Let us pray: Dear Savior, how grateful we are that You have made us a part of Your holy family! How wonderful it is that You have grafted us into Your Body, the Holy Christian Church, and joined us together in this tender shoot we call: Pinewood. May we never take our membership in Your family for granted. And may we grow together in Your grace and glory in the fact that our relationships here are eternal. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH!
TEXT: Acts 6: 1-9, (7: 2, 51-60)
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
What’s the best part of belonging to your family? It’s the love and togetherness, isn’t it? Families love you in spite of your warts, faults, and failings. They are always there to pick you up when you’re down and to encourage you when you’re hurting. That love-in-action is what makes families special.
In America today families are under attack. The high divorce rate has led to mixed families where blood relatives are spread across the landscape miles apart. Likewise, the breaking apart of the nuclear family—made up of a mom, dad, and kids–is often the exception and not the norm. Also, our highly mobile society has fostered a disconnect in communities.—Do you really know your neighbors, or are you just ships passing on the way to work each day? People everywhere crave a sense of belonging. They crave a unity and oneness with each other. God made us to be social individuals, not hermits living in our own little castles in suburbia. So, where do we turn to fulfill that sense of belonging, that sense of community, that sense of caring and sharing?—To Church! So,
WELCOME TO GOD’S FAMILY!
I love the books of Acts! I especially love how it portrays the early Christian Church as the family of God. Clubs are fine. Professional organizations are useful. But, the Church really fills the void in our hearts for togetherness because the relationships you build here are eternal. They last unto glory. Where else do you find people of the same moral values that you have? Where else do you find an organization run on forgiveness and self-sacrifice for each other?
That’s not to say that the visible church on earth is perfect. We’re not. And our lesson for today makes that very clear. Listen to how Luke describes a situation that confronted the early church. “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” First, that sentence tells us that the church was caring for the physical needs of its members—namely widows who had a tough go of it. Secondly, it reveals that the more well-to-do members were contributing extra so as to assist those in need all for the glory of God. Third, it reveals that Jewish background people from around the Roman empire were willing to put their nationalistic views aside for the good of all because Christ is the Lord of all. And finally, it shows that sin is always present in any group. Obviously the apostles knew many of the native widows better than the Greek ones. They didn’t mean to slight them, it just happened. And grumbling ensued.
But, they did something to help! They filled a need when it arose. They acted in love. For the love of Christ moved them. The same kind of sacrificial love that He revealed to them on the cross when He gave His life for them and for us. “So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Much like in our annual meeting, they elected, the people of God elected, qualified men to assist the public ministry in the running of the Church. The family of God worked together to build up and assist each other. This was “hands-on” work, too. It meant they got into each other’s homes. They shared hopes and fears. They prayed together. They rejoiced together. They encouraged each other. They helped each other when problems and needs arose. These weren’t merely “Sunday morning” Christians. No, like any true family they involved themselves in each other’s lives. And for what purpose? So that all might be edified and also so that the preaching of God’s Word, the application of the Holy Spirit upon hurting sinner’s lives, and prayer might not become neglected by the public ministers of Christ.
Note that “this proposal pleased the whole group.” Note also that the seven chosen for this task were given Godly power to further the message of the cross. We’re told that Stephen was “a man full of God’s grace and power, and did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” Yes, in the Church God uses individual people, sheep of His flock, to bring in other sheep. On Good Shepherd Sunday it is well to remember that shepherds don’t make sheep, sheep make sheep! That is, in the family of God there is a sharing of responsibility. The littlest lamb can help look after another. Likewise the oldest sheep. And God gives us the power and ability to do that. For all of you know of His grace, His undeserved love. All of you know how He reached down and saved your soul. All of you are aware of the sacrifice He made—His life for yours. All of you have received the Spirit’s power in baptism and through faith. And when you use your Godly gifts, He is honored and His family is built up. We see that, too, in the fact that the church grew numerically. “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Did you catch that last one? Priests, former enemies of Christianity were converted in large numbers. Yes, God uses all His sheep to make more sheep!
The rest of our first lesson goes on to describe how Stephen confessed, did his duty to God, and eventually met with opposition leading to his death for Christ. That’s why we call him the first martyr. And even in death, Stephen clung to Jesus and from his heart repeated Christ’s very words from the cross: “Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit…do not hold this sin against them.” And then he died. He died at peace with God. Our text speaks of it as falling asleep.—That’s how peaceful his soul was.
Well, you and I may or may not die for confessing Christ. But, we will all die. We will all leave this valley of tears and by His grace alone, go to be with Christ in glory. But, we’re not there yet, so obviously God has things for us to do right here right now. And our chief task in life is to act out our membership in God’s family. And when we do. When we care and share and practice kindly love, future generations will sing our praise by praising God Who turned us from wayward goats into loving sheep. I don’t know about you, but for me belonging to God’s family is a wonderful comfort. It fills my heart with joy and purpose. So, I say to each of you again: Welcome To God’s Family! Amen