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Sunday is the First Day of the Week
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Ep...
Track 40 of 52 in the Sermons from 2003 series
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Sermon for Sunday, October 5, 2003
"Sunday is the First Day of the Week"
(Acts 2:42-47; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Corinthians 11)
Copyright 2003 G. Charles Sackett

The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.

I was struck by Ortberg's comment this week as I was thinking through the things that we want to talk about this morning. I suspect that those of us who have made some kind of a decision for Christ have resolved that we don't intend to leave it. We didn't get in this thing to quit. We got in this thing to last. That's why we came, and quite honestly, most of us are not pressured terribly hard to give it up. Oh, I recognize there are some family members and there would be some people in your work place, I'm sure, who would try to press you in one way or another to try to get you to compromise, but not necessarily to just totally eliminate your faith. Yet Ortberg's comment causes me a great deal of hesitation. The problem is that I may not renounce my faith but rather I would become so rushed and preoccupied that I would settle for a mediocre version of it.

Just trying to watch and observe, one of the things that I have figured out in my life is that something orders my life, something gives it direction, something causes me to do the things that I do. It becomes most apparent to me when I try to figure out how to schedule an appointment. And I begin looking at the calendar. I begin wrestling with, ok, when can I make this thing happen. Well, I can't do it then, because, ah, no, that won't work.

Have you noticed, for example, in Lincoln, Illinois when they advertise the cable vision hookups? They guarantee that if they are late, that you get it free. Have you ever called them about that? Because for them, the appointment is anywhere between eight and twelve. Well, you know, I don't know about you but when I schedule something, I don't have a four hour block to put it in. In fact, when I (no offense Dr. Noble) when I go to a doctor's office, I don't want to be told 10:00 and get in at 11:30. I want to get in at 10:00 cause I got things to do.

Something orders life and often the conflict comes because we're trying to decide who's going to get our time, our energy, our money--where's it going to go and who's going to determine that?

Most of you know that for the last ten or fifteen years I've liked to run. In fact, I thought the Chicago marathon was today and I wasn't supposed to be here, but it's next Sunday and so I'm not going to be there. But that got into my system back in the early 1990's when I really was actually running. And I found it very difficult to find time in my day for personal devotions, to get my bible out, to read, to pray, to journal. But I didn't have any trouble running. First thing in the morning, hit the streets, come back. Oh, I'll find time in my day someplace to fit in that other "STUFF". Well, you know what happened? It never got fit in. But because the first thing I did every day was to get up, get out of bed, put my shoes on and go run, I always seemed to have that ordered part of my life until I finally said to God--this is not a good thing! In fact, I said to my accountability group, you guys need to hold me accountable, make sure I'm getting my life ordered the way it's supposed to be ordered. I mean, after all, I'm a bible college professor, I'm a preacher. God is supposed to be first! But I didn't ever change. . .until one day in February, 1994. I came back from a long run and my foot hurt really bad, and, it didn't get any better until I finally just had to quit running. Well, then when I got up first thing in the morning and was going to lace on my shoes. . . .there was no lacing on my shoes to be done so I had plenty of time for devotions.

Something ordered my life. Now I want to suggest that you be careful how you pray because I had prayed to God to fix that problem. . . .AND HE DID!. . .THE HARD WAY! It would have been easier if I'd just listened to him in the first place.

It's not a new problem this thing of ordered life, you know? Been fighting it all of Christian history. Clear back in the first century they struggled with how to order life. The Hebrew writer said, don't be like some of those who have stopped meeting together. But, as you see the day approaching you assemble yourselves. Now I don't thing he was talking about Sunday, in particular. Probably talking about the day of the coming of the Lord. But, in any case, there was that desire to order life around the place that God would play.

So I'm going to ask you to allow me to let Sunday become a metaphor for life in general. And I understand we're not talking about Sunday being the only day that we worship. In fact I appreciate the license plates that we worship 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I understand that, but Sunday morning is such an interesting microcosm of life because the battle is waged every Sunday morning, isn't it? Am I gonna get up? Am I gonna clean up? Am I gonna go to church? Am I gonna be involved in worship? It's a battle that happens every single week, week after week after week, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Well, sometimes you win and lose. I don't get a choice. I have to be here!

So the question is, what orders your life? How can Sunday become an ordering event for you? I don't think it's a little matter.

I had a conversation recently. This is a change of career person. . .thinking about going into Christian leadership. . . wrestling with a little miner issue. They happen to be living with the person, but not married to them. Now, culturally, that's not a big deal. Everybody does it. That's the line that is coming out of this conversation, but this person had been in a situation where they had encountered biblical teaching about leadership and they had been reading through 1Timothy, Chapter 3, that the person is supposed to be the husband of one wife, a one-woman man, and suddenly this person realizes this probably is not a good thing to do, huh, what I'm doing. Those defining moments--what are you going to do about it? Do ya hear the question? Is God going to win or not?

We face them all the time don't we? Those defining moments--when what orders our life comes to the forefront and we make a decision. Am I going to listen to what I know to be right or not?

I'd like to let Sunday morning play out as the kind of metaphor for those kind (oh, by the way, they decided to do what was right--shouldn't leave you hanging on that story). What I'm suggesting to you is, that our decision about worship, I don't just mean Sunday morning, but Sunday morning as a metaphor for life, our decision about worship has the power to affect every other decision that we make. Here's what I mean:

Fellowship has the power to orient our time and our energy.

For example, Acts, Chapter 2. You remember these early Christians and this experience that the early church had. Acts, Chapter 2 simply describes what was going on in the early days of the church. We've had this influx of 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost and now all of a sudden they're beginning to live out what it means to be Christian. I mean, after all, this is a new thing for them. And so in Verse 42 it says this rather simple statement.

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

There was this experience of being together. There was this thing that oriented their life in relationship to each other.

On Sunday morning we call it greeting time. Now, I've never timed it but I'm guessing, oh I don't know, what, three minutes? We go around, we shake each other's hands. We pat each other on the back, we give each other a hug and we call that fellowship. It is! It's good fellowship. I'm glad we do it. It flies in the face of what most people say you should do in church because. . . .the guests, well, they‘re a little nervous when a stranger walks up and wants to give them a hug. It's okay--just tell them to leave you alone. They'll understand! But is that all there is to it? Is that, in fact, the fellowship that we experience as Christian people? Because quite honestly, if what I get to know about you in the fourteen and a half seconds it takes to walk up, shake your hand and say "good morning" is all I know about you, we're not in fellowship. We may be in the same place, but we're not in fellowship. No, we don't know each other.

Family Circle just published a poll comparing with a poll that they took ten years ago, 1993 - 2003. One of the questions had to do with . . . . are you satisfied with the amount of time you spend with your spouse? Fifty percent of the couples were satisfied in 1993. Thirty percent are satisfied now. They asked the same question about family relations. . . spending time as a family. . . not just with your spouse, but with your children. In 1993, 48% of the people were happy with the amount of time they had to spend with the family. Now it's 28%. We're not spending more time with each other, we're spending less time with each other. I'm just suggesting that what we try to accomplish by coming together, when we share space and life, when we get together in journey classes, when we participate in bridge communities, when we sit around tables and fellowship with one another, when we work in the warehouse or the back hallway and we rub shoulders with one another, that's a microcosm for a decision--am I going to invest with relationships that matter? Or am I just going to let the world determine the schedule that I keep, the time that I invest and I'm just gonna run ragged at everybody else's bidding because, well, because frankly, I have nothing to order my life. So whatever happens to hit next in this schedule is what's going to be my agenda. Here's what I'm suggesting--that if Sunday is the first day of the week, not the last--if this is not the end of the weekend, but the beginning of the week--if this is the first day of next week, then what we do in here orders the relationships that we will have out there and this little microcosm, this little three minute event of greeting one another and talking in the hallways and sitting in the class together becomes something that then forces me to say I need this all week long. And so we just make the hard decisions to say, I'm going to find time in my life to spend time with people that matter. See, worship has the power to do that, to order my life--if--if I let it. Well, let me shift just a little.

If fellowship has the power to orient my time and my energy then. . . . . . . . .

Preaching has the power to orient my will.

If you look over in 1Thessalonians the text that we will probably come back to in the next few weeks. 1Thessalonians, Chapter 2, it's one of those texts that has puzzled me and caused me great ponder as a preacher and as a teacher of preachers.

1 Thessalonians, Chapter 2, Verse 13--Paul makes this comment in 1Thessalonians, Chapter 2, And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. When they heard the preaching, when they received the word from God's messengers they heard that as a word from God.

