Prelude Welcome Call to Worship
The voice of God calls in love, inviting us into the shelter of kindness and grace.
Within these walls, in the house of God, we gather in the sanctuary of faith, waiting to be fed, and then to be led forth again into pastures beyond the boundaries of our certainties.
We will follow the loving Shepherd, the one who never fails us,
and who calls us each by name. Let us praise our God.
*Hymn of Praise #45 The Lord’s My Shepherd
Invocation (the Lord’s Prayer) We believe that you are present, O God, in the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit. You never leave us nor forsake us. Make yourself known to us in the heights and depths of life here, that we may be renewed and receive the fullness of your life.
Unison Psalm 23 RSV The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures.He leads me beside still waters; He restores my soul.He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff They comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflowsSurely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Our Offering to God let us bring our offerings in celebration of the saving love of Christ
Prayer of Dedication Receive our gifts, O God. We bring them with thankful hearts
and confident faith in your guidance. Help us always to share them with others.
*Hymn of Prayer # 439 He Leadeth Me
Pastoral Prayer O God, loving shepherd in Jesus, we know that so many people in our world have little experience of emotional sanctuary, or of a physically abundant life. Where there is hunger or despair: bring your plenty, O God, and open hands of hospitality. Where exploitation brings drudgery and weariness: bring your rest, O God, and strengthen commitments to justice. Where violence breeds fear and death: bring your peace, O God, and give wisdom to reconciling acts. Where isolation leaves people lost and lonely: bring your open and loving arms, O God.
Lift up our hearts this day, that we may hold firm to the faith, daring to go beyond where we have been, free to venture in your name and listening for your true voice in every person and place. This we pray in hope. Amen.
*Hymn of Praise # 581 There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit
Scripture Reading Acts 2:42-47
Message The Zone
It’s an extraordinary place. In baseball, when you enter the Zone in the batter’s box, you have no trouble getting a hit, because the baseball looks as big as a watermelon. Curt Schilling, pitcher for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, was in it last fall when the strike zone was as big as the side of a barn, and he was hitting his spots, winning two games.
In basketball, you’re in the Zone at the foul line when the basket looks like a hula hoop. In golf, every swing is effortless and every ball flies straight and true, and if you’re Vijay Singh you win 10 tournaments and almost $11 million.
According to college coaching legend Dean Smith, the Zone is “where time stands still and performance is exquisite.” Think of Barry Bonds hitting his 700th home run. Michael Jordan leading his team to six NBA champion-ships. Tiger Woods swinging a club so well that he once held all four “majors” simultaneously. Lance Armstrong winning a record-setting sixth Tour de France. All of these athletes have found this magical place of optimal performance, also known as the Sweet Spot, the Flow or the Effortless Present.
All of these phrases describe a sporting phenomenon, but they’re also descriptive of a spiritual zone we can experience when the conditions are right. In today’s passage from Acts, the early church has clearly found the sweet spot of Christian living. “Awe came upon everyone,” says Luke, the author of Acts, “because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.”
But just what exactly is this place, and how do we get there? Richard Keefe, the director of sport psychology at Duke University, explores this phenomenon in a book called On the Sweet Spot: Stalking the Effortless Present (Simon and Schuster, 2003). He describes the Zone as a state of mind and body in which action and reaction seem to happen automatically, a state that people can enter while hitting a ball, playing a musical instrument, or even typing on a word processor.
According to brain-imaging studies, professional piano players don’t actually think about hitting the keys on the piano; instead, their brain neurons fire in areas associated with mechanical motion rather than consciousness. Let’s do an experiment right now - ask the organist to play a few bars of Since Jesus Came into My Heart. Then ask her what the first note was. Was it actually a chord involving fingers of both the right and left hands? What were the second notes? Did she have to mentally and visually search for the second notes after playing the first? You get the idea. A musician doesn’t have to think. They’re in the Effortless Present. Likewise, when we practice our faith, what might have seemed hard at first, loving each other, saying the kind word, being gracious, helping the needy, becomes the instinctive, unconscious reflex of the mature Christian living in the Zone with the Holy Spirit.
Great players — whether they are on the piano or on the basketball court — don’t have to think about what they are doing. They just do it.
