Acts 2: 42-47 “Living Our Beliefs: Small Groups - Fellowship and Community” Hebrews 10: 24-25
Proverbs 27:17 4/26/16
A brief history lesson - when John Wesley started the Methodist movement in England, one of the key pieces for spiritual groups were small groups. These groups were called classes and were the predecessor to the modern day Sunday School, small groups, and cell groups. The idea behind such gatherings that it was here, in the company of no more than eleven other people, that people would become empowered to be disciples. These neighborhood groups had a leader, picked for their spiritual maturity, who would lead people through questions as well as celebration and confession.
What exactly do United Methodists believe and how do we live out those beliefs in our daily lives? Today we are launching into a sermon series on just that - what makes United Methodists - United Methodists. As you can guess from our brief history lesson, this week’s topic focuses on small groups - the places where we can grow in our faith with other people.
Perhaps the original small group can be found in the book of Acts, were followers devoted themselves to the teachings of Jesus. We do this different ways. For most people, the extent of family development and Christian Education is limited to the worship hour on Sunday morning. This is understandable. We are busy people in a chaotic world with over-crowded schedules. But for the early apostles, what was preached publicly was different then what was taught. Preaching was meant to give people the basics of Christian teaching and living, the teaching was studying together more deeply the word of God. Its in this teaching and studying time that the disciples were constantly reminded who they were as Christ followers and held each other accountable to the standards of Christian living. For our faith is something that we continually grow into and live out of. The earliest disciples understood this. Apart from continually learning, one could not grow in faith. Its through study that we can become more faithful followers of Christ, because we know what Christ requires of us and we are surrounded by others who hold us accountable.
Second, the followers were in fellowship together. At this time in the life of the church, the Holy Spirit is drawing together people from every nation and tongue, people who prior to their conversion would not have fellowshiped together. What made their fellowship even more remarkable was that it was not simply brotherly and sisterly love, rather it was a fellowship that was marked by wonders and signs, which included the selling of possessions in order to meet the needs of others. The fellowship didn’t exist solely for itself, it existed to reach out in love. It existed for something beyond itself. This wasn’t a community that held possessions with the idea of this is “mine” or this is “yours” and this is “ours”. Rather all was truly God’s and was to be used for the mission of Jesus Christ to give God the glory.
Third, they broke bread together. The breaking of bread can mean two different things. It could be sharing in meals together, around the table, or it could be the celebrating of the Eucharist. Or perhaps Luke, the author of Acts, means it to be both. Gathering around the dinner table is an intimate time, and often leads to people being excluded. The table is a place to talk about the events of the day, to share our deepest hearts, and to feast on what has been provided. In the ancient world, table fellowship was reserved for family and dear friends, and clear lines were drawn between those who were invited to the table and those who were not. Think back to the gospels and how many times Jesus created controversy around who he chose to dine with. For Jesus there was a place at the table for everyone, and the early church upheld this teaching. Here all were counted as close friends, and social barriers were broken. All ate of the same food, showing their unity. And when they partook they did so with glad and generous hearts, praising God for what had been provided.
About three years ago, my home church in Clearfield decided to take a leap of faith and serve a free weekly meal to any who showed up. They opened up their doors, put on their aprons, and started to cook a simple meal each Monday. Then they would gather around the table with all who showed up and have fellowship. Their wasn’t a distinction between who was a church member and who wasn’t. Or between who cooked the meal and those who ate. For all shared together. There is something beautiful and Christ like about this type of table fellowship that is unique to the church.
Lastly, the people of Christ were marked by their prayers. The believers taught each other how to pray, and did so without ceasing. They prayed for people they did not know. They prayed for each other. And they prayed with each other.
Perhaps one of the most powerful marks of the community of Christ is this ability to pray for and with each other. To authentically lift each other before the throne of grace and be vulnerable enough to share the joys and concerns of our hearts. To pray for those whom we may not even know, but to do so as a mark of our deep care for them.
When I was working as an intern, one of my favorite times during the week was Tuesday afternoons, when I would go to pray with another person. Each week I would meet with this amazing woman of God for an hour. We would share our hearts with one another and lift each other up in prayer. It was a powerful time that cannot be contained in words. We were able to remind each other about how God has answered prayers in the past and hold each other accountable in our struggles. The Holy Spirit was noticeable in each of our prayer times and God was praised.
For the early Methodist this is why classes, or small groups, were formed. Groups of 8-10 people who looked after each other. Prayed for each other, both when they were together and apart. And asked each other “how is it with your soul?” and expected a truthful answer. It was the place where they lived into the scripture from Hebrews, spurring one another one towards love and good deeds. They shared food together. Learned together. Who are the people in your small group? Those whom you can grow in Christ’s love with? If you don’t have such a group of people, where can you look for one? Who are people you can invite into your faith journey in an intentional way and grow with every week?
Church is more then something that we attend once a week or a place that we go to. Church is being the body of Christ where we share in a common life together, a place where we sharpen one another. It is a new type of family. A family that learns, prays, laughs, fellowships, eats, and grows together. Let us live into the gift of small groups in our lives.