May 4, 2008
"They Devoted Themselves"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.
 All who believed were together and had all things in common;
 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.
 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,
 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.
A little boy came home after his very first Sunday School class; Mom asked who his teacher was. Little boy answered, "She was a real nice lady. I don't remember her name, but she must've been Jesus' grandma or something, because she didn't talk about anybody else all morning." (1)
It's obvious this woman was a devoted teacher and a devoted Christian. The question this story and this passage asks us is: "Are we as devoted?" Do our actions and our conversation reflect our love for Jesus? Do our words and actions give away our relationship with the Savior?
This passage is a living snapshot of the life of the early church. It reveals their devotion and faith. It reveals what was central to their lives and the character of their discipleship. The passage says they were devoted. But to what?
A. Bible Study & Worship: First it says "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." I've always interpreted that to mean they spent time in study and worship. Both are very important aspects of our faith. We learn about and are drawn closer to God and become better disciples through Bible study and worship.
According to t Barna Research Group ours is a generation of Biblical illiteracy. In a recent survey they found that only 61% of Christians know that Jonah is a book in the Bible. And 30% didn't know where Jesus was born. 24% of Christians surveyed thought that the book of Isaiah was in the New Testament or didn't even guess where it could be found.
That shouldn't surprise us. After all 93% of Americans own at least one Bible but 70% of non-Christians and 23% of Christians said they never read the Bible at all. (2) How can we know anything about a book we never read. Contrast that to the early Church. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching ."
People are starving for answers to problems. Some are dying from spiritual starvation and yet they never open up God's guidebook to life. Or they never attend a worship service and just soak in the presence of God. The early church "devoted themselves" to this effort.
B. Fellowship: Second it says, "They devoted themselves to fellowship." This is an extremely important aspect of our faith. God created us to be in fellowship with one another. God didn't create us to be alone. It's always easier when two people share the load.
Just think about the number of times we've set up tables for meals or meetings. While the tables we use aren't very heavy it's a whole lot easier when someone helps us. It's the same with our faith. Fellowship through worship, through play, in work and in missions allows us to share the load with one another. And we grow in faith.
C. Breaking Bread: Third it says, "They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread." This definitely deals w/ celebrating Holy Communion but it also deals with sharing of meals. I believe there's a very rich blessing that comes from sitting down across from a friend and fellow Christian and eating together. To me, it is almost sacramental. It reminds us of the meals Jesus shared w/ his disciples; especially the Last Supper.
Just think how much enjoyment there is on Wednesdays at WNO. Think how much love has been shared and given through those meals. Fellowship dinners are an important aspect of the Church. They build up the faith and they feed the faithful. The early Church knew this.
D. Prayers: Fourth it says, "They devoted themselves to prayer." How many of us have ever devoted ourselves to prayer? Prayer keeps our hearts and minds on God.
Let's try an experiment. Look around you and find five things that have blue in them. Go ahead. It didn't take long did it. With a 'blue' mindset, you find that blue jumps out at you: a blue dress, a blue book, blue in the stained glass, and so on. Have you ever noticed how after you buy a new car, you start see that make and color everywhere. That's because people find what they are looking for.
At times in our lives, God seems strangely absent or very distant, but the problem isn't that God has disappeared. The problem is that we simply lack a 'God' mindset. When we develop a "God" mindset through prayer, we begin to see God's work everywhere. (3) The early Church devoted themselves to prayer and grew daily.
A. The early church devoted themselves. But why? Scripture tells us they devoted themselves to Christ in these ways because "many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles." It also says that the people had "glad and generous hearts; they praised God, and God added to their number those who were being saved."
They all had one thing in common. They experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ in their lives. They experienced the love of God and the forgiveness of their sins. They experienced the reality of the promise and hope of the resurrection. Consequently their lives were changed, they became good stewards of God's message. Thru the grace of Xst they were able to live a life of praise exemplified by a "glad and generous heart."