Of course, no one can pick up a golf club for the first time and hit below par. Perfect practice makes perfect performance, which is why professionals build routine and repetition into their highly disciplined daily lives. “This is how the adage ‘practice makes perfect’ really works,” writes Keefe in his book. “The more you do something, the more the brain changes to devote its energy to that function.” The more you practice, the more you are training your brain neurons to fire in a way that creates flawless mechanical motion.
Visualization can help as well. Simply imagining yourself doing something can light up the areas of the brain you’ll need to accomplish what you have in mind. A pro golfer will mentally play a round, shot by shot, before stepping on to the first tee. A major-league pitcher will reflect on his strategy for each hitter, inning by inning, before he arrives at the ballpark. “By doing so,” says ESPN senior editor Jon Scher, “he’s warming up his neural pathways before he warms up his arm, increasing the likelihood that he’ll wind up in the effortless present.”
The Effortless Present is a zone of automatic action, reached by practice and visualization. It takes us beyond stress and self-doubt to an experience of truly optimal performance.
So what does the Effortless Present look like for those of us on this journey?
We’re in the Effortless Present when the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — continue to have a larger place in our life (Galatians 5:22-23).
We’re in the Effortless Present when we’re abiding in him and he in us (John 15:5).
We’re in the Effortless Present when we have joy and peace in spite of adversity and suffering.
We’re in the Effortless Present when we’re supporting our “faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7).
We’re in the Effortless Present when we’re able to turn the other cheek, when we’re able to forgive 70 times 7 and when we’re able to turn away from temptation.
We’re in the Effortless Present when we are serving God with our spiritual gifts and passion.
We’re in the Effortless Present when we are sharing the Good News with others.
We’re in the Effortless Present when our only business, as Brother Lawrence puts it in The Practice of the Presence of God, is “to love and delight ourselves in God.”
We’re in the Effortless Present when love flows out from us to others as freely as water from a tap.
You say: “In other words, I’m in the Effortless Present when I’m — like — perfect.”
But don’t forget, the Effortless Present doesn’t happen very often. Not for Curt Schilling, Tiger Wood, or Kobe Bryant. And not for you.
However, there are disciplines that create the possibility that you, too, every once in a while, will get in the Zone, find the Sweet Spot, experience the Effortless Present that the apostle Paul calls, “walking in the Spirit.”
Those disciplines are visualization and practice.
Visualization. Notice that the apostles and the new Christians spent a lot of time in prayer. In prayer we’re able to express our longing for a deeper walk with God. We’re able to “picture” what kind of experience we want and hope for during the day ahead.
Morning prayer helps us set the tone for the entire day. Evening prayer allows us to express thanks, and “review the film” as it were, to look for spots where we stepped out of, or away from the zone. It allows us to consider why what worked, worked, and what didn’t work, didn’t work.
Practice. They “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The word “devoted” is a rather long, compound Greek word. It means to “be strong toward.” No one finds the Effortless Present without being “strong toward” something. If it’s golf, you have to be dragged away from the practice range. If it’s basketball, you’re shooting hoops at midnight.
The early Christians were “strong toward” certain things, namely, the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.”
In other words, they were people of the Word and people of Community.
They knew that to find the Zone, they would need to learn the fundamentals. The apostles were their coaches. And they were “strong toward” their teaching. Couldn’t get enough of it.
Which is strange all the way around, because the disciples in the gospels were not really known for their clarity of thought and the richness of their vision. They didn’t get it most of the time. They seldom had ears to hear what the Spirit was saying to them.
But the resurrection and Pentecost changed all that. Now they taught with authority. The pieces had all come together. And the early Christians couldn’t get enough of what they had to share. They were people of the Word — unabashedly and without apology.
And they were people of Community. They hung out together, which no doubt was a source of strength, courage and support. They ate in each other’s homes. They sold their possessions and shared with each other. How strong is that!
They knew that to find the zone, they would need support from the community. So they ate together, prayed together, studied together, and began to observe the sacraments together.
The result was that the church experienced phenomenal growth — as would any church that had Christians in this kind of a zone.
The problem is, of course, getting to a place where we can experience this kind of spiritual skill.
It’s not easy.
