Back to the Basics
a sermon based on Acts 2:42-47
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
recently changed brands: I became a Methodist. So I
figured if I’m going to pastor this brand of sheep, I really should
find out a little bit about the flock. So I rummaged through a
Methodist hymnal. That’s as good a place as any to find out
what people believe – just find out what they sing. I ran
across this hymn; unfortunately, it didn’t make the final draft of
their hymnal. But it sure clued me in for what Methodists are
like. Goes to the tune of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”
Well the Methodist
Church is kind o’ laid back.
There isn’t an opinion that the Methodists lack.
We’re sort of like champagne with a Big Mac,
Thank God I’m a Methodist.
Well you just might say our beliefs run the gamut.
We might say darn, but we don’t say________.
If you wonder what a Methodist is, I’m it,
Thank God I’m a Methodist.
Well if you want to eat, just come around here;
Thirty-seven potlucks already this year.
Just the thought of tuna casserole
Makes me shed a tear,
Thank God I’m a Methodist.
Well the Methodist church is the friendliest in town.
We have a lot of fun but our membership is down.
That’s why a sign-up sheet is being passed ‘round,
You too, can become a Methodist.
Well the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, UCC, and the Methodists
We have a few differences, but we don’t mind,
Like we use grape juice and they use wine . . .
—too bad I’m a Methodist.
This could have been written of most of our
churches these days. Baptists, Pentecostals, Lutherans,
Mennonites—whatever. The lyrics caricature any of our
churches. I wish the problems facing our denominations could
be reduced to preferences of grape juice or wine. But our
differences in theology, practice, and worship have deeply divided
us from each other. We love fellowship but many of our brands
are facing down-sizing and decline. Our clergy are not in much
better shape. I read last week that 1,400 pastors throw up
their hands each month and exit the parish doors for greener—at
least less stressful--pastures. Doing church these days is not
easy. A lot has happened in the past two thousand years since
Jesus began his church.
I wonder what defines our congregations? If
you were to visit my church or I to visit yours, how would we
describe our congregations? What song would we write about our
Did you hear Luke humming his own tune this
morning? Luke looks back over a remarkable Christian journey
and describes his own brand. During his lifetime, Luke would
have witnessed a phenomenal growth of Christians from a handful of
diehard fans to a group so huge they could have filled every
coliseum in the Roman Empire. Numbers may not be an indicator
of success—but Luke apparently is the primitive Church’s nickel
and nose counter. Three thousand people he notes were added
following God’s first outreach on Pentecost.
Listen to Luke’s descriptive lyrics:
themselves to the teaching of the apostles,
their life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done
through the apostles!
And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding
everything in common.
They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that
each person’s need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple
followed by meals at home,
every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised
People in general liked what they saw.
Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
Astonishing how descriptions about the Christian community can
change over time,
especially when given a couple of millennia to evolve.
I think we’ve become more adept, more
professional at presenting the gospel than our earliest Christian
friends were. Consider that we now offer Masters programs in
missiology and mission strategies, empowerment seminars for maximum
impact in evangelism; through technology we can present the gospel
to local congregations in byte-sized bits on Sunday morning; we’ve
tampered with our worship and are discovering that yes we can mix
our hymns with contemporary music and guitars and drums with organs.
We offer leadership training, provide spiritual gifts discernment,
hold seminars on marketing the gospel, and hire crisis management
consultants to help us fix what’s broken. We need everything
that will help us to get the word out in the many tongues of our own
culture—now more than ever. When it comes to the gospel,
we’re pretty darn good at it.
But still. Even with all of this
improvement and empowerment. Aren’t we attracted to Luke’s
description of these earliest Christians? Luke’s description
is so simple, so non-hype and clear. Early Christians—at
least the ones that Luke describes in our lesson—are nourished in
four basic ways: teaching, fellowship, common meals (an early
version of potluck dinners?), and prayers. They may not have
known all of the sophisticated variations of the dance, but they
certainly knew the basic steps well.
How can we augment Luke’s lyrics to our own
excellent gifts and tools for doing ministry? In all of our
own outreaches and programs and flurry of activities have we blocked
out time for the four qualities of spiritual growth that he
I recently discovered that with my mouse, I can
drag any icon from my file directory right onto my desktop. I
wonder what would happen if we cleaned the screens of our church
activities of unnecessary clutter and began to drag Luke’s dynamic
qualities back into our congregational life.
Let’s consider just one of those
dynamics—prayer. We all know that prayer is important.
So how come we don’t always make it a priority? One minister
answers: “The biggest reason we don’t pray is because we have
been secularized. We’ve stopped believing that prayer has
any practical significance.” In my new brand, too often that
means that if we want to get something done, we form a committee,
identify the problem, or create a program.
Yet when this quality filters through everything
we do, something happens to our committees and teams and choir
rehearsals—even pocketbooks. That was only theory until we
actually began to restore this part of Luke’s lyrics to our church
programs. The first night we prayer was introduced to the
choir, some of us wondered what prayer had to do with crescendos and
four-four time. Several even rolled their eyes in disgust.
But over time music and prayer became friends—if fact, word even
got out to the congregation about this strange admixture.
And one night right in the middle of the
rehearsal, Phyllis interrupted our rehearsal. “I’m having
a bad chemo day,” she said. “And I know I could come here
and that you would pray for me tonight.” So we did. We
just gathered around our hurting friend and enclosed her in prayer.
What a powerful moment of music and prayer.
Don’t get me wrong. The tenors still sing sour notes on
occasion. But by augmenting just one of Luke’s ancient
qualities—“the prayers”— to our committees and programs, we
began to experience renewal and new life. Currently,
we’re dragging Luke’s fellowship icon onto our church desktop.
Our homes are becoming welcoming places for small groups each month.
And the key biblical mandate for this new adventure is Acts 2:42.
However we build Luke’s four qualities of the
early church into our congregations, one thing is for sure.
Such authentic Christian practice does impact others.
Christians became more deeply committed, more generous in giving
money and even property to help others to the extend that every
person’s need was met. But even more important is the
greater impact outside the community, for “every day their number
grew.” That’s good news when the membership’s down.
In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max Dupree
speaks to the business environment, but also to the Church: “We
cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
Maybe its time to become what we need to be by restoring some of the
very qualities that made our Christian faith survive and thrive.