11 October 2015

Community: “Why Should Christians Live in Community in the Church?”

A sermon by Claude Rouviere, 11/Oct/2015



•Early church community as a 'model’ (Acts 2, 42-47)

•Why community?

•Brothers and sisters, not friends

•Community is not THE aim

« They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together at 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. » (Acts 2, 42-47)

This well-known text describes the first fellowship of believers and gives us a model of how the Church should be but it seems that most communities have drifted from this over centuries.

Francis Chan wrote in ‘Crazy Love’ : « We all know that something is wrong. In the beginning I thought I was the only one concerned. Until the day I asked this question to twenty thousand Christian students : « How many of you, after reading the New Testament, wonder if you haven't missed something? » Almost everyone raised their hands and I was suddenly reassured. At least, I was not crazy »

The life of the early Church could sound like a dream but the Bible never says that there was an early church and then another one. There is only Christ’s Church and God’s Word says all we need to know to be what He wants.

A first point is self-evident from the beginning of this chapter even if Luke didn't think that it was necessary to remind us of it : this Church is born from Pentecost ; it lives fully in the power of the Holy Spirit. To restore confidence in the Holy Spirit, to let Him have all the authority in the Church seems to me the first essential step to come back to the Church that God wanted. But this could be a whole sermon in itself !

This early Church was clearly a community of life as shown by these words :

« everyone», « all », « together », « in common ».

When Jesus said « For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them » he highlighted something very special about community in His name : it’s a refuge where His presence is assured in a very special way.

Believers lived fully in fellowship not only for spiritual activities. It was just in this manner that Jesus lived with the apostles and He used the word « brothers » to show in what way He wanted His disciples to live. This image of the family means care of one another, help, support, encouragement. Brothers and sisters share what they live ; the young learn a lot from the old … It is what Jesus desires for His Church.

Going to church is really not the same thing as going to the cinema ! It’s being part of a community where people know each other, trust each other, share the joys and difficulties of being a disciple. Everyone knows he can count on others whatever he needs.

But do we dare to revel our needs ? And what about calling for help ? Often we are afraid of bothering people But Jesus Himself called the apostles for help in the garden of Gethsemane. They were not very useful, that’s right but it was before the cross, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit that changed them ! But if we support each other especially with prayer, we will see God acting, we will be awed and we will grow up in faith.

No one is strong enough to face disciple life alone. They always will be dark days, days of discouragement when we will need to be reminded about God’s love and faithfulness ; days when we will have no more strength to pray and then others will support us with prayer and on the other hand, days when we will be happy to support and encourage others, sharing the mighty Works of God with them.

This text talks about prayer –and this too could be a whole sermon. Praying for others is good but praying WITH others is very important. This may be difficult for us because the language used in our Church may not be our mother tongue and it is difficult to pray in another language –unless one is perfectly bilingual- because often our heart goes faster than the translation ! And prayer needs to flow in liberty. This is something we could think about together in order to decide what we could do.

A friend shared something very interesting to me. She was at a prayer meeting and someone came with a Dutch friend. She didn’t speak French and so she prayed in Dutch. My friend didn’t try to understand because… it was impossible but she opened her heart to God and then a prayer came and she spoke it out loudly. The lady who came with the Dutchwoman said in her ear : « that is almost exactly what she said ». Prayer is not only human speaking and thinking. God is there !

But there is much more to fellowship as David said in Psalm 133 :

« How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity !

It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestow his blessing, even life for evermore. »

This very short psalm is fundamentally built around these words : « live together in unity » . Everything else describes this fellowship with the words « it is like », « it is as if »

First it is simply good and pleasant as said in verse 1, as human friendship can be but verse 2 compares it to the priestly anointing that was reserved for God. We must remember that some parts of the Temple were forbidden to those who had not received anointing.

In verse 3 the comparison with dew shows fellowship as a gift from God that brings freshness and life. It is rainwater and dew on Mount Hermon that gives life to the Jordan, the vein of life in this desert country

The last verse in a way, summarizes everything : « For there –in fellowship- the Lord bestows his blessing, even life for evermore ». If we simply « live together in unity » God can bestow on us « his blessing, even life for evermore » ! ! Have you ever thought about this ?

Could fellowship be a condition for blessing and abundant life ? Could God wait for His children to be united in communion to bestow His blessings ?

This is what David seems to be saying in this Psalm. As with salvation, God gives us the means to enter into the blessing of abundant life but we must accept them and put them into practice.

And this is not about well-being –not so easy to attain- in a small group of chosen friends but about spiritual communion with all the children of God, those who are easy to get on with and all others, even the ones who have hurt us, even those who don’t think the same about how and when Jesus will return : millenarian, premillenarian, postmillenarian, amillénarian… and even those who don’t care ;-)

Could we imagine that it was easier for the early Church ? That they were all kind and gentle ? Do you think that it was easy to live with Peter ? And with Paul ?

