Sermon Series: What Do We Do Now? Part IV ~ Community or Cloister?

Is the church supposed to be a country club or a soup kitchen? If we know the answer to that question, perhaps the next thing we should ask ourselves is, “What answer would others give about my church?”

Sermon Series: What Do We Do Now? Part III ~ Community or Cloister? ~ May 26, 2019 ~ Acts 2:42-47

So, we are in our final, exciting conclusion of a four-part sermon series, “What Do We Do Now?” I feel like oftentimes at the tip of an exciting event – for instance, last night there were half a dozen of us that went up to the Big E in Springfield to listen to Crowder, the band, which was absolutely amazing, and Franklin Graham, with close to four thousand other brothers and sisters in Christ, and it was awesome. It was exciting, it was enthusiastic, we were charged. A couple of people within our retinue gave their lives to Christ last night, which was awesome. Those kinds of events are very exciting, and then a day or two later, they kind of fade a little bit. Like Easter, it’s like “Yay! He is risen! He is risen indeed!” and then a week later it’s like, eh. Similarly, when we become Christians, when we give our lives to Christ, when we’re born again, we are on fire for the Lord! And then maybe after a few weeks it’s like, I’m a little flame for the Lord. And then maybe I’m just kind of luke-warm for the Lord. What do we do after such an amazing event as giving our lives to Christ?

Well, that’s what I’ve been looking at over these last four weeks. Last week we talked about Peter, how he was full of the Holy Spirit, and he stepped out boldly and preached to the crowd the truth of the gospel. Three thousand people joined the church that day. Well, how my mind works, I’m thinking there were roughly three thousand people last night. Where do they all go? Where do they meet? What do they do? I mean, my whole life, I’ve always known church buildings. Some are big, some are small, some are plain, some are fancy, but they’re easily identifiable. They usually have a cross outside somewhere on the building, frequently have a steeple, often with a church bell in it. We used to have a church bell. I don’t know what happened to it. I know the records show that we raised money and purchased one and installed it, but obviously we don’t have one anymore, so hopefully someday I can find out. But where did the first Christians in the first century meet? What did they do? That’s what we’re going to talk about this morning. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story.
It is also our story.
Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear,
our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed.
In Jesus’ name. Amen

            So, Peter steps out, he boldly preaches to the crowd, and in Acts 2:42 it says:

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:42-47)

            So, where did the first Christians meet? In the Temple at first, and then in people’s homes, for meals and for fellowship. What did they do? Well, verse 42 said they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. See, this whole Christian thing is old hat for us, but it’s brand new for them. It just started. So, it was important to them for them to understand what Jesus was teaching, and the only way they could find that out was through listening to the apostles, because the New Testament had not been written yet! Not at this point. It would be 16 years before the letter of James, written by Jesus’ younger brother James (and the oldest book in the New Testament) would be available. Sixteen years! Twenty-two years before the oldest gospel, the Gospel of Mark. So, how do you learn about Jesus between here and sixteen years later if you don’t have a book to refer to? Well, you relied on eyewitness testimony – those who knew Jesus personally, who walked with Him, who ministered beside Him. People like the apostles. So, the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. That’s what they did in the first century; that’s what we should do the twenty-first century. That’s what you guys are doing now. I’m not an apostle, but you’re here to learn about Jesus, to learn about God, to learn about His Word. That’s what you do when you read your Bible at home, that’s what you do when you come to Bible study on Wednesday nights at 6:30 pm. You are devoting yourselves to understanding what Jesus is teaching.

Now, what about verse 43? You heard me say the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. Don’t hold your breath. I know some people might say, “Well if this is supposed to be the same as the 21st century, pastor, how come we don’t see miracles, miraculous signs and wonders anymore? Why don’t things like that happen today?” My answer is, they do! They truly do.

            For instance, God is sovereign. That just means He is in control of everything. David writes in 1 Chronicles 29:10, he says:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”
(1 Chronicles 29:10-12)

            So, at your discretion, Lord, you give out power, strength, gifts, talents, abilities. It’s all in His hands. Every Sunday, we are blessed to be able to listen to what I think is a pretty amazing worship team. But where did Ryan, and Frank, and Lauren, and Renée, and Jeremy, and Jennifer, and myself, and the sound people, and the tech people – where did they get all their abilities? Is it genetic? Did we evolve? Do you evolve over millions of years into a bass player? I don’t think so! Those abilities are given to them by God. He meets them out. Power and might are in His hand, and at His discretion, He makes people great, or gives them strength, or intelligence, or athletic ability.

