Celebrating: The Love of Community

Celebrating: The Love of Community

Life among the Believers
Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 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. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:43-47 (NRSVUE)

I wonder, have you ever been filled with a sense of awe? What does it feel like? Sometimes when we feel awe, we get flooded with a feeling of peace, or joy or we get goosebumps. Sometimes we just feel warm inside, like someone is giving us a big hug. And sometimes when we feel awe, we feel overwhelmed or even small because we realize that the world or the divine is so much bigger than us!

Now “awe” can be the feeling we get in the presence of something really big. Sometimes that challenges our understanding of the world, like looking up at a sky full of stars at night or watching a beautiful sunset. It can also be a feeling of wonder at something everyday and ordinary. Scientists have discovered that a sense of awe actually motivates people to do things that make the world a better place.

We can experience awe in nature, or through rituals, celebrations, music, religious gatherings, and worship, and we can even experience awe in observing someone share kindness with another. The most important part about awe is that it shifts our focus from ourselves to others and from our own self-interest to paying attention to our friends and neighbors and even to groups of strangers.

Now I don’t know if you noticed, but today’s scripture reading started out talking about awe. “Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Today’s scripture reading takes place after Jesus’ ascension when Jesus leaves his disciples and returns to heaven. And after the coming of the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost, both of which we will be talking about in a few weeks. But in this story from the book of Acts, the disciples are just starting to figure out how to fulfill the great commission that Jesus gave them to share the good news and make disciples of all nations.

Well, they started this amazing work by forming communities of faith. They didn’t worry about fancy buildings or formal worship. They didn’t yet have the Bible to read scripture from. They simply met in homes, praying and singing, encouraging and supporting one another, humbly serving their neighbors, and breaking bread in their homes. And as scripture says, “in time their number increased.”

Can you imagine all of this happening outside of what we know as church buildings? Interestingly enough, last night I returned from a three-day conference for Christian Educators throughout New England, and the theme of the conference was “Beyond Our Church Walls.” Each worship service over the three days was held outdoors in a different setting. The conference was held at a camp in New Hampshire, so one of the services was on a beach, one was around a campfire, and one was out in an open field at the base of a mountain. Every single service and setting was beautiful and awe-inspiring in its own way.

Now the first night, we worshipped at the lake shore, and it was cold and drizzly. But they told us ahead of time that all worship would be outside so everyone should come prepared with rain gear and winter coats. The second night, it had rained in the late afternoon, but the clouds and the rain seemed to scatter just before our campfire. And by the time the service started, the sky was clear revealing a multitude of stars and a rising full moon. And by the final afternoon, the sun shined brightly, and warm breezes occasionally blew through.

One of the most amazing parts about worshipping outside of our church walls was that we constantly found ourselves in awe of the world around us. Now you may call it Mother Nature, Creation, the Holy Spirit, or the presence of God, but each service was visited by some type of wildlife or unplanned nature happening. Birds were chirping in the trees, an osprey flew down and grabbed a fish from the lake right in front of us, there were loon calls, and woodpeckers pecking on old hollow trees, and even a few deer decided to walk out into the meadow to see what we were up to. Now so that this doesn’t sound like too much of a fairy tale, there were also mayflies and mosquitos!

But it was like God was adding to our worship experience, encouraging us to open our hearts and to be in awe communing with the world around us. And God kept reminding us over and over again that we were always standing on holy ground. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes and pay attention.

Folks, many of us, when we think about worship, think about our church building, After all this is where we gather each week to worship, pray, praise God, and break bread together. In other words, this is where we gather as a faith community. Well, in the early church, worship and living lives of faith were not something separate from everyday life. The early disciples didn’t go to a special place to worship; they lived and worshiped in community. So faith was not just a Saturday or Sunday thing but an “every moment of every day” kind of thing.

At different times in our lives and at different stages along our journey we all find that we long to be a part of a faith community. After all, that’s why we are all here, isn’t it? Now that doesn’t mean that we can’t and don’t have our own personal spiritual practices that we carry out at home. But it’s here in our church building that we gather as a community of faith, hopefully loving, serving and supporting one another.