But it might be helpful to remember the Effortless Present is a Spirit-generated state of mind and soul. It’s not about us “trying” to be better any more than Yo-Yo Ma tries to remember where fingers and bow combine to strike a D on the cello.
It’s the music, it’s the practice, it’s the Spirit. It all comes together. When a person is walking in the Spirit, he or she doesn’t “think” about how the love comes, how the joy comes, how the service comes.
It’s just there, because the Spirit is within us, empowering us and moving us with ease toward this spiritual level of life in which practicing God’s presence, experiencing God’s power, just seems to come naturally.
Practice and visualize. Then ask the Spirit of God to take over.
Source: Scher, Jon. Review of On the Sweet Spot: Stalking the Effortless Present. Duke Magazine, March-April 2004, 54.
*Hymn of Response # 281 Since Jesus Came Into My Heart
*Sending forth Go from this place, committed — to learn and live God’s will,
to break bread and pray, to be awestruck by God’s mighty deeds, to share all things with one another, to reach out to those in need, to do all things with glad and generous hearts.
Children's Sermon Hold a large, round loaf of bread in front of the children. Guess what needs to be done to the loaf in order for it to feed people? Answer: It has to be broken. But you don’t want to break the loaf because it is so round and beautiful with a nice brown crust. Can people be fed by just coming to church and looking at the beautiful, unbroken loaf. The children will say “No!” The early church knew all about feeding people, which is why they did teaching, fellowship, prayer and “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). The first Christians were not interested in holding on to their bread and looking at it, but instead they broke it and shared it with anybody who had any need. Do you think these Christians were sad about breaking their bread? They loved to break their bread and share, and the Bible says that “they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (v. 46). Break your bread into pieces so that every child gets one, but ask them to be sure to go into the congregation and share their bread with someone else before they take their very first bite. The best way to enjoy a piece of bread is to break it and share it with someone else.
“If you practice an hour a day, you’ll be like somebody who practices an hour a day,” said jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to The New York Times Magazine (October 3, 2004). “If you want to be great, you be the one doing five hours a day.”
Luke describes the early church at its best: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is a praiseworthy response to the forgiveness and new life that we have in Christ. We need to be attentive to doctrine, especially the gospel, and to regular fellowship, worship and prayer.
—Joseph Tkach, “Seeking a center for the church”
“We study the Bible not primarily to learn what to do as Christians but how to be as Christians,” writes Josh McDowell in See Yourself As God Sees You. “As we understand from Scripture who we are and what we are becoming, the doing part of our faith will practically take care of itself.”
We are made for community. Since the beginning of time people have formed themselves into clans and tribes. Your identity comes from community. You cannot find your identity in isolation. Your esteem grows in community. Accomplishment occurs through community. The acronym for the word “team” is together everyone accomplishes more. From the time we are little, we try to find a group into which we can fit. This group must offer acceptance and also allow us to participate in a significant way.
—Mike Slaughter, “Contagious community”
Chandler Stokes, who’s now a pastor in California, tells of an epiphany he had when he was a student at New College in Edinburgh a number of years ago, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. While Chandler was there, he had the rare chance to hear the head of the East German Church, a Protestant church trying desperately to survive behind the Iron Curtain. But instead of feeling sorry for himself, this leader remarked on the struggle of his audience. He said,
“Almost every time I come to the West, I am asked by serious and well-meaning church people, ‘How are you able to be a Christian in a communist society, with so many pressures and impositions from the state?’ My usual response is to ask, ‘How are you able to be a Christian in a capitalist society? With every pressure to self-centered consumption and self-gratifying indulgence?” ...
Capitalism, tempered by compassion, can accomplish great good. Capitalism can inspire creativity, encourage independence, and most importantly, raise people out of poverty. But capitalism can’t teach us to care ... and it can’t teach us that greed is ultimately empty ... and it can’t teach us that, in the long run, sharing what we have brings us much more joy than owning things. Capitalism can’t teach us any of these things. But the gospel ... the gospel can.
—Christine Chakoian, “With glad and generous hearts”
“Courage is like a muscle,” says John McCain in Fast Company magazine (September 2004). “The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. I sometimes worry that our collective courage is growing weaker from disuse. We don’t demand it from our leaders, and our leaders don’t demand it from us. The courage deficit is both our problem and our fault.”