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Well hello my good people! It’s an honour to be asked to share some thoughts with you this morning, thank you for tuning in in this new adaptation of church. Would love to see you all again in person, and Lord willing we will do so when the time is right. Well it’s actually not new anymore at all is it – we’ve been going like this for a few months now!
How good was it to hear from Adrian Grieve last week? Wow even from literally the other side of the planet, he is able to share Gods word with his friends and fellow believers here in Cape Town. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing again from my old youth leader. Haha, you think moving to the other side of the world gets you off Medways speaking roster, no such luck!
But now it’s my turn, and I’m picking up a series we had started a few weeks prior to last week. Our opening batsmen Lawrence started us off with a good innings, it’s my turn to pitch in with the iffy middle order before the big pitch hitter Stuart comes in in a couple weeks to take control of the match.
Where are we – we are in Acts 2 – we find ourselves looking at the early church – every now and then as a church we circle back to Acts two , and we remind ourselves of the fundamental setup of the early church. We like to think we’re a bible believing fellowship based on principles and ordinances that were laid out 2000 years ago – ok, well, lets have a look then shall we.
The irony is of course not lost on me – my topics for this and next week are – the Devotion of the early church to breaking of the Bread and Fellowship. So at a time when we haven’t been breaking the bread each week – and even now as we try doing it in a different way, it’s not exactly what the Lord had in mind when he gave the instruction. Next week I talk about the importance of fellowship and the devotion of the early church to fellowship – and we haven’t physically met as a fellowship for months!
But as always, wherever we find ourselves, we come to scripture afresh and anew, and even in this lockdown state we have to evaluate the importance and meaning of our ritual and our church practices. Some of you I know for a fact are sitting at home in your comfy gowns and cosy pjs and are sipping your warm tea while you listen. Getting back into the swing things might be tough hey! Some of you i understand used sprite for communion a few ago! Sprite! How do you go back old grape juice from sprite. I don’t know. Well all the more reason to go back to the basics and remind ourselves of the importance – even in this seemingly irrelevant position as we are forced apart.
We’ve picked verse 42 of chapter 2 of Acts to serve as the CenterPoint on which to hang the rest of the passage – and the series is entitled ‘Devoted To’ – if you’ve been with us you would have heard a talk on how the early church were devoted to The apostles teaching, about how they were devoted to the person of Christ, and even, in the example of Stephen that we looked at, devoted to the point death. And we’ve already heard – devotion costs – devotion requires sacrifice – dedication, discipline, commitment - take up your cross and follow me – and the rewards may not even come in this life – like Stephen.
Lets read together Acts 2 42 through to 47
The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 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, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is the setup - the early church begins – the apostles are performing signs and wonders, people are being added to the number, the church, even under persecution is growing. The believers have formed a community- they are together – their possessions are in common, their property is being sold – yikes, imagine that! So their possessions were being put into the pot – their security was being sacrificed – the needs of the others were being met – and their focus was changed – their time, the devotion was now being put onto on heavenly things. The fledgling church was being built through the real human beings. Was it supernatural – yes, signs and wonders, but was it in the the natural realm as well – yes, real people were giving up real materials things, changing their lifestyles, rearranging their priority and building day by day. The church as we know it didn’t fall out the sky. These were real ordinary people who were….
The nature of Devotion
Devoted to – continuing steadfastly in– a call to remain loyal and faithful - these are trying times – even more so trying times for the early church as they start out – they didn’t know what the future hold, neither do we – you know it seems like every Sunday you might see Cyril on TV and he’ll tell you that you can’t to this and you can do that – stop drinking! Ok you can start again, no no – stop - your kids must stay at home – no wait , they can go back to school no, wait, hold on …When you don’t know what tomorrow holds – be steadfast – continue in your devotion and your commitment. Press on, press further, press deeper. Grow, day by day, inch by inch.
This ritual practice, if you are ok with calling it that, of Breaking of Bread was something important and worthy of devotion– and we still do it today.
Is there a place for ritual in the modern church? Are there activities that we do regularly that we would call rituals? What about celebrating christmas? What about carols – what about Baptisms, - prayer – saying grace, Christian marriage - as a couple of our younger members are preparing for the big step….even is a type of ritual practice.
But there are two that really stand out, in terms of the importance that we place on them based on our understanding of clear commands given out of Scripture – Baptism is one, and the breaking of Bread is the other.
OK, so we need to understand exactly what this breaking of bread is?
