42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the LORD added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
I always find that I am inspired by our reading today, taken from the book of Acts. I would suggest that the early Church was built on the following four pillars:
- Adherence to Scriptural teaching
- Breaking of bread
I’d like to comment on each of these ‘pillars’ in turn.
Adherence to Scriptural teaching
I think one of the bedrocks of any society must surely be values. We have all heard of family values, community values, moral and social values and perhaps even Christian values. Values are important. They serve to define who and what we are, and what we hold dear.
Values help us decide whether our choices in life are good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or worthless, important or significant. It is only when we show proper consideration for values that we might become fully aware of the consequences of not holding to them.
Values become the basic determiners of our perceptions, opinions and attitudes. Values may unite families, communities, groups and friends, especially when those values are held by all.
The values in the early Church were established in no small part through the teaching of Scripture. The Bible is not a worthless book stood on our shelf gathering dust. It contains invaluable teaching to inform our daily living and helps us to understand ourselves in relation to God. No wonder the early church devoted itself to the apostles teaching.
It is perhaps when something is taken away from us that we begin to value it all the more. That is certainly the case with regards to fellowship; in this time of lockdown, I really miss contact with my family – both immediate family and the family of the Church. But even with social distancing in place, we have had the opportunity to remain in fellowship by phone, text, email or even virtual gatherings.
I have really appreciated these ways of maintaining fellowship, and just to make or receive a phone call or catch up with people via video calls have proved such a tremendous blessing. We are created to be in community and to be in fellowship. I hope that when we emerge from this that people in our communities won’t simply return back to the old ways of being and living, but that there might be a much deeper appreciation of one another, and of being in community. I really hope that people might see why we as a Church hold precious the opportunity to gather together.
Breaking of Bread
Breaking bread, and having Communion are fundamental aspects of priestly ministry. There is always something very powerful for me personally to be able to preside over Communion. Those of you that have received Communion from me will probably have noticed that I tend to receive after everyone else; that’s because I want to make sure that the flock is fed first.
In the breaking of the bread, in some way Jesus makes himself known to his followers just as he did on the Emmaus road. In the breaking of the bread, we are looking back and remembering what Jesus has done for us, but we are also looking forward to what Jesus will do for us. I would suggest that in the breaking of the bread we are not just simply remembering – after all, I can add an appointment to my calendar so that I don’t forget it, but unless I keep that appointment which requires preparation and engagement, it loses its significance and purpose. Next Sunday we will once again have an opportunity to virtually “break bread” together again.
A healthy church is a praying Church. Do we really believe in miracles? Do we really believe that God can revive the Church? Prayer takes us to a vulnerable place, a place where we recognise our own spiritual poverty and where everything is stripped away as we come before God. Through prayer, we might see communities transformed, through prayer we might see ourselves draw closer to one another and to God.
With these four foundations in place, we begin to see the fruit:
- Wonders and signs, in which through intercessory prayer lives are changed and transformed and hope is realised in our communities
- Mission and outreach, with people seeing that there is something different about folks who go to Church and how we are with each other, with people being saved
- The sense of unity and common purpose, and helping each other out in times of trial as well as times of blessing
- A deep appreciation of God and his many blessings, having glad and sincere hearts
The passage we have heard today gives us wonderful insight into what it means to “be Church” and in fellowship and community. Let’s hold these thoughts in our prayers this week as we pray for our Church, and our local community and what they might look like when we have come through this time.