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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Acts 2:42-47
March 10, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Lent

         I had two pieces of pie after our spaghetti meal last Sunday. That’s my public confession for today. I will note that I saw a few of us not even wait for the spaghetti, but start right in with pie as a first course. It was great meal and I’m already looking forward to our Easter brunch in three weeks.

         What if someone asked us to do church without food? Where would we be? No spaghetti feeds, no potlucks, no snacks after worship. How would that be? You might suppose we would be more spiritual. We would be a little more reverent, a little more focused on what really matters, like Scripture and prayer. We would be less distracted and more in touch with God if we weren’t so worried about whether someone made the coffee or brought some cookies, crackers and cheese and fruit for after worship.

         Before we start down that no-food-is-more-spiritual path, let’s look at what our text says about how the first believers did church. Around the Word in 90 Days lands us today on the second chapter of Acts. But, like the text I didn’t preach last week, we have a specific day for this chapter. Fifty days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost Sunday and remember how the Holy Spirit came and the Church was born.

         On Pentecost we don’t read or think so much about what came afterward. We are tempted to stop with verse 41, celebrating the three thousand people who joined the believers that day. The Holy Spirit came and by a miracle everyone heard the apostles’ in his or her own language. Peter preached a powerful sermon and called for repentance and belief in Jesus and baptism. Then bunches of people came to Jesus. That’s the story of Acts 2.

         Today, let’s remember what happened after Pentecost, at the end of Acts 2. On my first pass through, planning these messages, I zeroed in on the beginning of verse 42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” Here we are in the middle of our 90-day Bible survey. O.K., I thought, this will be a message about how the first church studied, devoting themselves to what the apostles taught.

         I don’t want to downplay that devotion to learning. Our Lord knows we need a more of it. Ask my wife and Trudy about the classes they are teaching this term at the Bible college up the hill. They will tell you about some Christian young people who just don’t have much interest in learning. “Devoted” is not exactly the word Trudy and Beth would use for a few of their students.

         More serious devotion to learning what God has to teach us, what His prophets and apostles have written for us, is a very, very good thing. Yet this week when I read again the end of Acts 2, I realized that this early hunger for God’s Word and Christian teaching was coupled with other sorts of hunger, part of it quite literal. I was surprised to notice, as I read these verses another time, how much eating figures into it all.

         Just as a quick overview, food and eating appear at least three times in our text. In verse 42, “the breaking of bread,” comes right after that devotion to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship. Verse 46 says that they “broke bread at home.” We’ll come back to that because “at home” may not be the best translation. But that’s twice “breaking bread” is mentioned.

         Now look in between at verses 44 and 45. We’ll ask later what sharing and having “all things in common” might have looked like in the first church, but I think it’s fair to say it almost certainly had to do with food. I doubt those folks were lending their lawnmowers to each other. When it says they sold possessions and distributed the proceeds, “as any had need,” it’s pretty clear they meant to keep anyone from going hungry.

         Eating was a central concern of the early church. They didn’t see it as a kind of neutral or non-spiritual extra to Christian life. Think about what follows here in Acts. In chapters 4 and 5 we hear more about selling things and distribution to the poor. In chapter 6 we see leaders, deacons, appointed to make sure distributing food happened fairly. In chapters 10 and 11, we find Peter, then the whole church, having to learn that sharing the Gospel meant eating with folks they weren’t comfortable with.

         Turn over to the letters of Paul. Food keeps showing up. Do we eat meat offered to idols? Do we abstain from certain sorts of food and drink? How does the celebration of the Lord’s Supper fit together with making sure everyone has enough to eat? Food and the way Christians eat were constant issues for the first churches. Maybe it’s not just accidental or peripheral that modern church life has so much to do with eating.

         God created us with bodies that need food in order to function, in order to thrive. But He made us different from most animals or plants which simply take in nourishment to keep living and growing. God created us with a capacity to eat in a way that combines our physical needs with our spiritual needs. That’s why in verse 42, the breaking of bread follows devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Eating accomplishes something for the body, but when we eat together, eat as God meant us to eat, it accomplishes something greater for our souls.

         Bible scholars debate what “breaking of bread” here, both in verse 42 and in verse 46, means. Is it ordinary meals or is it Holy Communion, celebration of the Lord’s Supper? But it’s not at all clear those early Christians would have made that distinction. Turn over to I Corinthians 11 and we see another early church, years later, obviously combining their observance of Communion with a big communal meal, what some folks have called the early Christian “love feast.”

         So those first Christians might be pretty confused by our once a month or weekly consumption of a miniscule piece of bread and a shot glass or tiny dip of grape juice. They might wonder how it is we are truly having Communion if we’re not actually eating a real meal together. There’s some food for thought.

         Fellowship and food came together, were meant to be together. God made us to enjoy not only the taste of bread and meat and drink, but the taste of one another’s company as we sit down together in fellowship, in community. It’s good and right for the Lord’s Church to eat together. That’s what God’s people do.

         You can see it in our Old Testament lesson from Joshua 5 this morning. It’s a little overlooked text forshadowing the table fellowship of the Church. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan and came into the promised land, they rededicated themselves to God. The males were circumcised and then we read that, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’”

         By the grace and salvation of God, Israel came out of slavery in Egypt and received their own country, their own land. Their sin and disgrace were “rolled away” in that new place. They were a new people. The very next thing that happens, right after celebrating Passover, is that “they ate the produce of the land.” And the manna, which they ate (and sometimes complained about) for forty years, stopped. They were a new people, with new food, brought together there by God.

