The Church of the Christ


Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church--about three thousand in all. 42They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer. 43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. 45They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity-- 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)

What a fellowship ...
Leaving the cozy, blessed confines of the fellowship of believers must have been intimidating. With over 3000, the people of God – the community of Christ – had a virtual city. Peter and John can remember how they began as 120 huddled together in prayer and waiting. And now the spirit has been poured out – their dreams and visions are made reality. This group of thousands is devoted to the highest of standards (the apostles teaching), they fellowship and observe the Lord’s Supper, they come together in prayer and worship because they recognize Jesus in their midst. And their relationships to one another and to possessions has changed – no one is lacking for anything he or she needs because this community shares. They are living out the spirit of Jesus.

Then something happened on the way to church ...
1Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o'clock prayer service. 2As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money. (Acts 3:1-3)

But this new community of faith lives on the edge of the world somewhere between here and the heavenly kingdom to come. As Peter and John are off to worship, they encounter the brokenness and misfortune in the world when they meet a man crippled from birth at the gate of the temple. He is completely dependent on others – not only for money but also for transportation. He has no wheelchair and there are no access ramps to the Temple. The man is carried to the main entrance so he can seek help from the pious folk on their way to worship. As people head to worship are they filled with compassion or are they annoyed by this intrusion into their spiritual experience? In Peter and John’s world this man is not simply disabled – he would be considered misfortunate. His disease is not merely a physical ailment, but the result of divine judgment (keep in mind this is their view of their world and Jesus teaches us otherwise in the case of the man blind since birth) – but just consider what that means for this man crippled from birth: he is not only disabled, he is something of an outcast. No one in his world – including himself – would see him as "challenged" or "handicapped" in his world he would be consider "poor" which was not just an economic condition – but a condition of fortune and fate. So even the pious who plink coins in the man’s plate may be silently praying as they pass by "Thank you God that I am not like this poor misfortunate."

From Jerusalem to Winslow ...
The church building where I worshipped as a young man in Winslow sits on Highway 71. Before I-540 opened it was common to come to church and find the misfortunates of our day and age waiting for us as we made our way to worship. They were hardly crippled, but we sometimes did wonder what misfortune and what bad decisions had led to their current state. We would sometimes invite them to worship but they would often decline. They just needed gas money or a little bit for food. And even though we were always glad to help, we often wondered if we had done anything worthwhile at all. Even if we doubted their story (which was not always the case) we acted out of Christian responsibility, but we wondered if we had really done anything at all to help. With a quick prayer on our lips for the misfortunate and with thanks for our own blessings, we quickly ducked through the glass doors of the church house to get a taste of the kingdom to come.

Don't we often feel ill-equipped to deal with the level of pain and suffering in this world? I admit I am overwhelmed by the depth of human sinfulness and sorrow in this world. I feel weak and inadequate. I can barely manage my own sinfulness and I am struggling with my own brokenness and the consequences of my sins. How am I to take on the burden of others?

Needy people can be quite insistent and they seem to have hard time helping you to help them. Out of self-protection from the depth of human suffering, it stands to reason that we try to build a fence – a barrier or buffer - between the church we worship in and the world we live in. We try to keep ourselves in here and we try to keep the pain and trouble out there.

Back at Winslow when we would call an impromptu "men’s business meeting" to discuss the request of a misfortunate traveler asking for a "loan that he would pay back when he started his new job," we were torn between helping the needy and "being good stewards of the Lord’s money." (That’s where I recall first hearing that statement.)
It was an awesome responsibility to find yourself a steward of God’s money. Our men’s business meetings were quite Rabbinical because we would debate both sides of the issue – "What if these folks are angels sent to test our generosity?" "We can’t throw our pearls before swine – if we give them cash they’ll spend it on booze and cigarettes." It was difficult, because we knew that there was no end to human need and if we cashed out all the "Lord’s money" and handed out $20 bills to every needy person it still wouldn’t be enough. Our little conferences were prayerful moments of discernment, but they were also a plank in our fence set up to manage the boundary between the church we worshipped in and the world we lived in ...

