Sunday, May 3 – Reading: Acts 2:42-47
The book of Acts tells us about the early church. Acts is intended to be read as an extension of the story told in the Gospel of Luke. If you would have asked an early Christian how to follow Jesus after the resurrection they would have said, “Come join us and see.” In the minds of those believers there was no such thing as lone-ranger Jesus following. The distinction we sometimes make between spirituality and religion would have made little sense to them.
Early Christians continued to participate in the worship life of their Jewish communities. Initially, they didn’t even think of themselves as anything other than Jewish. Our passage mentions that those in Jerusalem continued to gather in the temple. Early Christians in other places would meet in synagogues. They used the Jewish scriptures (like Psalms), sang Jewish songs and prayed Jewish prayers. We could say that the expression of Christianity we read about in Acts was built with the “religious infrastructure” of Judaism.
I say this in order to fill in a bit of the background behind the idyllic, informal, and organic picture of the early church we see in Acts. Yes, God’s Spirit was (and is) at work in these days after Easter, but that work rarely proceeds without the presence and persistence of God’s people.
And yet there is value in seeing the simplicity of the church’s life in those early days. At the heart of the early community of faith was not a sales strategy or a white-knuckled plan to maintain the tradition. At the heart of the early community of faith were four simple things: teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. It didn’t take long until they needed committees and meetings to make those things happen, but the core remained simple: teach, fellowship, break bread, and pray.
Eventually their teaching required theological nuance. Eventually their fellowship required deliberate effort to stay out of old discriminatory ruts. Eventually their breaking of bread required organization to ensure mutual care. Eventually their prayer needed form and structure. These basic components evolved across time in different ways through a constant dialogue between the Jewish roots of the faith and the new cultures in which Christian communities arose.
The importance of teaching is still marked in our practices of preaching and formation. The significance of fellowship is symbolized by baptism and other forms of togetherness. Breaking bread is something we honor through the practice of Communion and shared meals. And prayer remains at the heart of corporate worship and our personal spiritual practice. The specific shape of the community of faith is ever-changing, and yet the core is simple and constant. The community of faith is the one where we follow the Good Shepherd through our teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer.
At this moment in history we need the simplicity of these practices from Acts 2. How do we carry on as a community of faith in difficult circumstances? What old patterns need to be maintained? What should shape new expressions of faith and community? How about . . . teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer?
Here’s a different metaphor. If you’re mechanically inclined you probably know what a flywheel does. A flywheel stores energy. It keeps a machine running smoothly, even when the power is intermittent. Acts 2 shows us the flywheel of the early church.
Whatever else we do together, whatever else we do in our own spiritual practice, we would be wise to keep the flywheel going. Teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer—those are the things at the heart of how we live out our faith alongside each other. That’s the flywheel. That’s what gives shape to the ever-evolving life of the disciple community. Those practices, imbued with the caring spirit of the Good Shepherd, will get us through.