If you were sitting in class on any particular given day when I'm teaching about preaching, one of the things you would hear me say is that preaching is not advanced speech. No offense to the speech givers among us. This is not about delivery, it's not about oratory, it's not about rhetoric, although all those things are involved in this process. Preaching is a theological discipline. Preaching is something that God suggested that we do. That it was by the foolishness of preaching that he chose to save those who believed. He chose to, for some reason, call particular individuals to stand for him and to speak a word that was to be heard, not as if it were a word from a man, but as if it were a word from God. It's enough to make me not come to church.

I think I told you this story, but it still rings in my ears, standing at the back door shaking hands with a guest who was on her way out. She was a mom with a little child and the little child reached up and tugged on mom's sleeve and before mom could say anything, this little child blurted out-- "I don't want to ever come back here again." Well, that embarrassed me and it embarrassed her but before she could stop any further conversation, the child decided to go ahead and explain--"God talks too loud." Well, I don't know how loud God talks, but I know how loud I talk and I had this awful sinking feeling that this child has got everything all messed up. And yet, this little child understood exactly what's happening on a Sunday morning. Whether you like it or not, whether I like it or not, what this book says is to be heard and just because the clay pot that says it is not particularly anything other than cracked (and you can go with that wherever you want) doesn't reduce the power of it's word. And there's a decision every day, every single Sunday morning, you sit and you decide whether or not you're going to listen to the preacher and you can sit there and do what half of the audience in America does--I know that's what the bible says--but--or you can make a conscious choice and say, I don't care how cracked the pot is that's telling me the story, if that's what God desires from my life, I have to give that! And you can wrestle with how to bring your will in to conformity with that, but if all you get on Sunday morning, if all you get is what you get on Sunday morning, you're in trouble. I don't mean because of me, I mean, because in the twenty to thirty minutes we have to talk about God's word, that cannot counteract the hundred hours that your kids and you sit in front of other people who have voices, called media--and teachers! And so, if Sunday becomes the first day of the week--if Sunday becomes the day that determines all other days, then I will not let Sunday be the only day that I spend time in scripture, listening to the will of God. It means that I will bring myself to a small group meeting. I will get involved in a bridge community. I will join an adult discipleship class. I will have my personal devotions. I will spend time listening to God because Sunday is the FIRST day, not the LAST! I don't sit around all week and wonder if God's going to have something to say to me this week. But Sunday becomes the defining moment when I say, this week I will spend time in his WORD and I will LISTEN because, when Sunday is the first day, it has the power to orient my will to his. Well, what about the offering? Because even --

The Offering has the power to orient our perspectives toward things.

Literally, toward things, that's the deep theological word for stuff. Things--material goods--finances--time--all the stuff that goes with it. You remember over in Ephesians, Chapter 4? It's a text that, I remember the first time I read it, it finally made some sense out of frankly, my life. I don't know if you've noticed this or not--maybe you've never paid any attention to this. Do you know what you. . . . . END OF TAPE . . . . . . thing in your entire life?? Making and spending money--right? You spend five days a week minimally at probably an eight hour day job unless you're a farmer, in which case, you spend seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day for a couple of months a year. That was a joke! Nothing takes more of your time than your work and then you've got to figure out how to spend it, or save it, or invest it, or get enough of it so you can stop working at some point. Yet, nobody ever told me what I was supposed to do with that information until I ran into this verse. I found it to be profound. You may find it to be absolutely useless, but for me this was profound.

Paul says in Ephesians, Chapter 4, Verse 28, He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, (now hear this) so that (there's the purpose word, let a person work) so that (what?) that he may have something to share with those in need. Do you hear that? You don't work so you can put food on the table. You don't work so that you can have retirement benefits. You don't work so that you can be useful only to yourself. You work because God has designed us in such a way that the work gives us something we can then use to give to other people and it made such good theological sense. Do you remember the promise to Abraham? Abraham I want to bless you (why?) So that you can be a blessing. It's always been that unselfish nature of God to allow us to do something, not for ourselves, but so that we can turn around and give it to somebody else. And so, the offering time, when we pass these trays, Sunday after Sunday, every time I come to that offering I am reminded that somebody orders my finances. So what's it going to be? What's going to order your finances? Worship. God. Or Self?

