10th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 2:42-47 Sermon
August 7, 2004
SBH 150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
SBH 452 "Lord Teach Us How to Pray Aright"
SBH 459 "What a Friend We Have in Jesus"
TLH 477 "Lord Jesus, Thou the Church's Head"
IN COMMUNICATION WITH GOD
TEXT: “They [the believers] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
I was pondering something the other day. I began to wonder how many churches I pass by each and every day as I’m going about my day-to-day life, without really realizing it. I came to the conclusion that there most likely isn’t a day that I don’t pass by a church of some description. In fact, living in Lincoln, I’d say that anyone would have trouble getting from one part of the city to another without passing by at least a church or two along the way. You’d have to do a lot of planning to avoid one.
How do you know that you’re passing by a church? The appearance of the outside of the structure is usually a dead give-away. In fact, just by passing by a church, you can have an idea as to what goes on inside.
Is there a cross outside? That tells you that it is some sort of a Christian church. What does the sign out in front say? Lutheran? Methodist? Presbyterian? Baptist? Roman Catholic? That gives you an idea of the theology and teaching of the congregation. Has there been an addition to the building? That lets you know that the congregation is growing, and they needed more physical space. Is the building well maintained? This shows that the congregation cares about what they have, their appearance in the community, and the fact that they are good stewards with their property. Even the age of the structure can sometimes give you an idea as to the age of the congregation—but of course that isn’t always an accurate indication; old congregations build new facilities, and new congregations purchase old facilities.
In consideration of all of this, there is one thing you know beyond anything else about a church. Inside those walls you will find a congregation communicating with God in one degree or another. A church is to be a place where God communicates with his people, and his people communicate with him. Even in the case of a non-Christian house of worship, people are gathered there attempting to communicate with God, albeit unsuccessful.
In the Lutheran church, our confessions speak about something called the “marks of the church.” What this means, is that wherever the Gospel, that is the entire Word of God, is preached and taught in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are administered according to the Word of God, there you will find the true church on earth. Whatever the appearance of a church building might be on the outside, this is what must be found on the inside. This is the way it was in the early Christian church, and this is the way it must be today.
If we look at our text from Acts, we can get a good picture of the early Christian church. Even though the surroundings might be different, yet the aim and purpose of the Christian church is no different today than it was back then.
If we look at verse 42 of our text, we can see the important aspects of worship. It reads: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.”
“The apostles teaching” referred to here, is the entire Word of God. This is the only way God speaks to us. The words recorded in Holy Scripture are God’s words, not man’s words. This is the very voice of God speaking to us. We use such adjectives as “inspired” and “inerrant” when referring to Scripture. These are words we can trust to be reliable.
This is the foundation of the church. Much of our worship service is devoted to this—communicating God’s Word to his people. Think about it….Old Testament Lesson; Epistle Lesson; Gospel Lesson; Psalm; Sermon. And then it goes beyond the actual worship service too—Bible Study, Confirmation classes, Sunday School, VBS, &c. We can definitely say that without the Word of God, we would have no church at all.
“Fellowship” is the next word mentioned in our text. This indicates that God’s people gathered together in a mutual bond of being God’s family. Jesus says in Matthew 18, 20: “Wherever two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” And in Hebrews 10, 25 God gives us another reminder: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
This fellowship aspect is something God does not deal with lightly. He doesn’t want us to sit by ourselves in our homes feigning some sort of worship, or using the excuse of “worshipping God out alone in nature” somehow being as good as coming to church. Gathering together for corporate worship is something God definitely wants.
Of course this fellowship of believers extends beyond the actual worship service into other activities in the life of the congregation. In verses 46 and 47 of our text, we are told about this fellowship with each other: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people.” Pot-luck community dinners must have been popular back then too. Even considering this however, the primary gathering of God’s people is still the worship service.
In God’s house, we know that God indeed comes to us, his people. He comes to us primarily through his Word, as it is preached and taught in its truth and purity. He comes to us through the earthly elements of water in Baptism, and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper as we break bread in another sense with him and each other. These are the ways we know without a doubt that God can be found.
But there is one other important aspect that is mentioned in verse 42 of our text, and it’s only one word. “Prayer.”
If you remember at the beginning, I spoke about the church being a place where people communicated with God. Communicating with someone always indicates some sort of a two-way street. If you are having a conversation with a friend or relative or someone else, you are communicating back and forth.
Communication with God is the same type of situation. He speaks to us through his Word. We speak to him through prayer.
Now this isn’t just some sort of a “tack-on” idea. No, God wants communication with him to be a two-way street. In fact, Jesus himself stresses this point in Mark 11:17 where we read: “And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?’” Jesus is giving a direct quote from Isaiah 56:7. So in both the old and the new testaments, the house of God is referred to as a “house of prayer.”