            Now, some people use the gift and talent that God gives them to go to medical school, and they become doctors, and nurses, and lab technicians, and scientists, and chemists, and they develop incredible pharmaceuticals and amazing procedures to help heal us. Where do they get their abilities? God is working through them. We cannot overlook the fact that we do not die anymore from smallpox, from malaria, from typhoid, or polio. And that’s a miracle! That’s a miracle of God! That’s the way God works sometimes. He heals through other people. Don’t overlook the miracle! I take drugs every day for my diabetes. Without it… I got you scared there for a second, didn’t I? That’s right, I’m stoned every day! (I should be stoned every day… no!) Pharmaceuticals help keep my disease under control. People with diabetes a hundred years ago didn’t live to fifty-six (fifty-five? Fifty-five, I’m not fifty-six yet).

Sometimes God works through others. Sometimes He still does it Himself directly. There are endless stories of people who were suddenly and inexplicably healed of cancer or some other debilitating or fatal disease. The medical term for it is “spontaneous remission,” which basically means we don’t have a clue what happened, but you’re cured!

When I was a young boy, my family took a vacation up to Canada, and we went to a place called Saint Joseph’s Oratory. It made such an impact on me. I have been there, I took my kids there (I don’t know if they remember it), we’ve gone up there on vacation – I’ve even gone up there by myself – because it’s just incredible. You walk into one of the entrances of Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, and from floor to ceiling, all you see are literally thousands of crutches, and walkers, and canes hanging from the walls. People traveled hundreds, thousands of miles at the turn of the 20th century – not the first century, the 20th century, the early 1900s – to go visit this little Catholic priest. He would rub oil of Saint Joseph on their wound, and God would miraculously heal them. It’s the truth! His name was Brother Andre. He’s been beatified by the Catholic Church.

There’s also that story of the movie – came out in 2016, if you have not seen it, it’s a great family movie, it stars Jennifer Garner (which is reason number one to watch it to begin with) – tells the story of a young girl who has a debilitating and eventually fatal intestinal disease. And then all of a sudden (I’m not giving the plot away, it’s called Miracles from Heaven), one day all of a sudden, she’s cured. And the doctor in the movie uses that phrase, he goes, “Well, it was spontaneous remission! We don’t have a clue. Yesterday she had the disease, today she’s cured.”

God does still do miracles. So, yes, miracles do still happen every day. It’s just that sometimes if I don’t get my miracle the way I want it, to the person I need it to be, as quick as I want to have it, we don’t see it. Or, maybe, miracles are so common that we don’t notice them anymore. But believe me, miraculous signs and wonders are happening every day today, just as they did in the beginning.

But what else did the first church do? It says they shared what they had. They took care of each other. We do that here. Now, as I said at the beginning of this sermon series, the church is not supposed to be the Christian version of the department of welfare. Now, there are those who think we are. Believe me, they ring my bell every week. They bother Miss Lauren, then she comes in and gets me and I go speak to them. It’s as if people are here saying, “Hey, I can be as irresponsible as I want! I can spend all my money on drugs or on alcohol, or I can blow all my money at the casino, and the church will cover my losses because well, they’re Christians!” No! That’s not how it works, just no!

Some people feel that though. I will tell you the truth. when I first got here in 2006, one day I was in the office, somebody walked in and they put on the counter a stack of opened mail and turned around and walked out. Being a former mailman, it piqued my interest. I said, wow, what was that all about? So, I asked Leslie, I said, “What’s with the stack of mail?” She says, “Well, he’s dropping off his bills.” Really? You can just like, drop off your bills at South Church? This is pretty awesome! So, I go over to the stack of bills and I’m looking to see, okay, “Alright, don’t judge, Pastor.” What are we helping him with? Three different cell phones. Karate lessons for the kids! I’m like, NO! Just, no. That’s not what I’m talking about. You know that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing.

