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Going--Right at Home
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37
Track 3 of 14 in the Being with Him Compels Us to Go for Him series


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Sermon for Sunday, June 13, 2004
"Going--Right at Home"
"Being With Him Compels Us to Go for Him"
(Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37)
C. Sackett

They say, "that charity begins at home." That means different things to different people apparently. I'm sure you've seen on a postage stamp or a poster somewhere that now famous picture of 9/11 where the three firemen are raising, hoisting the flag among the ruins of the towers. That has been commercialized by a particular agency and has now been licensed only for sale under certain circumstances.

The fund is called the Bravest Fund. It's designed to be a fund to supply help to people who have had losses, particularly to New York firemen and other people like that. In fact there has been about $67,000 distributed out of that fund. However, charity beginning at home means things to different people.

To William Kelley, the attorney who oversees that particular fund which has now generated, by the way, $2 million primarily through infringement rights on its patent. The attorney has collected $553,000 in fees. "Charity begins at home." Means different things to different folks.

Certainly means something different when you take it into the context of the church, doesn't it? Charity at home can either be an absolute statement of selfishness or it can be an incredible act of generosity which makes a statement to the rest of the world.

Just a few pages before our text in Acts 4, Jesus was praying in John 17--praying that the people of God, his people, would be one. That in that spirit of unity where they cared for one another, where there was a genuine sense that they belonged to each other, that the world would see that God sent Christ into the world to redeem the world.

A number of years later when Paul was writing an early letter to the churches among the Galatian provinces he makes this comment. "That Christian people should do good to all men."--especially as they are given opportunity. But in that context he says, in those opportunities for doing good, which we do to all men, he says. Do them especially to the household of faith. Take special care of God's people.

There's something unusual about our relationship with each other and what we share in common is a message that cannot be ignored out there in the world. Unfortunately, sometimes what we share are not always positive things and that message is just as clear and equally damaging as when we share that which is good and that message becomes something very positive.

There are a number of things in Acts 4 that are identified as things that we share in common. I want to come to this second statement which is kind of a summary statement. Brian read the first one out of Acts 2 where you come to that opening day in Acts and the church has begun. Three thousand people have given their lives to Christ. Been immersed into Him and Luke kind of summarizes the day with the way the church begins to live out its life. Here we are, two chapters later. There's a second summary statement Chapter 4, verse 32. It comes immediately upon the heels of learning that the church has now grown to well over 5,000 people. He says, All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but the shared everything the had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

Which leads us naturally into Chapter 5, which will be looked at later.

Here is this incredible statement about togetherness of the church. That there was this one heart that combined them.

It seems to me there are some things we could learn from that. For example, we share this common heart. We have together that which brought these people together. We have in common a faith experience in coming to Christ. The reason we're here is because we have come know Jesus and the reason they were together was because out of all of those scattered nations, these people have one thing in common. They had responded to the gospel of Christ. They have come in a faith experience. There was no divergent way to come. There were no denominational ways to come at that moment. There was only a church. So there weren't Catholic ways and Methodist ways and Baptist ways and Christian Church ways. There was just "come to Christ".

As John Stott, the great Anglican preacher would say, they believed, they repented, they were baptized, they came to Jesus. And everybody shared that common experience. They had that one uniting factor that they had all come out of their experience with God prior to today into an experience with Jesus Christ. He had made all the difference in the world.

They were sharing a common enemy at that particular point. It happened to be the Jewish culture around them which was so confrontational to the church. In Chapters 3 and 4 the apostles are called to task because they preached the gospel. In spite of this miraculous healing in Chapter 3, they are told to keep their mouth shut. That common adversary has caused them to become united together where they go together and they pray together and here are these people from various nations, various families, various relationships that have come together that are united because they share a common source of confrontation, a common enemy, a common adversary. As one man says, "adversity makes strange bedfellows."

It was kind of interesting. Earlier this week I was watching a bit of the funeral for President Reagan and they, ah, zoomed in as they broke through some of the commentary, they zoomed in, and here is Margaret Thatcher talking to Miguel Gorbachev at Reagan's funeral. And you talk about strange bedfellows. But that was part of the commentary, wasn't it? About how Reagan had managed to pull together some of the most diverse world leaders. Who would have ever thought that the United States and Soviet Russia would ever be comrades? Any more than we might look around this room and look at each other and say, "you know there were times in our lives when we would have never seen ourselves as friends, as brothers, sisters, as comrades." In Christ we have this common purpose, this common heart, this common experience and we share in the preaching of the gospel, nothing else much matters.

In fact, it's interesting when you read the New Testament, that as long as the gospel was being preached, that seemed to unite the people.

When Paul is in conflict in Philippians with people who are preaching the gospel for a bad motive, he ends up saying, whether for good motive or for bad, as long as Christ is preached, then everything is okay. There was this uniting factor in a common message. It is what calls us together with brothers and sisters who do not meet in this building today. So long as Christ is preached, then we're brothers and sisters. We have this common heritage because we have this common message.

