Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith – May 7, 2017
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
This reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is sometimes called Life Among the Believers. Let us read together what Luke has written.
42 They (the early believers) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is going to be a different kind of a sermon today.
I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately as we begin to tell our story about who we are to people places that might want to support us so that we can keep on doing what we’re doing.
Conveying a sense of ministry with such a non-traditional church isn’t easy with some of these grants because they only give you a prescribed maximum number of words that you can use to explain it.
People are believing in what we are trying to do here.
People like the Synod of the Northeast which consists of all of the Presbyterian Churches in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I’ve included some information about what the Synod does on your Membership insert.
We have now been awarded money from that body – the Synod. $34,000 over the next two years and it is to support our Acts of Faith Model of Ministry – in particular, what we are doing to share office resources with other churches and work on developing leaders for each of our Acts of Faith.
And as part of that process, I put together some data about who we are.
Y’see – we, at Fellowship of Faith, we see only what happens HERE on Sunday morning and we might think, “Oh. That’s Church!” If we happen to be part of CLASS ACT or Sing for Joy! or the Saturday morning Bible Study, then we’re aware of those things, too. But if not … then our ONLY experience of South Church is through this one activity – Sunday morning worship here in the Parks Room.
This worship service is one PART of South Presbyterian Church. It is 1/16 of what we do in the community. And those events that we review at the beginning of worship every week? Those things that are happening during the week? Those are some other GROUPS … just like this one. Each one was started by two or three people who had energy and excitement for getting a group together around a common interest, and then it just kept going with energy and excitement and more people joined.
So by virtue of being part of Fellowship of Faith here … you are ALSO part of South Presbyterian Church and you are CONNECTED to all of the OTHER groups – the other Acts of Faith – that we coordinate.
So as I said, I’m doing a lot of writing now … filling out applications for different groups that might want to partner with us in one way or another. And as I was putting together numbers about our ministries, I was STUNNED by the impact that our little church has. I mean let’s think about this a minute. If we were a regular church with a building … and we had some classes or groups that met during the week, we would say that EVERYBODY who participates in a church activity during the week is part of the church. Right?
Some of you started out just coming to a Bible Study or a neighborhood potluck and then God led you to become a member.
Well, last year … in the 12 months of 2016 … our merry little band of believers … the 40 of us who are official members … we touched 482 DIFFERENT PEOPLE through our Acts of Faith around the city of Rochester.
THINK of that.
We touched more than 100 TIMES as many people as we are!!!!Almost 500 PEOPLE got to brush up against the SPIRIT of God through us!!!
THAT’s the power of the Gospel to – as it says in our reading today – to spend much time together … break bread … and eat … food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people at the forefront of our minds.
Now some of you have asked about this whole Acts of Faith thing. You want to know if it isn’t just the same thing as a traditional church having outreach ministries, and the answer really is “No, it’s not.”
A TRADITIONAL church would do some programs in the community in order to get people to come to Sunday worship together. Right? They want to RECRUIT people to come on Sunday because that’s when the REAL church meets … Sunday morning.
But an Act of Faith is Acts of Faith is an organic, grassroots, spiritual, community-based ministry … that builds community and embodies the KOG by empowering people where they are … in the world, in their lives, and in their relationship with God.
It’s NOT just about worship on Sunday. In fact, most of the people in our Acts of Faith (our AoF’s) may never COME on a Sunday morning. For whatever reason, that just doesn’t SPEAK to them.
Some of these organic, grass-roots ministries talk about God openly – like our group here on Sunday mornings: Fellowship of Faith. Some others – like Mount Hope World Singers … where people gather to sing songs from around the world in order to build community and foster peace – they might NEVER talk about God or Jesus or Mohammad (peace be upon him) or Moses. But STILL, it is a ministry that builds community and embodies the KOG by empowering people because a rose by any other name is still going to smell as sweet. People are going to brush up against Jesus whether we TALK about him or not. And isn’t that what’s most important – BEING the presence of the Risen Christ and helping others to see the KOG around them?
There are 16 groups – 16 Acts of Faith – 16 ways of coming together with others … 16 ways of Aligning our Circles of Friends and Family together in order to share the KOG with other people.
And those of us who are HERE, at Fellowship of Faith, we are CONNECTED to each one of those groups just like the parts of the Body of Christ are all connected through him.
