Holy Trinity Sunday
Series on the Book of Acts
Acts 3:1-10, 4:32-35
May 22, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the second reading from Acts, which was read a few minutes ago.
One of the problems with being a confirmation teacher is that I occasionally have to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I do my best to take my own advice, but sometimes I want the kids to learn from my mistakes and to make new habits while they’re still young. I’m not sure if they listen to me or watch me, but it’s probably a little bit of both. Fortunately for the Church, Jesus was a far better teacher than me, or anyone else for that matter, so as the first disciples went to work following Pentecost they followed Jesus’ example in both word and deed. For Jesus, bringing mercy was an important part of His earthly ministry. Of course, this culminated with His death on Good Friday, but He showed mercy every day. He had spent three years going through the countryside teaching and healing so it was inevitable that the same actions would be evident in the ministry of His apostles. As we continue our sermon series of the Book of Acts we are going to see the example of Christ in the Church.
Almost immediately following the miraculous events of Pentecost, including the baptism of three thousand people, Peter and John head to the Temple to worship and pray and on their way they encounter a man who had been crippled since birth. We take for granted that there are certain services available for those who are handicapped, ill, or unemployed. But in the time of Christ there weren’t any food banks or homeless shelters, and no one received welfare or disability payments. Those in need simply had to beg. As Peter and John went into the temple the man did what he did all day, every day, he asked for help. Now, if they had thrown a few coins into the man’s lap, it would’ve been loving right? They were caring for his needs, and he would’ve been thankful. The love Jesus showed though was never just something done in passing; He showed His love through personal interaction.
This is love and personal interaction is seen in every part of Jesus’ life. He came into our world to share our nature and to experience everything we do including the temptation to pass by those in need or to show a token amount of concern. Like with all temptations, Jesus never succumbed to showing a passing love, instead He had intimate, personal contact with the sick, the needy, the lonely, and the outcast. His love called on Him to expend all His energy serving the crowds who came to experience His healing touch. Once, Jesus was so exhausted He slept while the disciples fought to keep a boat from sinking in a storm. Jesus’ commitment to loving in action finally took Him all the way to the cross and the tomb—even to suffering the consequences of our sins in His being forsaken by His Father while on the cross. Jesus’ love was not just “in word or talk but in deed and in truth”, and so Peter and John would follow His perfect example. They offered the man something more than money, they offered Christ, and through Christ came healing, not just physical healing, but spiritual as well.
We, on the other hand, don’t always faithfully walk in Jesus’ footsteps of helping. It’s not that we don’t offer some help to the needy, but it’s usually through others: we elect a church council to make decisions about which charities to help and we contribute to Christian aid agencies like Lutheran Family Services, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Relief and other groups who lead the efforts to help. We also, sometimes not so willingly, pay our taxes to enable the various welfare programs to help those in need.
All of these organizations are critically important, partly because they can do many things that we can’t as individuals. They deserve our support in prayer and they deserve our contributions and our taxes. But the first Christians didn’t have social agencies of the Church and of the government to which to send needy people. They acted personally in expressing the kind of love that helps people in need.
In fact, it was the Christians’ commitment to loving actions toward the needy that finally transformed Western civilization and produced the concept of the personal worth of every individual, male or female, young or old, sick or well, and that it’s the responsibility of the whole community to care for its needy individuals. Churches and monasteries were the first places where you could get help if you needed it and hospitals grew out of their actions to be the blessing they are today.
Helping others through groups is important, but we really miss the point of the Lord’s call to each one of us if we imagine we’ve done all that we’re called to do if we make a donation or pay our taxes. Rather, the help, and more importantly the love of Christ, we show others is intimate and personal, and we see that in the second part of the account from Acts.
Luke writes, “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Did you hear that they knew one another and one another’s needs? They weren’t as insulated as we are in our modern society. We’re blessed to live in Lake View where we’re pretty close to those around us, and most of you know what’s going on with your neighbors. But even in Lake View there are plenty of times when people try to isolate themselves. We live in our separate houses which are designed to enhance privacy. When we leave our houses, we’re closed off in our cars. We can see others in their cars, but we can’t interact with them. Many people put in their hours at work and at school, where they interact with people, but it usually involves the business at hand, and any personal interaction is shallow and casual, a kind of “have a good day.” Then at the end of the day we go home, and even at home there often isn’t a lot personal interaction and conversation even within our families. We can even come to church and actively be part of Emmanuel and then go home again without a personal exchange of words with anyone.
So if we want to be more like Jesus and more like the early Christians, we’ll have to work consciously and intentionally to remove some of what isolates us from each other. And this probably means that we take the time and effort to invite others into our homes and accept invitations into their homes, that we turn off the TV and spend some time in conversation in which we are ready to reveal ourselves to one another and to build some meaningful relationships. And it surely means that we’re ready to “be there” for those we know who are in a time of need.
Look at our world and one of the greatest needs you’ll see is “one-on-one” concern and care. The simple, direct approach is that you find a need and fill it—with yourself! There are people all around you who are in need of your personal concern; at the Black Hawk and Twilight Acres care centers, in hospitals, in your congregation, in homes in your neighborhood, and in your own family. Take stock of the situation in which you live. Just find a need and fill it with the love of Christ.
Read this section of Acts and you can’t help but notice that these first Christians cared about one another personally. It was reflected in their attitude toward their possessions. Luke writes, “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” As far as the basic needs of life were concerned, it was their desire that the poor among them be no poorer than the rich, and that the rich among them be no richer than the poor. By selling property and providing for the needs of all they were displaying Christ love. What the first church was doing wasn’t socialism, that has never worked and it never will work, rather it was a temporary solution to the problem of the needy.
As the Church grew and as it was blessed by God, Christians were encouraged to bring the first part of their income as an offering to honor the Lord and to help the needy, just as we still are today. During a famine in Jerusalem and the surrounding area the churches in Macedonia gathered offerings to help the suffering, and what worked then will work now as we individual Christians and Christian families are ready to offer the Lord a first part of our income that is fully appropriate to our incomes. But the point is that these first Christians cared, and they did something about the needs of others. They did not just leave it to others to get the job done.
They worked together because we are all part of the Body of Christ, when one hurts, we all hurt, when one suffers we all suffer, when one grieves we all grieve, so just as you seek to alleviate the pain in one part of your body, we do the same thing with the Church. And when we do, we and everyone else can’t help but see Christ in us.
When Peter and John healed the lame man they told him they didn’t have any silver or gold for him, but they showed the love of Christ in a miraculous way. What we have as Christians are financial blessings from God, but more than that we have the love of Christ. The best gift we can give truly is Christ because He first gave Himself to us. He will come to others through us as we come to them with loving help in His name. And in the process, the Holy Spirit will give us opportunities to add a verbal witness—telling who Jesus is and what He has done for us and what He means to us. And when we do this we’ll find that God works in His usual mysterious way so that everyone involved is blessed beyond measure.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen