Ordinary Church: When the Church Was Family

Acts 2:1-4, 17-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Today we move on to the section of the story by Joseph Beach Ordinary Church: Why Bother to my favorite part. The reason that I wanted to share this book with you in sermon form. The reason I feel like the “ordinary Church” is truly extra-ordinary. Last week I finished the sermon quoting Beach about how the church family is nothing less and nothing more than a family filled with love, and then I asked these questions, How can we come home? How does God call us home?

Beach quotes one of my favorite authors Rachel Held Evans in her book Ordinary Sundays with this passage, “It’s about communion. It’s about baptism. It’s about confession. It’s about healing. It’s about death and resurrection and all the beautiful weird things the church has always been doing.” I love the sound of beautiful weird things because at the heart of the church we are a little strange. Especially when it comes to getting people’s attention. The two passages that I chose for today are interesting ways of getting people’s attention.

Moses is climbing around on a mountain chasing aftr his sheep and goats. He has been on the lamb (get it chasing sheep ang goats and on the lamb) for several years after he killed an Egyptian. He sees a bush on fire. He wonders why that bush is oin fire and does not seem to be burning up, so he gets closer and the Lord speaks from that fiery bush. The Lord cries out to Moses and he responds, Here I Am. Moses was then told that he was in the presence of God. The very same God who was worshipped by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses goes on to listen to the Lord and leads the people of Israel the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to the gates of the Promised Land because a fire was burning.

After Jesus had been raised from the tomb and ascended into heaven he promised that the Advocate would come and be with the disciples. Then one day as the disciples were sitting in a locked room fearful that they might be next to be arrested fire appears to them. It is in the form of flaming tongues that see to rest on each of their heads. This fire is none other than the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. They have the gift to speak in languages to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Then when Peter addresses the crowd that had gathered to see what all the commotion was, what the fire was all about—he quotes the prophet Joel about the good news of the Holy Spirit. Peter recalls how the message is meant for the young and the old, men and women, even the slave shall receive the Spirit. Because when the blood and the fire and the smoke return, those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

How do we reclaim the fire of the church? Joseph Heller man says, “That when the church was on fire it was a family.” The church is at its best according to Rachel Held Evans when we take a bath in baptism, to eat a meal in communion, to experience the joys of birth of new children and believers, and to grieve alongside those who experience loss. We remind one another that there is hope in a resurrected Lord.

Beach in his book reminds us of the importance of intergenerational experiences for families to encounter. He writes, “from the very beginning, the church was a family. It was well known from the first day of the church that nobody had to be alone. It was well known that baptism meant that a Christian’s first identity, strongest allegiance, and highest loyalty was now attached to his or her local church family. It was one of the remarkable traits of the early church: everyone could have a family. Married or single, married or widowed, old or young, slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, every person could be part of a family. It is to be the same today and it often is.”

Just last week we celebrated the life of Ellie Kyncl. Their youngest son David read Psalm 145 and then said a few words about his mother. As is often the case while he was recollecting about his mother tears began to come and they flowed freely. It was throhg those tears that he recalled the church, more importantly the congregation, the people who was a steadying influence in his young-life and thanked them for being present with his mother and their continued presence with their Dad who is in the nursing home.

How often do we have the pleasure of hearing the stories that people share of when they were children and grew up in our churches. In times of great sadness and grief when they come to funerals and the church was their childhood church, it feels like home. Yet, many are not experiencing that feeling of coming home anymore, because they do not see church as a family. Beach refers to this as “hyper-individualism.”

He quotes Allison Wilkerson who wrote, “Our Christian subculture is marked by church hopping. We stay put as long as it suits us, until we are offended, or decide we’re not being “fed.” So, wanting to quietly validate our own identities, we tend to silo ourselves into churches where everyone looks like us, talks like us, likes the same movies, and won’t embarrass us in public. But what if we took a cue from popular culture’s push for diversity and realized that surrounding ourselves with our duplicates only makes us more self-centered.

Many people today have lost site of the purpose of church. They believe it is all about them and not about worshipping God. When people feel that they are not being fed, or when there is an encounter with someone who is not of like mind, they leave. Being a family is about being messy. Before I go any further if it is a toxic relationship, if it is a relationship that can not be reconciled then by all means find another place of worship. But more often than not, differences can be resolved if both parties want to work for reconciliation. How do we re-capture the fire of the church? In simple and continuous acts of worship. Beach gives a list of things to do when speaking about how to raise children in the church. I would suggest that there is no age limit to the children, from one to 99 these are important things to remember. He writes, “Take your kids to a church that teaches them the true place of corporate worship. Introduce them to a place where they learn the discipline of liturgy. A place where they reenact the gospel story through Word and Sacrament week in and week out. Take them to a church where they learn the value of stillness and silence, and where there’s also grace for them when they fail at it. Take them to a church where they learn to participate, instead of vegging out on jesusy entertainment. • Take your kids to a place where they have opportunities to participate in worship.  • Take your kids to a church without silos . Take your kids to a church where they are surrounded by people of all ages who love them and pray for them. Take your kids to a place where their faith is nurtured by mature believers, and where those older saints can be reinvigorated by the beautiful, budding, growing faith of a child. And take them to a place where they learn how to engage with the world around them, so that they can actually be the kingdom people they’re called to be.”

Our weekly time together to worship is where the fire is lit. It is the place where the fire is stoked and the embers will remain hot enough to get us through the week. But if the fire is not tended it will smolder and eventually die out. When we gather to repeat the liturgies, sing the hymns and pray the prayers that God taught God’s people, the flame glows again. That’s how church begins to feel like a home. That’s the beauty of family because you can only find it when you come home. Amen.

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