When we help each other, we care for each other, we’re talking about unexpected medical emergencies, unexpected things that come up. Your mother dies in Florida, you gotta get to Florida. You know, unexpected medical emergencies, not hair plugs or boob jobs. We don’t cover that stuff! We’re talking about a car accident, or being injured at work, or something you didn’t see coming. These first Christians gathered around each other to help one another. We do too.

Remember this past Easter, I sent out an Easter benevolence letter, and I asked if you’d be willing to help one of our members. His name is Jayden Badillo. He’s Ashley’s son; Tony and Shelly’s grandson. He’s got Cerebral Palsy, which leaves him limited physically, and the government doesn’t pick up everything to help him. So, I appealed to our congregation, said, “Hey, would you be willing to make a donation to help purchase some things to make Jayden’s life a little better. You see right there, they’ve used pool noodles, you know, behind him, duct taped together to help him sit properly. So, I asked, and you guys responded. We raised $1500 for Jayden! I’m working with Miss Caryn right now to figure out, order or priority, which things we can purchase to help make Jayden’s life blessed. That’s what I’m talking about, not paying his phone bill. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what this first century church was doing, that’s what the 20th century church is supposed to do.

Now, keep in mind, Jesus told us in John 10:10 that Satan’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. That’s all he’s here for. Satan is a creature, versus the Creator. He cannot create anything. All he can do is take what God has created and try to destroy it, to twist it, to warp it. And that’s what he does. God creates something good; Satan takes it and tries to twist it and warp it.

God creates something good like food. Food is good! Food is awesome! Jay’s shaking his head, yeah! Food is good. So, Satan takes that good thing and he twists it into bulimia, and anorexia, and obesity. Takes something good and makes it bad. Alcohol, right? Jesus turned the water into WINE! Yeah, praise the Lord! There is nothing inherently sinful about alcohol. Satan twists it into alcoholism, right? Into binge drinking. Takes something good, turns it bad. He does the same thing with drugs. Drugs help keeping me alive; people are dying by the thousands from the opioid crisis. Sex! God created sex to be between one man and one woman, in the covenant of marriage. And Satan has twisted it into pedophilia and pornography. That’s what Satan does: takes something good and warps it into something bad. He is an expert at taking a good thing and turning it into something bad; including Christians helping one another.

Wait a minute… how does he do that, Pastor? How could caring for each other ever possibly be a bad thing. I’ll tell you how. Do you know how many churches over the years have become country clubs? More than you would like to think. They didn’t start out that way. They started out sharing and helping one another, and they became close and tight knit. They knew the names of each other’s children, and they didn’t hesitate to correct them when they were misbehaving, running up and down the halls. “Gabriel!” We loved each other enough and trusted each other enough. It was awesome. It was a good thing. It was truly a family. But Satan is exceedingly skilled at taking a good thing and turning it into something bad; and sometimes he takes it so slow we don’t even notice it.

Have you ever seen those rocks out in the western deserts of the United States? These are rocks, and they’re beautiful! And you say to yourself, “How could a rock end up looking like that?” Because it’s all sand, right, and the wind picks up the sand and blows against the side of the rock. It’s like a sandblasting machine; and slowly but surely, even something as solid as rock can be changed. It takes a long time, but the next thing you know, it doesn’t look like it did in the beginning.

A lot of churches began caring for and sharing with each other, which is a good thing, and ever so slowly became so inwardly focused, it’s as if they were a castle surrounded by a moat to keep the world at bay. That was the idea behind the Monastic movement – you know, all the monks in the cloisters, and the abbeys with the nuns, and the monks in their monkeries – whatever you call them. That happened in Jesus’ day – the Essenes. We know the Essenes, right? The Essenes said, “You know what, this world is not worth it, we’re going to run out into the desert and start our own community,” and they kept themselves separated from the world. We know the Essenes, because the Essenes eventually wrote which we know today as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

There are still monastic movements today. We have the Benedictine monks, we have the Franciscans, we have the Dominicans, we have the Jesuits. Our present pope, Pope Francis (well, not OUR present Pope, but THE present pope), Pope Francis is a Jesuit. And when I was younger, my family often went to (and again, I’ve been many times myself as an adult) to an abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s Abbey, where the Trappists happen to have their thing. That’s the Trappists in Spencer. It’s awesome! You should take a visit there sometime. They do the chanting. Great to sit and listen to them do their chanting in mass. The Trappists are famous for jelly! Seen that in the stores? They make that in Spencer! It’s delicious! Over the years, though, they have expanded their product line. You know what they make now? They actually make ale! They make beer! But Trappists, again, the original idea was to live out one’s Christian faith separated from the world, with other like-minded believers. And in the local church, Satan has tried to take a good thing – this family atmosphere – and twist it into forming a clique.

