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Four important things

July 12, 2016

7th Sunday of Holy Trinitysanta cena
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who 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.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was, who is and who is to come. Amen

Acts 2:41-47

In the world there are the four points of the compass, a table has four legs, the Gospel is based on four evangelists and the Christian life is based on four columns:
the doctrine of the apostles, communion (in the sense of community), the breaking of the bread and prayer.
So states the book of the Acts of the Apostles and this shows us the church of early Christians. People who had converted to the faith on the day of Pentecost and asked to be baptized, lived in communion in this first exemplary congregation in Jerusalem. Of them it is said: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And even if two thousand years have passed since then, these columns of Christian life still have the same value today. We also have been baptized, and as stated last Sunday, we have also accepted the word of God by faith.
Let’s think a little more about these four columns, so that the foundation of our Christian faith may be strengthened and even more genuine!

Firstly, the text talks about the doctrine of the apostles, that is, (witness, preaching, statement of faith) all that is passed on to us in the New Testament. And since the apostles considered the Old Testament as the true word of God, we can consider it in a broad sense to also be the doctrine of the apostles. The Bible is the first and most important column of our Christian life. It is not only an interesting and important book, but it is God, the Lord Himself, who speaks to us through it and we must pay all honor, all faith and all obedience to it. That is the root of our faith. It is what the witness of Jesus announced. Through the word of the Gospel the Holy Spirit creates the faith.

The apostles’ doctrine of the Bible has a good interpretation in the Lutheran confessional writings, for example in the Small Catechism. There it is said to keep clinging to the doctrine of the apostles. And this we don’t want to overlook especially in a time where apparently ecumenism makes us think that we are all the same and preach the same. Nor is the aim to make differences, but to keep clearly clinging to the original doctrine of the apostles. And when there are people who teach something else (that is something other than the Bible) we will not continue as if nothing happened. Again: Here it is, the first and most important column of the Christian life!

We should add that, we want to not only be a church with confessions but a church of confessors. We do not want to be the guardians of the Lutheran doctrine and tradition or any doctrine of the sixteenth century, but we want to confess the Gospel first. We happily wish to bear witness of the great works of God and Jesus Christ, each person in the place where he or she is. We want to remain in the doctrine of the apostles – and this doesn’t mean that merely the Bible and confessions have a privileged place among other books, but that we ourselves may give the testimony of the things we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles. And because this is God’s will, God will add people to the congregation as he also did in Jerusalem.

And now the second pillar of Christian life is communion. It is more accurately translated as “taking part in common.” This means not only to join or to gather, but is about living out things in common; we take part in something in common. And this way we can understand what church and the congregation are all about: it is the “communion of saints”. It is the communion of those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus, who believe and were baptized. It is the communion of those who take part in the Lord Jesus Christ. To really remain in this communion, it is the second column of Christian life. Whoever wants to follow the apostolic example of a ‘Christian’ cannot do it without communion. And that is only possible through membership in a visible community or congregation, when we regularly get together with other Christians under the word of God. This happens in worship services and in every get together, where we meet in common with the Lord and want to be blessed by him there.

When we look more accurately at the example of the early church, we begin to realize that it far surpasses our modern practices, and even embarrasses us. “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts” it says there. Today we already feel very good if we go to every Sunday worship service. And they were together—they knew they were a body under a head that was Jesus Christ. They knew that many human points of view and traditions only have a secondary place.
Dear congregation: it is a great help when there are discussions among church members, when sometimes there is no agreement in the church meetings: let us think what it means to take part in that kind of communion and that we don’t get together for something small but in the very name of the mighty king Jesus Christ. If something this great unites us, why should we be separated by worldly issues?
When we have understood this, we will be able to stand together like the early Christians.

Their communion was not only limited to the worship service. They took care of each other, practicing brotherly love. They did not just serve the mission but also practiced deaconry (that is neighborly service or diaconia). It was an extreme form of service that may not possible to put into practice today: they lived a kind of ‘honest socialism.’ And they shared the materials that they all possessed. We also consider that many of them were poor people and some amongst them were slaves, perhaps also the unemployed who lived far from their homeland and after Pentecost had remained in the community in Jerusalem. And there the rich people sold their possessions and brought the money into a common box from which they all lived. But they did it for love and by choice, not by force. The most fascinating and admirable was that they all felt like a big family, where no one forgot the other, not even on the financial side. From the financial point of view, in our time everything is different, but how would it be if we could live within our time a little more of that ‘loving and honest socialism’? If we might have more time for each other when the other needs it? For many today, time is more expensive than money. When we freely give away time for the communion of saints, we can express very well our love and gratitude to Jesus.

The third column of the Christian life is the breaking of bread, the sacrament. It is the top aspect of communion, the top aspect of taking part in common in Jesus Christ. Yes, the sacrament corresponds to the most important things in Christian life and the life of the congregation. In the congregation, nothing is closer to Jesus and His love than his body and blood in the sacrament. The sacrament is something very important; that doesn’t mean that it should take place very occasionally, so that it remains as something ‘special’. Also here we learn the early Christians did something different. We read that after the daily worship service in the temple they brought the bread “and they broke bread in their homes.” We also know from other places in the book of Acts of the Apostles that breaking of bread was understood to be part of every worship service, at least every Sunday when a main worship service with the Lord’s Supper, a “Mass,” was celebrated (in Latin means: ‘table’) Martin Luther stated and established this as well. Now it is welcome that in our church the sacrament is considered to have primary importance and that we try to celebrate it more and more often. I can also see that joy for the sacrament has grown. If we take the example of breaking of bread from the early church, then we will recognize that we still need to celebrate it more often!

The fourth column of Christian life is prayer. We don’t need to say much more about it, because every Christian knows how important prayer life is. I just want to show that here also the fervent example of the early Christians can serve us. They still kept the good habit of the Jews and their three fixed moments of prayer a day. They also gathered to pray in times of crisis to intercede together—and often they did it for the whole night! Also, saying grace at the table was taken for granted. “…and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” says the text. Of course, it would be wrong to make prayer a duty or obligation. However, we want to motivate ourselves with the example of the first Christians to gently establish fixed times of prayer during the day or take up the habit of saying grace with ‘our own words’ and devotionals with our family.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is not needed to emphasize among Lutherans that one will achieve salvation only by the exercise of these four columns. Nobody needs them for salvation because Jesus Christ has given us salvation through His sacrifice and His precious blood. These columns explain rather, how you can receive the blessing of God and how you can live in gratitude after having understood the sacrifice of Christ for you. It is therefore good and important to hold on to these four columns, so as to remain in the faith, live it out and to grow in it as individuals and as a congregation. Let’s hold together faithfully and consistently in the same way that the early Christians held to the doctrine of the apostles and to communion (community), to the breaking of bread and to prayer.Amen.

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