Peter preached the first Christian sermon to the Pentecost crowd in Acts 2. He explained that Jesus was a man who did amazing things, a man they crucified but God raised up. The crowd responded by asking, “What do we do?” Peter told them to repent, to be baptized, to be forgiven, to get the Holy Spirit. And they did – 3,000 of them at once.
That decision to follow Christ is a big deal. I made mine in 6th grade. I was on a youth retreat, and at the end of worship one evening the youth director invited anyone who wanted to accept Christ to come forward. I grew up in the church, so it wasn’t as though I didn’t already believe. I don’t remember ever not believing in God. But this was the first time I had made a statement on my own, without any say-so from my parents. Just me, walking down front at the end of an evening’s worship, kneeling with a handful of other teenagers, and saying “yes” to Jesus.
That was a big deal.
But that was also 28 years ago. There’s a lot that comes after the decision to be a Christian. What does that long ever after look like? How do we go about it?
The Pentecost crowd can answer us in one word:
Look at all they did together in today’s Scripture:
• Listening to teaching (v. 42) and going to church a lot (v. 46)
• Praying (v. 42) and praising God (v. 47)
• Sharing everything in common (vv. 44-5) and being concerned for the good will of all (v. 47)
• Eating meals (v. 42) at home (v. 46)
Our decision to follow Christ is a personal one… but the act of following Christ is something we do together. And for good reason; every one of these things the first converts did is better together.
Take “listening to teaching” and “going to church a lot.” I love getting up early to read my Bible alone, in the quiet. I always get something out of it. But I get so much more out of a group Bible study, where Millie asks a question I never thought of and Snooks chimes in with wisdom I haven’t yet acquired.
And I love sitting outside somewhere – by a stream or on a mountain top – to worship God. It quiets my soul. But it can’t replace the feeling of sitting among a congregation of people I love. Before I was a pastor – and required to sit up front – I loved to sit in the back pew. Better yet, I’d perch myself up on the balcony. From there I could see the whole worshipping body, and it reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my faith.
Which brings us to “praying” and “praising God.” Yes – pray alone, and pray often. But have you ever felt the power of uniting a hundred or so hearts in prayer for God’s will to be done? And yes – praise God alone. Praise God with your whole life and all you do. But what about when we sing some hymn we especially like, and every square inch of the church is filled with our voices? Or when we declare that God is good… all the time? Praying and praising are better together.
Then there’s caring for each other. The early church took it to a radical extreme that sometimes tempts us to throw the baby out with the bath water. “Share everything in common?” we think. “We could never do that!” But we can’t do this life alone. No matter how much I save, or how much insurance I take out, or how carefully I plan, I cannot make myself totally independent. The unplanned and unforeseen happen, and when they do, I need you. I need you and you need me. We are better together.
The first converts also shared meals in common. Do I even have to explain that meals are better together? That’s not to say a quiet meal eaten alone is a bad thing… but how much better is it to sit around a table with old friends, or to help ourselves to a feast of casseroles at a church potluck? Breaking bread is better together.
This is especially true for one meal in particular.
When I was in seminary, our Methodism professor hammered down a point I had never considered before. “Don’t bless the communion elements and then leave them for some group in the church to pick up later,” she said. “The prayer ought to be done together, because you are one body – one loaf – in Christ.”
When Acts tells us that the church “broke bread together,” it’s possible it means they ate meals together. But it likely also means they celebrated communion together – they remembered Christ’s death and resurrection through bread and wine. Just as we do today, coming forward in groups to kneel around the altar rail, shoulder-to-shoulder with other followers of Christ as we receive God’s grace once again.
Following Christ is something we do together.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
I decided to follow Christ 28 years ago, but I’ve been living in Christian community for 39 years. So I know – as you probably do, too – that sometimes “together” is very hard. Sometimes we hurt each other’s feelings. Sometimes we get caught up in our own stuff and forget to look out for each other when it matters most. I’ve had that happen to me before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again.
But even with that, I wouldn’t do it any other way. I would never have come to understand Christ as I do without “together.” I would not have made it through my mom’s death without “together.” I would not have been able to move beyond my own selfish wants without “together.”
I need you. We need each other.
We are better… together.