We are brothers and sisters because we have the same father. Let us not forget that Jesus taught us to pray « Our father », not « My father ». Why ? Perhaps because of the blessing and the abundant life. Love is not a choice, it’s a commandment.

Sometimes one of my sons came to me saying « he is not my brother anymore! » I explained to him that I understood his anger but that his brother will stay his brother forever. It generally was short but very painful for me. Could we imagine God’s heartbreak every time we find good reasons to avoid loving those who are also His children, not necessarily in our community but in the all Church ?

How can we say « Abba Father » without loving those who are our brothers and sisters in our father’s heart ? Remember : «  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another ». It’s easier to stick a fish on my car… Sometimes the attitude of the Church denies the gospel that it is supposed to announce. The world looks before listening…

Rodney Smith (English evangelist) wrote with great pertinence. : « They are five Gospels : Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Christians. There are some people who have never read the first four »

The text of Acts 2 lists the activities of the early Church and its fruit. I also note a notion of discipline. The verb « to devote oneself » seems to be about the time spent while in Greek the verb indicates more a sustained effort that could be better translated by the word 'persevere'. It is not only a question of presence but it is about making progress, digging deeper, without giving up.

First « the apostles' teaching », the « fellowship », « the breaking of bread » -that could mean Holy Communion- and « prayer » result in « awe at the many wonders and signs». The word translated by « wonder » means in Greek « signs sent by the gods » and the one translated par « signs » speaks about marks which enable us to recognize, about proof. It’s a kind of stamp put by God in order to validate the witness of His Church.

Then, Luke describes the radical and visible commitment of this community : to have « everything in common », to « sell property and possessions », to « give to anyone who had need », to meet everyday at the Temple, again the breaking of bread, to eat together, the joy and praise that resulted in many conversions everyday.

But it is very important to note that God is always the one who acts : the community and the apostles don’t produce wonders or signs. They are only the means and the Greek word « dia » said precisely « through ». They are in no way the principal actors nor the subject of the sentence. It is written : «many wonders and signs happen through the apostles. ». The apostles are exactly like a pipe that drives water to a watering place.

You really need the pipe but it is only the water which quenches and gives life, not the pipe ! Take a pipe, even a new one, a very long one, you will never drink unless water flows through it.

This Church was in some ways the extension of the group of apostles. They lived together with Jesus, they shared the gospel everywhere they went. Jesus is no longer present physically but they aren’t alone ; He is still the centre, the reason for this fellowship, the strength and the light they need to continue the mission and Jesus is still acting through them BY the Holy Spirit.

Paul uses the image of the body. Jesus is the head. In what state is the body that we offer to him ? It seems to me that in this country, we give to him a heap of scattered limbs and organs. What can He do with this ?

Together, around Christ who continues to be, by the Holy Spirit, present and acting through them. It’s very simple and nevertheless not so easy because through the centuries the Church has slidden away from this model.

Could we try to see what could weaken the Church ?

Firstly, community can be such a soft and comfortable cocoon that the spiritual life of others comforts and is enough. No need to seek God. And then, gradually, professionals of the faith have been established (I don’t speak about ministries, but about faith) When Jesus died, the curtain of the Temple was torn from top to bottom but through the centuries, the Church mended it. The strength of the Church is not the number of attendants but the number of people entering God’s presence.

Community is a gift from God for believers and the world but the main danger is to build such a nice community only on human foundations where God is no more the centre nor the main actor. Also, good programs can be based only on human strategies, more like marketing than faith and their results will be very human and won’t show the power of God.

Another big risk is to give priority to activities (even very spiritual ones, even ones that help others) rather than to God himself. They could become idols, like the bronze serpent that Hezekiah must destroy because the people of Israel offered incense to him.

But no activity, even shown to the world in love will give sense to the Church. What I do FOR God will never replace what God wants to do IN us, THROUGH us. We are God’s instruments !

Finally, the image used most frequently in the Bible to express God’s Relationship with His people is the image of a couple. Could you imagine a husband who would like an intimate moment with his wife. She answers : « I do the shopping, I do all the cooking, I do all the washing, I take care of the children, I even help the neighbors… what more do you want ? » It makes you laugh ?

But we say this to God, very often… perhaps not in words but in facts.

No program could take priority over the time of love with God, the time on the mountain, in the tent of meeting, in the silence of prayer. Even with fasting. Individually but also together. Speaking about God will always be less important than listening to God.

Our deeds –even excellent- our work –even very hard- our perseverance are not the objective. Let us remember the letter to the Church in Ephesus :

« I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… Yet I hold this against you : you have forsaken the love you had first » (Rev 2, 2-4)

We often understand the word ‘protos’ (first) as an indication of time (the love you had first) but in Greek, the main meaning is about priority, value, first place.