Without the fence, the burden of need would overwhelm us. In Winslow, we knew we just weren’t able to serve at that level. And don’t we feel that here? Although West-Ark is ten times as large as the Winslow congregation of my youth, do you really think we can serve all of Fort Smith, much less Western Arkansas with the depth of brokenness and suffering out there? And this says nothing of the world at large! It seems impossible and overwhelming. None of us – not even all of us together – are adequate to the need!

But hold on. Our diagnosis of our weakness and inadequacy may be correct. (Even Peter and John admit that their pockets are empty), but maybe we need a different perspective on what it means to be the church of Christ. The question "How are we supposed to carry the burden" isn’t the best question to ask. It focuses on our limited resources and abilities. It concentrates on the "Lord’s money" but overlooks the Lord:

Thomas Aquinas once visited Pope Innocent II and the Pope showed Thomas the abundance of funds in the church treasury, the works of art, the extravagant decorations and ornaments in the chapel.
"You see, Thomas," said the Pope, "the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ "
"True," Thomas replied, "but neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.’ "

Haven’t we traded in the presence of Christ and the power of the Spirit for "silver and gold?" If we let silver and gold represent our own ability to solve problems and our own resources and our stewardship of the Lord’s gifts then I think you’ll see what I mean.

Why don't we defer the need to Jesus? Why don't we concede to his authority and power? Maybe because we ignore his presence?

We ought to thank God for our weakness and inadequacy to serve a world he loves. For if we are confronted with our weakness, then we might actually GIVE the world what it REALLY needs.

Peter and John, steward’s of the Lord’s might ...

4Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, "Look at us!" 5The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting a gift. 6But Peter said, "I don't have any money for you. But I'll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!" 7Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man's feet and anklebones were healed and strengthened. 8He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. 9All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. 10When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! 11They all rushed out to Solomon's Colonnade, where he was holding tightly to Peter and John. Everyone stood there in awe of the wonderful thing that had happened. (Acts 3:4-11)

They freely take the name of Jesus with them from the church they worship in to the world they live in ...

The name of Jesus has healed this man--and you know how lame he was before. Faith in Jesus' name has caused this healing before your very eyes. (Acts 3:16)

They freely take the name of Jesus with them from the church they worship in to the world they live in ...

Serving Christ’s World: What is our experience of the gospel?

Because he is present among us and active among us then . . .

And when we try to separate the brokenness of the world from the presence of Christ we not only do a disservice to others, but also to ourselves:

The good news is not just physical healing. It is that the presence of Jesus among us (in his name) allows for new possibilities that are unknown to the world. The community of the resurrected Messiah lives in the presence of the one who conquered death. So, sickness and disease, pain and suffering will not get the final word either. The good news is about the restoration of truthful, human community - we can serve one another as Jesus did. He is described as a servant - and so are we.

When we serve a broken world full of pain and suffering in the name of Jesus we are doing more than just good works. We serve the world that Christ created and the world he loves. We serve the world for which he died. So our service is a sharing of the presence and power of the risen Christ. It is IN HIS NAME. And salvation and restoration follows.

May God give us his spirit and may we never hoard it or manage it, but give it away freely – like Peter and John.

In a world torn by hatred and suffering
Can a confident peace be found?
And if God, by sheer grace, should provide it,
Shall we hoard it or let it abound?

Where the need is so great, shall love falter?
God alone has enough for the task.
Let us open our hearts for His answer
To all we imagine or ask.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
Here on the earth as it is above.
May we spread your Word with a heart of love.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.

Not a kingdom of might, nor of power,
But the rulership over each soul
Of the One, who by right as our Maker,
Gave His blood to make broken things whole

Let us pour out our lives in His service
The persuasion of love unfeigned
As we bear to the lost news of healing
Every wound in His glorious name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
Here on the earth as it is above.
May we spread your Word with a heart of love.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.

Nations shall rise, nations shall fall.
Thy kingdom come unto them all.
Whether we wax or whether we wane,
May our allegiance be first to Your name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
Here on the earth as it is above.
May we spread your Word with a heart of love.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.

Song by J. A. C. Redford

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 May 2004

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