Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 2-19-23 Sermon – “Intentional Faith Development Acts 2:42-47”

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Today we will continue with our five-part sermon series based in the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, written by bishop Robert Schnase. The previous weeks, I shared with you, Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship. Today I will share Intentional Faith Development. The scripture, I will use is Acts 2:42-47.

Acts 2 verses 14 through 40 it’s every preacher’s dream. We dream of preaching a 5-minute sermon so good that at the end of this short sermon, three thousand people could come to Jesus, and then immediately they would ask “pastor what should we do now to respond to this great sermon you just delivered?

And it is also -I believe- the dream for those who Sunday after Sunday listen to the same Pastor to hear a short sermon and have the same experience those who were present in Pentecost had. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart.” This overwhelming feeling, they experienced when they heard Peter’s amazing sermon, -even after being accused of “put Jesus to death by nailing him to the cross,”- was -I Think- the result of a Radical Hospitality, why? because even thou they were accused of putting Jesus to death, Peter did not reject them. He welcomed them and offered them salvation, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter said.

After this offer from Peter, “three thousand were added to their number that day.” Those who were converted became the church described in verse 42-47. They are the ones who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. To the breaking of bread and prayer.” This fellowship, this breaking of the bread was so genuine, so deep that became an example of Passionate Worship. They practiced what they sang; they practiced, the apostle’s teaching. And God responded to this worship with unity. “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” They sang together, they prayed together, and they served together. They became an example for those who were outside. 

When we read this, it may look as if this happened suddenly. However, let us remember that these three thousand -and all those who were in Jerusalem that day- were Jews. They knew the scriptures, they learned in the synagogues about the prophets and their prophecies, and as devout Jews, they practiced prayers and fellowship too. Therefore, what they did was not new to them. God just used their previous knowledge and practices to develop a new understanding and interpretation of the scripture. We read in verses 17 to 28, that Peter quoted Joel 2:28-32 and Psalms 16 and 110 and applied these scriptures to Jesus. And it seems to me that their reaction implies that they knew what Peter was talking about. It was Peter’s interpretation -I believe- what caused that “they were cut to the hearts.” 

The kind of belief and faith we see in the Early Church, my sisters and brothers take time and practice to be cultivated, Sunday’s sermons by itself are not enough to develop in us this kind of results. In his book, Bishop Schnase says that Intentional Faith Development refers to the ministries, congregations offer outside of weekly worship that help people grow in faith and in their understanding of and love for God. These ministries include Bible studies, Sunday school classes, spiritual retreats, youth programs, and other small-group experiences that help us learn the Christian life in community with others. All these ministries mentioned by Bishop Schnase are intentionally created by the church to help the community to grow in Christlikeness. They are ministries intentionally created to receive and incorporate the new members into the body of Jesus; they are instruments for the new people to grow. If the church does not have ministries, there is not room for learning, fellowship and prayers.    

Would you like to grow spiritually? Would you like this church to be like the Early Church described in the Book of Acts?? If you want to, let us do what they did. Besides practice Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship, they also practice Intentional Faith Development.

Acts 2:42-47 give us a road map of some Intentional Faith Development practices. Verse 42 mentions four Intentional Faith Development practices of the Early Church. These practices they cultivated led them to spiritual and numerical growth. Those practices allowed them to become a community of faith who “enjoyed the favor of all the people and also helped them to add daily to their number those who were being saved.”

Let’s name these practices: First, they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, second, they had fellowship, third, they have breaking of bread, and fourth, they prayed. For many scholars these four practices came to be characteristics, marks of the Early Church. These are the practices, the characteristics that allow this gathering of people to be the Church of Jesus and not just another group of people who came together.

They devoted themselves to read the writings of those men and women through whom God spoke to them before. People like Joel, Isaiah, Micah, and Psalms. They listened to Peter, John, James, Paul, and others who saw Jesus. This passage from Acts should be a wakeup call to every Christian because it is a reminder of how important is to dwell in the scripture, how important is to read the Bible, to ask questions, to let the Word of God talk to us. This passage is a reminder of how important is to participate in the Intentional Faith Development practices of the church. Today, I want to invite you to be part of the ministries we have. Come to our Bible study and help us to develop new ministries to learn and to grow.

Second practice. Fellowship with other Christians. They devoted themselves to spending time together, learning about each other, caring for each other, growing together. Before, I invited you to participate in our Bible Study now I would like to invite you to know your neighbor a little more, try to know who they are, what they like, what they need, learn their names. Remember, we are family.

The third practice of the Early Church and the fruitful congregations is the breaking of bread. This means eating together, not necessarily the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. What’s important here is that fruitful congregations share their time, their meals, their nourishment. Now, I invite you to be part of our coffee time after service, and our fellowship dinner, come to the different meetings we have, women’s and men’s meetings. If we do that we will grow as a community, as family, as church.

And finally, prayers. They shared prayers together. Luke does not explain what these prayers were; they may have been the sharing of the benedictions of the Old Testament. Maybe the Lords’ prayer, perhaps the Psalms. It’s not clear what prayers they shared and prayed, but that’s not the point. The point is that they took time together as a community to open themselves to God and to receive the Holy Spirit through the prayers they prayed in community.

These practices or characteristics of the church are four practices we can intentionally build here to help us strengthen and grow our faith, personal, and collective. Remember, these four practices are ways of nourishing the church to fulfill Jesus commandment to go and make disciples. And yes, they can be practiced in a personal way, however, the Early Church and the fruitful congregations practice them in community too.

Our faith -sisters and brothers- is a gift from God, however, we have to develop it, and these spiritual practices can help us to do so. Therefore, let us allow the Spirit of God to work in us and help us cultivate these four practices in private and in public, in community for when our faith is shaky, and life is demanding or challenging, we can receive the strength to continue being the Church Jesus wants us to be.

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