Acts 2:41-47; Romans 12:9-21
In April of 1977, I packed up my stuff and left my home in Niagara Falls to begin my first real job as a programmer-analyst in Dayton Ohio. The adult Sunday School class at my church in Bergholz – a small town just outside of Niagara Falls – laid hands on me and prayed for me as I went on my way.
In Dayton, I attended a church that welcomed me with open arms. Oddly enough – the name of that church was Zion Lutheran. But those folks became my family in a place where I was a stranger. And even to this day, I am still in touch with people from that church.
Some five years later, I packed up my stuff again, and moved back to Western NY, and joined a church in Elma, just south of here. And those folks welcomed me with open arms too. Of course they had to. I had just married their pastor! Actually, no, they didn’t have to. They chose to.
Then, in 1991 – I joined another church – where I also was welcomed with open arms. It was this church. This congregation. And the people who were here then didn’t have to. They chose to. We chose each other. Fewer than 200 of those folks who were here when I started back then are left now. But I will always think of them as my first church.
And yet – I have never served as an ordained pastor anywhere else. Through these 27 years – we have said hello and goodbye to a lot of people. But in all cases – we have been church together. It has been a wonderful partnership.
I remember at my interview with the church council 27 years ago, I asked a question of everyone in the room, asking what each one in the room did at the church. What ministries were they involved in. And after we went around the room – I remember being amazed at how much involvement – how much ministry was being performed by everyone. And then I said, “Keep on doing what you’re doing, because if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.” I was so happy to learn that I would become pastor of a church where the pastor was not expected to do everything. As I have reminded you over and over again – this is and always has been a partnership. The Lord did not give all of the gifts to the pastor alone. But each one of us has been gifted for some ministry – for some service – for the glory of God – for the benefit of others – and for our own good!
And so, we grew. We grew in numbers. We grew in the depth of our faith. We grew in the understanding of God’s Word. We grew to love each other – and to consider each other true brothers and sisters in Christ.
And doesn’t that sound like what the church is about? The head of the church is Jesus Christ. And we – the church – are the body of Christ. Christ followers.
And of all the options I guess I could have preached on today, I wanted to remind you of something that I focus on from time to time. And that is to remind you that we are Romans 12 Christians living in an Acts 2 church.
So – let me remind you one more time. Being a Christian is more than just going to church on [Saturday] [Sunday]. It’s more than just hoping to go to heaven someday. It’s a way of life. I can’t think of a better way of life – or a better way of living.
Romans 12:9-21 is an excellent example of what that way of life looks like.
Do not be conformed to this world. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another... serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering,...persevere in prayer...Extend hospitality. Bless those who persecute you;...Live in harmony with one another;...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
That’s what I mean when I say that we are Romans 12 Christians. What Paul is saying – and what Jesus is saying – is, “Be this.” Be this. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus – then learn to be this.
Again – I don’t want you to get the idea that following Jesus is a system of do’s and don’ts – you know – this is what a Christian does – or this is what a Christian doesn’t do. I want to move beyond that to say that being a follower of Jesus Christ – is a way of life – it’s a way of being – and sometimes that may take a lifetime to develop.
So the Romans 12 Christian gives us an idea of what our lives as individual Christians can look like. The Acts 2 side of the equation? Well the Acts 2 side of the equation shows what our life together as church looks like.
Acts 2 says that those first Christians were devoted to the apostle’s teaching. Since the New Testament had yet to be written, listening to the teaching of the apostles would be the equivalent of us reading our Bibles and getting involved in a Bible study.
It says they joined in fellowship. In other words, they spent time together developing friendships with other Christians.
They spent time together in the temple. And when it says that they broke bread together that’s a reference to the Lord’s Supper. So spending time together in the temple and breaking bread together tells us that they worshipped God together.
It says they devoted themselves to the prayers. This tells me that they were people of prayer.
When it says that they shared things in common, and sell what they had to give to others in need, that tells me that they developed a healthy understanding of what it means to give from their financial resources.
