Devoted to Each Other

  • Devoted to Each Other
  • Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • February 19, 2017
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2-19-17 Sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

Good morning, Church! What an exciting time it is for us to be able to celebrate our thirty-eighth birthday together this morning as we worship together. Last week I promised you that I had a special birthday surprise for everyone and if you will turn your attention to the screens here it is.  (Video of Bill and Margaret Couch).

 

It just didn’t seem like it would be right to celebrate our birthday without including Bill and Margaret in some way. I was fortunate enough to have lunch with Bill last week and I’m happy to tell you that they are doing well and as you can see, they are thriving in retirement.

 

Here at LakeRidge, we’ve been spending some time recently taking a look at the New Testament book of Acts in our series entitled, “Throwback”. The inspiration came to us from the trend in social media where people post old photographs with the hashtag, #ThrowbackThursday. Oftentimes, people will post old family photos as a way of laughing about fashion, hair and other details from previous decades. If you were here with us last week then you know that I showed some classic pictures of several of our church staff members. (Brian interrupts Lyndol to show old pics of Lyndol).

 

 

Well, that was awkward. However, I’m sure that there must have been a few awkward moments in the life of the early church as well. Because after all, it was made up of human beings just like you and me.

 

This morning, we want to look at a couple of snapshots from the book of Acts as a way of learning what it looked like as the Holy Spirit formed community amongst these early believers.

 

When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree, one of the books that I had to read was Habits of the Heart by Robert Bellah. His contended that instead of living in genuine community, where people are truly devoted to each other, the model for group life in our day and age is what he refers to as “lifestyle enclaves.”

 

He says that in our world, people invest themselves heavily in the pursuit of a certain kind of lifestyle, primarily regarding leisure activity and consumption. People want to be sure they can acquire the right house, car, furniture, and other material things. They want the good things of life.

 

They also want to be sure they can take the right kind of vacations and fill their time with pleasant activities. Once they reach the point where they have the things they want and can do the things they enjoy, they work even harder to protect their position. They want a life that offers comfort, enjoyment and security.

 

No one wants to pursue these things alone, so we look for others who are seeking the same kind of lifestyles we long to secure for ourselves. We tend to band together with other who are socially, economically and culturally similar to us. This way we can share the same lifestyle.

 

Those who do not, or cannot afford to pursue this particular lifestyle, are not invited to be part of particular enclaves. They don’t belong. They don’t fit.

 

The word “enclave” comes from an old French word which means to enclose something or seal it off. The enclave has no vision to benefit those on the outside, but wants only to benefit those inside. In many cases, the enclave becomes fiercely exclusive and insiders view all others with suspicion.

 

When I was thirty years old, my bishop in Arkansas appointed me to start a new church in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. Maybe, at some point in the past, you’ve seen the commercials with Eric Estrada on television. Hot Springs Village is America’s largest gated retirement/resort community. It has eight lakes and nine golf courses. The setting is absolutely beautiful. Hot Springs Village is the epitome of being a lifestyle enclave.

 

While we loved the people who were part of our church, I have to say that it was an odd experience to be so young and living surrounded by people my grandparent’s age.

 

One of the things that I learned very quickly was that these people were serious when it came to their gates. You would have thought that you were trying to get into Fort Knox.

 

The guards, whose primary job was to keep undesired guests out, did not warmly welcome Joni and me when we pulled up with our U-Hall and a two year old in the back seat. They took my name, ID, wanted to know where I thought I was going and had to call and verify that we really did have a rental agreement for a house.

 

We built our first church building on the East border of Hot Springs Village. Someone started a rumor that we were going to try to construct an outside entrance to our property and it spread like wildfire because an ill-informed man decided to state it as fact at a property owners association meeting. It ended up in the newspaper. I got all kinds of phone calls and nasty letters because of the rumor.

 

Sadly, sometimes religious communities can become like gated communities such as Hot Springs Valley. Rather than welcoming people in, sometimes churches end up doing things that keep people out.

 

Our throwback Scripture snapshot this morning stands in sharp contrast to the idea of enclave and gates. We find it in Acts 2:42-47. “42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

 

43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47all 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.”

Then, also jumping to Acts 4:32-35.  “ 32All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.”

Luke loves to use the word “devoted” when speaking of the new community of God’s people, the church. Devotion clearly gives the sense of a binding promise or a pledge, similar to marriage vows.

Our lives are about being devoted to God and each other. This is serious business. Luke described a group of people who were bound to God and each other – devoted – even when it was tough. Such devotion radically contrasts the apathy in many relationships today.

Lifestyle enclaves demand very low commitment from people. “If others meet my needs, I’ll stay. If they fail to meet my needs, I’ll move on. If I find a better deal, a more fruitful relationship, a more promising circle of friends, I will cut ties and move onward and upward to another lifestyle enclave that meets my needs.” People in lifestyle enclaves are far more devoted to themselves than they are to others.

