Modern Day “People of the Way"
In the lesson we have from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, it’s the season of Pentecost.
120 Jews from Galilee were among the faithful from all over the known world in Jerusalem
For the spring harvest festival known.
These Jews were followers of the rabbi Jesus, a renown prophet
Who they claimed had been raised from the dead.
On the day of the festival, the Holy Spirit came to these believers in an awesome display of wind and fire,
And they spilled out into the streets, proclaiming Jesus alive,
And giving such powerful testimony, that 3000 people were baptized on one day.
It seems an auspicious beginning for the church.
What follows is the reading we have for today,
a rather Leave-It-To-Beaver kind of description of the early Christian community.
Despite the overnight explosion of numbers, the community lived peaceably together.
They shared all their possessions, healed the sick and cared for the forgotten,
and dedicated their time to worship and fellowship.
As Acts says,
“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
In actuality, however, it was dangerous time for these followers of Jesus.
These people were mostly from other places who decided to stay in Jerusalem with this new community.
But that meant they had to figure out a livelihood and a place to stay.
They traded security of home for the opportunity to be in this community of Christ.
On top of that, Jesus had been handed over by the religious authorities
and executed by the state not two months before.
The religious and state leadership that thought they had quashed the Jesus movement
Now had an even bigger problem to worry about,
And responded throughout the early decades of the Christian church with waves of persecution.
What we read here in Acts, then, is not a rosy retelling of the origins of the church.
Acts is describing the bold decisions of everyday believers
Who, despite economic hardship and threats to personal safety,
Chose to respond with generosity in their community and goodwill to all.
The courage of the early church is compelling to me, especially in these days.
The reasons are very different, but we too are in a time of great economic uncertainty
And take a risk when we go out in public.
What was it that fueled their courage?
It would be so easy to hunker down, circle the wagons, conserve resources for one’s own use.
‘Let others figure it out for themselves- I’ve got enough to worry about.’
What is it that made these Christians turn outward instead of inward?
What made them operate out of trust rather than fear?
I think the answer lies in this passage.
The early Christians were actually not called Christians at first
They were known as ‘ The People of the Way.’
The Way was a way of life, inspired by Jesus’ resurrection.
Our passage from Acts describes the way of life of these first Christians:
The apostles were out in public, doing deeds of power and healing people.
The community gathered in the temple to hear the scriptures and teaching.
But just as important were the daily practices at home--
faith practices of prayer, praise, and eating together.
I believe it is these faith practices that fueled their risky service to others.
Their inward practice served their outward action
Spending time daily in the scriptures focused them on biblical values of community, generosity, and mutual care.
Daily prayer rooted them in God’s providing and security, despite circumstance.
Sharing meals together was a practice in gratitude, as they ate their food with glad and generous hearts.
Having the daily experience of being fed and cared for, protected and cherished,
they were ready to face the needs of others, despite the risks.
During this time of sheltering in place, the people of SM have been like the early church—
Engaging in faith practices at home.
People have been tuning into online worship services
Leaders like Meg and Fred have hosted virtual fellowship and prayer meetings.
Some have joined in devotions with PB at Tuesdays at 10 on zoom
And many have been engaging in daily devotions on your own with Portals of Prayer.
(BTW, you can still pick one up outside the office door of the church).
These inward actions have fueled our outward acts of courage and generosity.
PB and I hear about it when we make our pastoral calls.
Here are just a few examples of what people are doing:
Steve’s plant switched their machines to make special parts for ventilators
These are the three workers responsible for the brass fittings.
Deb and John have been cleaning out their friend Marion’s house and caring for her while she is ill,
Since she has no family.
Margaret and Doreen bring your bars of soap and toilet paper to Grace each week,
And fill the containers so 75 people in the Asylum Hill neighborhood have a hot meal.
Robin has brought 4 bags of groceries to the Canton Food Bank
The masks that Jan and Stacy and others have sewn were donated to Ascentria,
formerly Lutheran Social Services of NE, which runs groups homes and assisted living facilities in CT.
I am working with one of my international colleagues to provide emergency food to widows in Indonesia
Who have no opportunity to work during the pandemic.
The people of SM are caring for employees and coworkers, supporting health of patients,
teaching others to use technology, sharing their resources,
picking up groceries for neighbors, making phone calls to people who live alone, caring for family.
You could turn inward, but you are looking outward to the needs of others,
living out your faith in courageous and generous ways in this time of pandemic.
You may know that Martin Luther, our spiritual forebear, also lived through a pandemic.
The Bubonic Plague that raged in his lifetime had a death rate estimated at 30-60%.
When questioned whether a Christian could flee the plague, Luther responded
by reminding his flock that Jesus is found in the face of the neighbor in need, saying:
“ If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand.
Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him…”
That in fact be the greatest motivation of the early Christians’ courage and generosity:
In their outward acts of care, they came face to face with the face of Christ.
It is our opportunity in this time as well.
To see the face of Christ in our neighbor
And find fulfilment in our lives in our connection to others.
May we be given the strength, nourishment, and courage to be present day “People of the Way” --
ordinary believers who choose to show generosity and goodwill toward others, day by day.