Some Assembly Required: Better Together
Topic: Body of Christ Scripture: Ecclesiastes 4:9–4:12, Acts 2:42–2:47
In the past few months, my son, Isaac, has really gotten into LEGOS. I was really excited the first time I introduced him to a full LEGO set, a Star Wars one naturally. I’ll never forget his reaction when I opened the box and dumped out all the individually wrapped bags. Isaac just looked at me and said, “Why is it all broken?” There was a little misunderstanding in that he thought the fully assembled toy on the cover of the box would come out, not a bunch of little pieces. I told him that we had to put it together. That there was Some Assembly Required. This is why I’m convinced there is a massive conspiracy going on and that furniture conglomerates actually created the LEGO company to train us early on as children that we need to build the products we purchase. Hence, why none of us revolt when we encounter that massive box of wooden slats and random Allen wrenches when all we really want is that beautiful bookshelf we saw in the store.
But I digress. Since then, Isaac has become obsessed with his LEGO sets. He has put together, taken apart, and put together again the sets that he has several times over. He’s also tapped into that magic space of imagination and creativity and built his own starships, creatures, and robots. He loves putting the individual pieces together and either creating the intended object or just free-lancing and making something straight out of his mind’s eye. I’m sure other parents have seen this too. It’s really neat for me to sit there and have Isaac explain to me how these individual pieces serve a certain purpose when they are all put together.
Our new message series, Some Assembly Required, leans into that reality. Throughout this season of Lent, we will be exploring God’s design for the Church and how each of us fits into that design. Like an elaborate and exciting LEGO set, the Church is made up of many unique pieces that all serve specific purposes. The Church as a whole is meant to reflect the heart and presence of God in this world. That is the grand design. If we want to contribute to seeing that design become a reality, there are certain pieces we need to assemble together. Specific attributes or practices that, when brought together, foster a compelling and inspiring display of God’s love. Things like prayer, humility, calling, and others. Disciplines and commitments that help strengthen our relationship with God and put us in a powerful and personal position to share the love and presence of God with everyone we encounter. And the very first discipline or commitment we are going to explore is one that many of us might not even consider because sometimes it can feel so obvious: Fellowship. The very practice of being around one another, forging relationships, and doing life together. Fellowship is the conviction and belief that we are Better Together, and there is no more moving and inspiring display of this truth than that which we find in Acts 2:42-47. Let’s check it out.
This moment in the story of the earliest Christ-followers occurs after Jesus has already returned to heaven and after the supernatural and marvelous moment we call Pentecost. A rushing wind and tongues of fire bared witness to the arrival of the Holy Spirit upon all of the believers present that day in Jerusalem. People from over a dozen different regions heard and spoke with a voice that all could understand - which then gave way to Peter, the disciple whom Jesus had chosen to be the leader, offering a rousing message inviting all to accept the saving work of Christ and the promises of God. All of Acts 2 ranks up there as one of the most inspiring and exciting moments in the New Testament, and it then closes with our text that I just shared with you. A description of what many of your Bibles have as the subheading for this passage: The Fellowship the Believers.
It really is a warm, almost picturesque depiction of what the earliest gathering of Christ-followers looked like. We’re told several things. The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. In other words, they learned together, and as a community, they put into practice those things they learned. They prayed together. They celebrated God’s gifts and blessings together. As a community, they worked together to help and serve those who were in need, and they met together regularly. Another really important reality: They ate together. That’s right; we see the biblical mandate for potlucks right here. They worshipped together. They grew together. They prayed together. They marveled together. And, yes, they ate together. Bottom line: From the earliest form of a Christian community, it was very clear that they were Better Together than by themselves.
Fellowship is a word that you don’t normally hear outside of church context. Maybe if you’re talking to a big Lord of the Rings fan but not really much else, it’s the word we use to describe the intentional practice of community and relationship between Christ-followers. It might seem like such a common or simple thing, but we have all learned how vital and how meaningful fellowship is, especially in the last year. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” I’m sure many of us can recall times when that has been powerfully true in each of our stories.
