2008-04-06

PRACTICING CHRIST WITH THE EARLY CHURCH


A Sermon For Year A, Third Easter
Copyright © 2008 Nathan L. Bostian

Based on Acts 2:14a,36-47; John 21:1-14

MY FAVORITE RANDOM FACTOID: Tonight we heard in the Gospel one of my favorite random factoids in Scripture.

Did you catch it?

Nope. It wasn't the fact that St. Peter liked fishing naked. I mean, that is an INCREDIBLY interesting factoid. And the next time you get into a conversation with a Roman Catholic friend about the origin of the Church, I think you should mention that the first Pope liked casting his nets in the buff.

But it isn't my favorite factoid.

And while I love the factoid that Jesus actually cooked breakfast for his disciples, it is not my favorite either. Don't get me wrong. I love that Jesus not only comes back from the grave, but he cooks for his friends. Now THAT is full service resurrection:

"Pardon me, but would you like two eggs over easy with your victory over the grave?"

Yet, my FAVORITE random factoid is 153 fish: "Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them."

153 fish. How INCREDIBLY RANDOM is that?

Through the ages many great sages have tried to fathom the mystery of WHY St. John chose to include random factoid of 153 fish. Here are some ideas they came up with:

Some sages once said that there were only 153 species of fish in the sea, and therefore this symbolically means that Christ has sent his disciples as "fishers of humanity" to "catch" every type of human on Earth.

Other sages have said that this refers to all of Noah's progeny through his sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth. One refers to Shem's race, three refers to Ham's race, and five refers to Japheth's race. Again, it supposed to mean that Christ sent His disciples out to reach every race.

Yet others have said that 153 is the number of people Jesus ministers to in the Gospel of John.

Still others say that Jesus lived for 12,240 days which equals 80 x 153; And Jesus ministered for 918 days which equals 6 x 153. Apparently, St. John must have kept a backup copy of Jesus' daytimer to keep up with all the statistics.

And these are just the reasonably sane theories. There are mystical theories that 153 is symbolic language for deep spiritual secrets. And there are geometric theories that 153 is the surface area of shapes that give us deep insight into God's nature.

I don't know about you, but all of these theories strike me as bending over backwards to explain away the obvious. It's not as if St. John was sitting up late one night, with his graphing calculator, to figure out a way to insert an inane secret message into his version of the Jesus Story.

In fact, in the verse before this Story, John says: "These [things] are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name."

I think all of the speculation simply misses the point. I think the point is that the person who authored this Story was THERE, present AT the actual event. And since they were THERE, they wrote little details that showed they were there: Little details that no one would have thought of, if they were just making this stuff up.

Little details like the fact that St. Peter was a nudist fisherman, Jesus cooks a mean breakfast, and there were, in fact, one hundred fifty three fish in the net. They all lead me to believe that this isn't fiction. Jesus is actually alive.

WHAT THEY DID NOT DO ABOUT IT: So, Jesus is alive. Death has been put to death. The captivity of sin has been held captive. In the face of the Risen Lord Jesus we see the Love stronger than death.

So, what did the early disciples do about it?

When we look at our reading from Acts, we see a snapshot of the Church within the first months after the Risen Christ cooked breakfast for his naked friends.

What do we see the Church DOING about this momentous event? What was their REACTION to Christ's resurrection?

Well, let me tell you some things their reaction was NOT:

First, their reaction was not that of the ivory tower academic. They did not spend their time debating over the precise meaning of the resurrection. They did not commission a lecture series, write a thesis, or start and new academic journal, to discuss the ramification of 153 fish.

But, their reaction was also not that of a mystical guru. They did not merely sit and meditate on the resurrection, while chanting "OOOM". They did not go hide out in caves and become hermits, hiding out from the world. Instead, the early Church chose to be active IN the world.

Yet, their reaction was not that of the left-wing social activist, or the right-wing fundamentalist. Have you ever noticed how- even though they are frequently on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum- they often pursue their goals in the same way, and have the same type of personality?

Both the left-wing activist and the right-wing fundamentalist seeks to impose their Truth on everybody through the use of politics and propaganda. But, this isn’t what the early Church did.

In fact, the early Church's reaction is ALSO completely different than the reaction of God's people in the Old Testament. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, what was their reaction? They created Laws and a political system to insure everyone did EXACTLY what the priestly authorities thought they needed to do to stay in God's good graces.

But the early Church was different from the high priests of Israel's past, as well as the political high priests of America's present. The early Church was completely uninterested in making all of society follow Jesus by using legal and political coercion.

The Church, in fact, reacted in a way completely different from the modern academic, the spiritual guru, and the social activist. This is because the Church had a different model to follow: Jesus Christ.

Christ never reacted in the way the world expected, because Christ was someone that the world couldn’t comprehend. And it makes sense that the Church would mimic Christ, because we ARE His Body. We are his hands and feet. He is OUR head.

So, it is no wonder that the Church would practice Christ, and not fit into the social models that the world provides. Should we expect anything less from a Risen Lord who gives us 153 fish?

WHAT THEY DID DO ABOUT IT: So, when we look at the reaction of the early Church to the resurrection, we notice the following characteristics:

First, we notice that they were passionate about Christ and serious about connecting with Him. Our text said they "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching". They devoted themselves. They drank it up. They immersed themselves in it. They took it seriously.

They knew the Apostles had been with the Risen Christ, and they knew that they had things to learn about Christ from them. They believed that God worked in their life through their teaching.

