Brothers and Sisters:
Over the next two months, we will be moving away from the lectionary texts. We will instead take a few weeks to look at the early church and compare the first communities that followed Jesus to our own church. We will be using materials provided in Leader magazine from Mennonite Church USA and I am going to let that magazine speak for itself by way of introduction:
Summer is often a time when people travel. We leave behind the comfort of our homes, our routines, and the majority of our possessions. We set off with only the essentials: some clothes and toiletries; maps and guidebooks; perhaps human, animal, or literary companions; and definitely a blankie, stuffed animal, electronic gadget, or some other comfort item.
Unexpected things will happen. Pickpocketed? Check. Had a leisurely and wonderful conversation with a previously unknown person on a long train ride? Check. Crashed a rented motorcycle and got eight stitches? Check. Ran into a long-lost friend in a big city? Check. And on. And on.
How about Paul’s list? He encounters Christ on the road to Damascus! He experiences being shipwrecked, being attacked by bandits, and suffering beatings in almost every town he enters. Then there is the surprising hospitality and financial support from joyful, struggling churches – and the friendships forged day by day working alongside new converts and experienced Christians alike.
As you might guess, we are going to spend a few weeks with the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters looking for glimpses of real churches that Paul planted, visited, instructed, and encouraged. We will learn of successes and failures of these early Christian congregations – and we will surely be reminded of the successes and failures of our own congregations. Together we will see that God worked through the imperfect early churches and hopefully that will help us see how God is working through our imperfect church today.
The series is set to be seven weeks, following the travels of Paul through the cities of Antioch, Colossae, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, and Rome. There is a passport designed for the series and special lessons for the children both during community worship and when they go out. Each week, the children will get a chance to put a stamp in their own passport. If they miss a week, a separate packet will be available for your use at home and we will give them a stamp when they bring their work back to the church. So, parents and guardians, in order for me to make the passports, please text me a photo of each of your children. And if you are grown up and want your own passport, you can send me your photo and I will make one for you, too!
The focus this first week is on the city of Antioch, in modern day Turkey. This is where people are first called Christians and Paul launches all three of his missionary journeys from Antioch, so it is the right place to start.
Take time this week to read up on the city. And spend a few hours with these texts during the week, too:
How does the experience of diversity within the Antioch church speak to our church’s challenges with diversity? Do we behave differently with some groups in the church than we do with others (Galatians 2:11-14)? What is the significance of the church’s generosity toward other believers in Judea (Acts 11:27-30)?
I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday morning and to studying and building our worship around this search for the next few weeks. Bridget and Josh have been especially helpful about planning and working with these materials, so take time to thank them for all their help.
Peace be with you all.