The Joyful Fellowship!
Third Sunday in Easter, April 13, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
INTRODUCTION: Grace, mercy, and peace to you dear friends from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ! Our message this morning comes to us from our reading in Acts (2:42-47). I have asked our Organist Dale to softly play a series of notes for a few minutes to illustrate something that is expressed many times in our lesson this morning (In the background the organist begins to play a series of dissident notes). There is a word in Greek, just one word that communicates a series of wonderful word pictures; it is Homothumadon. What you hear being played would represent the opposite of homothumadon. Listen…it is unsettling, even uncomfortable to listen to isn’t it? Hear how those musical notes seem to be working against each other? These notes are called dissident notes. Each pitch is fighting the other; each vying for supremacy. But when we adjust the notes so that they compliment each other, they become pleasing to the ear, pleasing to the soul—they become homothumadon. Do you hear how the notes are moving together with one mind, with one accord, and with one passion? It is a fellowship of sounds, each complimenting the other. They are homothumadon, or a joyful fellowship of sounds. As the notes of the organ harmonize in pitch and tone as Dale determines, we see an illustration of how God desires to work within His Church using us as His great symphony that declares His majesty and glory among His people and to those separated from Him by sin within the world. The church, our church becomes God’s symphony of homothumadon when it adherers to 4 things: doctrine; fellowship; worship; and witness.
I. When we adhere to the Words of Jesus as taught by the apostles we are said to be following sound doctrine. The disciples in our lesson this morning adhered to the teaching of the apostles as they recalled all that Jesus taught. We can adhere to good doctrine as well because we have all that they taught recorded for us in our Bibles. Everything that God wants us to know about Him and His will for us is recorded there. If we study His word and live out His will, we will experience homothumadon. But the devil’s desire is for you to be dissident to this will. The devil desires friction and turmoil; he always has! So the devil attacks the spread of Jesus Words and will. That is the bad news, but the good news is, no matter how hard Satan and his devils try to prevent us from adhering to good Biblical doctrine, God—will—intervene! When the devil tried to scatter the disciples in fear on Good Friday, God’s angel gathered them with the proclamation, “Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed!” When the Jewish leaders led by the devils tried to force them behind locked doors, Jesus miraculously appeared and gave them the peace of His eternal presence through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn empowered them with courage to go out and be His witnesses to the entire world.
As these witnesses spread throughout the world proclaiming the gospel, Satan tried to stop their witness once again by putting many of them in prison and eventually to death, but God again intervened by converting the tormentors. He even converted Constantine, the Emperor of Rome into the fellowship of believers. So God’s people flourished and grew. But Satan couldn’t stand to see them adhering to the true doctrine, so he used their ease to once again interrupt their fellowship with dissident doctrine—unbiblical teachings. Satan began to attack God’s fellowship of believers from the inside—from the top down. But God began to raise-up faithful stewards of His Word from within the church. So began the seeds of the reformation. Many brave reformers were imprisoned and even put to death for their insistence on Biblical doctrine, but one voice could not be silenced. Martin Luther, by God’s grace rose up and boldly declared God’s message that has always been the source of our doctrine—we stand in the presence of a loving God by His grace, through faith in what our Bibles teach about Jesus Christ. We stand by these things alone, and in this God is helping us and ensuring that this fellowship will not fail! This is the doctrine that we still follow and insist on adhering to. This is your inheritance indeed it is your legacy to live out and pass on to the next generation! We find strength to live out this truth when we…
II. Adhere to Christian fellowship. This Christian fellowship is first a fellowship of all believers—the universal church of true Christians unseen by all except God alone. But the Christian fellowship is also a physical church, our church, and many other churches, and together we are all Christ’s church. We are a fellowship because we adhere to one faith in Christ and one teaching, scripture alone. We are a fellowship because it is only by God’s grace that we have been called out of the darkness of sin and into the light of eternal life and Christ’s body, the church. This gives us great joy, because Christ first loved us while we were still sinners!
Because of this truth, we along with the disciples of old, find it easy to support the fellowship, and to give to each other and to the ministry of this fellowship generously as the need arises. We give out of our bounty because we know that if we are ever in need God will ensure that we are cared for as well. This type of generous giving was never forced on the early church and it is not forced upon us. We give because the Holy Spirit has recreated our sinful hearts and minds into something wonderfully new!
