Sharing Life Together -Go small, grow in shared suffering!
They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread…
(Small Group – Erica)
I have continual opportunities to gather around tables for meetings. Sometimes those meetings are with the leadership of this church. Sometimes they are with folks who have questions about this church. This past Friday I attended a Westerville Area Resource Ministry Board Meeting where again we gathered around a big table. Every meeting I go to I find this one common denominator. Coffee! Practically everyone is drinking coffee and not just any coffee, but Starbucks coffee. Starbucks premium coffee drinkers will admit to you that they are coffee snobs. You know snob – thumbing their nose at any ordinary cup of Joe! I read a book by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits called, Creating Community. And Andy Stanley admits he’s a “purveyor of caffeine.”[i] Inotherwords, he frequents Starbucks quite often. One day while he waiting for his coffee he noticed a card on a rack encouraging career opportunities. The card said, “When you work at Starbucks, you can make a difference in someone’s day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends can get together and reconnect while enjoying a great coffee experience.”[ii]
Stanley noticed that this experience is all about connection. “Starbucks is using coffee to promote connection.”[iii] Please know Luke is doing the same thing with food in Acts 2:42. Open up your Bibles to the 2nd chapter of Acts and find the center verse of our current series entitled Sharing Life Together! Do you need a Bible? Just raise your hand and an usher will bring you a Bible. You can find Acts 2:42 on page 757.
Don’t conclude that this 1st century Jewish church was the perfect church because it was not. After all none of us here would have been invited. This church would have been exclusive – Jews in/Gentiles out! As a minister I am always evaluating – is WCC a God honoring church? Just what is a God honoring church?
I told you about Andy Stanley. Some of you are familiar with him and some are not. Andy Stanley is the founding minister of the North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia. For their first year they met at the Galleria Convention Center. The convention center was located at the intersection of two major freeways – I-75 and I-285 and had a state of the art electronic marquee. One night as people were driving into church the marquee said these words, NO POINT CHURCH!” The sign engineer obviously could not fit the entire church name and instead of saying North Point CC or North Pt. CC he wrote NO POINT CHURCH![iv] There’s the answer to our question. A God honoring church gets it. We have a point for being in this world. The church exists to make disciples. And disciples devote themselves to what is important to God. Now let’s read Acts 2:42. They devoted… (A woman was being interviewed following the Michael Jackson Memorial Concert and she said, “I spent my life savings to get here, but I had to get here. I had to pay my last respects to Michael. It will take me years to recover financially from this, but I had to do it!”) Again – we get devotion. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (Go small, grow deep) and to the fellowship, (Go small, grow together) to the breaking of bread (Go small, grow in shared suffering)… If coffee can help us connect – just think what could happen if we break bread together?
The word “together” makes me think of that odd word “fellowship.” Last week I could have entitled my message Fellowship Part #1 - today’s Fellowship Part #2 and next week’s – fellowship Part #3. Because fellowship includes meals and it includes prayer. Fellowship by definition is “having something in common.” What we have in common urges us to get together. What we have in common urges us to share together. Well, Luke shows us that fellowship doesn’t stop with just getting together and sharing together. Fellowship also includes eating together.
Drop down to Acts 2:46. Luke helps us see that some things happen at home and some things happen at church. We need both. When we promote small groups here we aren’t saying – skip church. And when we encourage church we aren’t saying skip your small group. Look at verse 46 again. When Luke says “breaking bread” he has two meals in mind. Here’s the first. An ordinary meal at home! My Dad died on July 23. The very next day my Mom and her four children piled into her van and we went to the funeral home to make those dreaded arrangements. When that was finished we stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up a few things and then my brother Bill suggested we go to lunch together. He has such great ideas! Well, believe it or not, but my Mom, my brother and my sister had never been to Chipotle. And do you know what was sitting right on the corner? Taco Bell but right across the street was a Chipotle. We went inside and all ordered burrito bowls and while we are eating my Mom leans over to me with tears streaming down her face and says, “Your dad would have loved this.” And she’s right. My dad loved food. He loved to eat. Eat at home – eat out. It didn’t matter much to him. Jews loved to eat too. They knew the value of a meal. Do you and I? Connection is made during a meal. Life is shared or at least could be – good times, bad times at a meal. Defenses are broken down at a meal. Special things happen when you ask to a person “Do you want to get lunch?” Magic happens when you include the words, “I’ll buy!” As bazaar as this sounds your small group will grow closer if you include food! But breaking bread is not just an ordinary meal at home it’s also an extraordinary meal in worship. When Luke says break bread (in his mind) and in his reader’s mind they are picturing what we call the Lord’s Supper!
A friend of mine, Jim Russ, told me about a book called Our Father Abraham – Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. The author Marvin R. Wilson said this, “A straightforward reading of the Synoptic Gospels indicates that the Last Supper in the Upper Room in Jerusalem was a traditional Jewish Passover Meal commemorating the Exodus. Jesus, however, went beyond the commonly held Jewish understanding of this celebration. He indicated to his disciples how this meal depicted his imminent suffering and death. It is of more than passing interest that both Judaism and Christianity exist today as two separate religious communities, each revolving around the mandate to remember…”[v]
Now what do Jews remember - Passover! Find Exodus 12:14. (READ) Passover is a lasting celebration to a Jew. What are they celebrating? What God did! Find verse 12. (Read 12-13) Where did they get the blood? They sacrificed an innocent lamb? Now it makes sense why John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. Why Paul described Jesus as the Passover lamb! What do Christians remember? What Jesus did! Turn back to Luke 22. This was Jesus’ last supper which the Apostle Paul calls the Lord’s supper and which we call communion. Find verse 14. (Read 14-20) A Jew will celebrate Passover by drinking four cups of wine. Each cup is a promise from God found in Exodus 6:6-7. (Read) Jesus drinks the cup of redemption. Redemption – two boys are walking down a dirt path road and they have a home made cage with three sparrows inside.
That’s what Passover and Communion have in common. It’s the celebration of redemption. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are free because of Jesus! (Serve communion here)
Scott Baker is the minister of my home church in Tallmadge, Ohio. This is where my Dad served and where my Mom still serves today. Scott said at the funeral that he came to see my Dad on July 16th – one week before he died. He brought my parents communion. July 16th was the last day my Dad ate anything on this earth. Apart from two bites of strawberry ice cream my Dad’s last meal was a tiny piece of bread and a small cup of juice. Communion is a visible reminder that our last meal on earth is not our last meal. We will eat again! But this time with a resurrected body and do I dare say – the food will be heavenly.
And this is why it’s so important for us to commune together. To experience this meal weekly. It reminds to that suffering does occur in this world. Why this suffering? Jesus’ suffering brought us all redemption. Your response to suffering just might lead someone to Jesus! But this is what’s awesome about the church - suffering does not have to be shared alone. Sam Bish finished his first week of chemotherapy. The “Pray for Sam” bracelets will be ready next Sunday. Could you come a week early and pray for Sam and Michael and Cindy and Sam’s sisters – Aubrey and Caitlin? Are you suffering? Do you need to commune with a few people who will lift you before God?
[i] Stanley & Willits, Creating Community, Multnomah Publishers, 2004, 19
[ii] Stanley & Willits, Creating Community, Multnomah Publishers, 2004, 20
[iii] Stanley & Willits, Creating Community, Multnomah Publishers, 2004, 20
[iv] Stanley & Willits, Creating Community, Multnomah Publishers, 2004, 51-52
[v] Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 237