June 8, 2015 Rev. Dawn Hyde

What is Church?

Rev. Dawn Hyde

Intro to Scripture Reading
Our scripture passage today describes the earliest Christian church. We pick up reading at the end of Acts 2.  To refresh our memories, a lot has happened in Acts so far. Jesus ascends into heaven in Acts 1.Then Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian church – happens at the beginning of Acts 2. 

At Pentecost, Peter raises his voice and begins to explain what is happening. He explains why people are speaking in various languages and then he continues on to explain Jesus of Nazareth. 
“A man who we saw performing miracles and wonders. A man, who we crucified…
But God raised him up and freed him from death.”

The people listening to Peter are “cut to the heart” and ask what they can do in response.
Peter says, “repent and be baptized.”

So those who welcomed his message were baptized and that day three thousand persons were added.
Hear now the word of God for you…

Acts 2:42-47
New International Version (NIV)

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Today we begin a new sermon series on church. This month, we’ll explore questions like: What is church? What can we expect from each other in the church community? And when must we look instead to God?

So, first we’ll explore the concept of church. What is church?

Well, churches are a lot like non-profit organizations in that we seek to do good in our community. Churches organize events and fundraise for mission activities. We help those in need. 
Churches are also a lot like social clubs. We get together and hang out. We laugh. We eat. A lot. 

So what sets us apart from other organizations? 
[pose to congregation] 

What do you think makes church unique?

  • we worship
  • we’re grounded in God. Our thoughts and actions are of God.
  • sing
  • pray
  • communion and baptisms
  • we are intentional about our fellowship being inclusive for others
  • we do mission/service out of our faith. 

When a new organization is formed, it’s important to articulate what it does and why it is needed. 

Our scripture passage is doing just that for the church. It describes what set the first Christian church apart from all other organizations. 

Four basic things:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

It’s important to note that these early Christians did similar activity as Jews. They still went to temple courts. They “broke bread,” which was a customary way to begin a meal in the jewish tradition.

The unique difference is the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection

When they shared teachings, those teachings were about Jesus’ life and ministry. His death and resurrection. And when they broke bread they repented of their sins and turned to Christ for forgiveness. When they prayed, they prayed to Jesus. 
These early Christians went to the temple courts, but they also began to gather and worship in their homes. At each gathering, they did these four core things:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

As we think about this first church gathering in people’s homes, focusing on these four practices daily,  I wonder how far we have come today… Do these practices still look the same?

Today instead of walking into someone’s home for a meal and sharing scripture and prayer, most of us go online to shop for churches. In fact, most people who come to our church find us on yelp, reading about other’s experiencing and then coming for themselves to check us out.

And in addition to these four core practices (teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer), here are a lot of other things we fit into being church.

For us in particular, we like this homey space. With a fireplace and bright colors. Warm, intimate. We like music – a variety of music – as a way we express our prayer. We like technology and bulletins to keep people connected and prepared for what is coming next. We like having our candles to light and offering so that we can give back to those in need. 
We like our coffee and tea….

But all of these things exist to support what is key in worship. What is key in church – an intentional connection to God. 
A connection that happens through 4 practices Christians have been doing for thousands of years…you guessed it:
(1) Teaching
(2) Fellowship
(3) Breaking of Bread
(4) Prayer

These four practices have become the core essentials of the church. The “marks” of a true church. 

And we do all of them on Sunday.

We teach during the sermon.
We fellowship by greeting each other and sharing dinner afterwards.
We break bread in communion every Sunday.
And we pray, lots. All throughout the service. 

We do all of these on Sundays when we come together as a church….but the challenge is to bring this into our daily lives. 

Beyond Sunday…how are you dwelling in scripture? In the teachings of Jesus?
Beyond Sunday…how are you fellowshipping with the community. Nurturing relationships with those God has called? 
Beyond Sunday…where and when are we breaking bread together? Not just meals with each other, but intentionally remembering who Christ is and what he has done for us…together?
Beyond Sunday…when do we pray? On our own, with those around us, for those around us?

