1 Peter 2:19-25
For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. “When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by 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.
Happy Easter! As you all know, and for our guests today, we have been discussing during this Eastertide the radical new realities of those who are Disciples of Christ because of the Resurrection. The first week we talked about forgiveness and the power and authority given to Jesus’ followers to forgive because of the resurrection. Last week, we talked about God’s continued Grace in our lives and how it is because of the Resurrection God’s grace transforms our lives from living unrighteous lives to striving through God’s Grace onto perfection. This week I want to broach another very important, although not totally radically different change because of the resurrection: Life lived in Community. Communal living as I have said is not anything new in light of the resurrection, but rather it is an extension and gives more meaning and purpose to the communities that claim Jesus as Lord. There have been all sorts of communities before Christ and there are still all sorts of different types of communities outside of the realm of Christianity today. Before Jesus, the Jews lived in community with one another, raising each others children, protecting one another, sharing food among one another (Ruth). Humanity for the longest time had to rely on one another to survive. Native Americans formed communities, although very different in the way they were structured, they survived together as a community that fit the life-style they had to live to survive. Today, there are more communities that are being formed than I believe ever before. People, no longer are forming communities solely for survival, but now also because of common interests. Each community has their own values, their own ethics, for some even their own schedules.
This past week I picked up a book called “White Blaze Fever” by Bill Schuette. It is a book about a man’s experience hiking through the whole Appalachian Trail. Throughout his book, Bill speaks about those he is hiking with as they are a part of the AT community. Even many of the towns along the AT he includes in this community. This past year, I have a friend in seminary who expressed the very same thoughts about his thru-hike of the AT. He said that many people love to hike the long trails, but the thing that is so unique about the AT is the community that goes with it.
People in general are seeking these communities of common interests, to feel that they are connected to something larger than themselves. However, they also want to obtain some of their own autonomy, some of their own individuality as well. A quote that continually came up through Bill’s book was “Hike your own Hike”. It is a quote that seemed to have been often used as partners split ways, as people slowed down, or stopped over at town for a few days to rest up. However, it is also an indication of what type of community the AT thru-hiker community is. It is an individual, lone ranger, Burger King “have it your own way” kind of community. Many more communities in this era are communities built around this very concept of I can be my own individual self, Whatever that may look like, and I can build my own community around me. This is what drives the new technological social communities of Facebook and Twitter that all of the young ins like myself have been raving about.
So you may begin to wonder how is this important to the church. Well, I think it is important to us, because we offer a different type of community than what is the “IN” thing right now. The Church is not solely about providing an individual experience of Christ that is self-serving. Paul talks about the Body of Christ in his letters to the church of Corinth because in Corinth at the time was struggling with the different sects that had come about within this new community of believers. These divisions had come for many different reasons: gender, socio-economic classes, intellectualism. But Paul is addressing how that we are not to be individually broken up, but rather a single community of Christ, and as the Body of Christ, we work together for God’s glory.
The early church after the Spirit had come on the Apostles began to organize themselves rather loosely, but with the intention of being a Christ centered community. We have here in our scripture lesson from Acts a snapshot of the community of believers that was being formed. Believers who devoted themselves to the apostles teachings, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayer. These practices that they had devoted themselves to are ways in which they experience the risen Christ. We as a community of believers experience Christ and his teachings when we look to the teachings of the Apostles, like the letters of Paul, and the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. We experience Christ as the church in fellowship with one another when we put on Christ and love one another as Christ had loved us. We experience Christ in the breaking of bread in Holy Communion, just as the disciples of Emmaus experienced the risen Lord in the breaking of bread. And we certainly experience Christ and come into conversation with the Risen Christ in our time of prayer. But this community of the first century was not solely looking inwardly at how they themselves may experience Christ, but also they were a community that lived to serve not to be self-served, just as Christ himself had not come to be served but to serve. They took care of one another, and were called upon to take care of the community in which they were in.
It is with this common purpose that we have come together as a community of believers, to proclaim the message of Hope and to hold one another accountable to such living. John Wesley knew this to be central to the movement of the early Methodists. Communal living, gathering in fellowship and accountability groups was the key to successful ministry with the Wesley brothers. They would go around setting up these societies, people who devoted themselves to meet weekly for prayer, Bible reading, and communal discipline. Within these societies met small groups called class meetings, who would meet regularly in “intimate, caring, but highly disciplined groups whose members aided one another to ‘grow in grace’” Wesley realized that these kind of groups could easily become self-centered instead of Christ centered, and so with his own small group added outward focused ministry by visiting the local inmates in jail. These small groups eventually formed to be Sunday School Classes, Bible Study groups, prayer groups, and work groups. A church that is living and thriving continually is creating space for these small groups to happen as people are seeking connection with one another. Wesley’s small groups that form a society is also the way we have structured the many communities into the larger annual conferences. United Methodists have called this connectionalism a “Mark of Methodism” It is something that defines who we are and who it is that we believe God has called us to be. In our understanding and framework of the Church we are to walk with one another, pray for each other’s congregations, and help support each other’s ministries as we together minister to the community in which we have been placed. This is like when Beth Horon is having a function, we as a part of the body of Christ go and support that ministry. When the Staunton District holds a district conference mission, we go and be a part of that mission. This can even work within our own charge, if Mount Zion is having a function, we are a part of ONE church and not many churches and so we go and support one another with our prayers, gifts, and our presence.
To close, I’d like to set a question before us today that may bring into perspective how the resurrection forms and shapes this community that we call the church. If Christ had died and NOT been resurrected would you be a part of this community of faith?
The answer to this question should be no. It is because of the resurrection that we have our hope of new life. It is with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we gain our identity, It is with the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we study His teachings. It is because of the resurrection of Jesus that we have gained our hope and trust in God to be making all things new again! Overcoming sin, and with the resurrection overcoming death. And it is because of the resurrection that the church of Jesus Christ witnesses through its life and its practices, the truth of Christ crucified and Christ Resurrected!
Thanks be to God!
 Willimon, Willam “Why I Am A United Methodist” p. 111.