Remember those cliques from high school that you couldn’t get in? You had the cheerleaders over here, and you had the football players over here, and you were just not cool enough to be in the clique. How did that feel, right? He turned this family atmosphere of caring for one another into a clique, and now they’ve become so inwardly focused, they’re like a country club, where only members are welcome. “We don’t want strangers in our midst, we don’t know them!” and sadly, it is often such a slow transformation that church members themselves don’t even notice it. All of a sudden one day they wake up, and they hold a public supper, and you look around and everybody sitting at the tables, 90% of them are people you see on Sunday. They have a concert, great concert or musical guest, performance or whatever, they look out there, 90% of the people are people you see on Sunday. They have a Christmas fair or a plant sale, and 90% of the people who buy something are people you see on Sunday. It’s not that we’re not busy. All those things take a lot of effort and a lot of time. A colleague of mine once said to me – she called it “naval gazing” – spending all their time on ourselves, a considerable amount of time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s inwardly focused. That’s why Jesus, even though Jesus commands us in Matthew 28: “Go and make disciples of all the nations!”  few churches evangelize. They don’t want to talk to strangers. They don’t want other people in the clique. They’re uncomfortable with non-members showing up at the club. Besides not evangelizing, there’s something else that a lot of these churches do not do. Even though Jesus says in Matthew 25:

“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’”

And they replied, “Lord, huh?

“’When did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sister, you were doing it to me.”
(Matthew 25:34-40)

A lot of churches don’t do that either, because we can’t go beyond outside the safety and security of our castle, beyond the moat, which today is maybe a giant fence. We don’t interact with the unwashed masses; we would rather fill up a shoebox and have Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse do it. Or the Red Cross, let them do it! Those are all good organizations, and I would recommend supporting them; but we’ve got to be careful that we’re not just writing checks and sending money off so we can stay behind the security of our moat, in our little cloister.

            Yes, we are supposed to be devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching. Yes, we are supposed to help each other and care for each other. But we need to be careful that the evil one does not eventually have us hiding behind castle walls, giant fences, focused primarily on ourselves. Are we part of a community, or are we a cloister? Is the church supposed to be a country club or a soup kitchen? And which would people say that South Church is?

            So, my friends, we have come to the end of my sermon series, “What Do We Do Now?” If you were not here for all four messages, I just want to remind you, we do record every sermon. We have them on CD. All you have to do is call Lauren, she’ll mail one out to you. She’ll mail all four out to you if you want. You can get on a list to get them regularly, if you so choose. You can also go on our website and listen to them there or through our church app. But over the last four weeks, I’ve tried to answer the question, “What do we do after we have confessed, repented, and accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior?” After the excitement of that decision and being born again, what are we supposed to do? Number 1: evangelize. Share with others the amazing story of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness, and His love. Number 2: say yes! When God asks you to do something, say yes! Even if you don’t feel ready, say yes! He asked you, He wants you to do it. Number 3: tell the truth, in love, gently and respectfully. But tell the truth; especially to yourself. And 4: take care of each other, help one another, and serve the community. Do not assume or expect that someone else is doing it. Your walk is not about what someone else is doing. Your Christian walk is about what you’re doing. Just like my Christian walk is not about what you’re doing, it’s about what I’m doing. No excuses! There’s no “I’m too young!” The Prophet Jeremiah tried that, it didn’t work out too well. God can use children. He does use children. On the other side of the coin, you’re never too old, either. I don’t want to hear this, “Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt!” No, it doesn’t work that way.

            Christians stop doing one through four when we get to heaven, and not a moment before. Until then, evangelize, say yes, tell the truth, take care of each other. We are not a cloister of monks. We’re part of a community. So, in case you were wondering, what do we do now? That’s what we do now!

Now look, I know it sounds like a lot, but when it comes to being a Christian, the truth is if you’re not busy, you’re doing it wrong. God’s got a lot to do here on this earth, and He needs your help.