In our gospel reading, Jesus makes this promise, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth.” He goes on later to add, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” That's what happened in Jerusalem as recorded in our reading from Acts. “When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.” The people from all over the world were hearing them in their own language; the disciples, who had been cowering in fear before the Spirit came upon them, spoke boldly. Peter was moved the share the words of the prophet Joel, “In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both.”
This was the start of the church. The Spirit came bringing power, knowledge, boldness, interpretations, dreams.... But we just get the basic introduction in our portion read by Ruth today. The chapter continues explaining our earliest days of life. First Peter tells the crowd what they must do, “Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.” Peter was the main spokesman. He says to change, to turn to God; that could be said repent. Repent and turn to God. That is a common theme to becoming God's children. And the people listened. Back to Acts, still in chapter two but beyond what we read today, “Peter went on in this vein for a long time. That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.” The birth of the church came with the the arrival of the Holy Spirit, its maturing came and comes in its member's commitment to learning God's Word, commitment to the community, sharing the common meal and praying together. And that is our call on this birthday celebration, to grow as that early church did. To claim for ourselves the power and insight of the Holy Spirit. That is the start and we build on it. Let's look at each of these commitments more closely.
One, we are to commit ourselves to learning the Word of God. We hear the Word on Sunday, we are given the opportunity to learn a verse per month; but are we committed to learning the Word of God? We offer the Bible study called “The Story” but have just 7 regular students. We have learned a lot and we have grown closer to one another, but it doesn't seem very church-wide when we have just these loyal few. Another opportunity, the PW Mary Martha circle does a bible study at their monthly meetings, just for women but another opportunity to learn more of the word of God. And of course on Sunday morning the adults meet in the library at 9:00 to study God's Word in preparation for worship. These are offered so we can learn more about God and God's Word. How's you're commitment to these? And are you reading the bible on a regular basis on your own? If you are not doing any of these things, can you really expect to mature in the Christian faith? It all starts with God's Word which is the revelation of God through Jesus. It is an area we can all stand some improvement in.
Two, we are to gather regularly in community with our fellow Christians. Sunday mornings...there are people here from 8:30 til noon most Sundays. Preparations for worship, for coffee hour, for Sunday school all take place early. Studying God's word takes place during the Sunday school hour; elementary age, middle school, adults from teens to nineties gathering in community, discussing the things of God; but even more than that, discussing the things of faith and home and sorrows and joys and supporting one another. It is fellowship, not exactly like the early church, the world has changed. We gather easily, we are safe here in America, our needs are not immediate or obvious. Our lives are not connected as closely as the early church because that is no longer the way to meet the physical needs of the members. Our lives are connected in worship, in the coffee hour discussions, in the sharing of faith ideas, in the prayer time for each other. Then throughout the week, there are random meetings; session, committees, seeking the mice in the basement, decorating for events like the lilac luncheon, pulling weeds, filling out forms, just visiting. And connections continue in other venues, coffee at McDonald’s, dinner at Main Street, a visit in the store aisle. And we should never forget the connection we, because we are a small church, can make with our young people. They know you when they see you downtown. They also know you know them and that means a lot!
Third item in the list is the common meal, now we might say communion. If we look back we will see that communion has also changed since the earliest days of the church. According to some experts, communion per se was only celebrated on the feast of Easter for many years. There is some confusion because there was a practice of sharing a common meal together every time the Christians gathered. This was called the Agape meal, this was not the Lord's Supper as Paul laid it out for us in Corinthians. We no longer share a common meal every time we gather. Nor do we limit communion to once a year. We have compromised I suppose you could say with regular communions, every month, and with occasional common meals—our potluck or the picnic at the lake or pancake supper or French Toast breakfasts. Those are common meals, times of real fellowship, times of connection and of service and of sharing. As the world has changed how we make the common meal and communion part of our spiritual lives has also changed. But the sharing of a meal or the bread and the cup draws us together with one another and with the Lord. It turns out, food is an important part of the church and has been at all times in the history of the church.
The fourth item mentioned in the list of the critical commitments for a church to participate in is prayer. We talk about this often. It is one thing we do in community that we also do in private. It is powerful in ways we can't understand. It is a command that we are to pray...without ceasing Paul writes. We pray together on Sunday mornings during the Pastoral prayer. We begin committee meetings with prayer. But are we, as a church, praying with the power of the Holy Spirit behind us? I use this daily prayer list from our newsletter every day. It is good to pray for you and to be prayed for by you! Can you make it a goal to place a copy of this list somewhere where you will see it every day and pray for your brothers and sisters in our church family? Can we start and end our days with a few moments spent in communication with God? There are prayer warriors who spend hours in petition to God. I don't believe we are all called to that. But as members of God's family, doesn’t it make sense to spend time in the presence of our God? Jesus came to make this connection, this relationship possible. Don't waste it. Speak often with your Lord and Savior and friend.
Four basics given to us on this birthday of the church from the very beginning of the Christian Church. The church has grown, has matured, has rebelled from time to time; it goes through growing pains, it hasn't achieved maturity yet. But we have the blueprint for the church. But what is the church? The church is the people...it is you and me who are called to be the church of Jesus Christ. The blueprint is for each of us in our lives. We are instructed to grow in faith by studying and learning more of the Word of God. We grow as we share life in community, time together worshiping, visiting, listening, being with one another. Meals shared together are another way we grow in faith and fellowship. Both the common meals shared and the Lord's Supper where we are connected in a sacramental relationship. And prayers with and for each other build our bond, our bond of brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ but more, our bond in and with God with whom we share the good and the bad, the joys and the concerns, our worries and our victories.
Happy birthday to the church! Born in fire and wind; growing in reformations and divisions and love and mystery and miracles. We are not perfect, but we are loved by God. We here at First Presbyterian understand that we aren't the perfect church...but then if we were perfect none of us would have qualified to join! We are loved and we share love, that is because Jesus showed us what God's love looks like and the Holy Spirit fills us with the power to be the people of God. Let us share the joy of fellowship with the use of Hymn 430 and we celebrate Jayne's return to the keyboard!
Hymn: Come Sing O Church in Joy 430
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