Lent 4 Laetere 2021
March 14, 2021
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” So writes St. Luke in our text from Acts 2. This account comes right after Peter’s Pentecost sermon and the faithful response to hearing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These four aspects of the Christian life – devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayers – were part of the daily life of those early Christians, a description of their life together in Christ.
This should make us stop and think about what we are doing here. Why are we here week after week? Our common life under the Word of God starts with common worship at the beginning of the day. Our days and weeks revolve around Sunday, where we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread, and prayer. But it doesn’t just exist here, or at least is shouldn’t. What really does our life together in Christ mean?
The world finds it hard to articulate just how or why the church has any role to play other than providing a place to fellowship with other individuals who have a private relationship with God. The whole last year has confused the world even more. Without faith, it doesn’t make sense to physical gather around where Christ promises to be when there is technology that can be used to connect virtually. Without faith, the common life shared by Christians extends as far as convenience and opportunity, but not as an essential necessity of life.
Many, even within Christianity, think of the church either as a place where individuals come to find answers to their questions or as one more stop where individuals can try to satisfy their consumerist desires. Too often we treat the Church like a club that we can belong to, a group of like-minded people. And then when it gets boring, or tiring, or we hear something that offends our sensibilities – or dare I say, a fear of illness – we look for the greener grass on the other side of the fence. As the prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 53, “We like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, every one, to his own way, but the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
But being a disciple of Christ, being part of the Church of God in Christ Jesus is not like being part of a club. It’s being part of the flock of sheep under the care and guidance and protection of the Good Shepherd. As part of that flock, as part of that family, we then share in all that have, the good and the bad and the ugly, because that is what families do. Christian fellowship is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate. It is a gift of God that we cannot claim, but only receive. This is because our fellowship, our life together, stems first and foremost, last and finally in Christ. When we receive the Gospel of Christ, we have the abundant life and common unity of the entire flock under one Good Shepherd, in “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” and in “the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42), all of which takes place under the Cross of the crucified Christ and in the life of the resurrection.
Our life together under the cross will remain sound and healthy only where it does not think of itself or make itself into a movement, a society, a club, but only where we understand ourselves as being part of the one, holy Christian and apostolic church, where we share actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promises of that church. A true understanding of the Church of God shapes our identity, our purpose, our efforts, our life. The word “church” in Greek literally means an assembly. The church is the assembly of God’s saints, sinners redeemed by Christ, in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. So, why do we Christians assemble? To get from Christ what He wants us to have. The goal of Christianity community, of fellowship, of life together is to be in the presence of Christ Himself, and to meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation, coming only through Jesus Christ, for in Christ God Himself has taken on our flesh to have fellowship with His creation.
Luther once wrote a wonderful little tract on this topic where he said, “This fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possession of Christ and his saints [i.e., believers] are shared with and become the common property of him who receives this sacrament [of the altar]. Again all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engenders love in return and [mutual love] unites” (LW 35:51).
What do we share? What finally brings us together and holds us together? Jesus. The result is that we are unified in the one body of Christ through faith, grow together in the grace of God, that we share in the commonalty of the will of Christ, that we praise God with one heart and one voice, turning to Christ for forgiveness and life which He bestows through Word and Sacrament, being in fellowship with one another, and a beacon of light to the world.
Do you remember what the result was of the first Christians in worship and life together? The rest of the world noticed them! The fact of the matter is your Christian life ought to be noticeable, others ought to see Christ in you. People ought to look at us Christians and wonder what we are doing and why. At times, this will bring ridicule and criticism, just like it did to Jesus, just like it has to the Church of God throughout the ages. But the Holy Spirit also is at work gathering people into this Church through the faithful reception of the Word, by means of baptism, adding to our number day by day those who are being saved.
Christ, through His Apostles, set the pattern for us. This is how He takes care of His Church. By His Spirit, we cling tightly to the teaching of His Word. We keep the fellowship by steadfast faithfulness to His teaching, and to one another. He feeds us in His most holy meal at this Altar. He comes among us in this Divine Service, He hears our prayers as we cry out to Him. By the grace of God, let us continue in these things, because in them is Christ and our salvation.