Before the coming of our Savior, the people of faith, the Jews lived under the Mosaic Law, which was very specific about the care for the needy and downtrodden present within their fellowship of faith. Under this law, God was teaching His people that it was His will that none of His children of faith should go hungry or be in need. But if we read our Bibles, we will see that it is replete with example after example of the homeless, beggars, and helpless widows and orphans in need of but seldom receiving care. These helpless ones were all people of faith. The fact that they were not taken care of is proof that the Law of God cannot change a sinful heart! No, rather it is only through God’s recreation, through the gift of new life that this type of giving and care can be assured. So God changed the hearts of the early Christians and because of this change they gave not because they had to, but because their Lord asked them to. They gave out of their love for Jesus because Jesus first loved them. And friends, Jesus first loved us as well. While we were still sinners He loved us, and He loves us still, so we give. We bring our offerings as God leads our hearts so that each may be blessed by the ministry of this fellowship. And when we feel our hearts growing cold and hard as they tend to do so easily in this sinful world, we pray. And when we pray, we wait to be answered by God; we seek to be filled with His gifts. But in order for this to happen, we know that we must…
III. Adhere to the fellowship of worship. It is during worship that God will continue his work of ensuring that our old hearts that are hard and cold are destroyed and our new hearts are continually strengthened by His real presence and warmed with the gentle touch of His gospel. We come just as the disciples of old came—hungry for the gifts of God—salvation through the forgiveness sin!
Our new heart hungers for and receives God’s Word as often as possible, even as the disciples of old gladly received His Word daily. We hunger for and receive His Holy Supper, just as the disciples of old did, and through this breaking of bread and this drinking of the cup of the new covenant, our new hearts feast upon His very body and blood, making them joyful and our fellowship meaningful.
Now, with God working within us, we begin to hunger for a deeper fellowship with each other. We long to celebrate another type of breaking of the bread…another type of fellowship. Whether its coffee and donuts, church potluck or picnic, we long to gather together. Not because we must, but because we desire the company of each other. We have discovered as did the disciples of old that we need each other. We need each other’s prayers and love. We need each other’s support and care. We need each other because we need Jesus, and we know that Jesus lives and works within each of us. So we gather in our fellowship out of love and out of need. But we are not yet complete, because we find God’s Spirit compelling us to…
IV. Adhere to the fellowship of proclaiming the gospel. It is only through the proclamation of the gospel, our witness to Jesus presence in this sinful world that the family of God will grow. This morning Jesus says: “Even though you meet day by day, and you continue steadfast with one accord attending worship regularly together and breaking bread and receive your food together with glad hearts; even though you praise God for all of this, are you allowing me to add to your fellowship more and more people saved by grace and faith through scripture alone? Do you want me to add to your number? Do you want your fellowship to grow?” And to this we say…Yes Lord! Please teach us how.
ILLUS: Hopefully this illustration will do just that. When I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, there was a lot of water around. I had wonderful adventures around lakes, ponds, and streams. In our village park there were three bodies of water very close to each other, a pond, a river, and a spring fed stream. The pond was fed every spring by the overflowing river. When the winter snows melted, the pond teamed with life…I loved to play there and catch frogs. The spring fed stream on the other hand was not as interesting to me. It wasn’t nearly as spacious and inviting as the pond. The spring bubbled water up, only to gush it down the banks of the little steam. Everything there seemed so urgent.
The pond on the other hand seemed to have everything I needed. I could walk its edge at my leisure and let my mind wonder off on great “What If” adventures. But every summer, something dreadful happened to that little pond—it died! No longer was there the presence of life teaming around this water, instead there was brackish water and the stench of death and decay was everywhere. Yet to my surprise I discovered that just a few hundred yards away, the stream was still teaming with life. The water was still bubbling up and sending itself quickly downstream; but to where? I followed the stream for almost a half mile and found that it met up with the Fox River. And there within the river was all of the wildlife I came to love within the pond! While the pond became a place of death, the stream kept bubbling life. The stream continued to draw from the underground springs at its source and it gave life freely as it went along.
Friends, it is God’s will that we travel out from this place as bubbling life. He wants us to bring life to people and places where the decay and stench of death now exist. What must we do? Simply allow Jesus presence within us to lead and guide us. Others will sense His presence and they will be drawn to you, because they are drawn to Him. Within God’s Word, Jesus gives us this teaching when He says: “Give, and it will be given to you,” (Luke 6), and “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10). Jesus also taught His disciples of old and He teaches us today, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6) You see, we gain by giving and lose by keeping. But we can’t grow by keeping to ourselves. We must go out and intentionally share God’s love with others, then they will see Jesus within us and hear our witness.
CONCLUSION: Before His death upon the cross, Jesus shared the key to living in a lasting fellowship with Him and with others. He told the disciples of old and He tells us today, “Love one another as I have loved you. All men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) Friends, God’s plan for all believers includes the demonstration of His righteousness in and through a loving community. Jesus’ church is to demonstrate to the world that righteousness, homothumadon, when correctly understood means love and joy! And this love and joy can only be demonstrated in His fellowship; His fellowship within us, around us, and through us. When this transformation takes place, we are nourished in our growth towards becoming like Jesus through the ministry of each other. In the acceptance and love of each other, we also begin to not just more deeply sense God’s love for us, but we also begin to reflect that love towards a dying world in great need of homothumadon…fellowship with God! May God ensure that this is so within each of us…in Jesus name…AMEN!