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Easter 4A
Grace Lutheran Church
Lakeland, FL
April 30, 2023

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because
many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together
and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute
the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the
temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,
praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added
to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47

Grace to you and peace from God and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Some of you may have heard of this story before. Indulge me. It was Memorial Day weekend in 1987. I was a runner at the time – had done some rather modest runs and races. And running the Bay-to-Bay was a goal. The course went across the peninsula of St. Petersburg starting on the west at Boca Ciega Bay down 1st Avenue South ending in downtown St. Petersburg at Tampa Bay, a distance of about 7 miles. Adding to the excitement, my cousin Kathy came down from Minneapolis to run it with me. It was a Sunday morning and Earl and Matt and Kathy and I
drove down to the race start. Hugs and kisses to Matt and Earl and they headed down the race course to see us and cheer us on along the way. There was such energy and adrenalin as we made our way to our starting places.

In the midst of a crowd of people we didn’t know, there was such a feeling of connectedness – we shared a common goal and a common course. Shared anxieties and excitement. And we knew that there would be shared blisters at the end. The end. The finish line. The start came and in a staged group, thousands of runners headed out down this course. And, predictably, this clump of runners stretched out because we all had different paces and different
goals. Kathy was a very seasoned runner and after about a mile she looked back at me questioningly – do you want me to run with you or shall I go on? – Run Kathy – see you at the end.

What an encouragement along this route to see Matt and Earl – after they dropped Kathy and me off, they drove on  ahead on the course about ¼ way, parked the car, came to the sidelines to watch for us and then cheer like crazy. Then after we passed, off they went another couple of  miles down to wait for us to pass again. Police vehicles cleared the way for us as we passed each intersection. EMT folks were on golf carts to help any who had injuries and tending to those of  us who were laboring some.

The miles passed and my pace slowed – let’s face it, I was in the back of the pack. One of those golf carts came up alongside me for a while, just checking if I was ok. And then, the finish line came into site – now there were many many hundreds there ahead of me. As I ran into this area, I heard the words of encouragement from those who had probably gone home and showered and come back for the party – Good Finish! they said. Food and drink
abounded. Pats on the back. Stories of the run. People wandering and talking and laughing.    

People sharing. Some resting quietly. What a fellowship!

My friends, that is a little bit of what living in Christian community is all about.

Sharing our stories, sharing our food, sharing our lives, and sharing our hearts and souls with each other. But life in the Christian Community is fundamentally different because it has the life and death and resurrection of Jesus at its center. Life in the flock is different because of the shepherd. After the resurrection of Jesus, the Christian Church grew dramatically –on that first Pentecost, 3000 were added to the kingdom after Peter preached his first sermon.

Today we heard about what those who had been baptized did next. They gathered and shared four things. They shared the teachings of the Apostles – not just held them in common, but considered them, thought about them, passed them on. And we do this still as we read Scripture and profess our faith in the creeds. They were engaged in sharing the stories of Jesus with one another. They remembered.

They shared their time with each other in fellowship, expanding their relationships beyond just their immediate families, and beyond just their closest friends, to include everyone who came into their band, everyone who wondered about this love of Jesus Christ.

Not only that, they shared meals together; not just the spiritual bread that we all share in the Eucharist, however important that is. But they actually ate meals together, because that is what Christ did. They were “companions” to each other. And, they came together to pray. In prayer, they shared their hopes and fears together; they bowed their heads reverently and asked for forgiveness, and they prayed for themselves and for each other.

Can you imagine how amazing this was? All this teaching and learning, all this intentional friendship and fellowship, all this eating and feeding one another, and all this praying together was not very common in those days. In fact, the world they lived in was very much a place where people kept pretty much to themselves. They took care of their family and that's about it.

Sadly, we too live in a world where people seem to just as soon keep pretty much to themselves. We live in pretty insulated bubbles, so to speak. Very few of us spend much time outside of our immediate families and friends. In fact, even in our own families, sometimes it seems like it’s difficult to have good conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing or having an uncomfortable opinion.

But the Apostles lived differently; they lived in a rich and abundant community. It was a community that turned to each other first, in love and trust and care. They taught each other's kids, they shared meals and talked about what was going on in their lives, they laughed together and cried together and helped each other out when it was necessary.

And when other people saw how they lived, and how they shared a life in common, They were amazed at how this small band of people lived together, and they wanted to become a part of it. And so the band grew, and as they gathered more and more energy and vitality, they continued to spread the Good News that all of us come here each week to hear and share ourselves -- that our God is a generous and abundant God who loved the world
so much that God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Brothers and sisters, we are that band of the apostles – all of us sitting in this room. The abundance of our lives is that which we share with one another. We are called to teach each other and to learn from each other. Who of you here might be called to teach others in our congregation? We are called to be friends with each other – deep, rich, hearty, loving friends. How might we express our love for each other in more tangible ways? We are called to eat together. Eat the sacred meal of Christ's body and
blood at the altar, yes. And also to eat lunch together on the second Monday of the month with Saints Alive or to enjoy a bit of refreshment in Fellowship Hall after Sunday services. We are called to pray together; to pray for God's forgiveness and God's blessing; to pray for those around us as well as ourselves. How might our prayers be lifted up so that all of us can add our voices together?

The love God has for us is so great, that our cups are overflowing. God came into the world in Christ Jesus so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. The abundant life we receive is abundant only because we share our lives with each other. And when others see how much we share with each other, how Jesus is present in our midst, they will be amazed, and want to become a part of it, too.

Thanks be to God.