We have all had moments and events in our lives that have not only been marked by but made more precious by the presence of other Christian brothers and sisters. Sometimes those moments are casual and common, like church suppers, small group gatherings, and serving at Safe Harbor together. Sometimes it’s the milestone or memory-maker moments: a baptism, Confirmation, a significant celebration. And sometimes, it is the presence of other believers that help us endure the hardest, most painful moments: the loss of a loved one, unexpected and heart-breaking news, those moments where we feel lost and have no idea what to do next. Through all of it, the sorrows and the celebrations, fellowship is that warmth, presence, and assurance we have that we are not alone, and it is reflected in every smile, embrace, text message, and every visit.
The value of fellowship cannot be understated. It’s foundational to the identity and make-up of the Church. From the earliest age, we foster community. Sunday School classes and Vacation Bible School. As kids grow, community becomes even more of a focus with opportunities like small groups, retreats, mission trips, and a weekly youth group gathering. We don’t stop at graduation. The Church creates spaces for adults as well. Small groups, classes, even committees. It should come as no surprise that any significant effort or focus of the Church, from property management to compassion and mission, are fostered and shouldered not by an individual but by a group of believers. That’s because we know it doesn’t matter if you’re a first-grader, a sophomore in high school, or an empty-nester; we are all Better Together. And when we are together, our experiences, personalities, and our gifts are used by God to help us grow personally and communally as the followers of Jesus Christ.
Now, I want to address the elephant in the room - the one six-feet away from us and wearing a mask or two. There’s no doubt about it. COVID-19 has had a monumental impact on both our understanding of and likely our need for Christian fellowship this past year. In fact, of all the pieces/practices we will talk about throughout this message series, I think it is safe to say that fellowship was the one that has been the most impacted by the pandemic. But that’s not to say fellowship disappeared or ceased entirely. No. Instead, we had to pivot toward creativity and find a new way. There were losses, absolutely. Relationships that were just forming that all of a sudden seemed to go on pause. Group dynamics were altered in a big way. And, thanks to ZOOM, we all immediately became aware of the fact that camera angles and lighting matter a whole lot more than we thought. But we’ve continued in our commitment to fellowship.
I’ll use the Monday morning Men’s Bible Study as an example. We had grown accustomed to meeting at a restaurant for breakfast and being able to sit around a table together for laughter, study, and prayer. One of the last times we met before the pandemic, I even brought Levi with me. Let me tell you; he was a big fan of Jerry Ringer. This had become a really meaningful way for me to start my week. And then it all had to change. Like most groups, we switched to ZOOM. And you know what, it has been alright. Rob Kelley does an incredible job leading our study, and to their credit, all the other men have learned it’s just as easy to poke fun at the pastor over ZOOM as it is in person. My point is this: Yes, fellowship was significantly impacted by the pandemic, but it also reestablished an important truth about genuine fellowship. If we value it, we will find it, whether it’s over the phone, a computer screen, or with a pen and a piece of paper. And I know several of you who are in small groups that found a way. I pulled into the church parking lot one day to find several ladies all seated in lawn chairs by their cars in a wide circle. We did a drive-through pledge drop-off, and Ann Lamkey drove house-to-house for Miss You Mondays just so she could see and be seen by the kids of our Church. We found a way to make fellowship happen even when safety and well-being mandated that we couldn’t do it the way we were used to. And we need to keep that up. We are not made for isolation. In it, only darkness grows. And it takes effort, especially during a pandemic. But Scripture reveals to us that fellowship is not simply an added benefit of being followers of Jesus. It’s intended to be a part of our very fabric, of who we are and what we are supposed to be in this world.
As we journey through this season of Lent, we will explore particular practices and commitments that enable us to most passionately and genuinely be the Church, be the followers of Jesus, in this world. We need each of these qualities, but we start by remembering that we need each other, that we are Better Together.