Following the arrival of the Holy Spirit, when thousands came to personal acceptance of Jesus Christ, a personal acceptance that came from a personal encounter, these new Christians, who did not even have the label of ‘Christian’ yet, began to figure out how to be what they were led to be in the midst of millions of people who didn’t want them to be anything different that what everyone else was already being. They they were in uncharted territory.
This was a group from all over the known world, a group of different races, different religious understandings, different cultures, different religious practices, different social and economic standing, and different religious personal experiences. This was a group that would have never landed in the same place, in the same anything if it were not for the same savior and for the same sacrifice.
In this same place they were out of place; a group that did not belong together yet they could not help but be together, a group of misfits who fit perfectly together, a group that was lost but would lead a world through their story of being found. This was the beginning of the church, this was our beginning.
This group was of one heart and one soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
This was the tie that bound them together -Jesus, Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus ascended, Jesus.
It was the Holy Spirit that empowered them, the glue that held them together, the GPS that guided them, the hunger and thirst that grew them – this was the Holy Spirit.
This story in Acts, a story of the original New Testament church, is their story, it is how they, sometimes painfully and sometimes joyfully, figured out what it meant for them to be church. This is their story, it is not our story, it is not our guide – the story of the New Testament Church is just that – it is Their Story. A story of depending on Jesus and doing it alongside of others on the same journey. It is a story of finding their way together while still on their own personal journey. It is a story of learning how to be of one heart and of one soul, even when everything about your experience is yours alone. It is a story of a journey that gives us inspiration in our journey alone together.
To understand the lesson from this passage, we have to understand the primary point that is being present – the people were of one heart and one soul. It is not a lesson to be of one heart and one soul, but a lesson of what can happen with a group of people who, individually are of one heart and one soul. What happened in the new testament church could only happen because of this heart and soul commonality. Understand, their story is not a story of things for us to do in the year 2021, it is not a rule book about how to govern and guide the institution of the church, it revealed what happened with this first group that happened because that did have the same heart and soul, the author is celebrating the connectedness where there is the existence of one heart and one soul. Note, and please grasp this note, the New Testament Church is not our How To Guide, it is a Here Is What Made Their Powerful Experience Possible. It simply means that when we are in unity due to our heart and soul, not our agenda, our politics, our social or economic status – it is then that we can have enough respect for each other that disagreements are fine, our goal is not to eliminate disagreement, it is then that we learn to appreciate and prosper in our diversity. It is then that the Holy Spirit is freed to work among us – it is then that we begin to see Our Story. Having the same heart and same soul is our private journey our private story, however, when put together with others, and their different and distinct stories, God can do anything through us.
The New Testament Church had the story that it did because it was a group of people who shared one commonality, they each had the same heart and the same soul. They did not connect together for any other reason that that. They did not acquire that once were together but it was the factor that allowed them to thrive under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So, we begin with these individuals who would later be given the label of ‘Christian’ who are learning how to be what will be come known as the ‘Church’, figuring out how to be Church alongside of each other and apart from each other. For this first Church of first Christians, they had one heart and soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were individually dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
The foundation was their individual distinct stories that led to their same heart and soul. Grasp this, the Church is a different people with different stories, all with the same heart and same soul. [The church is ] A community of God’s created human beings, often who have little or nothing in common except for different personal holy moments that have led to having the same heart and souls as the others we are in community, in church, with.
After Mary had proclaimed that Jesus was alive, the disciples were still hesitant to completely believe. In fact, in the gospel of Matthew reprimands this group of men who fail to believe and receive the story of this woman. Christ did appear in the midst of the disciples, affirming the message of Mary and proving his risen humanity by showing them his scars and inviting them to fully understanding his humanness by the nail prints on his hands and feet. Thomas was not at this gathering, and being told about this, he said that he too would believe when he saw, and even touched the scars, but until then he would not be able to believe.
We give Thomas a hard time for voicing his disbelief. We judge him in the same way we often hear the stories of everyone from a perspective of our own skepticism and arrogance. We want to be given the space but we seldom want to give others grace.
Here is a truth – scripture and scripture stories (and all stories for that matter) are not a one dimensional, they are multi dimensional. This is why we never finish learning and why we never are done with these stories. God calls us to pick them up and turn them around, to look at them from every direction. With each new look we see something new, with each new perspective we are offered a new enlightened understanding of the truth. Every time we open up and turn it around, scripture reveals more truth and clarifies the things we are mistaken or fuzzy on.
