The story of how the early church begins starts at the moment of the Ascension of Jesus. We move from the Gospels which tell us of Jesus’ ministry here on Earth to this new beginning where Jesus will no longer be physically present with disciples like he was before during his earthly ministry.
May 1, 2022
“We Are The Church . . . Let’s Act Like It”
Act With Power
Pastor Heather McColl
Acts: 1: 1-14
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.
Act With Power Acts 1:1-14
We are beginning a new series this Sunday based on the study “We are the Church…Let’s Act Like It.” I intentionally chose this focus on the book of Acts because in many ways, like the early church, we are at a new beginning as a community of faith. COVID has shifted so much around us, not only for the wider church but for us as individuals. Things that seemed impossible before like…heaven forbid, screens in our sanctuary have now become part of who we are as Midway Christian Church.
In this new beginning, like the early church, we too are tempted to go back to what we used to know, to that time before when it was easy, when it all made sense, to go back to a time when it felt like we knew what we were doing as a community of faith.. But just as the disciples discovered in their new beginning, God’s Spirit is also moving in and among us in life transforming ways, challenging us, inviting us to truly become the people God created us to be.
For example we had our monthly community dinner this past Monday. Not an unusual occurrence because thankfully to amazing people and partnerships within our local community, we were able to keep it going through COVID for the last two years. But this past month’s dinner felt different. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. Before COVID , our norm was to have people coming in and eating together as a community. But COVID changed all that. We had to shift to delivery and take out only. And last summer when the numbers were low, we were able to invite the community back for in-person dinners but the crowds never reached the pre-COVID level. Then things changed again and it was back to take out and delivery only. But thankfully things changed again and we decided that it was time to invite the community back for in-person dinners.
To say on Monday afternoon that I was worried is an understatement. Don’t tell Dottie that because I tried to put on a brave face for all of us. I told everyone that it would be fine but deep down I had no idea. Then 6:30 rolls around. A few people trickle in and then a few more, and then a few more. By the end of the night, we guestimated that we served around 60 people in house, and had 67 meals delivered and shared by take out with people in our community. By other people’s standards this probably is not a huge success. But for us, it felt like a new beginning. It felt like a promise fulfilled. It felt like a moment of transformation for us as a community of faith.
I share this story because this experience reminded me that a year ago, the questions we were constantly asking were how can we go back and become that church we were once more? How can we go back and be that church we remember? All of our conversations seemed to be focusing on going back, not moving forward. Yet now, in this new beginning, we are being invited, we are being encouraged, we are being challenged to ask a different set of questions. Now in this moment of transformation, we are asking how do we proclaim the Kingdom of God to the community around us, whether that community be physically in Midway KY or on line? Now we asking how can we be a community of faith that simply does not have a mission but rather is a mission for God’s people?
As I have reflected on this new beginning for us as a community of faith, I have come to realize that these are some of the very same questions which the disciples asked of Jesus after the resurrection. Following that amazing Easter morning, Jesus spent forty days with the disciples, teaching them and inviting them to learn about the Kingdom of God.
With Jesus back, it felt like old times. The disciples began think, Now is the time! We are moving in the right direction. Now Jesus is going to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth! Then all of sudden, Jesus turns to them and tells them that he is leaving, that he is leaving it up to them to carry on. Jesus tells his disciples that he is leaving it up to them to keep his teachings alive. He is leaving it up to them to share the Kingdom experience with the world.
At that moment, I’m sure the disciples started questioning and wondering how it was all going to happen. How would they navigate the unknown? How would they live out their calling to be the church? How would it all come together? They remembered that they didn’t do so well the first time around. One betrayed Jesus. One denied Jesus. The rest scattered and now, just when things were beginning to get back to a somewhat normal state, Jesus tells them he is leaving and it is up to them to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near.
Yet in that moment of new beginnings, Jesus reminds them of his promise, a promise to not leave them alone on this journey. Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus reminds them that their time is not God’s time and that “God’s promise of the Kingdom to come is not to just bring back the good old days but to bring God’s people to our yet-unrealized goal of being light to the whole world.”
In that moment, when he challenges the disciples to be the Body of Christ here on Earth for all of God’s people, Jesus does not leave them with a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order. He does not give them a how to book on being the church. He does not say to his disciples that to be the church they needed to follow ten easy steps.
No, in that moment when Jesus challenges the disciples to be the heart and hands of God here on here, he tells his disciples that to be the church here on earth, all they would need was the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples to wait upon the Lord and they would be able to figure it out. Jesus tells his disciples to listen for where God was calling them to go and to not get sidetracked by the busyness of church.
Jesus tells his disciples that to be the church here on earth all they need to do is share what they have already experienced in their own lives, the life giving and life transforming power of God’s Spirit, a Spirit that welcomes, a Spirit that renews, a Spirit that brings new life, a Spirit that brings healing and wholeness to a world that is hurting.
To become the presence of Christ in this new beginning, all they had to do was to be vessels for sharing the good news which they had already experienced in their lives. All they had to do was realize that the Kingdom of God was already transforming, was already giving life to God’s creation and they were being invited to join into something God was already doing in the world. .
Which is exactly the same invitation that we have as modern day disciples today as we enter into this new beginning for our community of faith! Just like the disciples did back then, we will figure it out. Not because we have all the answers but because we have the Holy Spirit pushing us, challenging us to proclaim the good news, inviting us to join in the amazing work that God is already doing in our midst.
It is my hope and prayer for us as a community of faith that as we continue discerning where God is leading us in this new beginning that we never stop trying to figure out the ways that God is calling us to be the church here and now, that we never stop trying to figure out the answers to the question of how God is challenging us to step out of our comfort zone, that we never stop living out our calling to share what we already know.
For us, just as it did all those years ago when the early church was starting, the invitation remains the same. It is up to us as Jesus’ disciples to keep his teachings alive, to share the good news of God’s grace and love. It is up to us to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that God is at work in this world. It is up to us to be the church of love and grace which God created us to be, bringing about healing and wholeness for all of God’s people.
So Midway Christian Church… We are the church. Let’s act like it.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, May 1, 2022 – Act With Power Acts 1:1-14.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.