The Mother of All Believers

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Acts 2:42-47

I love seeing families together for Mother’s day. It is a good reminder how we need each other as we are born into families where we get to know and love each other.

Contrary to popular thought these days, we are all in need of community. We need a place where we can be of one heart and soul with others… with deep and caring relationships that feed us, affirm us and even challenge us. Our hearts yearn for this.

Remember the old TV show Cheers? It became famous for the tag line “where everybody knows your name”. Something within us longs to be known, to be in community.

A community like the one we meet in Acts. Luke paints us a beautiful picture of the church gathered… looking like a family… they eat together on a regular basis… pray with one another… they learn together… they share with one another—Luke says, no one ever had a need… because as far as they were concerned, everything they owned belonged to the community… and if someone had a need, someone else would share. Just like family.

Here is the picture, a snapshot of the family, made possible by Jesus as Luke sees it,

“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!”

It’s just too bad that this is not the way many see their faith today. Today, many people simply do not value community.

As James Howell put it,
“Religious life in America today is a fiercely private affair. There is a secrecy, a dogged individualism about our faith, even among churchgoers. Increasing numbers of people feel they can be Christian without bothering with the church.
We treat churchgoing like moviegoing. You check out times and locations, go, watch the show, come back if and when you feel like it, with no real expectation that you will develop any kind of relationship with your fellow moviegoers. There are other kinds of Christians as well. Many go to church precisely to meet people, to make friends, even to extend business network tentacles. For many, the church is a nice place to do nice things with other nice people.”

It is a sad reality that some involved churchgoers when pressed slightly, admit to being lonely.

Anne Frank described her experience in the introduction to her diary: ‘No one will believe that a girl of thirteen feels herself quite alone in the world… I have strings of boy friends…I have relations, aunts and uncles,… a good home—no, I don’t seem to lack anything. But it’s the same with all my friends, just fun and joking, nothing more…We don’t seem to be able to get any closer, that is the root of the trouble.’We need more than fun and joking. We need real friends.[1]

Luke would say we need a community formed by the Risen Christ…

John Calvin might say, “we need a mother!” The very first images Calvin uses to describe the church are those of mother and school… which he frequently combines. For him, the church was like a mother who gathers the children… so we may be nourished, fed and cared for by God… and not only cared for, but also that we may be guided by her motherly care…so we may mature. Other reformers would talk about the church as the mother of believers.

I was blessed to have such a mother… called Riverside Presbyterian Church… I still call myself a son of Riverside… proudly. I was baptized there. For 18 years, my parents took me to worship… Sunday School… to fellowship events… I ate lots of meals at the church with others… I was active in the youth group who became my fraternity… my extended family… we laughed, played, studied and worshipped together. I sang in choirs which was significant as I was a part of a community and learned so much faith through music. The church was my mother who gathered us together as a family and invited us into deeper community all the time. Not everyone at Riverside took advantage of the fellowship… some treated life at the church like going to the movies… I never got to know them.

Oh, I’m not saying every moment was great… there was sometimes tension and misunderstandings and disagreements in the family…we had our moments… but we were still family. We hung in with each other… sort of like the church in Acts… the picture today in Acts is a beautiful picture… but as you will see if you keep reading Acts… they had their moments too!

Still, the church became their mother… the place where day by day they ate together, shared together, spent time together…

Today, as we celebrate two baptisms, we are welcoming two children into the life of the church family. We are declaring that they have two mothers… their maternal moms and the church. They belong to their own mothers of course, but now they belong to us too! We are in it together…

Which is one of God’s dreams for us: that we come together as family.
“God calls us, invites us, yes, even pleads with us to be in community. We must work to create the kind of community that is fundamentally open, never a closed club of like-minded people who look alike. Partly, God’s work is something you cannot accomplish alone. There is too much to do. (Can you imagine those early Christians going from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria to the ends of the earth— each one by themselves?) We have to learn again how to hold hands and work together, to be the body of Christ in this world. What God wants is for us to love, to share, deeply and wisely. (What God wants is for us to eat together, share one another’s burdens, and worship together, to be family to each other, with the church as our mother)[2]

That’s why the church exists… like a mother to gather us together… where the living Christ becomes real and present in the midst of our community. For as an old song reminds us,
“The church is not a building… church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is people.”

Sometimes we forget that.

Frederick Buechner suggests something that might jog our memory. I wouldn’t wish it on us, but it might work: He said:
“Maybe the best thing that could happen to the church would be for some great tidal wave of history to wash all that away—the church buildings tumbling, the church money all lost, the church bulletins blowing through the air like dead leaves, the differences between preachers and congregations all lost too.

Then all we would have left would be each other and Christ, which was all there was in the first place.”

He’s right you know. Read Acts… while they may have met in synagogue or temple in the early days… all they really had was each other… and a willingness to share faith and fellowship with each other. They knew that the work of being the body of Christ is such that none of us can shoulder it alone. We need each other, our varied gifts, passions and energies working together… encouraging each other… sharing with one another… in order to become the people God has called us to be.

That’s what Bill White believed. I heard about Bill White a couple of weeks ago at a retirement ceremony for my friend Tom Currie who had been the dean of Union Seminary in Charlotte for over a decade. Bill was a prominent business person in Charlotte—one of the movers and shakers in that community. Active in his church.

He was instrumental in the founding of the seminary there. He gave himself to it: not only with money but with time and love.

Tom was talking about his appreciation for Bill. He said, once a month or more, they would go to lunch… places like Panera. Tom said, Every time… every time… they ate… someone would come up to Bill and say, “Excuse me Mr. White… you probably don’t know me… but you taught me in High School Sunday school… I’m so grateful…”

Every time.

Turns out that Bill White and Richard Vinroot, former mayor of Charlotte taught High School Sunday school for over 52 years at Myers Park Presbyterian. Tom says, that he has no doubt… that people like Bill influenced more of the leaders of Charlotte through Sunday school than anyone else. He shared their values, their lives, their beliefs…

I heard that and thought about my teachers and youth leaders and pastors over the years who shaped my life… who encouraged me… loved me… challenged me… shared time and meals with me… and you know what… I met them all at church… my mother… THE mother… of all believers. Amen.

 


[1] P 109, 110 Yours are the hands of Christ

[2] Ibid -114

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