Those other AoF’s are PART of us and we are part of THEM.
As it says in the brochure that you were handed today … Sometimes we go out to eat with our family and one person wants breakfast food while another wants a four-course dinner. That’s the beauty of a BUFFET – everyone gets what s/he wants but we still get to eat together as a family.
Within the Acts of Faith (AoF) Community (these 16 groups), there are activities for everyone. We believe, as it says in Acts 2:5-6 (which is the story of Pentecost) that God FINDS a way to speak to each one of us in a language that we can understand. Sometimes that language is music. Sometimes it’s a book group. Sometimes it’s working on justice issues.
The exciting thing is to find what YOU want from our buffet and if it’s not there, to help us create it with you.
We don’t want all desserts or all appetizers, and so we have found that in serving up our movable feast, it helps us to try and include AoF’s that speak to different parts of us. That’s why we have those that include some form or Worship, Studying and Sharing, or Social Interaction with a Focus.
You are all members of the Body of Christ and we WORSHIP here at Fellowship of Faith. But you are ALSO part of South Presbyterian Church and ALL of our Acts of Faith.
WE think that this is what the first century church that we read about in the Book of Acts was like – people shared EVERYTHING together. They WORKED alongside each other. They LIVED near each other. If they needed a certain kind of craftsman, they went to someone else who was part of their CHURCH … their NETWORK … their COMMUNITY.
They took CARE of each other.
We learn from the early disciples and followers of Jesus that church is a state of mind as well as a state of BEING.
We don’t GO to church – we ARE the church. “Church” is an ACTION verb. It’s a way of living out our FAITH.
And so when we ACT out of our FAITH, it becomes an Act of Faith.
Pretty simple concept really, isn’t it?
I bring this up today for three reasons:
One. I’d like to invite you to think about making a commitment to OFFICIALLY become a part of us because belonging is good for the soul. You already know who we are and, I think, you probably believe that God either BROUGHT you to this group, or that God GIFTED you with this group of people on Sunday mornings. It’s good to commit to something you believe it.
Reason Number Two. For some of us as we look ahead and wonder what’s next for us in this life, it can sometimes feel a little lonely if we think that we don’t have others by our side to walk WITH us.
Who will come and visit us when we can’t come here anymore? Who will sit with us when we’re ill or unable to get out of bed? Who will do my funeral or my memorial service? Will anyone MISS me or remember me when I’m gone?
When you join a faith community – whether it’s this one or another – those questions can all be answered with the same two words: WE WILL!
WE will visit you when you can’t come here anymore … who will sit with you when you’re unable to get out of bed? WE will … who will remember you with a memorial service and bless you on your way at the end of this life? WE will.
It’s what we DO for and WITH each other. You’ve seen us do that … in the last year with Art Trimble and Barb Binder … with Pat Palmer and Jim Bovay.
But the Third Reason I’d like you to consider one of the forms of membership is because it is EXACTLY what the early church learned: when we come together … when two or more are gathered for the common GOOD … when we are committed to BEING a faith community to each other … life is better. We’re not alone. We take care of each other because God takes care of US. We REMIND each other that JESUS is in charge and that HE is greater than all of our fears combined.
The idea of being a church is NOT just about going to worship on Sunday morning – it’s about LIVING as Jesus taught us to do: taking CARE of each other; watching OUT for each other; FEEDING each other when we can no longer feed ourselves; SITTING with each other …
That’s what we DO … and that’s who we ARE.
So as we prepare to eat at this table with Jesus … as we feast our EYES on the beautiful flowers from Jim’s memorial service yesterday … let us EACH ask ourselves, and ask GOD – what do you want me to do? How can I commit MYSELF to working for the common good of ALL of us (as Jesus commanded us). Because THAT, my friends, is the Kingdom of God! – where everyone’s NEEDS are met and everyone’s DESIRES are fulfilled.
We may be a small, little Act of Faith here … but we are part of a WEB of other Acts of Faith. And those 482 different people I told you about? Each one of them is part of us, too. THEY are part of our church. We are all CONNECTED. And we are ALL part of the world-WIDE Body of Christ that is charged to honor and share the teachings that he taught us.
Let us prepare our hearts and minds to commune with the Risen Christ and dare to pray – “Oh God … Put me where you want me … and show me what to do.” Amen.