I mentioned last week that there is a series on NBC called A.D. – The Bible Continues.” The way the TV people are promoting it, you’d think they’d put together a wild adventure story. And you know what? It is a wild adventure story. It began with the end of the Gospel stories. Jesus is crucified and then rises from the dead. To prove he is real, he appears, lets people touch him, and eats a meal. It really is him!
To know what the A.D. series is doing, now you need to start reading the Book of Acts and follow along. There might be a deep thought every now and then, but like I said, it’s mostly an adventure story! And it all hinges on one pivotal moment – the resurrection of Jesus. If that had not happened, there would have been no Book of Acts, and no TV series. Actually, it’s bigger than that. The Christian faith would have no reason for being and we would not be here today.
Jesus taught a lot of amazing things. He did astonishing miracles. But none of that had anything to do with why we are here. If we only followed the amazing, profound teaching of Jesus, and believed he was a great healer, all we’ve got is a somewhat diluted religion of rules and nice thoughts.
But Jesus rising from the dead changes everything. As Paul said to the church in Rome…
“if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)
We are here because of him – we are here because he is alive. The belief, the faith, the trust that he is alive is what changes us. From the first moments those first believers embraced the living Jesus, they changed, and it was an overnight transformation.
I know you might think of those first disciples of Jesus as a kind of peaceful bunch of people who sat around in togas with haloes over their heads, doing nothing but thinking deep thoughts.
But that group of twelve only came together because Jesus asked them to follow. And they were willing. Maybe they were impressed with the way Jesus asked. Maybe they didn’t have anything better to do. But it seems like most of the time, they didn’t really get what Jesus was doing, and honesty, they didn’t get along with each other especially well.
The core group was fishermen. If you’ve lived on a coast, maybe you know that fishermen can be a rough group. In some of the “Jesus movies,” no one seems to like Matthew the tax collector. If he is in the room, there is conflict. It shouldn’t have been surprising that one of them betrayed Jesus to his death, although Jesus saw it coming.
The next miracle that God did was to give that group of people a personality transplant. Together, they began to talk about the living Jesus to anybody who would listen. See if this sounds like the same people…
Acts 4:32-35. Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
What was the catalyst for all this? What were they talking about? What had the great power? “The resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” (v. 33) Everything hinges on that. That was the game-changer. Then…
They believed. Each of them was willing to say to Jesus “I believe in you; I believe you are alive.”
They gave testimony. They were willing to talk about what God was doing with them, how God was changing them.
They experienced grace. They knew God was taking care of them and they would be okay. God took away their fears and worries.
They distributed to each as any had need. Once they believed and God helped them feel okay about themselves, they were willing to give the things that everybody else needed. They were generous. Faith led to generosity. Do you see how God worked on inner changes that became outward reality?
Before and after. These were not the same people, but they were. They looked the same, but they changed. They changed individually and as a group. The individual changes were amazing. The change in their group personality was miraculous. Only God could have done that. But it’s not just history. This is what God still does with people like us who believe.
When you were in high school, do you remember what the cliques were? You remember high school, and who was hanging out with whom? Do you remember “The Breakfast Club,” the movie from the 1980’s about a group of kids in detention, and they were each in some clique – or not in one. The movie is about how they learn to talk to each while they are locked in the same space.
I’m not sure what the history of high school cliques is, but in our mid-western high school many years ago (1960’s & 70’s), you could look around and tell if somebody was one of the…
Jocks – people who were involved with sports, especially football in the fall and wore letter jackets outside and letter sweaters inside.
Greasers – people who put a lot of stuff in their hair, wore leather jackets, and worked on cars a lot, usually trying to make them go faster.
Surfers – people who the latest clothes, worked on a tan, and tried to be as blonde as they could be. They wore madras (plaid). I think they listened to Beach Boys records.
Druggies – These kids may or may not have smoked pot, etc. You were identified as a druggie mostly by the excessive length of your hair and what you wore: denim with patches and holes. I think that most of the druggie-types that I knew actually had a moral objection to using drugs! But they liked the clothes and the hairstyle.
Nerds – people who knew how to run audio-visual equipment, got good grades, and wore stripes and plaids together.
I know that those weren’t the only groups you could identify. Each group had its own particular – peculiar – behavior.
Maybe the high school kids think this is some new phenomenon, but it’s been going on since there have been high schools. The social dynamics of high school aren’t that different from your parents’ or grandparents’ time, it’s just a little more technologically complicated.
I think everybody here relates to this in some way, depending on where and when you went to school. I look back now and it seems a little comical. But so many people would be drawn to one group or the other by this irresistible force, this need to belong. At least for a time in each of our lives, there is an impulse to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Some years ago, when I was teaching art in a public high school and leading a church youth group, every now and then I would pass around a survey to the kids, just to see what they were thinking about. Among other things, I asked them what issues they were most concerned about in their lives, and for several years, they said their number one problem was dealing with loneliness: the fear of being alone, being apart from other people. Who are my friends? Do I have friends? What if I walk into the cafeteria at lunch time and there isn’t anybody I know to eat with? Loneliness. Then the number one issue became stress. And I began to see kids stressed and feeling alone. Stressed and alone in a sea of people.
Back then, these weren’t problems for everybody, but year after year, they kept coming up as the number one issues. Being separate, being stressed and alone, are problems for adults too. Surveys have shown that the main reason people join churches like is… the beautiful facilities? the music? the outstanding preaching? the mission? Maybe sometimes.
No, it’s the fact that you believe in something powerful, and we can share that together. People come in stressed and feeling alone. They find out that there is a force that can help lift the burdens and bring us together in way that never could have happened without the power of God. That is faith at work: the power of God in the living Christ, eliminating the loneliness in people’s lives; helping people take their walls down, sharing their burdens, then sharing themselves with a community full of stressed, lonely people.
There is a big difference between people who are practicing their religion and people who are of “of one heart and soul” like those first believers.
God’s advice? Take the risk of relationships. Believing in the living Jesus is taking the risk of a relationship with God. This is allowing God to live in us and love through us. This is the foundation that allows every Christian to believe in other Christians – with no walls between them. Take the risk of being of “one heart and soul” with the other Christians here.
It’s growth we do together. It starts with belief, which leads to sharing with someone else, joining with a bigger group of people who are experiencing grace – the power of being together, and together, making a generous difference in our community.
O God, we believe; help our unbelief. Take us to a deeper place with you. Give us the courage to open up. Then show us how to share, how to give ourselves away. Help us see others as the friends we haven’t met yet. Help us know you through our faith in Christ, who was and is the best friend people ever had. Use our faith as the tool that re-works our lives to reflect our relationship with a God who loves; change our attitudes and lifestyles, then help us change our community. We pray with faith in the power of the resurrection of Jesus. Amen.