The Birth of the Church, Traditional

The Birth of the Church, Traditional

October 14, 2019 • Rob Fuquay

Episode 7: Mission of the Church

Acts 1:6-9

Open with Recap Video “Previously on Bingeworthy”

On Nantucket Island there is a lifesaving and rescue museum. (pic) It is devoted to a volunteer organization formed over 300 years ago by local residents who came together to form the Humane Society. Today that is associated with protecting animals but back then it was about protecting people. So many ships were wrecking with many lives lost within sight of their shore, the people formed an organization to save and rescue people.

They built huts along the shore and had people posted round the clock to keep watch. When a ship went down the words went out and the volunteers would do all they could to save lives. Their motto was, “You have to go out but you don’t have to come back.” Now that’s a heck of a recruiting slogan, isn’t it? But it worked. People volunteered in droves. They received no pay and got no rewards. They did for the sake of helping people in peril.

Eventually the US Coast Guard started handling more and more of the rescues. The motto gradually changed to become, “Let the professionals do it.” After all, the former rescuers said, “they’re more qualified and they get paid for it.” The huts became abandoned. The people no longer searched the shores or risked their lives. Yet, they couldn’t give up the habit of coming together. They would keep meeting, but no longer to form strategies.(pic) Now it was to socialize and plan events. They still meet to this day. It is just more focused on fellowship and entertainment. (remove pic) (as told by J Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them,p88)

It could be said that many churches in America today resemble the evolution of the Nantucket Humane Society. Where once was a thriving community of people passionate about rescuing others, sharing hope with them, welcoming them into the family of God, over time the attention turned. The focus became more attuned to the needs of those in the society. Rescuing became a pastime. Many churches once built as huts of refuge now look more like museums. Why? Not because they stopped caring, but rather their care turned only to the ones already rescued.

Archbishop William Temple had this thought in mind when he challenged the church of his day to remember their call. He said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” The church’s mission is always to go out. When a church ceases to go out, it’s just a matter of time before it goes out. “You have to go, but you don’t have to come back.”

This was the spirit of the early church.


In this week’s Bingeworthy episode, we move out of the Gospels and into the story of the church. All of the Gospels tell about appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. The Synoptics tell about Jesus’ ascension to heaven, but Luke is somewhat different from Matthew and Mark. Luke is also the author of the Book of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles are about Jesus ministry carried out through his followers who become the church. So Luke begins Acts with the story of Jesus’ ascension. So let’s hear today’s reading…

Notice Jesus’ final command: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Let’s begin with those last words. Take a look at the map behind me. The purple shows how Christianity spread through the first century. You can see that it went eastward about as far as Alexander the Great traveled reaching the Himalayas. To the west the church reached Spain. This was the end of the earth. Now who is not on this map? Us! Why? Because it’s believed at that time that we don’t exist. If you go past the straight of Gibraltar, somewhere in the Atlantic is a big drop off. The world is flat.

Now do you think Jesus would have opposed anyone sharing the Gospel in North or South America? That’s hard to imagine. Jesus was sending them out to share his good news with what people knew at the time. I believe he still asks that. Some Christians today wonder if Jesus would really want us to fully include all people based on what the Bible says, I believe Jesus would say, be true to what we know today.

So this sentence gives us a couple important insights about the Posture and Progression of the mission of the church. We’re going to have a few P-words today, so let’s begin with posture. What is the posture the early church was to have? First note the word, Pneuma. It means Spirit. The disciples are told to wait until they receive the Holy Spirit, because that will give them this next word, Dunamis. What English word does this sound like? Dynamite. It is where we get the word dynamite, because dunamis means Power. The Holy Spirit will give power to the followers of Christ. But for what reason? That brings us to our last word, Martus. Again, does this remind you of a word in our vocabulary? Try Martyr. We get the word martyr from martus. But more literally, martus means witness. That was certainly true in that time. Eventually all the disciples would die for their faith. But what does that mean today? What does it mean to be a witness now? We will come back to that in a moment.

What I want us to notice at this point is that the early church is carrying out an old promise. Anybody remember that ancient three-fold promise to Abraham? What was it? That he would have LAND, PEOPLE (or descendants), so that they would be a BLESSING. That was God’s plan, to have a people who would inhabit a particular bit of real estate to be God’s blessing in the world. Look at Isaiah 42: 6-7: “I have given you as a covenant to the people a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Notice how Jesus used those last words to identify his mission the first time he spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. But the preceding words capture the mission of Israel, “to be a light to the nations.” Now God is doing that through the church. Taking people, but instead of inhabiting a land, sending them to all lands, to be a light.”

So what is the posture of a disciple? To make yourself available to the work of the Holy Spirit to use you.

But now, look at what this passage teaches about the progression the disciples are to follow. First go to Jerusalem. What does that mean? Go to those nearest you. Go to the people with whom you have relationships. Go to family. Go to neighbors. Go to the clerk you see in the store everyday. Go to those nearest you.

Then go to Judea. Go to those you have something in common with. Beyond family and close friends, these are the people you see at the gym, social club, work, soccer field. Go to those with whom you have shared interests.

Then next is Samaria. Here is where Jesus’ commission gets testy. Go to those who make you uncomfortable. We’ve talked a couple times now about the dislike of Jews toward Samaritans. Would a Judean Jew have allowed a Samaritan to be a priest? Of course not! Would a Judean Jew have performed the marriage of Samaritans? Of course not. They wouldn’t even eat with them. Who are people treated like Samaritans today? In the United Methodist Church it is gay people.