The honest truth is that we’ve fallen a bit from these earnest early Christian worshippers. We’ve relaxed our standards of reading scripture, praying, breaking bread and fellowship to once a week in worship together. 

And we’ve suffered.

We all have. Because these practices aren’t for God’s good. They are for our own.

When we seek to engage with Christ’s teachings, breaking bread, fellowshipping and praying daily, our spiritual life flourishes. We become intimately connected with our Savior and with one another.

These early followers were so eager to be together, to remember the story, to hold on to the power and love they felt in Christ… that they practiced these things every day. Every single day, in order to hold close to each other and Christ. 

The question for us becomes, how do we fix this? How do we get back to the basics?

We practice. 
We find more ways to get together beyond Sunday and support each other in these four practices.

Look around the room.
I challenge each of us to find someone to have coffee with…or lunch. Start small. Start simple. 

Before you leave this sanctuary today, get someone’s contact information. Their email address.  Set up a time to meet during the week. 

I promise you all four of these practices – breaking bread, teaching, fellowship and prayer – can all happen in a 30 min meeting in a coffee shop. 

In this challenge, the particular goal is to be specific about our intention. 
We’re not just getting together for coffee or a meal to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company – as important and worthwhile as that is…

We are getting together to glorify God. 

So when you get together:
– Open a bible. It will make a difference, I promise.
– Say a prayer. At some point. Out loud. To each other. 
– Pray for each other, lift each other to God. 

It’s in these practices – praying, reading scripture, communing over a good beverage or meal…. that our faith is enriched. We are enriched.
It’s in practicing these four “marks of the church” that we truly know we are alive.

I left the Clendenin’s house Monday night after small group with such joy in my heart. Together, we shared a meal. A delicious meal. We embraced Beth and Dylan’s hospitality. We got to hang with their kids before they went to bed. We prayed for the meal and for our time together. After we had eaten, we opened the bible. To 1st Kings. To the story of Elijah becoming known as a prophet and the miracles of abundance he was able to share in the name of God.

As we reflected on the scripture together, the words took on such deeper meaning. We learned from each other what it means to trust in God in our times of need. We pondered why we don’t share what we have with those in need…opening ourselves to the miracles of God.

The Holy Spirit moved in that space to include personal sharing of our stories. Many of us shared how we came to faith in Jesus Christ. Where God has showed up in our lives that has given us new life and hope…

I left that gathering thinking…THIS is church. And I want more of it. Like every night, I wish I was connecting to God and to my community in this way.

Growing up in a Christian household, it was important to my parents that we share a meal together each day. It didn’t matter the time – usually shifted as we grew older and juggled more extracurriculars with my parent’s work schedules, but without fail… I remember being around that table. And before we could begin, we took turns to pray. 

Prayer and being together set the meal apart from the other meals in my life. This one was sacred. With family. With people who know me most intimately and love me no matter what. This meal is with people who are promising to love and support me. Showing me, through their presence and relationship with me, what Christ’s grace and forgiveness and love looks like. 

It wasn’t a perfect meal every night. You can be sure of that. Many nights my sister stormed off in tears, upset that we had joked too far, my parents argued with each other, showing us that even the family you choose can be hard company to keep. My siblings and I rivaled with sports and school and social lives…and yet, when I look back on it, I realize they were the best embodiment of Christ’s love and acceptance for me. Even as imperfect as it was.

Still, to this day, we all speak the language of prayer. It’s not weird for us as siblings or parents to open a bible together and share a story or offer to pray for each other in times of fear and need. We trust each other. We support each other. And it’s all based off of faith. Off of the spiritual practices given to us in Jesus Christ. 

This church – Mission Bay Community Church – has the ability and the power to be Christ’s light and love for each other. We have the ability to do this for each other beyond when we are together like this on Sunday…

But it takes some work. Some scheduling of meetings and making time. Some intentionality and overcoming embarrassment to pull out our bibles in the coffee shop and close our eyes to offer a prayer. 

What I promise you is that this challenge is worth it. The challenge to practice your faith will only end with more intimacy and connection with God for you. 

So, let’s get back to the basics of church.
Breaking Bread

And see how God grows your discipleship.