What is the breaking of Bread?
A strange and sometimes misleading phrase… My wife likes to bake a sourdough loaf and it sometimes comes out with a very thick crust – we have a very nice bow saw that we use to cut through the hard outer crust – that bread can be very hard to break - but that’s not what they are talking about here is it… so is it talking about a meal – you know, like the Italians like to do – you break bread with the familia – and that even seems to be the sense that he phrase is used later in Acts – and it’s seems like that usage is referring to sharing meals in people’s homes , as opposed to rituals in a place of worship.
But the generally accepted understanding of the term breaking of Bread – here in verse 42 , as my New King James version translates it – is a link back to the Lords Supper.
So, whether you call it the breaking of bread, the BoB, the emblems on the table – the Eucharist, the Communion, the bread and the wine – over 2000 years the practice has varied - some churches practice it in different ways, have slightly different beliefs about what happens during it – some do it more regularly than others ok, you are welcome to go down that wormhole if you want.
But collectively this is a practice that goes back to the Lords Supper – Jesus sits with his 12 disciples to prepare a Passover feast – and illustrates with simple bread, and simple wine what is going to happen to Him - in just a short while – this was right before his crucifixion – his betrayer was even sitting with him – it was about to GO DOWN.. this bread is my body – it’s going to be broken – this wine is my blood – it will be shed for you – and you wonder what the disciples make of all of this – be Jesus knew what lay in store for him – and he gives them this command – DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME. REMEMBER WHAT I AM ABOUT TO GO THROUGH.
The greatest object lesson all of history. Do this is remembrance of me – He is not to be forgotten – the impact of his life and death and resurrection is going to go on – to be eternal. Do this in remembrance of me. How would you give instruction for yourself to be remembered – build a building? Pay someone to do a portrait? Put up a statue? Hey even those don’t last – cheers Cecil John Rhodes.. Name a geographical location? Start a foundation that bears your name?
No, say Jesus to the twelve - heres a couple of simple things I want you to do when you meet – build me a temple in your heart I suppose – build me a spiritual memorial that I want you to visit (metaphorically) every time you meet in my name.
Same thing that would be followed – in the early church as we read about today and in our practice as a church at Medway.
Ok, so that’s what it is and in our practice if you’ve been along to Medway you will know, in the middle of our service we pray, and we pass around a load of bread and we take a bit – we pray again and we pass around little cups of grape juice and we drink it. Ten minutes – done.
Who is it for, what does it do?
But what does it do, Who is it for? Well, it’s only for us, but it’s not only for us.
Well, first and foremost, the Breaking of Bread is for believers – it is not for unbelievers to participate in. And yes, it gets super awkward when you’re sitting next to a child or someone you don’t know and you do and weird thing where you smile, and kind of pass the thing, but kind of don’t cause you’re not sure of the believer status of the person and you don’t want to offend by assuming the person is but you also don’t want to offend by assuming the person isn’t… tricky stuff, church dynamics. Should the kids be in there? Sure, let them watch and see what it’s about. What if they make a noise? So what, really. We all make noise. Sometimes we drop the tray full of cups. Sometimes the bread is fresher than others…so what.
The breaking of bread helps the believer remember Jesus and his death – that’s what we should be thinking about. That’s where our minds should be going – it is a personal moment for those who identity with Christ – Christians - of reflection of what Jesus personally achieved for you when he went to that Cross.
But, guess what - The breaking of bread is also for others – it also serves as a proclamation from the church, outwards of our faith – a stand in a fallen world – a message to others and an offer of the hope of salvation. That nonbelievers would see a body of believers remember, would see them celebrate, would see them offering prayers and thanksgiving to their Saviour. And of course I don’t mean see literally like as if we were to do it in a puffed up way on display…. But more like that it would be known what happens inside churches within communities. That church hasn’t moved on and left behind Christ – that He is central to our regular meeting.
Backwards Inwards Upwards Outwards
You can take it even further – I read a sermon this week where the speaker talked about 4 directions – the Breaking of Bread looks backward – to the Last supper – it looks inward – into our own identity in Christ as believers – We died with him ,we live with him – it looks forward – we do this as we wait for his return – and it looks outwards – to proclaim his death to all.
