Second Sunday of Easter April 23-24, 2022
“Is Church Really Necessary?” Acts 5:12-20
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I was saddened by what happened in our church at the Saturday afternoon worship, the day before Palm Sunday. I was so excited to have a special presentation from Jews for Jesus that afternoon. Our speaker, coming all the way from San Francisco, was making the presentation of “Christ in the Passover.” He would connect the Jewish Passover meal, the one Jesus celebrated at the Last Supper, on Maundy Thursday, with the Lord’s Supper. I made it a big thing to invite as many people as I could to that service.
It was well attended. 108 on a Saturday. It was informative, encouraging and it contained a number of those “Ah-Ha” moments. Those “Ah-Ha” moments are the times when everything comes together – it all begins to make sense. When our presenter, David Garrett, told us that the third cup in the Passover meal, which was called the “Cup of Redemption”, was the cup when Jesus would say, “This cup in the New Covenant in my blood, shed for the remission of sins”, it all seemed to make sense. After worship was done a number of folks stuck around and visited for a while. It all seemed good and right. Old Testament and New Testament came together.
But three days later, on Tuesday, we started to get e-mails, phone calls and texts with the words, “I want to let you know that I tested positive for COVID.” Eventually 29 folks contacted us. I imagine others, that we didn’t hear from, also got the virus.
I was saddened by the sickness, saddened by the fact that so many of you could not spend your time with your family and friends for Easter because you needed to isolate. Some of you had practiced for months to sing with the Chorale or play with the Ringers and you weren’t able to do that. Many of our folks, for the first time in their lives, weren’t in church on Easter.
It also saddened me because some of the folks who were in worship that afternoon had not been in worship for months, maybe a year, or two, due to the virus. They took a risk and came out for that service. Some got sick. All were exposed.
It saddens me, what happened that day, because so many folks after two years since the virus came, have determined that church, corporate worship, coming to a building, interacting with other believers, receiving the body and blood of the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, is not necessary. I believe that physically coming to church is necessary and beneficial.
The reading for the Sunday following Easter, in the Gospel account, is always the account of Jesus coming to doubting Thomas. Though the other apostle’s had told him that they had seen Jesus fully, physically alive, his words were, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger were the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) Thomas, for whatever reason, had become isolated from the other disciples of Jesus. He became isolated from others and he became isolated from Jesus. He decided to go life alone.
I hope that you have been paying attention to what isolation has done to too many people during these last two years. Isolation is not good. We are social people and need to be connected to others. This isn’t just a religious need – this is an emotional and mental need. People need to have dinner parties with their friends and family. People need to connect with their book club or their soccer team. Here are some of the headlines the last month or so concerning what isolation has done to our society. Alcohol abuse and alcohol related death has skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021. Drug use has now reached epidemic proportions. Depression and suicidal attempts have increased dramatically. Test scores in our schools have gone down. The front page in The Denver Post from three weeks ago read, “Many teens report abuse by parents in lockdown.” (April 1)
Isolation doesn’t do well. Many folks are still struggling to become healthier emotionally and mentally and spiritually after life was changed a few years ago. I believe that everyone needs to be connected to a church, to Christ, and to a community of believers.
A few months ago I was handed an article from The New York Times, “Why Churches Should Drop Their Online Services.” The article says that what started during the onset of the pandemic in 2020 has actually hurt the church and Christians. Many people have substituted church with watching a sermon or listening to some music on their TV or computer. Collin Hansen says, “Christians need to hear babies crying in church. They need to see the reddened eyes of a friend across the aisle. They need to chat with the recovering drug addict who shows up early but still sits in the back row. They need to taste the bread and wine. They need to feel the choir crescendo toward the assurance of hope in what our senses can’t yet perceive.”
I guess I’m biased, but I believe that everyone needs church – worship – fellowship – corporate prayer – struggling together in times of hell – rejoicing together in moments of gladness – receiving the bread from heaven at the holy meal. This isn’t just true now, during these days, it has always been true. Our reading from Acts 5 tells us that early believers needed church. “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.” (Verse 12) They would meet together. They needed one another. They needed the teaching and direction from God’s Word. Acts 2 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Verse 42) But the struggle with people not needing the church is not a recent problem (though it has grown as of late) but even in the first century we read the admonishment, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
We need church because we need teaching and direction and guidance and comfort. Do you know how many times we are told, weekly, that we really don’t need God? You’re going to be taught over and over again that God didn’t create you – that you are an accident that happened billions of years ago – and that God had nothing to do with the creation of this world, or with your arrival, or God’s eternal plan in your life.
We need church because we need to develop a boldness concerning the one – the Holy Spirit – who lives inside us. This passage tells us that they met together in Solomon’s Colonnade. There were two colonnade’s that surrounded the Temple area – the early Christians boldly chose one of them. The early believers didn’t hide their faith. They went to a very public place and assembled where everyone could see them and their witness about Jesus.
We don’t worship so that everyone can see us. We worship so everyone can see Him – Jesus – and what He does for the world. We hope that we can lead others into His hands, that they can receive His salvation, eternal life, peace, strength and a new life.
I saw the funniest obituary last Thursday (April 14) in the Post. “Jack” Craiger, 76, died. Sounded like a good guy. A dentist his whole life. And it appears that he had a sense of humor. His obituary ended with these words, “Jack requests six Colorado Rockies baseball players to serve as pall bearers so that they may let him down one last time.”
The greatest reason that we need church is because church is where Jesus does His most marvelous work. Jesus doesn’t let us down. The apostle’s who were so bold to be at Solomon’s Colonnade speaking about Jesus, were placed in the public jail. That’s what their boldness got them!! But then we read, “During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.’” (Acts 5:19-20)
That is what we do here. We give out the full message of this new life. Forgiveness of sins is new life. The proclamation that we who are but “dust and ashes” have immortal breath because of Jesus rising from death is new life. The new life is a godly direction to do what is right and good every day. The new life means that we give love to others, not bitterness, cruelty, and ugliness to those we know. What we are selling in this church is this – the full message of new life.
I know that many people say either by words, or by actions, that church – worship, fellowship, receiving Holy Communion – is no longer necessary. I pray that God would show them, or you, or me, that is a wonderfully necessary gathering that brings us and them the full message of new life!! Amen!!