“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NRSV
What a joyous scene! No, it is not that of a post-game celebration. It is not as a result of someone having graduated from high school. It is not even an acknowledgment of a couple’s golden anniversary as given by family and friends. This is a glimpse of the post-Pentecost community gathering to share life with one another. I know it may seem hard to believe because we have become so accustomed to other expressions of doing church. We have observed the Body of Christ when it has not exactly functioned at its best. We read of the enthusiasm and compassion of the first Christians and wonder what has happened in the years since. Is Luke accentuating the positives of a faith community when times were different, less complicated, and more understanding of the faith? Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not. Could it be that Luke did not need to embellish anything because this was a genuine expression of the Pentecost experience within the followers of Christ?
The Spirit of God does have a way of changing situations…when we allow the Spirit to do so. I believe this is where the people of first-century Christianity understood things different from what we have come to know and accept as the Church for today. We have lost sight of what empowered early Christians to offer a bold witness, effective testimony, and work together for the blessing of all. The faith community of Luke’s time was characterized by an openness to the One promised by Jesus prior to his death and resurrection. In a portion of John 14, which is often overshadowed by Jesus’ words concerning a place prepared for us, Jesus told the disciples that he would “Ask the Father who will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (14:16). This word translated by the NRSV as “Advocate” may be found elsewhere as “Helper” or “Paraclete.” The latter is a transliteration which takes the word within the Greek text and transfers it into the letters of the English alphabet. When broken down into its two parts, this compound word conveys the idea of “one who is called (from the verb kaleo) alongside of (preposition para) someone else.” With the sending of the Holy Spirit, God has provided the Church (us) with what is needed in order to execute the ongoing work of the Gospel. It is not a task which we must carry forth on our own effort.
A few years ago, there was a series of television advertisements for The Home Depot. Each featured men and women undertaking a variety of around the house projects. These average people were portrayed as shopping at The Home Depot for the tools and supplies needed for completing their projects. The idea conveyed through this advertising campaign was that anyone can do anything which he or she puts his or her mind to without hiring a “professional” to complete the job. The advertisements always ended with the slogan, “You can do it. We can help.” While this was a simple promotional tool utilized by a home improvement company, we can make a connection with our calling and subsequent responsibilities as the Church. So often, we attempt to carry out our calling as Christians assuming we must change the world with our own creativity, knowledge, charisma, etc., but the reality is…God has provided us with the power needed for the monumental task before us. We can do a lot of wonderful things, but fulfilling the Great Commission is still a partnership between God and us. We can do it, but God MUST be a part of our planning and execution of this ministry.
Living in a world which emphasizes the need for self-sufficiently certainly runs against the grain of the biblical witness in favor of God-sufficiency. To allow God full access to our lives and yield to the leadership of the Holy Spirit is a risky endeavor. It is risky because…1. We release our finger from the control button of our lives and 2. We run the possibility of God actually changing something within us for the better. It is as though we are content with the state of our lives at the present and would rather remain in such a place than see what God might do through our surrender. Surrender was the key to the movement which we read of in the first portion of Acts. Jesus’ followers obediently waited in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit not fully aware of just how powerful an impact the Spirit would have upon them moving forward. What we discover unfolding on the Day of Pentecost, and in the short time thereafter, is the transformation of people’s lives. They transitioned from selfish to sacrificial. They traded fearful spirits for faithful service. They gave up their division and came to embrace diversity. They could not possibly have built such a community if they had tried on their own. The birth of what we now know as the Church was God’s undertaking and the re-birth of the Church for our generation and those of future generations will be God’s doing.
I believe in the Church. By this, I do not simply mean that I am affirming something from one of the creeds handed down through generations of Christian history. I mean, I believe the Church has a place in our world. Our existence as the Body of Christ has far surpassed many other movements and causes within the world, and, as long as we are here, we have a work to be about day after day. This year, Little Rock is celebrating one hundred and fifty years as a congregation within Lucama. Has our presence touched the lives within our community? Absolutely! However, our faithfulness and that of countless men and women before us has had even farther-reaching effects. We have come a long way since 1871, but I do not believe our best years are behind us. I believe we are still a legitimate part of God’s people and God can continue to use us if we are open.
Together in Christian Service,
The Reverend Kelley Smart