Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
What distinguishes a Christian fellowship from any other fellowship? If you or I walked into a room how would we be able to identify the followers of Christ in that room? There is a line in an old spiritual that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love, yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.” According to the songwriter Christians are known by their love. The power of love is so strong that in 1973 Neil Sedaka wrote a song titled “Love will keep us together.” The song later became the debut album for the Captain and Tennille in 1975 and was the number one song in the US for a year. While we are on the subject of love, isn’t it amazing how no matter how much time passes or how great the distance between old friends when they are reunited the bond of love allows them to pick-up and plug-in as if they have never been a part.
In a very short passage of scripture in the 20th chapter of the Book of Acts Dr. Luke shares with us the importance of being plugged in. Dr. Luke and the apostle Paul on his third missionary journey through the region of Macedonia made a stop in the city of Troas and spent some time renewing old acquaintances with a group of believers. In verse 7 we read that, “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” Then again in verse 11 the bible says they “broke bread and ate.” In verse 7 the first instance of breaking bread refers to communion, the celebration and commemoration of the holy supper when our Lord and savior Jesus Christ broke bread and gave it to His disciples. Jesus shared Himself with others. When we like the first disciples come to the Lord’s Table He also shares Himself with us. In verse 11 the second instance of breaking bread refers to the agape meal or love feast. The agape meal was a shared public meal within a local fellowship. Everyone brought whatever he or she had and all shared out of what was brought. The agape meal was an act of unity and love that bridged the gap between the social and economic barriers that divide people. It was the offspring of communion. As Jesus shares Himself with individual believers, believers in turn share what they have with others.
Two of the most important elements in any relationship are feeding the soul and the body. If we focus solely on feeding our souls and forget to nourish our bodies, we may become spiritually stronger but eventually we will also become physically weak. Conversely, if we solely focus on feeding our body and forget to nourish our soul, we may become physically full but we will also become spiritually malnourished. One of the things that I really enjoy is to sit down with someone over a meal and just share what’s in our hearts. When people come together in an atmosphere of sharing and partaking nurturing relationships are born. Nurturing relationships are relationships where both parties are being mutually fed. There is a mutual exchange of the necessary ingredients needed to build each other up. Wherever there is communion it will naturally be followed by an agape meal or love feast, one feeds the soul and the other feeds the body and both are necessary for us to be plugged in.
In between communion and the agape meal the Bible says that the apostle Paul spoke to the people and kept on talking until midnight. The apostle Paul was an evangelist and as an evangelist his number one priority was always to share the good news of Jesus Christ. However, it is difficult to share good news or any other kind of news with people you do not know anything about or have anything in common with. As the apostle engaged the people he took time out to get to know them and what was going on with them. Even though he was on a schedule and had other items on his itinerary he found time to linger so that he could become intimately acquainted with the people he was breaking bread with. Paul made it a priority to plug himself into the lives of these people by investing his time in them. He demonstrated to them that he was not just another Bible thumping preacher trying to cram the gospel down their throats, but that he was genuinely concerned about their well being and welfare. The more time the apostle spent with them the more they got to know him also. Lingering leads to transparency. Where there is transparency there will also be trust. When it comes to building and fostering relationships for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ there is always a need to be transparent. It is unfortunate, but the reality is that with all of the scandals and bad press that the church has received over the years there are many who are skeptical and cynical when it comes to anything that has to do with religion. One of the ways we who are followers of Jesus Christ and are committed to sharing Christ with others can overcome this is by lingering. Have you ever noticed that when someone wants to talk to us about something pressing it always seems to be at an inopportune time? The apostle Paul even though he had other things to do and places to be, he still found time to linger long enough to plug in and make a connection with others and they in turn were able to plug in and connect with him.
One of the worst feelings in the world is to be in a room full of people and feel like you are all alone. In verse 9 Dr. Luke tells us about a young man by the name of Eutuychus. While everyone else was making a connection it seems as though young Eutuychus was unplugged or disconnected. The Bible says that he was seated in a window and probably due to the humidity he began to fall asleep. In fact not only did he fall asleep but he also fell out of the window. One of the problems with being disconnected is that eventually you drop out of the picture. Imagine being part of a fellowship or group and no one notices that you are no longer there. One of the cues that teachers use to gauge how invested students are in their education is to observe where they sit. One school of thought says that students who sit closer to the front of the class are more likely to do well because they will be more engaged. Another school of thought says that students who sit closer to the door probably will be out the door because they are disengaged. The fact that Eutuychus sat in the window suggests that while he was in the fellowship he probably was not plugged into the fellowship and subsequently he fell out of the fellowship.
Fortunately for brother Eutuychus, the apostle Paul noticed that he dropped out of the fellowship. The Bible says that Paul ran downstairs “Threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him.” Paul went after the one who dropped out. It was important for the apostle Paul to get this young man plugged back in and not let him slip away. As I consider the actions of the apostle Paul I find myself weighted down by a spirit of conviction. The apostle who had things to do and places to go could stop and take time out to connect with a young man that was on the periphery of his life and I am often so busy or overwhelmed that I forget to return phone calls. Had it not been for the love and caring of Paul, Eutuychus may have been a blip on the radar of that fellowship seen once and then no more. But because the apostle set the tone and made it a priority to go get the young man and make sure he was plugged in the other members followed Paul’s lead. Sometimes it only takes one person to change the attitudes of many.
Neil Sedaka and the Captain and Tennille said Love will keep us together, but the apostle Paul demonstrated that love would also bring us back. It was love that motivated a Father to allow His only Son to die a cruel and inhumane death so that an entire world could be afforded the opportunity to spend eternity with the Father and His Son.
Two questions this text asks us to consider, are we personally plugged in to Jesus Christ? And, are we willing to be expressions of the love of Jesus by plugging into the lives of those who are disconnected or have fallen away?
It is easy to connect with people we know. The challenge is to allow Christ to use us to reach out to those who are on the periphery of our lives and get them plugged in to Jesus. It will make an eternal difference.