Acts reads like a photo album of the first days of the church; the way I took monthly photos of my babies as they grew, the way I painstakingly notated their sleeps and eats and… such. Here, in the very earliest days of the church of Christian believers, we receive snapshot after snapshot of the life of the church; a scrapbook of moments that shimmer with the presence of the risen Lord, milestones of the Way we are still tracing today. The photographs become clear:
For the early church, as for us, the world’s powers threaten.
Prayers are raised.
The Spirit moves.
We give, and share, and care for one another.
The story of the church didn’t happen TO it—though it was initiated by Christ, gathered around the wondrous good news of his resurrection and shaped into flame at Pentecost—but when the early believers first lifted their voice to God, in one heart and mind, they didn’t just pray for God to work magic.
The pictures of the early church aren’t exposures of God’s mighty hand, reaching down from On High to solve problems and smooth paths in God’s best deus ex machina fashion. Instead it’s a scrapbook stuffed with the pictures of people who have prayed to be changed, so they may help change the world. They prayed to be bold in their words of witness and in the works of their hands.
Maybe they didn’t know what they were asking when they prayed for God to make them bold; who ever does? (My instinct says it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” deals, like praying for patience… that’s just asking for trouble!!) But when they could have prayed for God to just take care of business–as I so often do–they prayed instead for God to work in them.
Then they went on to operate in a way that I can barely imagine, setting aside individual concerns and any “I got to do for me and mine” attitudes, and instead giving everything to their fellow believers. There was no need among them, because they saw each other as “me and mine.”
In the pictures of this church, everybody looks like family—and not because they share the same nose, or hazel eyes, or pattern baldness. In these snapshots, the family connection comes through in the way they link arms and lift each other up. It shines in the way they use their stuff: as if what matters isn’t the stuff itself, but the people. As if what matters isn’t only the people who are related to me by blood, but those who are related to me by faith. As if other people’s needs have become my needs, and as if caring for those needs is the very same as caring for Christ’s own self.
And–most shocking of all–as if when I am in need, I too will be embraced, lifted up, made whole in the family.
This is the story of the church. And this is the Gospel of our Lord.
The early church, and we, are still (are always) growing up, snapshot by snapshot. We’re stumbling and finding our feet, learning what life together means as we practice familyhood and faith everywhere we gather in twos and threes and more.
And whether we realize it or not, we too are filling albums with the pictures of this story, just as the earliest believers did. In the scrapbook of our testimony, the world can page through the stories of our growth, can watch us speak and act in boldness and with love, can examine our faces for family resemblances.
What will they see?
Nicole Finkelstein-Blair became a U.S. Navy spouse in 2000, graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2001, and became “Mom!” in 2004. She finds ministry wherever the military and motherhood lead: in five states and two countries (so far), as a parishioner and a pulpit-supplier, as a sometime blogger and devotional writer, and at countless dinner tables and bedtimes.