Dear DiscipleChurch community:
This coming Sunday, we will again start our worship with our breakfast for and with our unsheltered brothers and sisters at 7:20 am in Wesley Hall, then continue with our chapel service at 8:30 and then with our formation, prayer and discussion group at 9:30 am. All are welcome to one, two or all three parts of this extended “service.”
This breakfast has come to be really meaningful and valuable to me, because I am privileged to lead communion and to offer the bread and cup to everyone at the gathering just before we start to serve the meal. (We use the same bread for the communion service that follows in the chapel, which also means a lot to me.) Not all of our homeless brothers and sisters accept the bread and cup, of course, and they are most certainly not required to do so in order to eat breakfast. I think that part of the reason that many choose not to receive is that they somehow do not feel worthy or “holy” enough, or because their lives are so hard that they doubt that God is really present for them and offered to them. But more and more do receive, and I can see in their eyes how much it means to them to be included and blessed. I try to pray in a way that speaks to the reality of their lives on the streets, to their hunger and thirst and their exposure to heat and cold and sun and rain, to the hostile, judgmental stares they receive on the street, to the dangers — particularly to the homeless women among us, to their daily struggles to find showers and bathrooms they can use, and to the ways they are flatly barred by security guards from places where everyone else is welcome. Since we decided as a community to add communion to the breakfast, the entire gathering seems to me to be more peaceful, warm and filled with the Spirit of the Christ. And…given the sign of welcome and inclusion of this sacrament, it seems like more homeless folk have been joining us for the chapel service and for the formation group. As Paul wrote to the ecclesia at Corinth, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many [read “diverse”] are one, because we all receive of the one loaf. [My emphasis.]” I tell you that these few moments of communion in that breakfast have become the best moments of my entire week, every week.
This week, we continue preaching from Acts. Our sermon scripture for Sunday will be:
Acts of the Apostles 3
“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ 5And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ 7And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
“While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, ‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, 20so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, 21who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. 22Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. 23And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out from the people.” 24And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. 25You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, “And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.’”
We are finally ready to start exploring some answers to our question of how is was that the Way of Jesus grew and spread so rapidly through the Roman Empire, from a group of about 120 people in about 30 A.D. to almost half of the population of the entire Roman Empire by 313 A.D. This scripture early from the Book of Acts contains the seeds of that phenomenal growth, as well as an answer to the question of what and who we are called to do and be in our time.
Let me give you a suggestion in your consideration of this scripture in advance of Sunday. Do not center on your post-Enlightenment skepticism of how Peter and John could possibly have healed a man physically who had been lame “from the womb,” as the Greek actually says. Consider, instead, this man’s unjust and tragic exclusion from the community, and from the community’s worship, because of his physical defect. Consider instead which was worse in it its impact upon him — his physical disability or his exclusion. Consider also what percentage of the population of the Empire must have suffered from chronic, and excluding, defects and diseases. And consider your ingrained, natural reaction when you are in proximity with someone who is sneezing or coughing, or, when you are sharing bread from a communion loaf with…I don’t know…a homeless person who has a hard time staying as clean as you keep yourself.
I am excited about this sermon because I can finally start sharing with you the amazing insights that have been obtained through the recent scholarship into the lives of common people in the cities where the church spread, and the reasons that the church and the Way of Jesus was so attractive (literally) to so many people. I think you will be at least stimulated and maybe a bit surprised by these insights.
Keep the faith, and the faith will keep you.