B. This past week at General Conference, we voted to expand our mission statement from simply "The Mission of the church is make disciples of Jesus Christ." To read: "The Mission of the church is make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." That becomes the Official Mission Statement in the Book of Discipline.
We've always been about Disciple making & Transforming World. Our Mission isn't new. John Wesley said, "The world is my parish." He believed Gospel WOULD transform the world. And it did. It still does.
William Gates Sr., Bill Gates father and head of the Gates Foundation reported at Annual Conference that they were pledging another $5 million to Nothing But Nets. And then he said. "Almost 300 years ago, your founder, John Wesley, explained the moral implications of what is now fashionably called globalization. Wesley's statement 'I look on the whole world as my parish' describes our mutual responsibility." He said, "You are 12 million people armed with the conviction that all the world is your parish. That makes you the most powerful weapon there is against malaria." You and I are a part of that United Methodist presence that is saving lives and Transforming the world.
I know I don't normally show a video clip in this service but I couldn't resist because it also exemplifies how we, as United Methodists, are reaching out and Transforming the world.
* [CLIP - HOPE FOR AFRICA, UGANDAN CHILDREN'S CHOIR] The love of God Transforms us. We want to get involved and "do something about it" because God's love fills us with "glad and generous hearts."
C. Notice something, too. This passage tells us that the early church had "the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number." Because the early church was as devoted as they were to God and each other, people took notice. They saw faith in action. But more importantly, they saw the presence of the risen Christ in the lives and actions of the faithful.
Often times in the past, certain sessions of General Conference have turned into knock down drag out brawls that were anything but Holy even though much of what was said was in Holy language. This year, while members disagreed on various issues, there was an air of unity in Christ and a sense of respect and love for one another as valuable members of the United Methodist Church. I truly believe that through what we call "Holy Conferencing" the Spirit has lead this Annual Conference. And the world takes notice.
And that's vitally important. Why? We want the world to see the likeness and presence of the Son of God, the one who sets us free from sin and offers new life, in our lives. But if our actions, our words and our lives don't bear witness to Christ, then we've missed the boat completely. And our faith doesn't make any difference.
A. That leads to the question: "Has Jesus made a difference in your life?" That's basically what it boils down to isn't it? Faith is about what Jesus has done in our lives. Living the faith is about what WE do in response to what Jesus has done in our lives. The early church, as described here in Acts, devoted themselves to God through Christ. To what have you devoted yourself?
B. Some folks devote themselves to their jobs or to making money. Some folks devote themselves to their family. Some folks devote themselves to living a life filled with stuff and doing.
I'm not saying that jobs, family, and stuff are bad or evil. When put in their proper context of a life devoted to Christ, these things can enhance one's life. But it's the context in which they are pursued that makes the difference. Only Christ can give new life. Everything else falls short. Only Christ gives meaning and purpose.
One of characters from comic strip, "Shoe" is sitting at the counter trying to pick up a woman who is also sitting at the counter. He says, "Listen, I don't mean to be a pest. You say the word and I'm out of here."
The woman says, "Okay, that's sweet of you." She says the word, "Commitment." When she turns around, the place is empty. That's really what this passage is about, Commitment. We see the commitment of the early Xns described in the actions and attitudes found in this passage.
They were devoted to God. Their lives reflected that devotion. People saw the risen Christ in their relationships with one another, in their cooperation, in the way they cared for each other, in their worship, in their study and in their giving.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." "And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved."
This passage challenges us and asks us: To what or whom are you devoted? Do others see the likeness of Christ in your actions? Are others invited to accept Christ through the witness of your life? Do you exemplify the Christian life with a "glad and generous heart?"
To what or whom are you devoted?
1. Parables, Etc., January 1987 2. Preaching Magazine; March/April 1996, p. 54. 3. Roger von Oech, A Kick In The Seat Of The Pants. Parables, Etc., October 1987.
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