“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”Out of these we have drawn our 5 Marks:
The 5 Marks are the foundational principles we will use to guide us as we start this new church here in Huber Heights. So we have been studying each Mark, and then looking at what they mean for the vision of Crossroads Vineyard.
This morning we are looking at the Mark of Community.
In the 1940’s Dr. Rene Spitz became concerned when infants at an orphanage were dying despite having proper nutrition and a sterile environment. Later it was discovered that because the number of babies had grown so rapidly...many were not receiving any significant human touch. The rise in infant mortality was traced to this lack of human touch.
Dr. Ben Benjamin states, "touch is vital for survival in the very young," and psychologist Dr. Robert W. Hatfield points out, "affectionate touch is vital for all human ages". Research even indicates that healing is helped by human touch and hindered by its absence.
From the very beginning, human beings have had a fundamental need to be in community. We are created to love and be loved.
When God created Adam, He walked with him in the cool of the evening, and, after spending some time with him, said, “It is not good for man to be alone...he is going to do something stupid if he is left alone!” So God gave man woman to keep him in line...to make sure he didn’t wear that shirt with those pants, play video games all day, or spend his money on something stupid.
So God was present with man and gave him woman, but even these two relationships, God and Man-Man and Woman, do not seem to be enough to fulfill the longing for relationships we have as human beings. There is this drive within forcing us to seek friendships beyond these two...to find others with whom we can share our lives.
At the same time, sin creates this opposing force to prevent real relationships from developing.
So we live in this tension. We desire relationships and seek them out, but we also create barriers that keep us from being in real relationships.
What are some of these barriers?
- Previous wounds
- Lack of ability to forgive.
- Inability or lack of desire to listen.
- Over-inflated ego or the desire to always be right.
We see these all the time...there is the person who is so busy doing stuff that they never build significant relationships...another person doesn’t want to be “new” to a group...others because they have been hurt in previous relationships are determined to never let that happen again...someone else can’t let anyone close because they have to be right or they haven’t learned to listen to others.
Despite these barriers and more...we need community. We must find a way to fight through them, and build relationships with others...even the author of Ecclesiastes, who finds everything meaningless, recognizes value in relationships.
“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’
This too is meaningless—a miserable business!
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
And despite the human need for relationships...people are becoming more and more isolated.
Gregory Rodriguez, LA Times, Lonliness is a Pain, points out...
“In 1985, when researchers asked a cross-section of Americans how many [close friends] they had, the most common response was three. When they asked again in 2004, the most common answer...was zero, nil, nada.
In 1950, only 9.3% of American households consisted of people living alone. By 2000, that percentage had jumped to a whopping 26%.”
Our lives are more isolated than ever before, and we are isolated even while there are people all around us...waiters, fast food workers, grocery cashiers, co-workers, and we even attend church with people...but it’s easy to not really know any of them.
Acts 2 holds the answer in one, simple Greek word...koinonia.
Koinonia-means ”to share in.” It is a fellowship with other Christians in faith and in service. Sharing each other’s joys and pains...and even when we are not suffering we share with those who do.
In 1 John, Koinonia is an extension of the Father-Son relationship of God that extends to all Christians. It is a family fellowship of believers.
This disconnected group became koinonia...they became a fellowship...they became a community. Acts 2 says they were together and had everything in common...they sold possessions so that no one was in need...they met together...they broke bread in their homes and ate together.
This community has taken many names through the years...gatherings, followers, disciples, but the term we are most familiar with is Church. And despite its many flaws and warts...we need the church.
One of the advantages we have over most other churches is that we meet in an aerobic room. Why is this an advantage? Because we are forced to view the church as it should be...as it was meant to be...Church is the people. It is not a building or It is not an institution. It does take organization and structure like any other gathering of people...but Church is the people.
We don’t become the church...we don’t develop community...by just attending a weekend service. So let’s look at how we can become the church...
We become the church by participating in God’s actions.
God is at work in our world. He is working in people’s lives everywhere. And we, as the church, are called to celebrate and participate in God’s actions in our lives and in the world around us.
Finding God’s actions takes work because He works, as He did with Elijah, in a whisper. So for us to see His work...in order to recognize it and point it out...we have to really pay attention. We have to listen carefully, and look for where God is moving...because God is not loud about it.
Everything else is loud and exciting. Tragedy, heartache, disappointment, 24 hour news...all fight to grab our attention. It is like the 4 year-old saying , “Look at me!” over and over. They try to make us believe that they have the last word about the fate of our world.
