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(Here is the transcript of Sunday's Reflections from Sunday 21st July..)

What are we here for? To be a community

Can anyone remember a television show called "The Lone Ranger"?

Yes, the Lone Ranger with his trusty sidekick the American native Tonto & his horse Silver would often single handedly save the day against outlaws, injustice and unscrupulous greed. Do you remember his catch phrase “Hi Yo Silver”!! The Lone Ranger wore a mask to hide his identity – a bit like this one!! The story of the Lone Ranger is a fascinating one when you understand his origins & why he acted the way he did in memory of his family who died fighting for justice – his motivation to do good was similar to many other superheroes.

However, in our church we aren’t going to succeed acting like the Lone Ranger. We might win the odd individual battle this way but we won’t achieve our overall vision of inspiring the people of Scotland and beyond with the Good News of Jesus Christ through enthusiastic worshiping, witnessing, nurturing and serving communities.

In fact in the New Testament there are no "Lone Ranger" Christians. Believers needed each other to survive. Today we are going to think about how we benefit from being a similar community.

The huge redwood trees in California are amazing. They are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them are 300 feet high and more than 2,500 years old. You would think that trees that large would have a tremendous root system, reaching down hundreds of feet into the earth. But that is not the case. Redwoods have a very shallow root system. The roots of these trees are, however, intertwined. They are tied in with each other; interlocked. This is why when the storms come and the winds blow the redwoods still stand. With an interlocking root system they support and sustain each other. They need one another to survive. They need each other just like we need each other as Christian to withstand the storms of life.

Through Jesus we are bound together in a community of faith. Belonging to Him we belong to each other. Fellowship with Christ means fellowship with each other. Through Him God has made us a family, a community of faith. This is our God-given support system. As such, it is intended to meet some crucial needs in our lives.

The bible Reading this morning tells us that the very first community of believers gathered together on a regular basis for worship, prayer, study and fellowship. Acts 2:44 says, “…ALL THAT BELIEVED WERE TOGETHER…”

It wasn’t easy to follow Christ in the first century. Times were tough and persecution awaited at every corner. The early believers were bound together into a fellowship, a community. They needed each other; there was strength in numbers. If you think about us trying to follow Christ and live in his example today it still isn’t an easy task. We are faced with lots of obstacles. Discouragement. Temptation. Sin. Apathy. Failure. Materialism. Unbelieving family and friends. Doubts. Rejection. Unanswered questions. We face so many barriers in our desire to live for the Lord. As we try to do our best as Christians we need to remember that God has not left us on our own to run the race and fight the battle. He has given us each other.

This mornings reading gives us the answer as to where we should focus as a community of believers. Acts 2:42 says, “THEY DEVOTED THEMSELVES TO THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING AND TO FELLOWSHIP,TO THE BREAKING OF BREAD AND TO PRAYER.”

The teaching to which they devoted themselves was about Jesus the son of God who was crucified and buried but rose from the dead. The apostles’ teaching included the words, actions, and teachings of the Lord.

The breaking of bread is a reference to the Lord’s Supper that they observed. It also referred to other times when they gathered around a common meal. Teaching, fellowship, praying and the Lord’s Table were the focal points of the first Christian community.

Today this church, our local community of believers, is essential to our spiritual well-being. The New Testament doesn’t focus on “Lone Ranger” Christians. Believers needed each other and God expected them to be there for each other. Likewise, we need each other and God expects us to be there for each other. God has ordained that we play a vital part in each other’s faith. For that reason we are commanded in Hebrews 10:26,” DON’T GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER, AS SOME ARE IN THE HABIT OF DOING, BUT LET US ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER”. God has a purpose for putting us together.

Many things bring us together including our common weaknesses, failures, disappointments and inconsistencies. We are all fallible but pulling together our many talents makes us stronger.

Luke informs us that “ALL THE BELIEVERS WERE ONE IN HEART AND MIND.”

