church down the street from my home. It was in that place that Jesus found me. It was in that space where I was shown who and, more importantly, whose I was. I learned about a Savior. I learned about a cross. I learned about a new life, an everlasting life. And I received a call. But I also became a part of a community like the one we read about in Acts 2.
I gained what is affectionately called church-moms. Ladies who made it their priority to shower me with all the affection and discipline of a mother figure. They did everything from embrace me to ask me about my grades to chide me about whether I had a girlfriend or not. I gained brothers and sisters in faith. Other teens who I played with and prayed with and cried with and got in fights with and loved. I gained mentors and influences. Youth leaders who, for one reason or another, took an interest in me and believed it was their God-given responsibility to help me grow in life and faith. Davin drove me to and from church twice every Sunday for church and youth group. He also served as my first accountability partner. Oddly enough, he’d later become my first real estate agent as well. RJ, a middle-aged man with a daughter of 4 or 5, took me out to breakfast once a month to check in with me. How I was doing, How I was growing. Where my heart was. And Andy, my youth pastor. Andy was the one who showed me faithfulness comes with responsibility. That serving God meant serving others. He was the one who placed in my mind the notion that God had a plan for my life, a plan to serve in ministry. It taught me the standards of that kind of call, the burden it carries, and the blessings it can produce.
Ann and Conner and I had the opportunity to attend an Orange conference in Indy this week. We were immersed in all things discipleship and family ministry. One of the speakers said this: “The best gift we can give to kids is to give them a consistent community.” I’m a living embodiment of that truth. I needed the community of the church. Just like every kid and teen in this church does. It’s why I’m so thrilled to hear about all the great stuff Ann and Conner are doing with our little ones and our students. If you have a teenager who isn’t going to youth group, encourage them to go. If they say no, make them. As a former youth pastor myself, I always would rather have a kid at youth group who was forced to be there rather than the one that never showed up. I was reluctant as a kid but participating in and growing with that community when I was a teen thoroughly and entirely changed and shaped my life.
Alright, so I hope you can appreciate and grasp just how crucial community is but particularly the community of the church. Both what we see in Acts 2 and what God has grown and fostered here at First Pres. So what do we do? Where do we go from here?
Well, first off, if this series is about thankfulness and this particular message is about people then it would be pretty silly for me to not give you the challenge to thank certain people in your life. Maybe it’s your parents. Or your kids. Or a close friend. Or a volunteer or leader here at the church. Maybe it’s someone from your past you haven’t spoken to for a while. Maybe it’s someone you barely know. Express your thankfulness to those people. In the car ride home, maybe. Write and mail a letter. Shoot a text. People love to be told, “Thank you.” It makes us feel valued and valuable. So, friends, if you’ve got a person or people on your heart – tell them thank you.
And finally, in terms of this place. If you're thankful for the church, for this church, here’s what I want you to do: Show it. Saying “thank you” to Larry or me for a sermon is nice, but it’s not what I’m talking about. When I show it, what I mean is, serve it. Serve the church. If you’re not serving in some way, figure out where to. Talk to me, to Larry, and we will help you if you need. If you love this place, invest in it. Don’t tell yourself you’re too busy. If Davin or RJ or Andy had told themselves they were too busy to spend time with middle school Matt, I wouldn’t be here right now. There is way too much at stake. In the lives of our kids, in this community of Bloomington-Normal, in this world. There is too much at stake for any of us to say we’re too busy to serve. That’s how we show our gratitude. That’s how we really express both the word “thank” and the word “God”. That’s how we can truly, honestly, meaningfully proclaim: “Thank God for community!” Let’s pray.