As followers of Christ, we know that we will have times when spiritual growth will require effort. This is part of our spiritual life. We will all have times in life when building community will be more difficult than failing to build community.

God does not call us to be legalistic, mechanical overproducers. Our life of faith is not about playing the role of martyr. But we do need to identify the central things we want to be devoted to, that we will do no matter how we feel.

We are all devoted to something – the question is what? Are the things we have chosen to devote ourselves to worth the investment? You see, God does not want us to devote ourselves to more and more stuff, but to discern what He calls us to be devoted to. What will help the life of Christ be formed in you? What will contribute to the creation of biblical functioning community?

Community is always built on promises. This is why, at every wedding, promises are made. “All that I have and all that I am, I commit to the other.” That is why, as a church, we are to be deeply committed to one another. We take membership vows. Anyone who joins LakeRidge goes through a membership class so that we are all on the same page about what it means for us to be devoted to each other.

Our purpose isn’t to create a faux religious enclave – connecting with other people of a similar culture, economic and political background – or to pursue a comfortable kind of lifestyle.

Our purpose is to build a biblically functioning community built on promises. This community must be built on the shoulders of people who say, with tenacious commitment, “I will be devoted to God and to other people.”

We all need to ask ourselves, “Am I truly committed to God and to His body, the church? Or am I just floating in passivity?”  If you are not devoted, what is holding you back? What is standing in the way?

I think that one of the great misconceptions many people have is that it was easier to be a Christian in the first century. Here is the reality: in those days, your faith in Jesus could cost you your life. It has never been easy to be devoted to God; but if we are, He will always be there to help us.

Now is probably a good moment for us to zoom in to our throwback snapshots and examine what these early believers, the early church, were devoted to.

Unity – God has created us for unity. And he is jealous to see us reach it. Because human beings were created in the image of God, it is possible for us to know oneness with God.

In John 17:21 Jesus prayed that all believers “may be one,” just as His is one with the Father.  Then he went so far as to die so that we can be restored to unity with God and each other. Genuine, authentic community, is the mark of a biblically functioning community.

In a lifestyle enclave, genuine community does not exist. Every person fends for him or herself. Relationships can be discarded or replaced with relative ease much like we might wad up a paper towel and dispose of it. People can live next to each other for years, or be in the same work environment for a lifetime and be bitter and hostile enemies. This is seen as acceptable behavior, simply part of the way things are.

Sadly, the same attitude can infect the church. We can lose unity, which is one of our most precious gifts, and allow broken relationships to destroy community.

Sacrificial giving – The Bible does not teach that ownership of material goods is wrong or evil. It does, however, teach that God provides material goods, not for selfish personal consumption, but so that we can help others who are in need. Instead of looking for how we can increase our personal holding, we need to look for ways to invest in those who have need.

In the early church, as people began to see their resources as a means to help those in need, they gladly looked for opportunities to give things away to help others.

Such generosity is hard to find in lifestyle enclaves, where people invest themselves in getting more things, upgrading their stuff, and protecting their storehouses of material goods so that no one else can use them.

A great question for us this morning is, “Are you devoted to using your resources to help others in need? Is it possible that God is calling you to see some of your stuff and give some things away?” Be open to the possibilities; this is what can happen in the life of a person who is fully devoted to God and others.

This is one of the reasons I’m thrilled for us to participate in Stop Hunger Now this morning. It is a tangible way for us to get outside of ourselves and turn our focus outward.  Thinking of how we can benefit others through what we have as an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The outside community – People in the new community of God are devoted to those who are outside of the family. They spend their lives looking for ways to enhance the lives of those on the outside.

They stay up late at night trying to find new ways to encourage and bless those outside of the community, so that, someday they will be part of the community. In the Kingdom of God, gates are opened wide.

Our job is to be the Gatekeepers of LakeRidge and to make it abundantly clear that the door is open wide and that we want people to come in. Or better yet, if people are not coming in, then it becomes our job to take the church, that Jesus loves, out to where the people, that Jesus loves, are located.

This means allowing the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the people in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and the places that we spend our time. The early church didn’t just hang together as a holy huddle; they went out to share what they knew of Jesus with others.

It seems to me, that the throwback lesson from the early church for us today is that the Holy Spirit came upon the early believers and guided them toward true, authentic community – certainly not a lifestyle enclave. In that new community there was certainly a sense of awe that God was doing something amongst them.

As the church today, we are still reliant upon the Holy Spirit to form us into community with one another, so that we can be the church together. I need you to be my brother-in-the-faith. I need you to be my sister-in-the-faith. God started that process here at LakeRidge thirty-eight years ago. May the Holy Spirit continue to keep that flame burning in our hearts and minds for many, many years to come as we seek to live as a church of those who are truly devoted to each other.