Once or twice per year, I am honored to be asked to compose and deliver the Sunday Sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO. Last weekend, I gave the Sermon on Acts 2: 42-47. I am not a Theologian nor have I attended or graduated from Seminary. Thus, it is quite a challenge to study and prepare a Sermon… …and I really enjoy it!
Below is the Epistle Lesson followed by the Sermon:
Acts 2: 42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
So, I was reading the Lessons for this week, and yes, I feel I’m supposed to speak about the Gospel, but I could NOT stop focusing on the lesson from Acts. The knee-jerk questions started flying as I read through that lesson:
- What kinds of ‘wonders and signs’?
- What is ‘everything in common’?
- Verse 45 “…anyone who had need” Who? The Jews? The Pharisees? The Gentiles?
- Verse 47 “…enjoying the favor of all the people“. What people? The Jews? The Pharisees? Gentiles? Samarians?
- What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles? Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?
- Why did the fellowship end?
For the scripture readings, I try to build in my head a picture or a film or a video of the scene and the actions and the dialogue, and this week, the reading from Acts really came to life. Then I read the verses that surround today’s reading. And Verse 41, directly before today’s reading, REALLY brings the picture to life.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
In Acts 1, we are told that there were about 120 of them – the believers. That’s, what, about twice as many as we average here on a given Sunday. Can you imagine Pastor Malone giving such a great sermon, and with the work of the Holy Spirit, 3000 new souls being baptized and added to our numbers in one day? Imagine every man, woman, and child from Chaffee, MO joining St. Mark Lutheran Church in one day!
I doubt today’s sermon is going to have that affect.
Pentecost is not for a few weeks (June 12th), so it seems were are getting ahead of ourselves. But, the scene from today’s reading starts shortly after the Apostles spoke in tongues and on the same day as that 1st Christian Pentecost. Then, the lesson gives us a view of the next few weeks going forward. I picture the center of Jerusalem, a busy city with thousands of people teeming with merchants, guards, commoners, religious types – all that going on before Pentecost. Then, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Disciples, and they start speaking in tongues.
A crowd gathers. I always imagined that crowd to have been a hundred or so people, but now I know that’s not possible. I would think the crowd had to be at least 4,000… …at the very minimum, 3001. I picture Peter practically screaming to be heard by that mass of people – especially at first when they were grumbling about the Disciples being drunk on “new wine”.
Peter stood up and spoke with great conviction. In his Sermon, he quoted the Prophet Joel, admonished the Jews for putting Jesus to Death, and quoted King David.
And then, those who accepted his message were baptized – 3000 of them. How many didn’t accept his message? Based on the wording, some didn’t accept his message. Some Americans don’t believe NASA landed on the moon. 90% do. So that ratio would mean that at least 3,333 were listening to Peter. As of 2009, 79% of Americans believe Jesus rose from the dead. That ratio would mean about 4,000 were listening to Peter on that first Christian Pentecost.
So, the crowd he spoke to must have been massive, and with 3,000 added to their numbers (and more every day), I see an enormous logistics problem. And, I don’t see UPS showing up in brown vans to deliver food, water, and other necessities to the Temple.
I see the Temple and Solomon’s colonnade bustling with the newly faithful. I imagine them praying and celebrating the word of God and the Resurrection of Jesus. I envision people coming and going to and from their homes bringing food, money, and property. I see Apostles teaching, but also directing, planning, organizing, leading, controlling and appointing other faithful to ensure that this new church can devote itself to the Apostle’s teachings. All that activity and hustle and bustle is in this scene in my head.
And finally, we are here at Verse 42 with my list of questions:
My first question was ‘What kinds of wonders and signs?’
It was fairly easy to locate some specific examples of what we would generally consider wonders and signs. We think miracles:
- Peter curing a man unable to walk: Acts 3:1-10
- Peter causing Tabitha (Dorcas) to rise from the dead: Acts 9:36-10:1
- Philip dispossessing unclean spirits and healing the paralyzed and lame: Acts 8:5-7
But, I learned that the real wonder and awe goes to the Holy Spirit and the evidence of its presence in the budding the Church. The fact that so many people believed the teachings of the Apostles in such a short period of time is truly a wondrous and miraculous occurrence.
My next question was of a suspicious nature, “What is this ‘everything in common’?”
Well, it was exactly what it said. Those who had plenty and those who had little sold their possessions and brought them to the Apostles to be included in the common purse. The Disciples and Jesus kept a common purse, and other groups of Jews used the same practice long before the advent of this Christian Church. So, this was not exactly new.
But being who I am, my brain immediately saw this as a verse that would be quoted by the Marxists and Communists as biblical evidence that supported their causes. I could see being admonished to give up the products of my labors to the government because, “What Would Peter Do?” But, I quickly learned that this commonality was different. It was not coerced at the end of a gun nor through law or guilt. Each man or woman made the choice regarding their possessions as the Holy Spirit worked within them.
In Verse 45 & 47, my questions were “Who is this… …anyone who had need?” and “What people were they … … enjoying the favor of”.
William Willimon wrote that “Certainly, Luke makes a makes a distinction between what is said to outsiders and what is proclaimed within the ongoing life of the church. Far from any modern mushy ‘inclusiveness,’ Luke is quite careful to separate those on the inside, who know, from those on the outside, who do not know.”
Regarding “anyone who had need,” Luke is describing the activities of and within the fellowship, not the beginnings of social ministry.
And, considering in Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested by “the [chief] priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees,” we know that they weren’t enjoying the favor of those people. (There’s also that little thing where Stephen becomes the 1st martyr in Acts 6.) Again, Luke was describing the activities within the budding church when they were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles? Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?
A more knowledgeable person than me could write a book on this subject, but from my readings, put simply, the miraculous powers given to the first Apostles died out with the first Apostles. Why? God’s choosing.
It seems that God through Jesus entrusted the 12 Disciples with divine powers and with or through those Apostles to Stephen, Phillip, Paul and Barnabas. But that seems to be all. There is discussion of wonders and signs being performed at churches in the absence of the Apostles, but to a lesser extent.
The greatest level and number of miracles were performed during the times of Jesus and immediately following through his first Apostles and a few chosen others. God chose to use the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles to glorify Himself through Jesus and the Apostles.
Additionally, there were many times throughout the Old Testament where there were a greater or lesser number of miracles being performed by God, His Prophets (major and minor), and His believers. So, it stands to reason that the level and number of miracles would seriously increase during the magnificent event where God, through Jesus, frees us from the bonds of sin… …and then decrease from there.
And my final knee-jerk question was, “Why did the Fellowship end?
Reading in Acts Chapter 8, we get a pretty good description of why the Fellowship ended. After Stephen’s sermon and martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. […] 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”
So that was it; the end of the Jerusalem Fellowship; the end of the great Christian Communion; the end of the Temple Community on Solomon’s Porch. You might even call it the true end of the Resurrection Pentecost.
There was actually one more question that I had, but it seemed a bit more thoughtful and less knee-jerk.
In what ways is the Fellowship present in today’s time?”
Was the “Great Persecution” the end of the Fellowship? Did Saul’s attack on the Christian Communion succeed? That wasn’t it; was it? That wasn’t the end.
For in the very next verse, we hear “4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
And with that, you can draw a straight line from Jerusalem to Cape Girardeau, MO and all points beyond. This wasn’t the end; it was the beginning. It was the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, with Its Divine power, leading the people out of Jerusalem to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It was the Advent of our Christian Religion and Faith. It was the beginning of the Community of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, the Communion of our members, and the Fellowship of our believers.
We see the power of that 1st Pentecost all the time here at St. Mark:
- Every week in the Sanctuary
- Every month on Sweet Sunday in the Fellowship hall
- At Spirit Club
- Dorcas Circle
I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit in the St. Mark Community since I returned to the area in 2006. When I arrived, I often cried in the pew in sorrow and despair, and the St. Mark Community in the Sanctuary lifted me with Song and The Word. I have laughed time and again with different members of the St. Mark Community as we have worked in the Glory of God. I have felt the pain as we have lost loved ones and watched with pride as we’ve supported those left behind. I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit as we have cared for those within the St. Mark Community. And I’ve known that if I was one of those seriously in need, the St. Mark Community was ready and willing to help. That is the evidence 1st of the days of the Christian Church that I’ve seen at St. Mark.
And I know… …we can grow the St. Mark Community in the same way the Christian Community at Jerusalem grew after that first Resurrection Pentecost – with the divine aid of the Holy Spirit. In business, they say, “If you aren’t growing; you’re dying.” St. Mark is certainly not dying. So I know, as we go outside of our Community at St. Mark, we can count on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ; and we can rely the fact that, as we tell others about God’s Grace, He will “add to our numbers daily”.
Let us Pray,
Lord, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and its guidance over the ages. Help us to rely on its power to continue to strengthen the Community at St. Mark in both love and numbers. Keep us on the right path so that we may find that gate to everlasting life. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.