Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

Community Acts

September 14:

Call:       Acts 2: 42-47
Reading:    Romans 8: 1-8
Text:       Acts 4: 32-37; 5: 1-11
Closing:    2 Corinthians 8: 1-4

                Community Acts

No matter how many times we sing the gathering hymn
    And thus proclaim that we - you and I -
are the church together,
one of the most frequent things congregations ignore
    is the fact that we are a community.

And that is the case despite the fact
    That in 1958, the first thing that I learned in confirmation class was that     a church is a community of believers

And it is the case despite the fact
    That the early church recognized that it was a community, well before coming to understand that it had become a church
    A phenomenon repeated in the history of Methodism.

We are a community

We are an interdependent community made up of
    Many kinds of people
    With many kinds of faces
    All colors and all ages
    From all times and all places.

We are a Christian community
    Called together by Christ
Held together by the Holy Spirit and our deep love of Christ
And Working together to do what Christ charged us to do
        Be witnesses and make disciples.

We are a community
    That is in turn     part of     even larger communities
        We are a part of the United Methodist community
        And still more importantly,
We are a part of Christ's universal church.

That universal church began last week
    Or rather we looked at its birth last week

In last week's look, we turned our attention to the reason for the church:
Christ's ascension and the resulting need
Not only for a physical presence on earth
But also for:   Preachers and teachers
        story tellers and examples
        disciple makers and witnesses

All needed to fulfill the tasks he entrusted to us.
All needed because no one of us can fulfill those tasks alone.

Too, last week, our attention focused on the means of its birth
through empowerment and enlargement of his followers
by the Holy Spirit.

Today we look at the church in its earliest and purest form.

The early church knew it was a community in which
Its members were united together,
and     committed to serving, following, and sharing Christ.
Our call to worship described that early community:
    The believers devoted themselves
        To the apostles' teachings
        To the community
        To their shared meals
    And To their prayers

And so today each one of us - all of us -
are presented with the opportunity to examine
        how we stack up against that early church
        and those who were a part of it.

The first test is whether we are devoted and committed to the apostles' teaching and witnessing about Christ?

Now, admittedly the apostles are long since dead
    And Peter is not going to stand up in this sanctuary and say,
        My friends let me tell you about Jesus the Christ.

And admittedly we have a poor substitute for them in this pulpit

But we also have this book  [hold Bible]
    And we have each other
    And we have still other teachers and examples
        Dead, living, and not yet born
    And we have,    we have had,    and we will have
Opportunities to together work through the book

The second test is whether we are devoted and committed to our community
    And the larger communities of which we are a part?

Devoted enough and committed enough to unwaveringly strive to make them successful instruments of and for Christ

Keys for this aspect of our self examination include whether
    We are more focused on what we put into the community
Than what we get out of it?
And whether
Our relationship to the community is
one of giving or of taking

The third test is whether
    We are devoted and committed to sharing with each other.

The scripture talked about sharing meals, but the concept is broader
    It means sharing in many ways
        Time, energy, gifts, assets, and compassion
        Love, forgiveness, patience, and faith
        Willingness to listen and to care.

And the fourth and final test from the call to worship is whether
We are devoted and committed to our prayers?

This is the test at which we think we do best
    But our prayers are often by rote rather than devotion
    And often fit between or lose out to "more important things"

Bishop Schnase addresses our need for improvement in the book we read this summer, "Five Practices for Fruitful Living."

The discipline and practices he talks about were stunningly demonstrated by the believers in the early church

That demonstration has been right in front of us today
    ever since we were called to worship.

Now, we turn to our text through which we zoom in on our ancestors in the early church and see them living these practices
The first part      should inspire      and yet challenge us
The second part         should challenge    and yet inspire us.

First, of course, the first part    [Acts 4: 32-37]

This is admittedly somewhat repetitious
    Unity and giving their all
Caring for each other and receiving the teachings of the apostles,
    In short, putting God and Christ's church
above themselves
and ahead of their selfish interests and desires.

We admire and respect Barnabas
    Even though those of us who are familiar with his later service are not surprised.

But now, the second part.

The part that challenges us, frightens us, and even angers us
and yet inspires us.    [5: 1-11]

Like Barnabas, Ananias sold some property

He then gave some of the proceeds to the church
    But as he laid them at the feet of the apostles
He didn't reveal or disclose
that he had retained a portion as well
preferring to lead them to believe he had given all.

Somehow Peter knew of the deception
    And he challenged Ananias by observing,
        "You haven't lied to other people,  but to God"
    Knowing that he was guilty,
Ananias dropped dead on the spot.
A few hours later, his wife Sapphira, who was in on the deception,
    Claimed they had given all they had received
        But when informed of her husband's death
        she too dropped dead on the spot.

This is just about the most frightening scene in the NT.
    Particularly for anyone who is behind on his/her pledge.

When you hear the story, don't you want to question it?
    "This isn't the forgiving, merciful God that I know."

But Luke never says that God struck them dead.
    Many scholars have concluded that
when faced with their guilt, their hearts gave out.

And although Luke does report that,
    "Trepidation and dread seized the whole church."
I believe that the story is not to frighten us
    But rather to point out the seriousness of our relationship with God
and our relationship with the community
through which and with which we serve God.

If we take God seriously,
If we take serving God within our community
    we won't lie to God
    and we won't lie to each other.

If we do, our guilt will crush us - even destroy us.

So,     How do we stack up against those in the early church?

Are we individually and as a community
devoted and committed to the apostles' teachings (and their witnessing) about Christ?
Are we as part of a community,
devoted and committed to the community?
    And the larger communities of which we are a part?

Are we as members of a Christian community,
devoted and committed to sharing with each other

Are we as a community of declared believers
 devoted and committed to our prayers?

Are we?

Are we like Barnabas who gave his all?
    Or are we more like Ananias and Sapphira
        Who lied to God
        To cover their selfishness and self centeredness?

And after looking at the community described in our scriptures today,
We discover a gap between us and them,

    Are we devoted and committed to work together
        To close the gap

I pray that we are.

God will know if we tell the truth in our answers.
Unless we lie to ourselves, we will know too.