« I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… Yet I hold this against you : you have forsaken to give me the first place in your love»

Jesus didn't blame this Church for its lack of good works but the lack of desire for Him. Religious activities can easily make us forget God or relegate Him to second place.

But loving God must take precedence over deeds and work !

I believe that the world will be transformed if –and when- the Church will come again to the absolute priority – the intimacy of a loving relationship with God.

The whole Bible tells us about God's desire for a loving relationship with us.

Do you know why we can find in the Bible such a surprising book as Song of Songs ?! So that we never forget God’s burning desire. A fiancé doesn’t desire that his fiancée does things for him but spends time with him. Do we dare to hear what the Bible says through this image of a loving couple that runs throughout all the Bible ?

How can we respond to God’s desire for us ? What we can do for Him will never replace in His heart what he wants to do WITH us, IN us ! This is how the the early Church lived.

If we dare to do the same, TOGETHER, then the world will see that He is God ! There will be wonders and signs and He will add daily to the Church those who will be saved !

26 February 2015

N. T. Wright and “The Way of the Wilderness”

way of pilgrimageI came across this meditation by N. T. Wright, based on his book The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today ( N. T. Wright, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co

The wilderness comes in many shapes and sizes, just as the deserts of Judaea and Sinai are by no means uniform. I used to think of deserts as simply miles and miles of flat sands, punctuated by the odd oasis; but the wilderness that surrounds the Promised Land comes in many forms. There are huge crags, like Masada, the last bastion of the revolutionaries after the fall of Jerusalem, an enormous barren rock to the south-west of the Dead Sea. There are gullies and crevasses, great rocky outcrops and hidden valleys. Walk a mile or two off the road and you could get lost quite easily.

The wilderness of the spiritual journey is much like that. For some, it is simply a sense that everything has gone very dry. There is no delight in prayer or reading the scriptures. Going to church has become boring and futile. The sacraments seem a pointless ritual. Where before there was a sense of God’s presence as a loving parent, gently nursing and guiding, or of the wise prompting of the Holy Spirit, there now seems to be a great emptiness. The story of Jesus, once so full of interest and stimulation, the scrap-book of the life of a new best friend, seems dull, and even the story of the cross and resurrection has apparently lost its power to sweep the heart. This is the common experience of many, many Christians at some stage in their pilgrimage. Tragically, some at once conclude that what happened at the Jordan was all a delusion, a passing phase, that there really is no Jerusalem to go on to. Others wander blindly without hope, and stumble by accident — or was it an accident? — back on to the right path. But the way of Christian maturity is to recognize the desert path for what it is — another mile on the road called ‘Faithfulness’ — and to tread it with obedience and patience:

24 February 2015

On the Road to Easter

clip_image002Mark 8:27–30 (GNB)

27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Tell me, who do people say I am?” 28 “Some say that you are John the Baptist,” they answered; “others say that you are Elijah, while others say that you are one of the prophets.” 29 “What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Then Jesus ordered them, “Do not tell anyone about me.”

Ash Wednesday was celebrated last week, which traditionally marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days to Easter and the Passion of the Christ. Often times Protestant do not participate in the ceremony, and they do not usually contemplate the meaning of the event.

The aim of Ash Wednesday is said to be threefold:

  • to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need for a savior;
  • to renew our commitment to daily repentance in all of life;
  • and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death.

Our daily worship should be filled with the impact of this gospel truth. In order to truly understand and appreciate the impact of these three statements above, we have to start by answering the question that Jesus posed to Peter: “Who do you say I am?” If we can answer whole heartedly to Jesus, as Peter did, “you are the Messiah,” we can then rejoice with the Apostle Paul when he says,

“Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11).

To Reflect:

Spend some time being still before God, and ask the Spirit to search yourself:

Psalm 139:23–24 (GNB)

23 Examine me, O God, and know my mind; test me, and discover my thoughts. 24 Find out if there is any evil in me and guide me in the everlasting way.

Picture Credit: The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1938

22 August 2014

Ferguson Police interview the witnesses

Tthis video has come to light of Ferguson police interviewing witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown.

14 August 2014

How to Ask?

amanda-palmer-2First, I suggest you watch this TED talk by Amanda Palmer. I did not know who she was (still don’t, really) --she is part of a Band called Dresden Dolls.

Her music is interesting, but not necessarily my cup of tea. I don’t endorse many of her beliefs or lifestyle (some of it will raise eyebrows): Such as, in one of her videos she walks up to a girl who is reading a bible, takes it away from her and tosses it over her shoulder; or in another video, she sings about getting an abortion (complete with coat hanger metaphor and some mockery of pro-life Christians).  There is no doubt she is a very creative person. But this post is not about the content of her music, videos or lifestyle.

