WHAT NEXT:  A REINVENTED COMMUNITY

 

SCRIPTURE:  Acts 4;32-35; John 20: 19-21

 

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

          At an all-church planning retreat, the pastor asked the group this question: “If Jesus thought like you, what would he have done after the resurrection?” A young father said, “He would have bought a sports car and ripped around in something pretty flashy.” A high school girl answered, “He probably bought new clothes. New clothes always make you feel new and good.”

          A nine-year-old boy with a baseball cap on said, “Maybe Jesus didn’t do anything new. I mean, he was good to start with; he was God’s son, right? Maybe it was other people who acted differently. I’ll bet he continued to help people and feed them just like before, but the others believed in him now and were happy he was around.”

          Two weeks ago, was Easter. We live in resurrection time now. Time has changed. We Christians believe the greatest change of all time is captured in the resurrection of Christ. God create a new creation through the risen Christ. With a new Christ, we need new Christians. If the resurrection is new wine, then we need new wineskins. That means we all need to change.

          Theologically we are in a new time, but time has changed in other ways too. We are seventeen years into a different millennium, but we are also in a new age, the post-modern age. It is a time of quantum theories and quantum leaps. Change itself is changing.

          Historians say our time is similar to the time around 1500, the beginning of the modern age. At that time, with the advent of the printing press, the beginning of industrialization, and Martin Luther challenging papal authority, everyone’s head is spinning. To challenge the authority of the pope and the church was to challenge every foundation of society. Many were asking, “How will this civilization last? What’s next?”

          From that beginning came the modern age. Today with the post-modern challenges to modernity, flexibility and a willingness to abandon outmoded methods and approaches is crucial. One of my former military commanders was a Cavalry officer who used to say at staff meetings, “When the horse is dead, dismount.”

          Because of the volume of rapid change in our world today we are experiencing discontinuity. It is what the residents of East Berlin experienced when the Berlin Wall came down. Nothing in their past prepared them for life without the wall. Very little in our past has prepared us for ministry in today’s world. So, with trepidation we ask, “What’s next?”

          According to the gospel writer John, on Easter evening Jesus appears to his disciples and says, “Peace be with you.” He breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” All of this is fulfillment of John 1 where he wrote,” To all who received him he gave power to become children of God.”

          It also links to the Genesis creation story of the wind of God blowing over the face of the waters and God breathing life into Adam. This is the fulfillment of creation. Creation is made new. The disciples become a reinvented community. They are made new.

          What next? How do we implement this new creation? What do we do now because the resurrection of Christ has taken place?

          Luke, in writing the Acts passage we heard earlier, says the early church implemented the new creation by living in a new way. They reinvented themselves by holding everything in common. I don’t agree with that concept, but can you imagine the warm hearts from our financial people. They’re thinking this is great news. We won’t have to watch the budget every single day.

          This concept of Luke isn’t terribly popular with Americans because we are a private property country. Historically there have been several faith based utopian communities where everything was held in common. The Amana Community, which is known for its refrigerators, is perhaps one of the better known. Yet these endeavors have always been peripheral to the mainstream of our society. We probably aren’t good candidates for such efforts.

          Yet the question persists, what next? What does god want us to hold in common? What can we hold in common as a trust for God?

          First, let’s hold our children, grandchildren as precious gifts. Jesus demonstrated by his ministry that children had a new place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus recognized children and included them when the dominant culture of the day saw children as property, and disposable property at that.

          Last Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Sherman, Texas (where we attend when we are in Sherman), in the season of new creation, confirmed several youth into the church. They are new life for the church, and in the act of baptism and confirmation the congregation pledged to hold them in common, support them, and nurture them in love and the Christian faith.

          In the process of baptizing and confirming we also pray God’s spirit for them. For each youth, individually, we are reenacting what Jesus did for his disciples on that first Easter evening. In so doing we are the windpipe of Christ’s breath blowing into them and the world.

          However, I believe God wants us to hold all children in common, not just those of a church’s confirmation class. If we hold children in common, we must also consider their families.

          So, a second “hold” could well be the poor. Jesus encouraged his community, his disciples, to care for the hungry, those who needed shelter, those who were grieving, and the outcasts, including widows and orphans.

          John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, personally reached out to the dispossessed of his time; the mine workers, factory workers, child laborers, and other urban poor who were excluded from the church and main culture of his day.

          If Jesus and John Wesley held in common, concern for children and the poor, ought we to consider the possibility? If they both not only spoke of such concern but personally acted in that direction, shouldn’t we explore the possibility?

          “What next?” I believe a goal for this congregation, whether there are many children, youth, adults, elder adults to share the joy of the Lord. Each of us as members is called to live so our actions invite others to Christ. The ministries of our congregation should all have as a major focus of inviting others to Christ.

          What do we hold in common? We have all experienced going from a pre-Easter community, to a resurrected experienced community and would reinvent us a different community of faith.

          Imagine the sort of fervor necessary to make the church behave like in the early chapters of Acts. Many things we still do – we gather, we break open bread and scripture, we teach and pray. But today, we have limits. Standards. So, we don’t sell our possession and distribute the proceeds to the needy. I mean, you should be responsible, right?

          Notice some other things we don’t do. We’re not in awe, drunk with wonder. We don’ amaze our neighbors. And, I’d wager, we don’t see the Lord “day by day” adding to our number those being saved.

          Nadia Bolz-Weber calls this the early church’s “10-minute hippie phase.” But like a commune grown middle aged, the church has now moved out to the suburbs, started a pension, and begun to worry about the wrong people moving in.

          Yes, the early church community was reinvented. I think that a major goal the congregation is to share the joy of the Lord. Each of us as members is called to live so our actions invite others to Christ. The ministries of our congregation should all have as a major focus inviting others to Christ.

          What is that we can do together, in common, that we can share Christ’s love with others. Whatever it is would be a resurrection experience and would reinvent us as a community of faith.

          Do we believe? Do we trust God raised Jesus to new life? Then God can raise us to new life. God can reinvent us as a community of faith.

          A little boy came home from church, took off his shirt, and looked at his arms and chest. Then he pinched himself. His mother asked, “What are you doing?” He answered, “The preacher said I’m a new creature. I’m just trying to see if I can tell.’

          We are a new creation in Christ. We live in resurrection time. We become a new wineskin for the new wine of new life. As we share the joy of the Lord, we will become God’s reinvented community. Pinch yourself. You’ll see.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH