How many of you understand the Holy Spirit? How she works, where she blows, what exactly God is doing in our lives through the Spirit’s power? Raise your hands…
Notice, my hand isn’t raised either 😉
The Holy Spirit is hard to pin down… the power of God, the fullness of God, moving among us, empowering us, advocating for us, and yet never really in our grasp.
We know so little about the Spirit and yet we also spend so little time studying and exploring this amazing gift and presence that Jesus promised us.
This summer, with a new vision of our church in hand (reflect the light of God slide), we are going to watch as the Holy Spirit moves and transforms the early church. You see – they too, are coming to a new understanding of what it means to live as people of God in community with one another. They are growing and changing and learning to live out the Kingdom of God in all that they do. And every step of the way – they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
As we walk with them, we will ask how we also can follow the Spirit’s prompting and learn together about the amazing things she can do if only we allow her to move. Each week, I want to invite you to ask the question – What could happen in our church if the Holy Spirit moved among us?
Our first stop on our journey is not very far from our experience of Pentecost two weeks ago… In fact, it is the end of Peter’s sermon on that amazing day.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, this ordinary guy gives an extraordinary sermon and three thousand people are converted and become believers on the spot.
Now, that in itself is amazing. We don’t have 3,000 people even IN Marengo… 😉 But what I believe is more amazing is what happens next.
These folks are filled with the Holy Spirit. They don’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer and then go back to live as it was. They don’t experience the mountain top moment of a retreat and life as usual sneaks in… No – they actually commit themselves to living out the fullness of what it means to be the people of God. Their entire lives change. They are the body of Christ. They are disciples.
While I was at Annual Conference last weekend, we had an opportunity to participate in teaching sessions. One of them I went to was with a guy named Ken Willard and he talked about how we make disciples in our church. That is afterall the overall mission of the United Methodist Church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And it was a part of our mission statement here at the church for years – the command to go into the world and make disciples from Matthew 28.
But the sad truth is, we almost never talk about being a disciple in the church. We talk about membership and we have ways of measuring the number of baptisms and professions of faith in our congregations. But we rarely paint a picture of what it means to be a disciple. And when we don’t speak about discipleship in a concrete way, then you and I do not have clear standards to evaluate ourselves by.
And too often, that means that wherever you were on your journey of faith when you became a member of the church is where you have stayed. Not because of anything that YOU have done, but because we, as the church, have never helped one another to grow beyond that. We have not challenged one another to grow into the fullness of discipleship. We have not provided resources and tools to help one another deepen our faith AND we have often left the Holy Spirit completely out of our churches.
I was reminded of an important lesson last weekend and I want you to hear it: membership in our church is not the same thing as being a disciple in Jesus Christ. We have a lot of members who are just beginning to become disciples… and we have some folks here who are working on their discipleship but have never recited the membership vows of our church. We are talking about two separate things.
I believe that if we want a clear picture of discipleship… our passage from Acts this morning is the place to start. Filled with the Holy Spirit, these three thousand plus people were living out their faith in the best possible way. Even though we are merely at the beginning of this book of the Acts of the Apostles, we are shown here a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, of the end goal of our striving… here is a list of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let me read the second half of the passage again… this time from the Message:
That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the 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 God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
In no particular order, I want to dissect this list and lay out for you 10 marks of discipleship that we see in these early Christians… 10 things that we should stive towards in our own discipleship.
A word of reminder… this list is not meant to shame you or make you to feel bad about yourself if you aren’t doing these things yet… maybe for the first time, it is sharing with you a picture of what we could become through the power of the Holy Spirit. These markers are like a measuring stick… a way of seeing where you currently are and where you might have room for growth.
1. Worship: Worship is the act of praising God and in verses 46-47, we are told that every day the disciples met together in the temple. Every day they worshipped! And while our private worship and time of devotions are important – so is our communal experience of praise to God. A disciple is someone who joins the community in worship at least once a week.
2. Prayer: From verse 42, we are told the believers devoted themselves to their prayers. Prayers for healing, prayers for empowerment, prayers for understanding, prayers for signs and discernment. As 43 continues – awe fell over the people and God performed many signs and wonders in that time. In the scriptures we read: Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find… our times of prayer communicate our desires to God… but prayer also helps align those very same desires with God’s desires. Disciples of Jesus Christ pray daily for one another, for the church, and for the mission field.
3. Evangelism – unlike the pre-Pentecost church… this community of believers was present in their community. Through those wonders and signs, through stories and scripture, but also through the living witness of their community. Disciples share the good news about what God has done in their life through words and deeds.
4. Bear Fruit – this follows closely on the heels of number 3 – but I want you to hear that it is different. While disciples are called to evangelize – to tell the good news, we do not always get the response that we want. Sometimes our evanglism simply creates enemies who are offended by God and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. But in spite of opposition, we continue to share. We do not give up even though the work is hard and sometimes the days are long. A farmer knows that to bear fruit takes patience. Our verses tell us that people began to notice what the disciples were doing. And they liked what they saw. Verse 47 tells us that every day the Lord added to their numbers.
5. Know and Apply Scripture – The disciples devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. They listened as the scriptures were opened up to them and then they applied those verses to their lives. All of these marks of discipleship come from the scriptures we share together. Disciples today spend time in the scriptures – both on their own and in community – and seek ways to live out what they read.
6. Serve the Body – In verse 44-45 we are read about how the disciples put the body of Christ ahead of their own desires. They shared their resources and made sure that everyone in need was cared for. Disciples see and respond to the needs of other people… especially their brothers and sisters in the church.
7. Communion – twice in this passage a shared meal is mentioned. Breaking bread together unites us in our faith, but it is also a reminder of what Christ has done and centers us in relationship with him. John Wesley talked about the duty of constant communion… of coming to the table as frequently as possible to remember Christ’s death and to recieve grace. Disciples share in the communion meal as often as they can.
8. Fruits of the Spirit – implicit in these verses are the fruits of the spirit that we know so well. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. They were devoted and united, they shared with gladness and simplicity, they were kind and good to everyone they met. Disciples live in such a way that these characteristics are evident in all they do.
9. Give Financially (Tithe) – These early disciples sold their own property and possesions in order to support the work of the church and one another. They gave not only because God commands it, but also because they trusted that God would provide for them as they provided for one another. Their giving demonstrated their willingness to be interdependent – to live in a community where the need of one was the need of all. Disciples of Jesus Christ give at least 10% of their income to the church – the Body of Christ.
10. Love Others – this last mark of discipleship is a bit harder to see in these verses, but it describes where this group is going. They shared God’s goodness with everyone verse 47 tells us… but as we will see in the coming weeks – who is welcome and what will be required of them is sometimes up for debate. Even the earliest disciples had places to learn and grow, but we know that a Disciple loves other people and shares the love of God with them – wherever they are, whoever they may be.
Remember that question I asked earlier… the question that will guide us throughout this summer: What could happen in our church if the Holy Spirit moved among us? What could happen if the Holy Spirit turned us all into disciples? I want to invite you to take a minute or two and ponder what would happen if we all worshipped and shared communion weekly – if we all tithed – if we prayed together and studied the scriptures more – if we let the Holy Spirit help us to love and live and speak. What could happen? I invite you to write down your answer on the slips of paper in the pews and to offer them up to God as we pass the offering plates in a few minutes.
Amen… and amen.