Saturday, August 25, 2012

“A Contagious Community” - Acts 2:42-47 - August 26, 2012

There are some passages that have been preached so often in one way that they seemed to have lost their zip – their power – the zing with which they were written.  I fear that this morning’s focal passage is one of those. We have all listen to an array of preachers invite us to this passage and gently proclaim that it is a call to be family with one another – to enjoy the fellowship we find in those seated around us. 

 I understand.  They are so many congregations that have become fragmented as a result of a diversity of ages, theological understandings, musical tastes, cultures, or their stories of faith that the very idea of being one with one another as a community of faith has been lost.  It is so easy for people to begin to define one another by what makes us different from one another rather than what we share in common. In those settings, it seems that the unity we find in Christ fades away. For some, the Scriptural the picture of a church where people open their homes to one another – where they share a meal with those other than their closest friends – where they worship with joy despite their differences – seems a distant memory than a present reality. 

The heart of this church makes it possible for us to look deeper.  Over the summer eleven of you opened your homes for house prayer meetings and people responded. You witnessed the power of these moments as you found community together at the feet of God.  Each week we gather across age, cultural, language, economic settings, educational backgrounds, and spiritual journeys but in this room we find community together as we lift our voices in praise to God.  I celebrate who we are as a family of faith – and who we are becoming by the grace of God.

So we come to our focal passage with open hearts and open eyes ready to engage with one of the truly remarkable moments early in the life of the Church.  The disciples had witnessed the agony of the crucifixion, experienced the triumph of the resurrection, ate breakfast at the seashore with Jesus, had heard the pronouncement of the Great Commission and had witnessed Jesus’ ascension.  They found themselves back in the Upper Room in the heart of Jerusalem, waiting, just as Jesus had commanded them.  In a moment that felt like a rushing wind and with an intensity that tongues of fire appeared floating over them, the promised Holy Spirit descended upon them. Their fear gave way to faithfulness and their mouths became a tool for God to reach people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world.  Scripture tells us that over 3000 people came to faith in Christ that day.  Here – right here – is where our focal passage lives.  It describes what happens next in that moment that this new movement of the gospel began to live life together.  Listen to how the Contemporary English Version tells our story: 42 They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together. 43 Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. 44 All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. 45 They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. 46 Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, 47 while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.

This was a different kind of community.  They did not find their identity in the color of their skin, the language that they spoke, the property they possessed, or the status that they held.  Their identity was found in who they were together as a people of faith.  They learned together.  They eat together.  They prayed together.  God did things in their midst that amazed everyone – even them.  They shared everything with one another happily and freely.  They worshipped together. Their love for each other was infectious. Their love for God was contagious.  And God added others to their number day after day – those who were choosing the way and will of God because of their witness. 

What do you think it would feel like to belong to a church that so loved each other that it was infectious and loved God so deeply that it was contagious? You have tasted it already this summer.  In our children’s ministry you witnessed 24 kids come to faith – not because of peer pressure or manipulation, but as the result of the love and witness of their parents, of Sunday school teachers, Kids of Broadway leaders, camp sponsors and of other adults that have invested in their lives. You tasted it when you saw many of our youth come back from Super Summer with a commitment to a deeper faith and a desire to engage the Bible as God’s story for their lives.  You tasted it in house prayer meetings and time of small group fellowship.  You tasted it in the Global Sunday service where the Lord’s Supper was offered by the diversity of our family across language and culture. You tasted it as you voiced the Lord’s Prayer in many languages.  I had calls about the power of that service within minutes of its close.  You had a taste of it when you began to see God draw people to our church family with gifts and skills required in just that moment. God is clearly at work doing things that touch and amaze us. But I believe that God is has more in store for us yet.  Over the next year we will be launching several new ministry endeavors where we sense God’s leading.  I believe that these new ministries emerge naturally out of what God is already doing among us. Each will help us make the next steps toward becoming a contagious community for Christ.