 This summer we produced a video at St. Luke’s for the greater church looking at the controversial passages in the Bible dealing with homosexuality. Its called Faithful and Inclusive, and you can buy it at our bookstore. It includes interviews with a number of people in our congregation. Take a look at this clip of Willie Miller and Joe Spaulding…(video)

Last of all, Jesus tells them to go to Ends of the Earth. Go into all the world. What are different worlds today? There are cultural worlds, elitist worlds, anti-church worlds, and so on. You can go into all the world today with the internet. Don’t you think Jesus would be online! I believe Jesus would use every means available to reach people. But that’s what it comes down to, are we willing to be a church that does whatever it takes to reach people who are not a part of the church.


And that’s where I want us to be some our remaining time, thinking about the message of the early church to the church today. Let’s consider three things we must have if we are to be a healthy, vibrant church today.

   A. Power

Like the first disciples we need help to carry out our mission. By our own ability we cannot do it. We need the Holy Spirit. Look at the observation members of the Sanhedrin made about the disciples: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

When you have been with Jesus it leaves a noticeable impression, because Jesus puts his Holy Spirit in us to do more than we can on our own. That is what the Holy Spirit is, the part of God that enables us to live like Jesus. Peter and John had no education, yet they spoke persuasively to the most learned in society.

**story of Henry Ward Beecher learning to preach from uneducated Methodists in Indianapolis.

The Holy Spirit fills in the gap between who we are and what we are called to do by God. When we feel God nudging us to go beyond our comfort zone, we can’t just say, “Well, that’s not me!” “Its not me to invite someone to church. It’s not me to share my faith with a friend, much less a total stranger.”

Let me check something with you this morning. How many of you came to faith, and ended up in church on a purely individual basis. On other words, you went off and had an encounter with God on your own. You came by your self without invitation to a church. Nobody else was involved. How many came to faith by yourselves? Show of hands.

   Now, how many of you came to faith through other people? Someone invited you, someone talked with you about faith? Maybe initiated a faith conversation. Brought you to church. Maybe family who raised you that way. How many came to faith through others?

Now where would you be if those people had said, “Well, that’s just not me.” The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to be faithful.

   B. Passion

At the end of the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and empowered them to declare God’s hope in other languages, Peter preached. He went back through the Old Testament and explained all God had done. He did the entire Bingeworthy series in one sermon. Then look at how he ended it: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Acts 2:39

The church is not really doing a new thing, it’s the same thing God has always done just in a new way. God brings hope to people through people. Peter said we are telling the promise to you. We are here for you. For those of us sitting here now. God wants to you to know your life matters and has purpose. And then it is for your children. Don’t we all want what’s best for our children? Don’t we want them to believe and trust in God?

And, it’s for all who are far away. That suddenly sounds like someone else’s job doesn’t it? For those who live a long way away, the promise is for them too. Good luck! No, it means for those far away from God. The question to the church is always, “Do we care enough to reach them and welcome them?” Because, if we welcome people different from us, they will bring their differences with them. Are we ready to welcome people who are different from us? People who might worship different? People who might not know all the rules?

Now let acknowledge, I am speaking to myself here. It drives me crazy when people do distracting things in worship. Many years ago I was preaching in a church and someone’s cell phone went off. It wasn’t one of these polite ring tones either. Everyone’s head shot over in the direction of the sound. It had to be embarrassing to the person. At least I hoped so. But I felt it was one of those moments to just acknowledge the obvious and try to make light of it. I said, “Well, I hope that’s God calling someone.” Except no one laughed. No one made a sound. Everyone went from staring in the direction of the ring to me, and I heard their unspoken words, “That was a stupid thing to say.” So after the closing song, I came up for the benediction and said, “I just want to apologize to the person whose phone went off. Things like that happen, and I’ll just say, if your phone is going to ring, I’d rather ring in here, because I’m glad you’re here, and this church is glad you’re here. And I violated a golden rule of ours which is to make people feel welcome. So forgive me folks.” And people applauded. It is was like they said, “First, thanks for trying to make a recovery, but also reminding us why we are here.”

A church that cares about reaching people is a church that tolerates a lot.

A well known Christian speaker was in a city where he was going to be at a church one Sunday morning. He woke up early and as he got ready listened to a local church service on the radio. Right before the sermon the preacher on the radio said, “Now before I get into my message I want to say something about all the movement that goes on during the service.” The man was shaving and chuckling to himself at this pastor’s sort of uncouth approach.” The preacher went on, “There’s way to much walking around during the sermon and it distracts people listening. Some of you get up to go to the bathroom during the sermon, and what you need to do, is take of that before the service, so you don’t have to walk out and walk back in.”

Now, the preacher is just laughing thinking, “What kind of guy is this!” And suddenly he felt God answer him, “He’s a preacher talking to people you probably never will. The people you speak to know how to behave in church really well. They don’t need any direction. He’s reaching people right off the street. They are finding hope in his church. Many of them are in church for the first time. Don’t worry. You won’t have those distractions to deal with.”

Too many churches today are saying, “God where are the people? Why won’t people come to our church?” And the real question to every church is, “Are you ready to love people where they are? To go out of your way to let them know we are glad they are here?”

   C. Practice

And finally, it comes down to practice. Let me just jump straight to it. Who are the people in your life God has positioned you most uniquely to be a voice of invitation or shred hope? Who is in your Jeruslaem? Who are the relatives, neighbors, people closest to you? Who’s in your Judea? People with whom you have common interests? People you see frequently whom God might want you to stretch in your relationship with them and ask if they worship anywhere? See where that conversation goes one day rather than just talking sports or kids or work. And then, who is in your Samaria? People different from you? People who may even make you a little unfomfortable. Sometimes, God nudges us by saying, “Just go sit down and get to know one of “those people.”

When we can do that, going to the rest of the world is a snap.

Close with story about Tony Campolo in Ha