We share this one heart. We have this common heart that is created by our conversion experience, is created by the adversary that we fight, that is created by the message that we share. But it's not just that we have common heart, we have a common message. We share this common message about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is still the heart of the gospel.

Did you hear it in this text? And they continued to preach the resurrection. You'll find that in every major speech, every major sermon in the book of Acts. The heart of the message of the church was that Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead. That's the basic thing they had to say. It didn't seem to make any difference if they were saying it in Jerusalem to a Jewish audience or on Mars Hill to a bunch of Greek philosophers or to the Roman government in Rome. The message was still the same, Jesus Christ — crucified. That's the thing that ties us together. The fact that we have this one single truth that no other belief system in the world shares . . . . the resurrection of Jesus. This one who came and lived and died on your behalf is not in the grave. He is raised. That common message ties us together around the world with people meeting in every time zone today to celebrate around this table, that message. . Jesus died and raised.

When we come to the Lord's table, we will one more time, one more Sunday, one more day before Jesus returns, together, as a family make this declaration. "Jesus Christ lives and comes again" and that will tie us together.

We share a common heart. We share a common message. We share a common desire to help. In this church, people saw other people in need and they responded in ways that were absolutely extraordinary, unlike the world in which we live.

I ran into this story out of the Boston Globe.

It can never be said that Adele Gaboury's neighbors were less than responsible. When her front lawn grew hip-high, they had a local boy mow it down. When her pipes froze and burst, they had the water turned off. When the mail spilled out the front door, they called the police. The only thing they didn't do was check to see if she was alive. She wasn't.

Police finally climbed her crumbling brick stoop, broke in the side door of her little blue house and found what they believe to be the 73-year-old woman's skeletal remains, where they had lain, perhaps for as long as four years. "It's not really a friendly neighborhood," said Eileen Dugan, 70, once a close friend of Gaboury's, whose house sits 20 feet from the dead woman's house. "I'm as much to blame as anyone. She was alone and needed someone to talk to, but I was working two jobs and was sick and tired of her coming over at all hours. Eventually I stopped answering the door."

[Source: Sally Jacobs, "Years After Neighbors Last Saw Her, Worcester Woman Found Dead," Boston Globe (10-27-93)]

I trust your neighbors are better neighbors than that, especially the ones sitting next to you right now. But in church those kinds of things would never happen. That in the church, when you gather around this table and you discern the body, that sometimes you look outside of yourself and you ask yourself who normally sits next to me in this service? That you take a look around the class that you attend or the small group Bible study that you go to or the people that you normally greet in between services in the hallway and you say "I wonder why we haven't seen a certain person for a long time?" And, you do something about that. It's the nature of what the church is supposed to be like.

I still remember as the preacher, getting a phone call from one of our faithful members who asked me if I was okay. I had missed church to be off on a trip. She didn't know that, so before the week was over, somebody had called. She had called to say, "Are you alright? We missed you in church on Sunday." I suppose there's a tacit assumption that if the preacher doesn't show up there's a good reason for that. Wasn't good enough for her. She thought later I might be offended. How could you be offended at that, that somebody cared enough to notice that you were missing? And within hours, had done something about it. That's the nature of the church isn't it? No one had a need. Well, it didn't mean that no one had needs, they had lots of them. There were 5,000 people here. There were all kinds of benevolent needs but on one had an unmet need because the church automatically responded to those needs in whatever way they could.

Tony Campollo tells a story of walking down Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. There was a homeless man standing next to the building drinking coffee. Campollo greeted him and the guy said, "You want a drink of my coffee?" Now, some of you are thinking. . . . . .NOT A CHANCE! Tony said, "Sure." Took a drink of his coffee, handed him back the coffee cup and said, "Why would you want to share your coffee?" He said, "Oh, the MacDonald's coffee this morning was just especially good and when God gives you something good like that you gotta share it with somebody." Campollo said, "It's a perfect opportunity, you know. I felt like I had to respond in kind so I said, Well, is there anything I can do for you?" Thinking the whole time he would ask him for $5.00. He said, "Yeah, you could give me a hug!" And he reached out. . . . . .and Tony Campollo and this homeless man stood on the street embraced.

And Tony said, "He wouldn't let me go. We just stood there and hugged and these people are walking down the street looking at us." He said, "I think I would have rather given him $5.00."

There was a need there. As a brother, he couldn't pass up that need. Some of the needs are not for money, you know.

But here's this church body that says there were no "unmet needs". Whatever people had, they didn't consider it their own. If they had houses and land, they sold it. If they had hugs to give away, they gave it. If they had food to pass along, they passed it along. If they had time to share, they shared it. This church understood what it means to give, to have in common. . . . . that isn't communism. Not like eastern Europe and the Russian block where everybody takes everybody else's stuff away from them. This is voluntary sharing. They still owned their possessions.