But what she talks about in this video is important.

How to relate

For example, she says this in the video:

“I wrote the songs, and eventually we started making enough money that I could quit being a statue, and as we started touring, I really didn't want to lose this sense of direct connection with people, because I loved it. So after all of our shows, we would sign autographs and hug fans and hang out and talk to people.”

Ouch! That pushes me outside my comfort zone.

I wonder how much we think about the idea of a direct connection with people? The very essence of the Christian faith, if you read enough of Paul and the gospels, is connection. Isn’t the basic image of the church that of a body? Think 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.


But read on to see how she acts to connect with others. She reaches out over twitter and other social media, she will connect with people who will let her “couch surf” in the home, things like that. While the actual events are important, it does imply openness to others and a certain amount of vulnerability.

It also implies a certain amount of asking and giving. She will ask for help with different things, and her fans reply overwhelmingly. She has come to rely on her fans in many ways, which amounts to interdependence. There is almost a symbiotic relationship between her and her fans.


Yes, asking.

“And the media asked, "Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?" And the real answer is, I didn't make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I'd connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you. It's kind of counterintuitive for a lot of artists. They don't want to ask for things.But it's not easy. It's not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.”

This is really counterintuitive. Asking makes you vulnerable, which is not what we in the west are about. We are about control, power, positioning, et al. But again, read some Paul or one of the gospels. You see a different picture. One of the most counterintuitive words of Jesus is “The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

Seeing Each Other

“And I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other.”

So, a idea to end with is all about “seeing each other.” I think there are some good ideas here, ideas that we as followers of Christ shouldn’t have to be reminded of.

Now What?

One idea that I continually confronted with comes from a friend who strongly dislikes the basic fundamentalism she encounters in so many churches. To her (correctly), the Christian faith is about transformation, not changing behavior. But too many of the sermons she encounters are more about Stop doing that and start doing this! and less about depending on grace.

What would happen if we took an interest in someone and ASKED them how they were, and kept asking questions instead of giving them a four step plan to happiness and productivity? We are not the dispenser of grace, but we can be the conduit.

So, how do we reach out to others? How can we choose to be vulnerable, open and interdependent with others?

If someone outside the church can get these basic principles, why can’t we?

What do you think? 

31 July 2014

The “New Colossus” Revise and Updated

StatueOfLiberty"The New Colossus" is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–87), written in 1883. In 1903, the poem was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Paul Auster wrote that "Bartholdi's gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism, but 'The New Colossus' reinvented the statue's purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world"

"New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Okay, so I did my own revision of the poem, based on the continual stream of news coming out of the US.

SOL-tea party"New Colossus" (revised and updated)
Like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates stands
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exclusion. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide scrutiny; her fierce eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Don’t give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Keep the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
I will send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed back,
I lift my lamp beside the closed golden door!"

What pains me is the Scriptures are fairly clear on this issue, but the culture and ethos of that culture have shaped the conversation into a political maelstrom. For example:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

God is looking for three things:

  • Act justly
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God

What happens when the culture emphasizes one over the others? Imbalance. We arrive in the end at something else determining how to interpret and live out these scriptures. In this case, when the emphasis is on Justice at the expense of mercy, you create a place where patriotism and nationalism pre-determine how to interpret scripture.

So, now what?


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06 May 2014

Women of God: MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS Luke 1

virgin_maryGod was about to break into the world in human flesh. His plan included working through the life of a teenage girl. It is interesting that in a patriarchal society, the angel visited Mary first. He did not visit Joseph first to get his permission. He did not discuss God's plan with Joseph and ask if he was willing to go along with it. Nor did Mary put the angel's message on hold and go to ask Joseph what she should do before responding.

Mary did not need to get Joseph's permission or submit to his authority. She had God's word, God's authority. That was enough for her. Mary was willing to submit to God's will with or without Joseph. She had no idea what Joseph's response would be. She had no idea what he would do. The decision was hers and hers alone to make. She was called on by God to do his work and she willingly submitted. She was willing to face the humiliation, ridicule, and rejection of pregnancy before marriage — alone if need be.

That does not mean that Mary did not need Joseph. She needed Joseph's love, his support, his understanding, his willingness to serve God alongside her, his partnership, his protection in a patriarchal society. She needed him to walk the journey with her. But, when she responded with a resounding yes to the angel, she did not have the assurance that Joseph would stand with her when she accepted God's call on her life. But, she did not need his permission to do what God called her to do. Joseph was told after the fact, and he willingly submitted to God's call on Mary's life. He stood with her, supported her, and encouraged her. Joseph was Mary's "ezer kenegdo" — her "suitable helper." --dona