In the Office: The Beloved Community

Today’s New Testament reading in the Daily Office comes from Acts 2 and is among my favorite passages. It offers what I think we must describe as a “tantalizing glimpse” of what it looks like when God’s kingdom begins to be embodied in the lives of Jesus’ followers:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Of course, there is so much that could be said about this description. We can highlight the devotion to God and each other that ignites the lives of these believers. We can ponder the way in which the experience of God’s presence transforms even their economic relationships. We can note how effectively evangelism takes place through this community — and not apparently as a result of some coordinated campaign — but through the compelling beauty of life in Christ when it is actually lived.

But precisely because this description is so powerful, it also reminds us of how often and how far we fall short of life like this. In saying this, of course, I wouldn’t want to imply some secret dissatisfaction with the church fellowship that I am privileged to serve. I’m part of a wonderful church family, and there are parts of this biblical description that ring true of our experience together. But at the same time, I’m not the only pastor I know who struggles to figure out how we’re supposed to move in the direction of this life-changing and world-changing community when so many aspects of our culture militate against it.

For example, in my own congregation there are so many activities and priorities that compete (and in some ways, justifiably) for the time and energy of our members. Even on Sunday mornings, people have work responsibilities and ball practices and visits they want to share with family members elsewhere. And while I don’t think that any of that necessarily prevents an experience of deep, kingdom community; I am struck by a reflection from one of my favorite authors: “It’s hard to have 1st century community on a 21st century schedule.”

For today, perhaps the best I can encourage us to do is this: Read through those verses again. Allow yourself to be captured by the healing and the hope that could emanate from a group of people who lived like this in our world today. Consider one or two specific changes or investments that you might need to make in your own church family in order for it to move in this spirit-filled direction. And then, pray that God will make us living examples of His beloved community; so that we can bless others, even as we have been blessed.

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