When Jesus later appears to Thomas and offers to show him the scars, inviting him to even touch the hands and feet, Jesus is meeting Thomas exactly where he is ready to be met. Thomas sees and no longer needs to touch, he know believes. Jesus’ statement that follows is not a reprimand to Thomas because he had to see, it is actually Jesus taking advantage of a powerful teaching moment to preparing Thomas, and the other disciples, for the next stage of their stories. They would be sharing with individuals who could not see Jesus resurrected, they would not have the opportunity to touch the nail prints. What if Jesus was telling them that they would not be able to have Jesus as their show and tell but, instead, their own live were going to be the visual, they very existence was going to be their proof. Our story is our proof.
We know one thing for sure, before Jesus 2nd appearance, Thomas was still in fellowship with the other disciples and they still considered him to be a part of their fellowship. In the same way that Jesus made sure to include Peter when he sent Mary to proclaim, ‘Jesus is alive.’
Why is this important? Because Thomas was still of the same heart and soul as these men, as well as Mary who had already seen Jesus. The group had not made Thomas an outcast because he did not believe the same as them at this moment. They trusted God’s work in Thomas, they trusted his story, just like they were trusting God’s work in each other and themselves. Unity is not because of full agreement, nor does it require unanimity of thought. Unity is what happens in a group where each participant in that group brings a same heart and a same mind to the environment and connectedness of the group.
The church is one in Jesus and his mission to save the world, the church is about unity of heart and soul. Notice that the word MIND is not used, this sameness is different than that. We do not have to use the same vocabulary, the same actions, the same politics, the same anything – however, we are all committed to truth, and we are accountable to seek and search for this truth at all times and in all things. What brings us together is not those things that are seen, it is inside, it is our connection to God which enables our connection to each other.
The first church had many intense disagreements in all areas of life, the book of Acts is full of those arguments some even between the apostles, but, they had agreement in the one thing that mattered, a same heart and a same soul.
The greatest unity is found in the greatest diversity. When our unity is in the midst of our diversity, the things that we commonly connect with, our preferences, our achievements, our season of life, the color of our skin, the sameness of our backgrounds, and many other factors that change with time – those things cannot divide us. Unity happens when we are connected by our heart and soul, when we are all tied into the same life pumping through us, when we are all clinging to the same hope that permits us to respect instead of hate. When we have this type of unity, politicians, religious leaders, and any one else with an agenda, are unable to divide us through sound bites and subtle insinuations.
The apostle Paul depicts our faith story, our journey, our salvation, as being ‘grafted in’ to our root, to God. Our Bible Project looked at this last Tuesday night, we talked about the art of grafting. I grew up seeing aluminum foil wrapped wrapped around the branches of hard shell pecan tree outside my grandmother’s back door. Honestly, I don’t remember this aluminum foil ever not being there. As I got older and began to ask questions I learned that my grandmother was not very fond of hard shell pecans however she loved paper shell pecans. So, whenever possible, she would take a branch from a paper shell pecan tree and graft it in to the hard shell pecan tree. This resulted in branches on the tree that actually produced paper shell rather than hard shell. These new branches remained what they were created to be yet they were all tied into the heart of the tree that provided life, and the branch held onto the tree with a grasp on the soul of the tree.
Our sin has caused us to be removed from our life source, from the soul and heart beat of the tree, we have died in this process and Jesus call is to graft us all back into the tree. That was the purpose of the cross, which came from the tree. As these branches with different stories and different pasts choose to be grafted in through the redeeming work of Jesus, they, we, are once again tied into the heart and the soul of the tree. We do not cease to be the branch we were made to be but, we are now connected, each with our own story, our own mind, connected to God’s heart and God’s soul – now we have life.
This is the church, a tree with limbs grafted in all over it. While the limbs may look different and may even act different, they are all dependent on the same roots and same life source. We are all on the tree together yet we are all on the tree separate.
This is how we are separate yet together, this is how our faith is personal yet public, this is how we have different stories but still have the same story, this is why we are always accepting yet holding everything accountable to truth, the truth of God, a truth we are constantly seeking and searching for. This is why Jesus said we must search, seek, discern, and never permit any one human to control and dictate to us. This is why there is only unity when there is diversity.
Eugene Petersen, author of the Message paraphrase of the Bible, is often asked ‘How do I find the right church for you?’ His response was interesting. He said, and I paraphrase – ‘Find a church that is not so big that you can disappear, don’t find a place you can be anonymous. Also, don’t find a church that makes you feel good or important, or one that is in tune with your emotions and practices, that shares you current tastes. Make a commitment to stay there for 6 months or even a year, however long it takes. Stay there until you are finally able to see that these people, this group, this church, has the same heart and the same mind as you do. Be open to it along the way. They may be strange and different than you, and they may be aggravating and frustrating beyond belief, but they have the same heart and soul. Connect in a way that is it going to painful to leave’
Heart and Soul are our individual journey, seeing the power of Heart and Soul is only possible when diverse hearts and soul believers connect together.
This is church.