If we want to become a contagious community our life together matters. In the months ahead we will launch a stream intergenerational “family” ministry opportunities to strengthen families and our broadens our sense of community.
·      The sign-up sheet for the Letters from Dad ministry initiative is in the commons and awaiting your name.  This program will invite men of all ages and all life settings to come together to discover the how they can bless the people that means the most to them.  It will be an opportunity to step out of our regular routines just long enough to write words that build and affirm those whom God has placed in our lives.
·      In the weeks ahead you will be invited to sign up for an intergenerational event focused on prayer. It will invite you to discover several interactive models that can grow your prayer life.  It will invite children, their parents, and senior adults to work hand-in-hand and in the process draw closer to God and one another.
·      In the months ahead you will witness the transformation of the front room of the library.  The library is too valuable a space and resource to go virtually unused.  The front room will become Common Ground – a place where we find common ground with God and one another.  It will be a coffee and tea spot where we can engage with visitors and hear their stories so that we can help them find their way to the right class or small group experience.  It will also be a place where we host book studies, purchase books the staff recommends and others that we use for book studies. It will continue to serve as a resource for every age where they can find books and other tools to help them grow in their walk with God.  We will be updating the library’s look and resetting its structure a bit – but we anticipate that this will become a centerpiece in our congregational life.
·      We will actively be looking for other opportunities and other program options that can help us cross boundaries to help us truly be like family to one another.

Just like our life together is essential, the way we show God’s love is at the heart of becoming a contagious community.  In an effort to share our love for God with others we will develop a stream of ministry opportunities that places the church as at the center of community life;
·         Kim and Kristin are working toward launching a weekday community children’s music program at McKinley Park, This would live us a long term and regular presence with the kids we see so often at S3.  Kim has invited a leader who has long term experience launching in leading a program like the one she dreams to help her work through what this would mean for us.  He will be on site with us in early September.  This community focused music expression would allow us to touch the lives of children who live in difficult settings where music can be a tool for hope and a witness of God’s love. 
·         In months ahead Mike and Pam Wanzer will be working closely with Brad to launch the OKC Center for Growth and Healing.  It is built on the foundation of what we learned from Discovery U and will leverage classes we have already taught on Wednesday nights and Sunday settings. The Center for Growth and Healing will offer seminars like Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Grief and Loss Recovery, Making the Most of Retirement, Helping your Teen Survive Their Teenage Years, just to name a few.  This downtown community focused ministry will be a week night program designed to help answer life’s big questions from a faith perspective. It is built from a ministry model from a church I visited in New Hampshire facing the same challenges and opportunities we face.  It has become a tool where they have been able to touch the lives of hundreds in a small group relationally driven environment. We believe it will have the same impact here.
·         If you work in downtown and you bring your lunch from home your choices are to eat at your desk or to try to find a bench along a busy roadside.  Beginning this later this fall we will open our Courtyard on pleasant days and promote it as a place of peace for people living busy lives.  We will invite them to bring their lunch and come join others in a beautiful place that will serve as a lunchtime getaway and offer some calm and conversation in an otherwise crazy day.  Our goal is to make our campus a place people want to come to find peace and community.
·         We will also be exploring ways to become active participants in community events, festivals, and other festivities so that people encounter our story as a natural part of their everyday walk of life.

Finally, we will seek to develop a stream of ministry venues that will give us unfettered opportunities to share the gospel. Public surveys tell us that there are a large number people outside the walls of any church and outside of a relationship with God through Christ that are in an active search for meaning.  We know that the only answer to our quest for me is a walk with God, who made us and makes the way for redemption for us.  We will look for opportunities to stage special events on and off campus where we can connect with people that are seeking for more where we can share the story of Jesus with them.

These new initiatives are not just a flurry of activity for activities’ sake. What I hope you hear is that we are on the right track and that these new ministry initiatives complement what God is already doing among us and in the ministries that are already in place. We believe each will help bring better definition to who we are and the role we are called to play in our community. The witness of the early Church through the power of the Holy Spirit their love for one another was infectious and their love for God was contagious.  May the same become true about us in this era.  

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