But God has called us to proclaim His Kingdom; a Kingdom that entered our world through Jesus Christ, and promises to restore all of creation to what God intended it to be...to bring true justice and peace, to rid the world of evil, and establish itself forever. God’s Kingdom hasn’t come fully into our world, but the early church saw themselves as a community that reflected God’s coming Kingdom on earth.
Imagine a world with true peace and justice...no more tragedies such as happened in Japan...no more human slave trafficking...no more hunger. It was this vision of God’s Kingdom that the early church saw and became a reflection of...selling their possessions to take care of those in need among their group.
If we look closely we can see where the Kingdom has come and celebrate it, join in, and point it out to others. We, as the church, get to be part of bringing God’s Kingdom to our world. We get to be instruments of peace, justice, and love for each other.
We become the church by learning to love and be loved.
Jesus’ unfortunately has an unanswered prayer. In John 13:34-35 Jesus prays, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The history of the church demonstrates that we have not always loved each other well. Our history is scarred with fighting, bickering, even killing. Our “love” has not always been the example of God’s presence it needs to be.
When we gather in community, we come with different backgrounds, perceptions, even some different understandings of God, but what should draw us as a community is our common faith in Jesus Christ. There have been times when the church has loved as it ought to love, and we can be that example right here in Huber Heights.
But learning to love and be loved is not easy. It takes work, and those barriers kick in setting up walls...pretty soon we don’t love others and they can’t love us.
We must learn to love each other warts and all. Everyone needs a place where they can be transparent and be themselves...otherwise we end up hiding, putting on a mask. We need a place where we can ask the deep questions, share our hurts...not so we can wallow around in our misery together...but so we can grow and heal. We need a place where we can be loved.
We become the church by ministering to others.
1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4 list out the “spiritual gifts.” The Bible tells us that each of us, when we commit to following Christ receives one or more of these gifts through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. These are gifts, however, are not for our personal benefit. They are given for us to use within community.
The Apostle Paul calls this amazing phenomenon the Body of Christ. When we commit to being in community, to being part of the gathered people known as church, our spiritual gifts combine with the spiritual gifts of others to acts as a complete body.
Basil of Caesarea, an early church Bishop from the late 300’sAD, understood the value of people being present. He said, “When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable.”
In our Western-American culture, we have been nurtured to believe that we can be independent, complete people, not depending on other people...we even have a name for it...Rugged Individualism. The Bible is very clear that we cannot live a Christian life alone...it has to be done in community.
We need community because those in the community need us, and because we need those in the community. You are less than you should be when you are not present and using your gifts. We are less than we should be as Christians when you are not present and using your spiritual gifts. You are needed because what you add to the community is vitally important.
I have found this true with many of you. I told our launch team early on...”I have the tendency to get carried away and do too much. Please feel free to stop me.” While setting up for our first service at the Hampton Inn...I was doing too much, and Angie Knick looked at me said, “Eric! Sit down and shut up. We’ve got this.” Barb Eddy is always saying, “I have the gift of faith!” And there have been times over the past 7 months that I have needed to hear her speak out of her gift of faith. There are more times than I can name over the past months and years, and I am a better Christian and a better pastor because you are here.
As we gather as the Church, you will be better because you have joined with us than you could ever be on your own...and we will be better than we could be because you are here.
People do get hurt in community. People say things. Tempers flair. We do stupid things. So forgiveness is an absolute necessity...but imagine what Huber Heights could be like if we were the church, loving, caring, accepting, and forgiving others. What if we welcomed people, and saw ourselves as better off because they were now part of us.
As we look to the future, I’m excited about what we can be...but we all have a part to play. In regards to being a community:
- We will be a place where people are loved, accepted, and made to feel safe in exploring their questions and doubts.
- Community is where pastoral care and ministry will take place...we are called to do the work of ministry. I am not the minister. WE are ministers. I’m the one God has called to pray, teach, lead, and train us all how to be better ministers. But we all get to participate in doing ministry to others. So when a person is sick or in the hospital, and one of you visits and prays with them...they have been visited and prayed for by the church. When people are in need, your ministry to them is as good if not better than mine because you are there with them.
- We will build friendships where we can be open to confess our struggles and doubts and know we will be loved and prayed for.
- My goal is to establish 35 small groups by the time we are 5 years old.
I just love what videographers do in this video we are going to watch. They traveled around the world and recorded a wide variety of street musicians playing the song Stand By Me. They all listened to the first guy singing, and then added their talents and abilities to the song each giving it something new amazing. I think this is a great metaphor for what we can be as a community as we all our talents and abilities, and learn to play in unison with each other.