Now I realize it's okay to talk about preaching and it's okay to talk about other stuff and we're not supposed to talk about money cause money is too personal. That's just the problem, isn't it? Because every Sunday, I am forced to face this question--who orders my finances? And every time that tray is passed as innocuous as that may be, you make a decision. Did God get my first or my leftovers? Because you see, if Sunday is the first day of the week, then God doesn't get the leftovers from last week. He gets the first fruit of this week and you decide how to order the rest of your life to make it work. Have you ever noticed how backwards we have that in our finances? We sit down with our weekly paycheck and we pay our bills and then if there's anything left over, we may have enough to go out for supper or we might have something to give to the church. But if Sunday is the FIRST day of the week and the FIRST thing that you do is say this is how much I want to give back to God, as a statement of my generosity, as a statement of my gratitude, then you order everything else after that. And yes, I'll be honest with you, it will be painful. Cause in our consumer culture, we're not used to that. But if Sunday is FIRST it has the power to orient even your contentment in life. I think giving is maybe the hardest work we do, given the culture that we live in.

Well, what about the Lord's Supper? Does it have any power over orienting our life? Well, of course it does. You know that lengthy passage in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 11 where he reminds us that everybody at this table is equal? In fact, the problem in that early Corinthian church was the people were coming to the table but because they were wealthy enough to get there early in the day that they went ahead and (well, By the way, it wasn't a table that looked like this, it was actually a table. They had a real meal.) and in that real meal they also had an opportunity to share in the gratitude of the Lord's Supper, but people were coming and spending their time around the table, and by the time the folk who had to work, because they were slaves, got off work after dark and came to the church, there was nothing left--because those greedy people took it all.

This table has the opportunity to orient you, to shape you in your understanding of your own values in life. Who's welcome at this table and who isn't? Who can you share this table with?

I read the most fascinating story this last week. Just a little brief vignette about post civil war. Down in the south, the slaves had been freed and in a church on a Sunday morning a former slave had the audacity to walk down the aisle to receive the Lord's Supper. And the writer talked about how the anger began to ripple through this church until one stately gentleman got up and knelt beside him. That stately gentleman was Robert E. Lee. And because he was willing to go to the knee beside that former slave, everybody understood that at this table, everybody's equal.

Now, if that table can't do that for us, then Sunday is not FIRST, because at this table, GRACE was for EVERYONE. It didn't matter what color or class. It didn't matter what gender, it was for us all and when Sunday is the FIRST day of the week, not the LAST then this table orders my relationships, my values about what's really important--what really matters. See it's the power of worship to give us this sense that the greatest thing that I can do is selfless service. Have you noticed it? Do you watch what happens when we share together in the Lord's Supper? Somebody walks down the aisle and they selflessly, simply, hand a tray that represents a broken body and shed blood and the next person takes it and selflessly hands it to the next person. And we are just reminded, that we are just simply servants. That's all we are.

I wish you all could have had the privilege of reading an email that we received from one of our tech workers the Sunday that we had our hands washed. Because up in the perch, it looks different than it does down here and in one of our services, somebody came up here in a wheelchair and our tech person is saying, "What's going to happen? How are they going to be able to handle that?" And the person in front simply took the water and reached down and washed the hands of the person behind them. It is the nature of this table to remind us that we selflessly serve each other. Nobody's better. Nobody's lesser. This table makes us all the same size, all the same value. It is the power of worship to change us, to orient us in life. See, it's the power of worship in general, simply to orient our time. You understand that. The first day of the week came around and guess what the church did? They met - they met to break the Lord's table. They met to take up offerings. They met for fellowship. This thing we do on Sunday, this thing we call worship, not the singing, not the preaching--just this whole event that we have on Sunday has the power to orient life so that God is, in fact, FIRST!

And I'm just asking a real simple question. Is Sunday the FIRST day of the week or not? Is Sunday the FIRST day of your week? The day that orients everything else, or is Sunday a nice convenient end to the weekend and now it's time to move on to the real business of life. Because quite frankly, if Sunday is the last day of your week, then God is probably the last priority in your life. If God's first, then what we do with his word, with his table, with his money, with his time, with our values, get determined by him, not by us. So I'm just asking--would you take a good look at your calendar and make sure that Sunday is, in fact, the first day and not the last.

Father, we want nothing more than for you to be first in our lives and we want to find ways that we can communicate that to one another. We want the world to know that and so we pray that all of our time and our energy and our money and our values and. . . We pray that everything we are reflects you. It is this first day that so clearly orients us to life. Thank you for your Son who rose on the first day of the week. We pray in his name. . . AMEN

You can remain seated while we sing this song. If you have a decision to make that is public, please feel free to come. Otherwise, let this communicate in your heart what needs to be done.