All this from simple act – a simple little ritual – no ones asking you to beat yourself, and shave you head and head off to a monastery – no ones asking you to walk across hot coals – or pierce your skin or tattoo your selves …
Easy peasy – just have a nibble or bread and wash down a tot of grape juice – lekker man…
No no no – hold it - as simple as the act is – we MUST take it seriously -
The importance of doing it properly – 1 Corinthians 11
The apostle Paul takes time in his letter to the Corinthian church to remind his readers of the importance of performing this ritual properly. He points out that the instruction comes from Jesus himself, and he personally reminds the church what it means – the bread represents the body of Christ, the wine is the Blood – He talks about the new covenant - the old covenant is was the means by which the people of Faith of old found redemption and forgiveness and access to God – this New covenant – is in the blood – the death of Jesus – he is our forgiveness – he is our righteousness- he is now the only way to the father. It brings our whole faith, our whole history, our whole reason for existence into a sharp focus –– as believers our identity is in Him – we are no longer slaves, dead in our sins and past, but we look forward in Christ – proclaiming Him, remembering Him until he comes again, or we are called to be with Him.
This is not light stuff – this why it becomes such an important part of our meeting – the centrepiece really, as nicely as I try to play my guitar and lead us into a worshipful moment – this is what matters more – this remembrance. And so rightly so even from relatively early on, the outset of the early church – there was a bit of caution given – Do this in a worthy manner – don’t just sommer pitch up – if you are hungry – eat at home – it’s not that sort of meal – this isn’t a pot luck bring an share. Examine yourselves, and bring a heart rightfully tuned to the gravity of the remembrance you are going to partake of. We don’t just give you a sachet and a biscuit as you leave the church building and send you on your way. It’s not just a tick box thing to get through before the speaker comes up and tell some funny opening jokes.
It is important – but BUT
let’s also keep it in its rightful context as you apply this to yourself…
Let’s not be fooled to thinking that attendance at the Breaking of Bread is the acceptable standard for showing your devotion to God – like saying, ok, what God wants from you is to attend church every Sunday and that’s it – that would be a ridiculous argument to put forward, as if to say the limit of our Christian Faith and experience will be this weekly ritual – may it never be.
Of course, your spiritual walk is a daily one – and your spiritual calling (Lawrence will deal with devotion to a calling when he wraps up the series) reaches into every aspect of your life. You see that coming through these verse in the lives of the early church members, for sure.
This devotion is only part of the picture
The devotion to the singular practice of Breaking of Bread was only a part of their devotion to the greater goal – the establishment and growth of the Church. They were building something – and they gave what they had – they weren’t rich, they weren’t educated, they weren’t powerful – but they gave what they could. Was there – something that we would recognise as balance? Was there moderation? We talk about work life balance – was there church life balance? I’m not so sure – in their commitment, their passion and their devotion to the church they didn’t really hold back, did they? No – passionate – look at successful people through history – did Paul attend church once a Sunday – and go back to his ‘worldly’ life….don’t think so. His devotion, much like the devotion of the early church spread widely.
Has the work of the church been completed? No – Has the building of the church been completed? Is there nothing left for us to do? No, there is lots left to be done. What will it take to get done – Acts 2 clearly tells us how the early church went about it – Devotion. Commitment – generosity, sacrifice – they poured into the church what they had.
The church is not ‘other people’ / We are the church
We hear so many gripes about the modern church – obviously from the outside, but even from the inside – and yes, this is me having a gripe about people in the church who have gripes about the church– so I hear these words loud and clear as I think them to myself and say out to you – people say you know, the problem with the modern church is – they – or I wish the church would be more vocal on the following issues = or I wish they would address – like the church is OTHER PEOPLE – brothers and sisters the church is you and the church is me. Complain about how the church isn’t acting in this way – ARE YOU ACTING in the way – are you leading that movement? Oooh, we’re waiting for the leadership to lead us – while in scripture we are called the high priests. Can you put yourself in the early church setup as it comes through from Acts 2 – can you evaluate your priorities and devotion to the church, the work of the church and really devotion to Christ through that lens – or have we forgotten to remember.
Next week we look at the Devotion of the Early Church to fellowship.
The BoB is a very vertical direction - Prayer, and the apostles doctrine, and the breaking of bread – even though it’s something we often do corporately, it’s really personal, and upward – between us and God. Next week we pick up another of the devoted to subjects – devoted to fellowship – and we contrast the vertical with the horizontal – why is fellowship important – why can’t’ I just stay at home in my comfort and listen to the best sermon I can download? On the other hand, if fellowship and community and social interaction is so important, why can’t I just get that from my local pub? From my sports team, from my colleagues at work? We’ll chat about this and more next week!