Sermon. May 10, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
The passage in Acts 2 describes the life of the first Jesus communities that formed the early church. The passage is set in Jerusalem soon after the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to build the church.
At first the communities that formed around Jesus Christ were called the Way. This passage looks at how these Jesus communities practiced being the Way of Jesus.
We can identify five practices which some have called the purpose of the church. Before looking at these practices we need to understand that the community of the Jesus Way was essentially a network of small house churches.
What is described in the passage is a set of daily practices set in and around the Temple in Jerusalem. This includes gathering every day in the Temple courts in Jerusalem to hear the Apostles’ teaching. And it involves gathering every evening in a multitude of houses to break bread together.
The Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. The specific practices described in the passage would not be possible after that. However, those five practices that can be seen as the purpose of the church continued.
This small house church network became the model for Jesus communities, the Way, throughout the Roman Empire. People of the Way would gather every day to pray and to eat together in the breaking of bread.
The five practices that form the core purpose of the church include:
- Deepening the relationships and fellowship of the People of the Way with one
another in their life together.
- Growing as disciples of Jesus as they followed the Jesus Way.
- Being equipped for the work of ministry.
- Reaching out to others, especially their friends, relatives, and neighbors, with
an invitation to join the Jesus Way community.
- Loving God with their whole being in worship and in prayer.
Taken together these five practices held the Jesus Way community together through many hardships and intense persecution by Roman authorities.
The Jesus Way communities not only survived, they thrived. During this time the vast majority of people who were not wealthy were considered disposable. Their only value was work that brought in more taxes for the Empire and more wealth for the wealthy.
They were left to barely survive on the scraps left over after the Empire and the wealthy took their cuts. For many day laborers, they only eat those days they fund work. Or through bread and circuses provided by wealthy patrons who demanded loyalty.
Into this mix of poor people was this network of small house churches. These People of the Jesus Way loved one another. They broke bread together every night making sure everyone in the community had enough food to eat.
They worshiped God and understood that each person was a child of God, formed in God’s image. They too were once not a people, disposable workers for Empire and wealthy patrons. But now they were a people. God’s people. People of the Jesus Way.
During this time of public health crisis when we are safest sheltering in place in our homes, and this time economic crisis when one out of five have lost their jobs, the five practices of the Jesus Way communities become very relevant for people’s lives.
During this sermon time during the next several weeks I want to look at each of these five practices. How they might be adapted in our situation. How we can face this time of crisis as People of the Jesus Way.
I want to start with the practice that is the hardest for many people. At least those who are either new to the church or who were raised in the mainline tradition.
Evangelism. Please don’t fast forward the video! It will be okay.
Evangelism is just a fancy, old fashioned term for Invitation.
Many of us see evangelism as the “slap in the face” method of outreach. I call it this because of an experience I once had in a Peace March.
I was a marshal or peacekeeper for this peace march. As we marched through the streets of central Philadelphia I was responsible for getting people safely across intersections and the like.
There was a group of women from Norway who joined this peace march and they were passing out flyers to people passing by. They didn’t speak English.
As I moved from one end of the peace march to the other one of these women tried to hand me a flyer. I tried to decline, saying that I was part of the peace march.
She slapped the flyer into my face. I took the flyer.
None of us wants to be face slapped with an evangelism message. And we don’t want to face slap others. So we decline any effort toward evangelism.
Imagine however you are planning a wedding. So who should you invite to the reception?
Your fiancée is against sending invitations. Let’s not be pushy. Let’s just see who shows up.
Whereas the face slap method is what we fear, the no invitations to the wedding reception method is what we practice. We need a way between these two extremes, that invites without slapping faces.
The Acts passage describes evangelism as being the result of the other four practices. Evangelism isn’t the first practice, it’s the last.
In the communities of the Jesus Way evangelism took place as they engaged in all of the practices. As they deepened their relationships with one another in fellowship.
As they grew in discipleship learning about and following the Jesus Way. As they engaged in ministry in the community around them. As they gathered to pray and worship God, breaking bread together.
In a very real way the essence of evangelism in these small house church networks was an invitation. An invitation to join them in their evening dinner party held in remembrance of Jesus Christ and the love of God.
And this was an invitation given to people who were considered disposable by the government and by the wealthy. An invitation that let people know that their lives mattered to God and to this Jesus Way community.
We can offer this invitation today. We can bring the five practices of the Jesus Way community to life. We can do this from our homes. Let us begin….