When you read Acts 5 Peter's question to Ananias and Sapphira was simple. Wasn't the property yours when you sold it? Wasn't the money yours to do with whatever you wanted after you sold it? It isn't a matter of forced commonality. It is a brotherhood where people are joined by the love of Christ. And they look around and they recognize that if somebody has a need and I have a way of fixing that, of meeting that need, then I'm gonna do that. Whatever that costs me, I will do it. Sometimes it costs you time. Sometimes it costs you energy. Sometimes it costs you money, but you share because these are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

I have to tell you that I'm deeply appreciative of both our benevolent ministry and also our new finance ministry. We give a lot of stuff and a lot of money away in this church. It's the way it's designed. It's supposed to be that way. But we've also created an opportunity for those who are struggling with their finances to find out how to do it better. To be taught how to manage money. To find the resources in the community that they sometimes don't know exist that can be helpful to them. To be shown how to do some things that they couldn't otherwise do themselves. And so, these two ministries blend together so that the church literally meets the immediate need but also meets the long term need. You've heard the adage. You can give a man a fish and he can eat for a day or you can teach him to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. We're trying to do both. And I'm grateful, grateful , for a leadership that sees that is what we need to do.

We share a common heart. We share a common message. We share a common desire to help. We share a common trust. Do you notice what happened here? These people had such confidence in their leadership that they simply brought the money and they laid it at the apostles feet and they allowed the apostles to decide how that was to be distributed.

There's an enormous need in the church for leaders to be followed and this church did that. It's why we have elder leaders. It's why older people are given the responsibility of leading the church. Because they've had a chance to see some life. To have some experiences. To know what it means to have lived through some hard times.

Ah, you remember that story out of the Old Testament after Solomon has died? The kingdom is given over to his son, Rehoboam and there's a rebellion from the northern tribes under his brother Jeroboam. And Rehoboam goes to the older men of the community, the ones he should have turned to and he said, "How should I govern?" And they told them how to lead the people. And then he went to the young people and he said, "You tell me how to lead" and they said, "Put the thumb down on ‘um hard." You be a harder, stronger leader than your father. He took the younger people's advice and the ten northern tribes became a separate nation and Israel went into demise from that point on. There's nothing wrong with being young. In fact, some days I'd really like it.

But you know there was time I thought I knew how to raise teenagers. That was before I had any. Now that I'm a grandfather, I'd like to start over. I think there are some things I would know how to do today. There are decisions that I would make today radically different than the way I made them twenty years ago. And the only thing that has changed, life experience. And so we raise up elder leaders here. Not necessarily all old, all experienced and we trust them and we allow them to guide us.

Well, here's the question that I'm raising for you today. What kind of a message does Madison Park give to the world around it by what they see us share together? This thing that we have in common. . . . what's the message that we send to our neighbors. Is it the message that we take care of our own? Is it the message that we only take care of our own?

Do we communicate that we agree on the essential matters of the faith — of the resurrection issued? Do we communicate that what we share is the freedom to disagree over some things that don't matter? But do we communicate that we hang our hat on the message of the resurrection of Jesus?

Here's the person question. What is it that you communicate about your connection to us? Does the world know that you "belong" here? That this is your place. . . .that this is your family? That this is the one body that you call yours? See, the way they know that is because you're here. They know that because you participate with other people from this body. Sometimes they know it because they hear you talk about your discipleship group or your bridge community or your service ministry team that you work with, but they hear you talk about this being in your place. Is that true? I know it is for many of you because I hear you talking about it out there in public. I have people come to be and say, "I'm here because so and so said this is where I ought to be." We want you to belong. We want you to feel like this is your place.

And if we've not helped you do that, we're wanting to do that better. We want you to know Jesus the same way we know Jesus and to share that in common with us as well as sharing our life together. If you don't know Him, you can't share our life together cause the one thing we have in common — is Jesus, so until you know Him we don't share the most important part of life.

And if you don't know Him and you don't know how to know Him, we want you to come and ask that we can introduce you to Jesus.

For those of you who already know Him, how many of you know somebody that would normally be here today that hasn't been here the last few times we've gathered here? Do you know somebody like that? You just automatically think of their name when you think somebody hasn't been together with us in worship. Would you decide today to do them the favor that lady did to me? And before the week's over, contact them and say, "I miss you today." Now they may be on vacation and that's okay. But would you send them an email or give ‘em a phone call or go to their door and just say, "I wanted you to know that our family wasn't quite complete today. We missed ya!"

See, our commitment is to be the body of Christ and before we can go out into the world the way Acts is telling us to go out, we're gonna have to love each other in here and when they see that they'll want what we have.

Would you stand with me while we sing?