And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.And all who believed were together and had all things in common.And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
I love the song, "Our Love is Here to Stay," by George and Ira Gershwin. The lyrics are so beautiful- so soothing- they speak of a constant type of love that withstands anything. and these words hold true hold true , for God's relationship with us- and also our relationship with one another as a people of God. That though everything might feel like it's crumbling, or tumbling- the love we share in God is everlasting... here to stay.
In the passage from Acts, Luke gives us a glimpse back at the love of the early church. who were simply called, followers of ‘The Way.’ They were disciples of Christ- living out the teachings of Jesus- doing life together. Notice I said doing 'life' together, and not 'ministry' together. There was no differentiation between 'life' and 'ministry.' Conversion to Christianity- or, repentance, meant life from this moment would be lived out in a new way; lived out in Christ-like, or Christ-ian love. To our modern ears 'the Way" described in that passage sounds almost cultish- or as someone in the Wednesday night scripture group noted- like a 60s commune...
Most people don't think like that anymore, especially when it comes to being church. We like our individual space. We like being able to close our doors and lock out the world and lock out each other if we want to, and gather when we want to, and to see who we want to see when we want to see them... We like relationship on our terms much of the time. For the early church turning off was not an option. They gathered every day. Every day. They met in the temple first, to worship, and then broke bread in each other’s homes as an extension of worship. Every day. Every. Day.
Those first Christians were forced out of the temple-it was their church, their FBCM, because they professed Jesus as Messiah. In many cases after they were exiled from the temple they were hunted, persecuted; some even put to death. They were experiencing grief, loss, and fear. So of course, they met every day. Without that kind of support from the community, without that kind of commitment to the community, it would be almost impossible to keep the faith. Every. Day.
And as idyllic (or horrific) this kind of church community sounds to you, this was a movement that was going to last more than just a few days or months or years- Christianity was here to stay- and we can look at the model of the early followers of the way, and to draw knowledge and hope from their experiences. Being forced from the temple only strengthened their commitment to gather. Their fear and grief only heightened their intention to depend on one another. When one was in need, others gave. They found ways to make it work, to meet, to share, to discern, and to live out what it meant to be the incarnation of Christ on earth. They recognized the love of God that bound them together as unbreakable, everlasting- and they embraced it. And they allowed themselves to be formed and shaped by the Holy Spirit as a community of faith, and found together, a 'new normal.'
Did the hair on the back of your neck just go up? Yeah- I understand. “New normal” is an unsettling term that has crept its way into our vocabulary during the pandemic. Like the early Christians, we are indeed going to emerge from this and find a new normal- whatever that will look like. And I considered not talking about it today- just sick with Psalm 23 and the loving arms of the great Shepherd… The pastor in me wants to reassure and soothe you. But the prophet in me also knows that as a congregation we need to talk about this- not to shy away from what is, even though it might feel a bit scary. We need to name it, so that we can allow the holy spirit to lead us into our new normal as committed and connected as the first Christians- and that we can walk into it together. Further, I don’t want us going all over the place in our thinking and worrying about what might be or listening to rumors of when and where and how. None of us know the specifics of what our emergence from this will look like, but we can equip ourselves in the best way we know how in order to come out of this quarantine a strong, courageous, united community of faith. We do so in confidence that God has called us, bound us together with unending love, and will never leave us- no matter what- Amen? So let’s talk about it. Admittedly, the term ‘new normal’, implies some loss of the ‘old normal;’ there is a high probability that we won't be going back to church exactly as it was. Now, part of that is due to restrictions that may be in place at the time when our building opens back up that we will not have control over. We don’t know how many people will be allowed to gather at one time, what social distancing practices might be in place, or how we may have to alter our traditional practices of worship; how we serve communion or do baptisms or share the peace of Christ and even how we do coffee hour! But let me assure you- the physical/operational part- we will figure out. We are a congregation who love being together, and love doing ministry- so whatever the conditions of meeting, or whatever creative accommodations we need to make in our day to day, I’m not worried about at all. The way we do things, we can always work through; we will still have rich and spirit filled worship. We can’t help it First Baptist. It’s who we are. But the other part of allowing the spirit to create a new normal for us, takes place right now. And lots of people are talking about this time as an in-between period, or liminal space; a time of stillness- as we wait for whatever is next that we can’t yet see… and all of that may be true. But at the same time- though our building is locked, our church is not closed- amen? Ministry is still going on. Discipleship is still happening- growth is still happening, new life is still happening- even now, Praise God. And this needs to be named as well. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving and as vibrant as she was on the day of Pentecost- which means that as we listen, discern, and follow the leadings of the spirit- our congregation shifts and changes and grows just as we do when we meet in person. This is a beautiful natural consequence of organic beings in relationship with God. We can’t follow God and stay where we are at the same time! So- yes, we are continually developing-spiritually, relationally-physically-technologically- we are changing as a people- which means that when we do gather in person again, our congregation will look and feel different from when we met back in March. And listen- that is as it should be. This is why it’s so important for each of us to stay connected-so that we are in sync with one another as we go forward. Each of us is called for this unique unprecedented time in our church’s history- not some of us- all of us have a specific gift that is essential to this ministry- we need every single person. Don’t choose to just hunker down and wait it out and figure you’ll catch up when we the virus is over. We’re coming out of this as one body, amen? How do we do it? The early church functioned through small group ministry, or house churches. They were able to care for one another and develop spiritually and support one another and do ministry and discipleship together. When the new normal emerged, their relationships were so solid and so deep, they were already there.. It’s why I keep emphasizing small groups- I believe with my whole heart that this is the key to both maintaining and growing this community of faith in step with the Spirit. We need to know each other so well, and be so in sync with one another that when we do have to face the physical restrictions of worship, it will not shake this community of faith. God has not given us a spirit of fear. We’re not a people who are going to fear the new normal because we are going there together- bound together by the love of Christ. We don’t fear the new normal because it’s the light of the Holy Spirit who is guiding and leading us to it- we don’t fear the new normal because my friends, Gods everlasting love is already there. My prayer continues to be that we can recognize the unbreakable, everlasting- and embrace it- now. Because we’re not in this for a few days or a year- we’re in this together for as long as God calls us church. And our love truly is, here to stay.