Three years ago, we had a very unexpected lesson in experiencing our faith beyond our church walls. During the pandemic, when we were unable to gather here at the church, we had to find new ways to stay connected, to worship, to feed our faith, and to break bread together from our own homes. Now let me be clear, though that time taught us about who we are as a faith community and what it means to truly “be the church,” I don’t ever want to go back to full-time online worship like we did for a year and a half! But I do know that during that time apart, we were reminded that our faith is about far more than a church building. It’s what we say and do, how we treat others, and how we live out our faith, even and especially in difficult times.

For those of you that were with us during the pandemic, you know that we did our best to worship and to be involved in Household Huddle via YouTube videos. We still reflected on scripture and prayed and sang, and you were even invited to get something to eat and something to drink from your own kitchen to celebrate communion virtually with us. And the best part was you could do it in your pajamas!

And after virtual worship each week, we gathered via Zoom for an online coffee hour because we missed being together. We missed sharing physical space. We missed listening, encouraging, and humbly serving one another in person. But as difficult as that time was, during that year and a half, our hearts and our minds were opened to new possibilities, and we learned a lot about ourselves and our faith in new ways that we never would have learned here in our church building.

I have a story to share with you, about something that happened at my house during the pandemic, and it has to do with the wooden sign that is under the pulpit this morning. (I’m sure many of you have been wondering what that was all about!) If you can’t read it from your pew, it’s actually part of today’s scripture reading: “They broke bread in their home and ate with glad and generous hearts.”

During the pandemic, when we were restricted from gathering in groups, one of our friends and his wife and two daughters became part of our “pod,” or small circle or safe group or whatever you want to call it. The daughters would actually come over and help by being a part of our Household Huddle videos. Some of you may remember Kaylee and Cory, who would explain the craft, game, or activity for the week. Well, each week, they could come over, and because we were all mostly confined to our homes, we would use the opportunity to not only record that week’s Household Huddle video but also to share a meal together. The more videos we recorded, the more we started talking about our faith. Now Kaylee & Cory and their parents are faithful Roman Catholics, and they attend their church at least once a week and are very active in the church community.

Besides attending their church Bazaar each fall and attending Kaylee and Cory’s grandfather’s funeral, we never really talked about our faith. We just did our thing, and they did their thing. But because of the pandemic and the girls helping with our Household Huddle videos, the door was suddenly opened to talk about the scripture stories that we were recording. And many of them they had never heard before, so they had lots of questions. Well, it quickly became a weekly thing. As we ate, we talked about scripture and faith and some of the differences between our faith traditions.

One night as we sat around the table, I had baked a loaf of bread to go with our dinner. (I think we all did a little more baking during the pandemic, didn’t we?) Well, the bread was still warm, so instead of trying to cut it with a knife, I picked up the loaf of bread and started to break it into pieces putting them in a basket. Suddenly, I noticed that everyone was staring at me. We all looked at each other and realized that we were in the midst of a holy moment. A sense of awe seemed to fill the room.

One of the girls commented that this must have been what it was like when Jesus taught the disciples about communion. I looked around the table and told them that it could be communion if they wanted it to be. In that moment, we put aside the expectations and the “dos and don’ts” of our own traditions. We didn’t have fancy plates, or a chalice, or even a set liturgy, but that night we celebrated communion at home in the most intimate and sacred way. We broke the bread, we shared the story and some wine, we prayed, and we talked about what it must have been like that night in the upper room.

Afterward, I couldn’t help but think of the early disciples and today’s scripture reading from the book of Acts. So, when I saw this sign, I knew it would be a perfect addition to my kitchen. Now every time I look at it, it’s a reminder of the awe-inspiring sacred moments we have shared and continued to share as we break bread at home and eat with glad and generous hearts.

Friends, we experience awe-inspiring sacred moments of faith here in Oldtown when we gather together, too. And I wouldn’t trade those for anything! But please know that God does not stay here in the sanctuary during the week, waiting for us to come visit every Sunday. God goes with us out into the world, and God encourages us to pay attention to those feelings of awe that we sometimes feel and to always looks for opportunities to experience our faith in new and exciting ways.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t be so busy that you miss the sacred moments in your midst. Remember to breathe. Remember that you can experience your faith anytime and anywhere, so don’t be afraid to sing and pray and break bread in your homes. Watch for mother nature to interrupt your path. Allow yourselves to be filled with wonder and awe. And know that you are always, no matter what, held lovingly in the hands of God.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!


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