These early believers in Jerusalem were a motley lot drawn mostly from among the poor and marginalized. They saw Good News in the teachings of Jesus. Some like the shepherds were not able to follow the religious dictates because of their jobs. Others were desperately poor and the common wisdom was God was not blessing them because of sin. Some like the tax collectors had money but they were on the margins. But most all were all estranged to larger or lesser degree from their community of faith.
In the second chapter of the book of Acts we find this description of the fledgling group of Christians in Jerusalem “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Senator Joe McCarthy would have had a fit. We might even have heard the cry of “Communism. That’s Communism!” But the truth is that what is described is not a political ideology but a way of supporting one another in community.
This group understood that the way to follow Jesus was to care for one another as they would care for themselves. This got lived out in a community that did not puts its value in possessing – but in sharing. They allocated time not for leisure or even for greater income but in learning and practicing how to live life in a way that was life-giving for the world, for the community and for themselves.
They came together frequently to break bread Acts says with “glad and generous hearts praising God and having goodwill of all the people.” But before we begin to see this as some sort of golden stained glass age we need to recall that they were people just like us. What distinguish them from us is the will, the desire, and the commitment to live in that sort of community.
With so many of our congregations hurting and wondering what we can do I propose a “back to the roots” solution. What if we were to make the commitment to make our faith communities places where our priorities matched what we promise in the renewing our Baptismal covenant? Would there be a change? You better believe it. If we adjusted our priorities so our faith was not a Sunday thing but was based in a community where we deeply cared about and cared for one another. Where we came together during the week to relate the faith we profess with the life we live. Where we shared our resources (time, skills, money, and influence) in ways helped others significantly with no expectation of return… I believe we would achieve the same results, would find the same by-product reported in the book of Acts. “And day by day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.”
Congregations that want to grow cannot focus on growth. To grow they need to focus gathering as a community to share their story, to share their concerns and to learn how Jesus story interacts with ours (breaking of bread and fellowship). At the same time congregations need to focus on serving others in the community around them rather than just members of their faith community.
It is that simple and that difficult. It takes all of us to build a community.