a sermon on Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) That is the opening sentence from this evening’s reading from the book of Acts, and it stands as a description of the shape of the life and practice of the early church. Teaching, community, communion—which I take to mean both thesacramental communion meal and the sharing of table fellowship, because the two were utterly inseparable in that world—and prayer.
According to the book of Acts, remarkable things were experienced by that community; what Luke calls “wonders and signs.” And maybe one of the more wondrous was that they were able to stretch themselves beyond the usual human fixation on wealth and possessions, and to structure themselves in such a manner that no one went hungry or wanting.
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We’re marking the baptism of Noah Falk this evening, and in the course of the liturgy I am going to invite the whole community to stand and share together in a reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant. The main part of covenant is the Apostles Creed, the ancient proclamation of foundational Christian belief, but we will also go on to reaffirm some other things. Right at the end of the Creed, quoting directly from the book of Acts, I will ask this community, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?” The answer to that question is, “I will, with God’s help,” and we will need the help of God if by that we actually mean that we might be open to the wondrous things that swept the ancient church. God help us if we actually find ourselves called to release our own grasp on all that we think keeps us secure and safe; on all those things that convince us that we can make it or break it all on our own. These are powerful words, committing us to a dangerous practice in which those who “have” release gladly, and those who “have not” find that their needs are met.
There is little question that in that early church community this had to do with the basics of food and clothing, but it wasn’t just those things. The needs of the body were placed alongside the needs of the heart, mind and soul; and how could it be otherwise for people formed in the Hebrew scriptures, which recognizes no firm line dividing body from soul? In real terms, this meant that there was always room for one more at the table, both literally and figuratively.
Not that they managed to create an idealized subculture in which there was no longer any need or want, struggle or affliction. A reading of Acts placed alongside of a reading of the epistles makes it abundantly clear that they hadn’t managed to manufacture a social and spiritual utopia. There were still plenty of disputes and plenty of struggles, and even the Apostle Paul writes of how he had to learn to accept his own weakness and to live with what he called “a thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), for which the grace of God was the only answer.
It is pretty clear that at least at first Paul would have preferred a good old-fashioned sign or wonder to just whisk away his “thorn” and allow him to stand victorious, and frankly he had pretty good warrant for wanting that. He’d been a part of some pretty splendid things, and had seen more than his share of wondrous doings, so it must have been a bit tough to deal with the idea that God was going to bless him in and through his weakness. It is one of those reminders that along with Paul we have been challenged to see that God is faithful in the long run, but that sometimes the long run is very long indeed.
Knowing the reality of Noah Falk’s life only from arm’s length, it is pretty fair to say that this is all long run stuff. Knowing his reality can only ever be “at arm’s length” for any of us, because that is part of the reality of autism. We can get a bit closer to him through Kalyn and David and Jase, and through the other friends and caregivers and family members who have been a part of these first thirteen years of Noah’s life, and in doing that you get this very clear sense of things being long run. From where most of us stand, we can see lovely and poignant moments and this profound growth right alongside of the day to day to day reality of his life. But really, most of us haven’t a clue. We don’t know how Noah’s mind works or how he even perceives what we call reality, and for the most part we’re pretty clueless as to what it means to be a family that keeps finding ways simply to be a family.
And I know, with Noah sometimes it is hard to know how to relate or what to expect. Oh, and his family appear to be doing such a wonderful job over there, connecting with him and shaping his life… over there. Maybe it is best to just stay out of the way, right? Just stay over here, and admire what a wonderful job they’re doing… over there.
I’m not blaming or accusing here, but just telling you—and reminding myself—of the kinds of things I know have run through my own mind. And of course, it is all a load of bull.
Noah Falk has been a part of us since he was six years old, and some of you have known him even longer than that. For just about as long as saint benedict’s table has been in existence Noah has been counted as a part of us, but tonight in this baptism we are going to mark that in a formal and sacramental way. His parents and sponsors are going to say some very powerful words on his behalf, and together we are going to bear witness to that. More critically, we are going to be challenged to stand and speak the words of that baptismal covenant, and tonight part of what that means is that we will be proclaiming words that Noah cannot say for himself.
Do you know what that means? It means that we are making a commitment that there will be a place for him here. That doesn’t mean that we’ll just accommodate the autistic kid as our charity case. In baptism we are proclaiming the truth that he is a member of the Body of Christ, and that he is as much a member as anyone here. You might be the biggest financial supporter, the most dedicated volunteer, the writer of great music for worship or the wisest member of our leadership group. In fact, you might be the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this baptism we proclaim that you are no more—or no less—a member of the church than is Noah.
Which means more than just accommodating or (heaven help us) tolerating his place in our midst. It means embracing him and stretching to keep meeting him in all that he is. How many people here have ever seen the dragon in one of these stained glass windows? Noah sees it, and he sees it every time he is here. It is in the lower left corner of the front window, under the heel of the figure of St Michael the Archangel. Have you ever noticed Noah and his dad making their way up the chancel steps toward the high altar at the end of worship? It is to go and again see the dragon. Again and again and again. Maybe one of the things that Noah’s baptism means is that one of these weeks you’ll walk up to that window with Noah and his dad, so you can see the dragon too, and talk with David, and keep company with your brother Noah. Because in Christ, that is who he is; you brother.
The long run.