This means that the Early Church did what we would call "Bible Study". The main difference, of course, was that their Bible was primarily spoken from the lips of the Apostles themselves, while our Bible is a handed down book compiled from their teachings.

When was the last time you read the Bible expecting God to speak to you through the text? When was the last time you really listened to those life-changing teachings that are found in Scripture? When is the last time you let the Bible READ YOU and tell you things about your life?

And when is the last time you discussed all of that with people who are trying to grow in God as well? Let me challenge you: If you are not currently in a group of people who discuss the Apostle's teaching in Scripture, then find such a group.

It may be a Canterbury Bible Study, but even if it isn't: Find a group of people who read Scripture, and seriously discuss what it says, expecting God to change and transform them through the interaction.

We also notice that the early Church "devoted themselves... to the breaking of bread". They connected with the Risen Christ regularly in worship and sacrament.

They realized that this meal we do- this meal where we break bread and drink wine- they realized that this meal is more than just a fun get-together, or a sentimental symbol.

They realized that the Risen Christ is somehow present IN this meal. That He is really Present. That this bread IS His Body, and this wine IS His Blood. They realized that as they ate and drank this food to nourish their body, that the Real Presence of Christ in the meal also nourished their soul.

They didn't just come to break bread out of some vague religious guilt that if they didn't do it, they were a bad person. NO! They came to break bread in JOY that they were going to encounter their Risen Lord IN the meal.

They didn't know HOW Christ is present any more than we do. It's a mystery. But, the important thing is not HOW Christ is present, but THAT He is present.

When is the last time you came to eat this bread and drink this cup, EXPECTING to encounter the Risen Lord Christ? I encourage you to join the early Church and come with JOY and EXPECTATION to break bread with Christ tonight.

We also see that the early Church connected to Christ by "devot[ing] themselves to... the prayers". The early Church was a praying people. The early Church believed that by praying, they connected with Christ, and were changed and transformed into His image.

Furthermore, they believed that prayer was powerful. Through prayer, God DOES THINGS in the world. Now, I do not know exactly how this works any more than I know exactly how Jesus is present in the Communion meal.

All I know is THAT prayer works.

Prayer changes us. Prayer changes the world. Prayer opens doors that were closed. Prayer closes doors that God doesn't want open.

Through prayer, God gently guides us to His will. This involves God saying "NO" to many of our requests. But it also involves Him saying "YES" in ways we cannot predict.

Prayer is a mystery that draws us up into the life of the Risen Christ, and opens a conduit for His Spirit to work through us.

When is the last time you really prayed? When is the last time you really opened yourself to the presence and power of Christ's Spirit flowing through you? How often do you open yourself in prayer to God's will for your life?

I invite you tonight: Pray. Set aside time every day to open yourself to Christ's life flowing through you.

So, we see how the early Church reacted to Christ's resurrection by connecting with Him in the Apostle's teaching, in the Communion Meal, and in regular prayer.

But this is not the only way the Church reacted.

The Church also reacted by connecting with each other. Our Story tonight tells us they devoted themselves to "fellowship". Yet, fellowship is a term much-abused in our culture today.

Fellowship brings up images of happy, smiley people enjoying each other's company. Fellowship describes parties and laughter and excitement. And, that is definitely part of what fellowship meant for the early Church.

Our Story tells us: "They spent much time together... they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts". So, one side of fellowship is the fun side.

But that's not all. The word fellowship in Greek could probably better be translated by "Deep, interwoven, sharing". Fellowship means that they not only shared the good times, but the hard times as well.

Notice that they not only had fun together, but they sold their goods and sacrificed for each other, so that everyone would have what they needed.

Perhaps the most incredible reaction to the Resurrection was that it created a community of people who sacrificially loved each other, and shared in each other's life.

And, our Story says this was a day-in, day-out thing. "Day by Day" they were there for each other. "Day by Day" they shared joy and pain with each other. "Day by Day..."

Are you devoted to daily fellowship- deep, interwoven sharing- with people who are seeking to follow Christ? Do you make daily time for those relationships which will help you grow to be more like Jesus, more filled with Jesus?

I invite us all to form here at Canterbury the type of fellowship- the type of deep, interwoven sharing- that will enable us all to grow into the image of Christ.

The final thing I want you to notice about the early Church's reaction to the Risen Christ was how they dealt with the world outside of the Church. They impacted the world around them, but not through politics, propaganda, or legal coercion.

Instead, they self-sacrificially shared what they had. They prayed, and miracles happened. People were healed. They preached the Good News of Christ's resurrection. People were saved and transformed.

In short, they loved. They Loved the Lord Jesus first and foremost, through teaching, sacrament, and prayer. They Loved each other in a deep interconnected fellowship. And they Loved the world around them, and shared the power of the Risen Christ through their preaching and service to that world.

Another way to say this is to say that their reaction to Christ's resurrection was to FULFILL HIS GREAT COMMANDMENTS: They Loved Him above all, and they Loved their neighbors, as they Loved each other.

This Love was not an abstract concept, or a sentimental feeling, or a political program. This Love was practiced in specific acts of Love, such as worship, sacrament, discussion, prayer, service, fellowship, preaching, and healing.

Ultimately, we become like Christ by practicing Christ: By living how He lived and doing what He did. What we practice is what we become. It was true for them, then. It is true for us, now.

What you practice is what you become. I invite you tonight to practice Christ with me. Amen+
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.