         That’s what the Christian church, the people of God saved by the grace of Jesus Christ is supposed to be, a new people, with a new way of eating, because we have a new way of living. Luke is summing up that way of life here at the end of Acts 2, explaining how the new believers lived their new faith together. Eating together was a large part of it.

         There’s more, of course. In verse 42, there’s the teaching and fellowship. The breaking of bread is paired with devotion to prayer. It’s a whole new way of life that includes study of the faith, vibrant community, shared food and meals, and a strong practice of regular prayer.

         Our other verses, 43 to 47, are a kind of summary of what’s to come in the following chapters of Acts. Something like it is repeated again at the end of chapter 4. It’s a way of showing how their new life in Christ worked out in very visible and exciting ways.

         The first exciting development shows up in verse 43. Everyone was in awe of the Christians, “because many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” When the community of believers was attentive to the Word, shared together in community, and ate and prayed with one another, then miracles happened. In chapter 3 of Acts we hear an example of one of these miracles as Peter and John heal a man lame from birth.

         In verses 44 and 45 we hear how the new church was at one and held things in common. Members sold their possessions to provide for each others’ needs. At the end of chapter 4 we see a specific example of Barnabas selling a field so that the apostles could use the money to care for those in need.

         Some folks see primitive communism here in the early church, but it’s pretty clear that having “all things in common,” was more of an attitude than a political or fiscal matter. Many of them still had property. I once heard John Stott point out in his eloquent British accent, that verse 46 shows us they didn’t all sell their houses. When we’re told again that they broke bread, where did they do it? “In their ’omes”, said Stott, “in their ’omes.”

         The sharing here is not some sort of rule created by the apostles. No one was forced to donate. They gave out of the generous, sincere hearts mentioned in verse 46. It was an attitude that when we are Christians what we have is not just for our own good and pleasure. God means us to use what He’s given us for the common good, for the benefit and blessing of others. The attitude was an open, generous “what’s mine is yours,” not a grasping, selfish, “what’s yours is mine.”

         All of that generosity and sharing begins right at our own tables, when we sit down and eat as families together in our homes. For those Jewish believers the “breaking of bread” at even an ordinary meal was a time to be glad and give thanks to God. For those first Jewish Christians it was also a time to remember those who had no bread to break.

         In verse 46, it says in the translation I read that “they broke bread at home.” But there’s a preposition there before “home” that probably makes the phrase mean something more like “they broke bread from house to house.” They were eating and sharing food in each other’s homes. They were carrying food where it was needed and breaking bread together in many different places.

         My mother and grandmother were Baptist and I grew up with the idea that table graces were to be simple and informal. The best were thought to be spontaneous prayers created for the occasion. Most of the time, though, we pretty much said the same thing. That’s how it’s generally been in our own home.

         However, my mother’s father’s, my grandfather’s, side was Episcopal. When I would visit at Auntie Pop’s house (that’s what we called my great aunt, my grandfather’s sister), I would hear her offer up a different blessing over our food, something like, “Bless, O Lord, these gifts to our use, and make us ever mindful of the needs others, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

         I never put it together before now, but that “ever mindful of the needs of others” prayer may account for what I saw happening all the time whenever I was at her house. There was always activity in the kitchen. Jars of peaches bubbled away in big pots. Flour and shortening were rolled out into pie crusts. Scales were scraped off fish we had caught. Cakes rose in the oven. It was a wonderful place to be a kid.

         What I’m just realizing, though, is that a lot of that food went out the door. I don’t know how many times we kids got bundled into the car and told to carefully hold a pie or a warm loaf of bread on our laps. Then we’d drive across that little town and pull up to a house and Auntie Pop would get out and lead us up a walk to hand over our gifts to a old fellow who lived by himself or to a young mother in a run-down house.

         Auntie Pop was a character. I could tell you stories about her all day. She had plenty of faults. She was stubborn and sometimes a bit off-color. But I think she would have gotten along fine in that early church. She understood that the food she had was not all hers. At every meal she prayed that little prayer asking to be “ever mindful of the needs of others.” God heard her and made it so.

         My prayer is that it will be so for you and me. If you don’t do so already, I invite you to invite the Lord to your own meals by praying before you eat. And in your home, make a point as often as you possibly can to eat together. “Breaking of bread,” is a sacred time, whether it’s here in Holy Communion or around your family table. Say a grace of gratitude and praise to God and remember those in need.

         My prayer is also that we will have this Acts 2 spirit in our meals and sharing of food together as a church. Verse 47 gives us a little glimpse of the outcome of how those first Christians lived. As they praised God, they had “the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those were being saved.”

         Over the years, I’ve seen and occasionally tried to be part of several evangelism programs. I just got an e-mail from our denomination’s director of evangelism telling us about a new one the Covenant is launching. But what I read here in these verses suggests that the evangelism program of the early church was not a whole lot more than just eating together and sharing their food.

         Of course they preached and God did miracles and they spent a whole lot of time in prayer. We want those things to happen among us as well. But at the center of it all was a basic, simple practice of thankfully receiving and sharing God’s good gift of food to eat.

         Our church is very capable of that sort of evangelism. Let us remember that little prayer my aunt said whenever we gladly come together to eat. “Make us ever mindful of the needs of others.” In a week we will open our building to shelter homeless families for a few nights. It’s the last time until the fall we will do that sort of thing. In the meantime, let’s be mindful to share our food. As we gather on Easter and celebrate the rising of our Lord with a delicious brunch, let’s fill to overflowing our Lane County food barrel for those in need.

         And in our eating and sharing, may God give us glad and sincere hearts, in which the love of Jesus Christ is clearly visible. And may the Lord regularly add to our number those He is saving and bringing to the Table with us, through Jesus Christ our Savior.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated March 10, 2013