Today’s reading comes from Act 2:42-47, and takes place almost two months after Christ’s resurrection. The followers of Jesus have just had an experience of the Holy Spirit that will change their lives forever. In the New Living Translation this story is titled, “The Believers Form a Community.”
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Today’s “core rock on which Orleans United is built” – if you haven’t figured it out already – reminds and encourages us “to build and nurture community.” We believe community is where Christian faith is at its best, at its strongest, at its most dynamic, but not always at its easiest. On our own, living like good Christians seems so simple and pure, right? But mix us up with other believers and disagreement, disappointment, and dissatisfaction seem inevitable. So that most talk about Christian community seems just a little too perfect, a little too good to be true.
Take February’s Stewardship word, for example … did you notice it in Life and Work a few weeks ago? The word is BELONG, taken from our new logo: “Orleans United Church – BELIEVE. BELONG. BECOME. We printed it again this week as a reminder, and defined it as living “in meaningful relationship with like-minded people.” So far, so good. But the narrative description that follows is where we test its truthfulness. “It really feels good to belong to a caring community, where people are excited to be together, are genuinely interested in each other, and are always looking out for one another. Add to that a shared belief in the love of Christ, and that’s what connects us as a faith family. At OUC, we take belonging seriously!”
Now I really like the sentiment of what’s described there, but I’m not always convinced that we live up to the claim – not that we don’t want to, it’s simply not that easy to be perfect. So if what you’re looking for here or in any other church is perfect Christian community, well you might be searching for a long time.
Similar visions are reflected in Tom’s hymn this morning, in our Lenten Affirmation, and when I look closely at the Acts reading, the vision of the perfect Christian community is there too. Certain scholars observe that the image of the first Christian church described there in Acts casts an unrealistic expectation on every other Christian community in every generation, including that very first one … who could ever be that perfect? … who could ever live up to that? And that may be the point of this description in Acts.
What if it stands not as a judgment against every attempt to form a faithful community, but as a description of the qualities and values which faithful Christian community not only aspires to, but also which it can inspire? What if we read this Acts story and name the actions and attitudes that build up and nurture community … things like renewing your dedication to learning, choosing to hang out more together, sharing coffee or a meal with church friends, old and new … things like finding new ways to pray with each other, making Sunday worship a priority, telling a friend about something that touched your heart in church this week … things like being more generous in the way you share money, food, faith with people who need help inside and outside the church, inviting someone new into your friendship circle, attending a Lenten midweek gathering with others … things like joyfully sharing an encouraging word, lovingly sharing a compassionate gesture, thoughtfully sharing a new insight or discovery … things like praising God in everyday ways, enjoying the goodwill of your church family, expressing your faith at church as well as at home, at work, at school, at the gym, at the coffee shop, at the pub, at the hair stylist, at the grocery store … wherever.
This is how we build and nurture community, by striving to live church values as God imagines them. This is how we experience the presence of Christ’s Spirit, by trusting that whenever and wherever 2 or 3 are together because of our church connection, we positively contribute to the quality and character of Orleans United and beyond. Striving to fulfill God’s spirit of community is a self-fulfilling reality – we actually experience today who we are becoming.
One of the things I appreciate about the way this core rock is framed, is its understanding that the spirit of community comes as a God-inspired gift to us (remember LEGO, and how each of us is created to connect with others for a bigger purpose), and that through us (as a church) this spirit of community becomes an offering we can share at home in our families and outside in our neighbourhood. As we strive to embrace and embody community values as a church we help build up community in our world. This conviction about the spirit of community is not about creating an exclusive group known as the church, but rather about serving the world by encouraging God’s spirit of community everywhere. This may be, after all, the saving grace in Christ, which God has given us to share.
In my neighbourhood travels recently I happened on a poster called “How To Build Community” with dozens of practical suggestions like: turn off your TV; look up when you’re walking; use your library; buy from local merchants; take children to the park; have potlucks; pick up litter; ask for help when you need it … you get the idea. Worth considering.
What if we made a similar poster with ways to build OUC’s community? What would you add to the list? Let me get you started: introduce yourself to someone who’s name you don’t know; look for them next week and say hello by name; go to the hall for fellowship time after worship; attend one of the mid-week Lenten programs; contact an OUC person you haven’t seen in a while; write notes of appreciation to church volunteers who inspire you; help out at church; reach out through church … you get the idea. As you help build this beautiful faith community here, you’ll begin to value Christ’s love shared in ever widening and circles … and you’ll discover our true identity and purpose as a Christian church. Each of you is made for community. That’s how God made us all!