Sunday, April 12, 2015
The last time we saw John he was standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross on the day he died. All the other men had gone into hiding because it would have been very dangerous for them to be seen anywhere near Jesus. But John stood there. Faithfully, with Jesus’ mother and his aunt and Mary the wife of Cleopas whom we met last Sunday. One of the last things that Jesus did as he hung there dying was to give his mother into John’s care. That was the last we saw of John.
The last time we saw Peter he was sitting in a room with his friends on Easter Sunday evening, trying to get his mind around the fact that Jesus had died. And trying to understand that this ghost like person he saw in front of him with nail holes in his hands and feet was truly Jesus – come back to life again. That was the last we saw of Peter.
But a great deal has happened to Peter and John since we saw them last. They had seen Jesus a few times after his resurrection and had some important conversations with him. They had been with Jesus one day when he said his goodbyes to them and they watched him disappear into the sky. He simply rose up into the sky from where he was standing with them. They craned their necks and they watched his feet grow smaller and smaller until a cloud came between them and he was gone. Peter and John were there on Pentecost Day with a hundred and twenty of Jesus’ closest friends when the Holy Spirit was given to them. When they looked around and saw little flames of fire on everybody’s head and heard each other speaking in languages none of them had ever known before, and when Peter preached a very eloquent sermon. They watched in amazement as their little group grew from one hundred twenty people who had followed Jesus and loved him – to three thousand people who believed in him. And now these three thousand people are worshipping together and remembering Jesus together all over the city of Jerusalem and Peter and John are performing miracles all over wherever they go.
Like the story that I told the children just a moment ago.
You probably already know this: People in the days of the early church thought that Jesus would came back again very soon – maybe in a matter of months, or couple of years, and certainly in their lifetimes. And they had good reason to think that. Luke tells us of Jesus’ promise that he would come back again before the present generation had died out. So they made the decision to do the most important things in the time they had together – reading the scripture together, praying together, eating together, worshipping together and remembering Jesus together. And caring for each other financially. If Jesus was coming back soon, there was no reason to save their money, and some of them, at least, thought there was no reason to work at their jobs when they had such a beautiful community of people to spend their days with. Nobody thought of their own possessions as their own. If somebody had something that somebody else needed, they shared it. They shared food. They shared their homes. I suppose they shared sandals and clothing and household items and kitchen utensils. And if Jesus was coming back again soon, there was no need to have a large savings account or a lot of property or a fancy home, and some of them who had those things sold them, and gave the money to Pastor Peter and the others for the use of anybody who might need it. There was not a needy person among them. The scripture we have just read says they were all of one heart and soul together. The pastors were preaching eloquently about the resurrection of Jesus and healing people as Jesus had done and great grace was upon them all. It’s a beautiful picture of their life together. In that early church.
So let me tell you how that looked. Pretty much every evening, they got together in each other’s homes to remember Jesus and celebrate his resurrection and look forward to his coming again. They ate a meal together. A potluck meal. They shared what they had. Those who could, brought more, those who couldn’t brought less. Or nothing. But nobody went hungry.
Then, when everybody had eaten what they needed, they cleared away the leftovers and brought out bread – more like crackers - and wine. They sat around the tables and ate and drank, reliving the last supper that some of them had eaten with Jesus before he died. As he had asked them to. When they had eaten the bread and drunk the wine, they offered prayer. “As this piece of bread was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.” And then: “Almighty Master, you have created everything for the sake of your name and have given us food and drink to enjoy that we may thank you. And to us you have given spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Jesus, your child.” The words that we prayed just a moment ago.
Then, again, over time, they added other parts to that evening meal – they would sing a Psalm, as we did this morning, and somebody would explain the scripture, and probably some would speak in tongues.
Now these were probably not people who had known each other for a long time. They didn’t have strong bonds of friendship over many years. Some of them had followed Jesus all over the country for three years but most of them had never known him personally and hadn’t known Peter and John. Some were rich, others were poor, and aside from Jesus, they had very little in common. But it’s no wonder they were all of one mind. It’s no wonder that they shared what they had. It’s no wonder they spent all that time together. It’s no wonder they were taking such very good care of each other. It’s no wonder that grace covered them all. It’s no wonder that they were of one heart and soul together. Because they were also praying together every evening. And reading scripture together – these people who were very different from each other and who hadn’t known each other very long. They were celebrating Jesus’ death together. And in scripture reading and prayer and time together they came to be of one mind.
So. I am thinking about North Kent Presbyterian Church. And I am thinking that North Kent Church is very much like the early church. On Maundy Thursday and on Easter Sunday we ate bread and drank juice in remembrance of Jesus, just as his he has asked to, and just as his followers have done for over two thousand years, in one continual, never–interrupted world-wide celebration.
I am thinking of the meals we have eaten together. I look at the bags of groceries which show up every week – sharing what food we have with those who don’t.
AND I am looking at a group of people who are, remarkably, almost, these days, of one mind and one heart.
Now there have been differences. I would not say that everybody in church agrees about everything. There are some hurts here and some very painful memories.
I have noticed again and again that you are gracious with each other. You bear with each other, and accommodate each other and work together in companionship with each other. There’s a great deal of grace in this church. But not everybody feels that grace. Not everybody feels a part of the warm spirit.
And under all that compassion and accommodation and genuine friendship and all that grace there are hurts here, too. There are years and years of deep hurts and deep divisions here and they don’t disappear easily. There are some who are wounded and some who avoid others and some who prefer to remain on the fringes and some who carry strong memories of very old hurts. There are some who feel like outsiders even though they’ve been here a very long time.
So may I speak to you very clearly now?
If you have been forgetting your Bible reading lately, now’s the time to get back at it, and let the beauty of the scripture soak into your soul. And share it with others. Now is the time to pray for the church you love – fervently and often. Maybe in a group with others. If you do not know the deep pleasure and contentment of sitting in silence with God, now is the time to learn that. Now is the time to pray for the people whom you are odds with – often – and with all your heart. Now is the time to practice forgiveness, as hard as that is.
So that this church can move into the future following Jesus Christ and at one with each other.