And when it says that they had the goodwill of all the people, that tells me that they were involved in works of ministry, including telling other the Good news of Jesus Christ.
Can anybody tell me what’s going on here? What does it sound like these early Christians were practicing? That’s right. They were being church together – practicing what we call the Six Marks of Discipleship.
And doesn’t that sound like Zion? We are a church that worships God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are a praying church. A giving church. A serving church. We lift up God’s Word as the source and norm of our faith – as the tool by which we learn about all that God has done for us – and who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ. And as I told you last week – the church ought to be a fun place to be. And you agreed. The churchy word for this is fellowship.
One of the fun things that make this place so exciting is the growth we have experienced. As we grew – you weren’t afraid to invest in what God is doing in this place. Thank you for being generous stewards of what God has given you.
Thank you for making the sacrifices – in other words – for giving something that you love for something that you love even greater still. The gifts that you gave that made our building expansion – including the building of this sanctuary 17 years ago – that was so necessary. And debt free after just a couple of years!
But it really wasn’t bricks and mortar and wooden arches that we were investing in. What you have done – what you are really doing is investing in the lives of others. People who are already here. People who have yet to walk through our doors. Infants. Children. Youth. Young adults. Families. Older folks who are retired – or who are about to be retired. Children who have yet to be born. Thanks to you, together we’re touching hearts and changing lives – making a difference in the name of Jesus Christ. And I don’t know about you, but that feels good. Does it feel good to you?
We’re loving God, and loving our neighbor because nothing else matters. I just want to say, thank you to all of you who helped make this mission that we share – this ministry in which we are partners – so effective.
Every day I have been here, I looked forward to being here. Well, okay. There was one day just a couple of years ago when I just didn’t feel like being here. I think it was a Wednesday. I’m serious! Just that one day. But hey! One day in 27 years – I’d say that’s not too bad. Listen! When you love what you do – as I have loved what I do – you’ll never go to work a day in your life. I don’t know about you – but I have been blessed simply because I have been a member of Christ’s church right here, for 27 years.
Well – just as those first disciples understood what it means to be church – heck, they defined what it means to be church for all of the generations who followed – my hope and my prayer for you – is that you continue to do what you are doing – because if you don’t do it – it won’t get done.
Even Jesus couldn’t do it all by himself. Our reading from Luke’s gospel says that Jesus sent out 70 disciples to do the work of ministry and proclaiming the Good News. And you know what? He sends each one of you too!
In fact – until the next pastor is called – there might just be a need for some of you to step and try to do something you might never have done before. Are you ready, willing and able to continue the work that Jesus is calling you to do?
Well. Let me leave you with one more story. Those of you who are opera buffs are familiar with the name Puccini. He wrote “Madame Butterfly,” “La Boheme,” and “La Tosca.”
In 1922 Puccini was stricken with cancer. He said, “I want to write one more opera.” So he set down to write “Turandot.” His students said, “But suppose you die?”
“Oh,” Puccini replied, “my disciples will finish it. Don’t worry.”
In 1924 he died, and his disciples did finish his music. Its premiere was in Milan, Italy at the La Scala Opera House, under the baton of Puccini’s best student, Arturo Toscanini. The performance proceeded and came to that point in the music where the composer had laid down his pen. Tears streamed down Toscanini’s face. He put down the baton and turned to the audience and said, “Thus far, the master wrote – and then the master died.”
Then picking up his baton, his face wreathed with smiles, Toscanini shouted out to the audience, “But his disciples finished the music.”
My dear, dear friends. What Jesus started nearly 2000 years ago – we his disciples continue. There is so much more that still needs to be done. There is so much more music left to write. So many songs to be sung. Here in this place. This is just the end of a chapter. There is more – so much more – that the Lord is going to do here in this place. With you. For you. Among you.
So keep on moving forward. Keep on growing. Keep on keeping on. And see what the Lord has yet to do!
As for me, well, it’s been a good run. And we still have one more week left to go!
Thank you for letting me be your pastor.