First Church and Jubilee

by Elaine Maust
Acts 2: 42-47
April 20, 2008

Have you seen the banner that hangs in the sanctuary at Jubilee very Sunday? It illustrates our call from God – Worship, Nurture, Service & Evangelism. We are in another season of reflecting on that call and we want to do that this morning. But first of all, let’s go back to the very first church…

Here’s how it happened. (Acts 1:14)

Jesus died and rose and on this day, Jesus was teaching and answering their questions. But then he was gone. They stood there looking up into the clouds. He was gone. Swept up into the air. “Taken up before their very eyes,” the Bible says (Acts 2:9). I wonder if their mouths were hanging open. I wonder how long they stood there.

They had been standing around together on the mountain called, The Mount of Olives. I wonder if it was covered with olive groves. What do you think the weather was like that day? They stared up into the clouds into which he disappeared, they saw something. But it wasn’t Jesus. It was two men dressed in white. And the men said, “Why are you standing here looking into the sky?” Why not?

Jesus was gone.

So they walked back down off the mountain, past the olive groves and into the city, about ¾ of a mile. Back up the stairs they went into the room where they were staying. Their headquarters. Jesus had said, “Do not leave Jerusalem,” after all. He had told them, “wait for the gift my Father promised.” What were they waiting for? I wonder if they hoped Jesus would walk back through the locked door as he had not long before when they had been together and afraid.

They were the men and women who had followed Jesus most closely and a few members of his family. 120 souls. About the number we have here this morning. And, they were praying. For days. Constantly.

(Acts 2:1-13) Now it had been about two months since Jesus’ death. It was Pentecost. And on that day, that’s where they were again, in an upstairs room. I wonder if it was crowded and if they slept there too. There together waiting and praying on the day of Pentecost.

It was a Jewish national holiday. Pentecost. The harvest festival. Maybe a little like our Thanksgiving Day. Estimates from the Believers Commentary suggest that 180,000 people were in Jerusalem that day. 120,000 were foreign visitors. That’s what was going on in the city.

But back to that second story room… The Bible notes that they were all together. 120 of them.

And while they were there together, praying, they began to hear a sound. It sounded like a wind blowing. Like a violent wind. Like a hurricane, inside the house. The sound came out of heaven and swirled around in that place until it filled the entire house. And it spilled into the street. God, who can speak in a whisper, who can be heard in the sound of sheer silence, was roaring.

What was it like in that room? I think I might have hit the floor

And then… Look! What is that? It is like lightening flashed into the room. Fire. Did anyone scream? Did they cheer? From the flames of fire, smaller flames divided. But their hair didn’t catch fire. Nothing was burning but their hearts. And smaller flames appeared on the heads. A morning candle light vigil to the sound of a tornado.

And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Hooray! Hooray for God. Hooray for them. Hooray for the church forever! However the Spirit comes to us, quietly or with a shout, it is amazing.

Now remember, it was the Jewish holiday of Pentecost and a big crowd was in town. “From every nation under heaven,” the Bible says (v5). And down on the street, even above the noise of the crowd, folks started to recognize a strange sound. “What’s that?” “You hear that?” “Hey, what’s going on?”

It was a big wind. That was the first strange sound they heard. But wait. What was that? They began to recognize what they were hearing. Surprising. Remarkable. They were hearing their own languages spoken. For when the Spirit came whooshing into these men and women, they opened their mouths and out came new words.

And down the steps and into the crowd the 120 disciples poured. No longer waiting. No longer afraid. The people who heard them, holiday visitors in Jerusalem from every part of the known world, they were bewildered and utterly amazed, the Bible says.

“Wait a minute.” The crowd wondered. “Aren’t these people Galileans? How come we can understand every word they are saying in all of our languages?” They were amazed and perplexed. The Greek word is pretty strong. It means “blew their minds.” They said, “What does this mean?”

Well, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, that is an excellent question to ask. Whatever does this mean?

I’ll tell you what it means. The Holy Spirit is operating in the world in a new way and the church is born.

Why am I telling you this story today? I am talking about God’s Call for Jubilee. What does this story have to do with Jubilee? With us following God in worship, nurture, service and evangelism?

First, I want to begin a consideration of God’s call for us by remembering that it is God who began the church and empowers it to this day. A lot of the things we do at Jubilee, of the things any church does, can be accomplished by civic organizations. We provide social opportunities and structures for members. We serve the community. We enjoy each others company. We eat together. We invite others to join.

But brothers and sisters this is not the Lions Club. Nothing wrong with the good Lions of course. But what I mean is, Brothers and Sisters, when you are part of Jubilee, you are part of the wild, powerful, unpredictable, unchangeable movement of the Spirit of God. This is church. This is first of all, about God and what God is doing.

And second, for our part, we are here, Lord let this be true for us, we are here because we love this God and serve with joy. Our service is a simple and grateful response to God’s love.

Now think about it. If you had been up in that room that Pentecost morning. If you had been so overcome by God that folks mistook you for drunk (v13), well then I suppose a dynamic experience like that would have filled you with love for God and incredible joy. There is no evidence that these men and women were afraid. In fact the opposite is true. They spilled out into the crowd, irrepressible, unhushable joy. They were sharing with words they could scarcely understand with people they had never met, “the wonders of God.” (Acts 2:11) They were overwhelmed by God. Joy pouring out of them.

