APRIL 16, 2023


The Legacy of the Living Christ

Acts 2:41-47

In the season of Easter, which is the time between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost, we’re exploring the building blocks of faith by looking at stories from the very earliest days of the church. Two weeks ago, Shannon shared with you how Jesus breathed the Spirit on frightened disciples on the night of the resurrection, and with his breath – his Spirit – he sent and sends his friends into the world to continue his work. Last week, David told us the story of the risen Jesus on the Emmaus Road, and he challenged us to have the faith to recognize the Christ in our everyday lives, which means to be aware of God’s presence with us in the people who cross our paths.

Today, we will hear one of the very earliest accounts of the church from the book of Acts and look at another building block of faith: this time, the community of faith. Listen, now, for the word of God, beginning at verse 41 of Acts chapter 2:

So those who welcomed [Peter’s] message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

I’d like to talk with you this morning about the legacy of Jesus as it lives on in the community faith. Today we are celebrating Legacy Sunday, and recognizing individuals who have been members of this congregation for fifty or more years. You are a living link to the history and legacy of this congregation and we are grateful for you and the ways you continue to worship and serve here.

We planned this Legacy Sunday two months ago, and that was long before I knew that I would be thinking a lot about legacy in my own family right now. As most of you know, my mother died almost two weeks ago after a very short and courageous battle with cancer. Many of you have sent messages and cards of support and love. Your prayers have sustained us. We’ll be in Williamsburg this coming weekend for the service; keep praying for us.

During Mom’s hospice care, and in the time that has followed her death, I’ve thought a lot about her legacy, about how her life has affected mine and my brothers’ and our family and her friends. She was committed to the church, and to serving her community, and she got that from her mother. She loved art, making art and doing things creatively. She had a deep commitment to family, and her wide and very diverse circle of friends. Those things about her life are part of her legacy for our family and her friends, and some those traits and values will continue to bear fruit in our lives.

A legacy is, very simply, what we leave behind. Our legacy is the ongoing impact of our lives in the world after we have left it. The playwright Lin Manual Miranda, who wrote Hamilton, defined legacy as planting seeds in a garden that you never get to see. His idea is very close to what Henri Nouwen called parenting generations yet to come. In a small book called The Greatest Gift, he too describes a legacy like seeds in a garden, and he calls us to measure our lives, not by the language of success, but by the language of fruitfulness. Because, you see, the thing about fruitfulness is that the fruit may emerge long after we are gone.

Nouwen tells the story of Connie, an assistant who worked with him and a dear friend, who had a brain tumor that eventually took her life. Connie was known for her vitality, her competence, her ability to accomplish a lot in a short period of time, and her delight in her two sons and their families. All of this is what she thought of as her legacy – her vitality, energy, and love. Yet Nouwen perceived even when it came time for her to die, when her vitality and energy was nearly gone, Connie continued to plant seeds that would one day bear fruit.

He writes, “Connie herself can’t see most of her own goodness and love. But I and the many other people who visit her can see it. Now, in her growing weakness, she who lived such a long and productive life gives what she couldn’t give in her strength: a glimpse of the truth that love is stronger than death. Her grandchildren will reap the full fruits of that truth.”[1] Legacy is planting seeds in a garden that you never get to see, parenting generations yet to come, your life bearing fruit long after you have gone.

If that is an example of how legacy might be for each of us, what is the legacy of Jesus? How is his legacy expressed in the community of faith? Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, rose again from the dead, and after forty days he ascended in heaven – out of sight of the disciples. He was gone. When we meet this community in Acts in this description of the early church, Jesus is no longer around. What did he leave behind for them and for the world?

Now, you might think that Jesus left a legacy of writing, that the community was gathered around what he wrote. But Jesus didn’t write anything down. The gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John decades after Jesus was gone. You might say Jesus left behind a set of beliefs, and to some degree that’s true, but he never systematized anything. He told stories and gave lessons, the systematizing came later. You might think Jesus left behind a religion, as the founder of Christianity, and to some degree that’s true – but, again that happened decades after he was gone as the movement he started grew and developed.

The Bible teaches that Jesus left behind primary two things, what we might call his legacy: the Spirit and the community of the faith. We’re going to talk much more about the Spirit on Pentecost, but for today, we can remember that the Spirit that Jesus gives is a Spirit who goes with us, to teach us everything and remind us of everything Jesus taught. And this is the first important part of what Jesus leaves behind: the Spirit is the continuing, energizing, and active and activating presence of Jesus in the world. But more on that on Pentecost.

The primary thing the Spirit does in the world, and this gets us to the other important part of Jesus’ legacy, is that Spirit gathers, builds up, and sends out the community of faith. And so community of faith is the other important part of Jesus legacy, also known as the church, the body of Christ, the fellowship of believers. The Spirit gathers, nurtures, and sends the community into the world to be formed by Jesus’ teaching, to follow his way, to continue his mission, and eagerly wait for his coming again.

This is what it means to be the community, and the earliest description we have of this is here in Acts 2. Now, in many ways, what we read in Acts 2 sounds very much like any church from that point to today. There was teaching, and fellowship, there were prayers and songs, communion and meals, they helped one another, they served the poor. But within this description, I want to highlight two things that I believe gets to the heart of what was distinctive about their community and about the legacy of Jesus in the community of faith. The first is the very first sentence: they devoted themselves.

The word there in Greek, and also in English, means to give something away. If you devote something, you set it aside to be used for a purpose. When they “devoted themselves,” they gave their lives away. They gave their lives, their time and energy and creativity and possessions, away to the church, and the poor, to the teachings of Jesus – but more deeply they gave their lives away to God.

This was very different from the culture around them, just as it is very different from the culture around us. Instead of seeking to get an advantage for themselves, they sought the best interest of someone else. Instead of seeking to get more for themselves, they gave what they had to others who had need. They devoted their lives, gave themselves away to God and one another. Just like Jesus, just like God, who gave his life as a sacrifice for many. The community of faith that embodies the legacy of Jesus always gives its life away. Devoted.

The other thing to highlight in this description is the word “together.” More than any other word, this captures the heart of what is going on in that first community. Whether they were learning about what Jesus taught, or singing songs, or praying, or breaking bread, or laughing, or helping those in need, they were doing it together. And why is this so special? Well, one of the most remarkable things about the early church is that were a community of people who gathered, across boundaries of class, race, nationality, religion, and gender. Other religions and societies at that time were restricted to only men, or only Roman citizens, or only certain nationality, or only the wealthy or the educated. But the Christians gathered with no boundaries, only Christ in the center.

The Apostle Paul wrote, not many years after this first community gathered, “In Christ there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Jew/Gentile, that’s nationality, race, ethnicity; slave/free, that’s economic and social standing and wealth; male/female, that’s gender, but also power and position in society. In Christ, all those boundaries are taken, and all are one. This was a new and radical kind of community in that culture. There’s letter written by a Roman citizen to a governor, about the Christian movement, where he says, “And their founder (that’s Jesus) taught them they are siblings to one another, and they share everything.” It was scandalous – ridiculous. They share everything, even with the poor. It was radical and new community that flowed from the life of Jesus, and continued his legacy in the world.

The missionary Lesslie Newbigin, a giant theologian of the twentieth century, served most of his career as a missionary in India before retiring to England and writing about the needs of Christianity in the West. Newbigin has been an important figure for me, and I want to share this thought with you. He wrote about the role of the community of faith in helping make the good news of Jesus believable in a culture that is skeptical and materialistic.

He writes, “How can this strange story of God made flesh, of a crucified Savior, of resurrection and new creation become credible for those whose entire mental training has conditioned them to believe that the real world is the world which can be satisfactorily explained and managed without the hypothesis of God? I know of only one clue to the answering of that question, only one real [explanation] of the gospel: a congregation which believes it.”

This is the most important thing for the gospel today, the most important thing for sharing the good news of God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ: that there are congregations and Christians who believe it and live by it. The most important thing is not technology, or convenience, or worship style, or screens, or organ vs band, or robe vs jeans, or gothic sanctuary vs shopping center sanctuary. The most important thing for the gospel in the world today is what it has always been: that there are congregations and Christians who devote themselves, who give their lives away like Jesus. That there are congregations and Christians who live the together life of the kingdom of God, with Christ in the center, who will be truly siblings to one another, who will stand in awe and wonder at what the Spirit is doing in their midst.

It turns out, you see, that the primary, the fundamental legacy of Jesus, the risen Christ, is not found on the pages of scripture, in books of theology, or in the religion department. It’s found in the living Spirit and the community of faith. In other words, it’s found in you and me. In every generation, the Spirit gathers, builds, and sends the community of faith. Today we give thanks for the work of the Spirit in the life and legacy of this church, generations past, and for those who have been here the longest. But the work of the Spirit continues. The Spirit is calling us to continue the legacy of Jesus in our lives: to be devoted, to be together, to stand in awe at what the Spirit is doing. To plant seeds in the garden of God’s kingdom.


[1] Nouwen, The Greatest Gift, p, 97

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