Prayer is definitely no small issue. In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus gives his disciples the text of what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer, and commands us to pray in a similar manner. In fact, throughout the Old and New Testaments, we find many examples of prayer, almost too numerous to mention. God indeed wants his people to communicate with him.
I’d like to share something with you that I use when I teach confirmation classes. There’s an acronym that describes the four parts of prayer, which spells out the word “ACTS.”
The “A” is for “acknowledge.” A true prayer must be addressed to the one true God, the triune God, whether it be Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. We have to know to whom we are praying. This is the God whom we worship and adore. He alone is the only one who will both hear and answer our prayers.
I’ve heard some people say that the “A” in ACTS stands for “adoration,” which carries pretty much the same idea.
Next comes the “C” which stands for “confession.” We come before God confessing our sins and faults. We know we have not lived up to God’s standards. We know we have sinned against him in many ways. This we must confess before him, who searches our heart and knows all things. There’s nothing we can hide. Therefore, we come before him, begging forgiveness for our many wrongs.
Next follows the “T” which stands for “thanksgiving.” We are to give thanks to God for his many blessings. When we celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday in November, this is one of the things we usually do. We remember the many ways God has blessed us, and we give thanks to him. We don’t need a special holiday to do this; this is something we should be doing every day of our lives.
And finally we come to the “S” in ACTS, which stands for “supplication.” Supplication is one of those words used in the old King James Bible, which simply means to ask for something. Throughout the Bible, the prayers often dealt with specific requests. In Philippians 4:6 we read the words, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
And in Luke 11:9-10 Jesus tells us: “So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God may not always answer prayer in exactly the way we want him to answer it, but he does answer. It may be a “yes,” it may be a “no,” or it may be a “not yet” or “something better.” But he does both hear and answer our prayer. Sometimes we may be tempted to think that he hasn’t paid any attention to us. But we know that he both loves and cares for us in ways that we can’t fully understand. We just have to believe that he does, and that things will work out for the best for us.
So there you have it, the ACTS of prayer. Acknowledge (or adoration), Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Not all prayers have to contain all of these elements, but it is a good thing to remember. Scripture also tells us in James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Great words to remember.
Everything we’ve talked about thus far leads us to one thing, which is the most important thing of all. The most important thing of all is Jesus Christ; for without him, all communication and fellowship with God would be lost.
Jesus came to this earth with one thing in mind; and that was to reconcile sinful mankind with God. He came to this earth in a most humble fashion. He lived the perfect life we could not live, and then he was punished for all the sins of all of humanity. He came and established his church, so that sinful mankind could be reconciled to God and would eventually enter his eternal paradise he has prepared.
You and I enter God’s house to meet him. We come as sinful creatures on this earth, confessing our sin, and desiring forgiveness. We come to meet him, and we do. He comes to us at our level, meeting us at our point of deepest need. And then we meet Jesus, who accepts us the way we are, and makes us presentable to our Heavenly Father. God creates faith in our hearts, so we may believe in Jesus our Saviour, and through that faith accept what he has done for us. It’s nothing we have earned or even deserve; rather it is something that God has done for us, simply because he loves us in a manner we cannot describe.
The Holy Spirit calls us as sinners to come and experience God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ. He calls us to faith. It’s this same Holy Spirit that gathers us together as Christians, as a group of people who have received Christ through faith. He gathers us together and calls us the Holy Christian Church.
The Holy Christian Church….a group of God’s people gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ who are communicating with him. Christians will seek God where he may be found; that is through his inspired and inerrant Word, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Christians will communicate with God through the ACTS of prayer.
Christians together….this is an extremely powerful concept. When people are united with God, then great things can happen, and they DO happen.
God’s people are also called into acts of service. In verses 44-45 of our text for today, we read: “All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possessions and goods; they gave to anyone as he had need.”
These early Christians collected their offerings, and used them for the good of God’s kingdom. God’s people were not called into the kingdom just to be saved and to sit on their hands; rather they were called into God’s service. The Christian faith is an active faith, and is something that is lived out in a Christian’s life.
So, when people drive by this church building, what do you think they see? Do they see it as a place where they can meet God and communicate with him? Do they see this as a place where God and his people dwell therein? I would certainly hope so.
There’s an old saying which goes, “The church is an hospital for sin-sick souls, and not a museum of self-righteous saints.” I think that is so true.
And so, as we all come here, each and every week, let us always remember that we are here communicating with God. God comes to us through Word and Sacrament; and we come to him through prayer. The formula is not complicated or abstract; rather it’s Biblical and true.
May God continue to preserve and bless us as we continue in his Word.