So, first of all. Church is a gift from God. Second of all, any part we have in it, is an offering of love, joy and gratitude. If our worship is a dismal drudgery, if our service is an obligation and distasteful, then we discredit the God to whom this whole outfit belongs.

Sometimes when people say to me that they don’t believe in organized religion, I say, “Then Jubilee will be perfect for you. There is nothing organized about our religion.” Of course, I’m joking, but only partly. Our church might not be the wild conglomeration that the first church was. (Acts 2:41) 3,000 new folks came into the church that first day. What percent of increase is that? From 120 to 3,120. And remember, these folks were all Jews but from many different countries. Their version of church reminds me of the phrase from Maurice Synbacks, children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, “Let the wild merriment begin.”

But when we gather for worship at Jubilee, it is also with a sense of reckless hope. We worship with holy abandon. We serve with enthusiasm and a smile on our faces. We invite others with the confidence that if they come to Jubilee they will meet God. We care for each other, Lord let this be true, as if we were kin.

But back to the first church… Look with me to Acts 2:42-47 where we find the description of the fellowship of believers. You know how some churches are named, First Baptist or First Mennonite, well this was First Church, period. The organic church. The new raw beginning church. I read it described as a “high-voltage” church.

Let’s see how the Bible describes these folks who are our ancestors in the faith. And as we do, let’s think about how they experienced, worship, nurture, service and evangelism.

In your bulletin you’ll find a copy of these verses that describe their life together. Look over the list. If you are a person that likes to do two things at once (hey, that helps some of us focus) as you are listening you might make a note by each of the phrases below by whether you think the phrase describes worship, nurture, service or evangelism. W – worship, N – nurture, S – service or E – evangelism.

Let’s take a look.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching­–
One of the things Jesus said in the great commission, (Matthew 28:20) was to teach everything that Jesus hand commanded. That’s a tall order. Everything?

and to the fellowship–-
Maybe they liked to eat together as much as we do. I wonder if they ever had a fish fry.

to the breaking of bread
This may also have referred to a fellowship meal, but more likely to communion which was a constant in their worship.

and to prayer.
They began with a prayer meeting that lasted for days. But even after Pentecost, prayer continued to characterize the young church.

Everyone was filled with awe,
Sometimes I feel a little awe struck me when I see what God is doing in your lives. When I look around with confidence at the good work of God that is Jubilee.

and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
The first day’s remarkable language learning was not the only miracle the Holy Spirit brought. In the next chapter, Acts 3, a lame man is healed. Peter gets out of jail with a little help from an angel (chapter 12). And decisions are made in Chapter 6 that keeps the rambling church together despite its diversity. Miracles all!

All the believers were together
Don’t you think that is pretty amazing, given that they represented people groups from all over the world known at that time?

and had everything in common.
If you need it, and I have it, then it is yours. What would happen if all the churches in North America operated under that kind of economy? What would change if Jubilee did?

Selling their possessions and goods,
These new Jewish Christians had come from all over the world for a holiday in Jerusalem. (by the way, this gives us a clue about how God planned for the Good News to eventually spread around the world, but I digress) While they were there, they got caught up in a Holy Spirit outbreak and they stayed. Where? What did they live on? So local believers even sold land, according to Acts 5, to support their new friends in the faith.

they gave to anyone as he had need.
Remember, they thought Jesus was coming back any day. After all, the angel told them in Acts 1:11, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” So, logic would say, if Jesus is coming back soon, I might as well sell what I have so that I have more to share.

One of the most compelling evidences of the coming of the Holy Spirit, for them or for us, is a hand pried open becoming a hand that shares whatever one has.

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.
Like I said, these folks were Jews, so the temple was the logical place to gather for worship. And think about it, the church was growing by thousands. They didn’t have any other worship facility. So, they met every day in the temple.

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
This is a description of small groups of people opening their homes and their hearts to each other. Do you think this refers to care groups?

praising God
Again, the focus on joyful worship

and enjoying the favor of all the people.
People liked what they saw. Imagine you were the neighbor of one of these folks. Wouldn’t you have begun to wonder, what are they so happy about? It was evangelism by attraction.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Thousands. Do the math. Acts 2:41 – 3,000. Acts 4:4 – 4,000. Acts 6:7 – “the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem.” Sounds like they are starting to lose count!

God has called us, Jubilee, together to be a community of worship, nurture, service and evangelism. Our forming has been much less explosive than the first church but it is no less remarkable. The same Spirit that empowered them to pour down those steps to tell of God’s wonders, lives in each of our hearts, is present when we gather. We are filled with joy and our worship celebrates God. We are motivated to serve with an exuberance that, well, sometimes it even surprises us. On our best days, we care as much about each other as we care about ourselves. And just like God did with First Church, God is adding folks to Jubilee.

May the pulsing life of the Spirit pour into us and empower us to be the church! Amen.

“Oh, may thy house be my abode,
and all my work be praise”
From “My Shepherd will Supply my Need” (Hymnal pg 589)
Acts 2:43-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching ­–
and to the fellowship –
to the breaking of bread
and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with awe,
and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
All the believers were together
and had everything in common.
Selling their possessions and goods,
they gave to anyone as he 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.

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