They made every effort to be led by God’s Spirit and to think and act like Christ. Consequently, God used this community of faith to do powerful things in the lives of countless believers, living in a pagan, godless world. God’s plan hasn’t changed. He still desires to use His Church to do powerful things in our lives. Through this Community God desires that we find strength for the journey, places to minister and a never ending source of guidance.

As we face the inevitable trials, troubles and tragedies of life, God intends that we be supported, strengthened, encouraged and empowered through the community of believers. As we face the storms and temptations of life we should receive strength from each other. That is God’s plan.

The fact of the matter is that God works in our lives through other believers. When we wonder if God really does love us and care for us we need God’s people to show us that this is true. When we are loved and cared for by another believer, especially during painful times, we gain a new sense of God’s love at work through them for us.

The community of faith is crucial to our spiritual well-being because it is the place where we find special opportunities to minister and serve. We all have a God-given responsibility to reach out and support each other. Through acts of love we serve both God and others.

The apostles ministry to each other included sharing of material goods to meet every day needs. The early church shared much more extensively as a result of economic and social sanctions that were imposed upon the early believers. It was Christian sharing at its best. This is still God’s plan for meeting the needs of His hurting children today. If we are not ministering to one another and God’s family through out community of faith then many needs go unmet and many may reach the conclusion that God doesn’t care about them.

The community of faith is crucial to our well-being because it is the source of much needed guidance, direction and even correction. We need the community of believers because none of us is as smart as all of us!

God wants to guide us safely through our earthly pilgrimage, sparing us many wrong turns and harmful paths. He gives us wisdom for the journey as we study His Word and pray together. Looking to the Lord’s people we are much more able to be guided down those paths that enrich our lives rather than wreck them. As we share our lives together God counsels us with advice that improves our relationships with Him, our families, children and those around us. He guides us regarding proper priorities, values, morals and ethics. Through our interactions with each other and His Word He helps us make the right choices and good decisions.

The guidance we receive through the community of faith is absolutely essential to our well-being, especially in these times when it is often difficult to work out what is right and wrong. Through His people, God guides us away from sinful paths. So many ways of the world look so enticing and they are made to look acceptable. They promise to bring us great pleasure. They are presented as harmless. We are told they will bring us happiness and fulfilment. But they don’t. They bring us only heartache and regret.

Without a doubt, sin deceives. It promises much but delivers little. Were it not for the community of faith guiding us down the right path we might more easily and readily succumb to temptation and sin. It is a fact: we all need the community of faith more than we often realise.

Being in the community of faith is, however, not without its difficulties and frustrations, It can’t be otherwise in this sinful world. The mark of community - true biblical community - is not the absence of conflict and difficulties but the presence of the spirit that brings us together. In our humanness we all do things to rub others the wrong way and cause offence. We all, at times, will be hurt and we will hurt others. Our old sinful nature often causes problems.

 

Nevertheless, we must not back away from the fellowship of faith. We must make an unwavering commitment to a community of believers where we can be strengthened, find places of ministry and receive much needed guidance.

Our plight is not unlike that of a group of porcupines that the famous philosopher Schopenhauer once used to illustrate a point. A group of porcupines were marooned one bitter cold night in the middle of a large frozen field. There was no way to escape the biting wind. They could not burrow into the frozen ground. As they huddled together to keep warm, their sharp quills began to pinch and hurt. The closer they moved together, the more the pain increased. Some of the animals could not bear the pain any more and drew apart to sleep alone. In the morning the ones that had gone alone had frozen to death.

In our humanness there are times when we hurt each other and the tendency is to pull away and go it alone. We must resist that tendency and stick together to succeed.

In conclusion we were created for community. It is what we are here for!! The journey of life and faith is often trying, difficult and painful. Little wonder God has given us the family of God and the support of our fellow Christians to help us. It is an absolutely essential source of strength and guidance that needs to be a priority in our lives.

Acts 2:42 says that the early believers “DEVOTED THEMSELVES TO FELLOWSHIP”….to the community of faith. We need to strive to do the same at the West Kirk. As a community we are stronger – let us try to remember this as we work together in Gods name.

No Lone Rangers just the Community of Faith!