Looking In by Looking Out

Acts03a Here is the message and discussion questions from our conversation yesterday around the theme of Looking In by Looking Out. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc...

So today we are continuing our series entitled Body Politics looking at how the Body of Christ should function, do life together, or in other terms, “govern themselves.”

Our first week together we covered Matthew 18:15-17 and talked about a process of reconciliation and healing that our community should have in place in the midst of differences and relationships.

The second week in the series we talked about what a community of Christ followers, living under the rule and reign of King Jesus should be known for. That being love. We talked about how our community needs to have a love for each other than can only be explained by one thing- having Jesus the center of our individual and corporate lives.

Last week we experienced what John Howard Yoder in his book “Body Politics” calls Open Meeting. We read a Scripture talking about the fact that when we gather everyone brings something to contribute, we prayed, shared, and some went out on the street to pray with and for people.

Today we are talking about the importance of a community of Christ followers living a balanced life between mission, community and worship. That when we have a balanced life (as individuals and a community) the Kingdom becomes tangible and we see the Kingdom breaking into our reality. So we will talk about how we are called to live these three things out together, about an idea that when we do live it out we experience something called Communitas, and we’ll talk and dialogue around things we can do to keep our lives balanced and how to develop Communitas within our group. And we talk about looking in by looking out.

So to talk about this idea of looking in by looking out we are spending time together in Acts 3:1-10. Acts 3:1-10 says this, “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” What does this story have to do with balancing mission, community and worship? This thing called communitas? And this weird statement of looking in by looking out? That is where we are headed.

What we see in the text of Acts 3 is the narrative of Peter and John going up to the Temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon. You need to know a few things about this act of going to the temple to pray. First of all notice the time of prayer, 3 in the afternoon. You see Peter and John continued the Jewish custom of praying at certain hours. The Jews of Jesus day would pray 3 times a day at the temple, at the 3rd hour (9 AM), at the 9th hour (3 PM..when this story takes place) and at sunset. So they are going to prayer, keeping with the tradition that they were raised with. Secondly, where they were going was the temple. The temple, for the Jews of Jesus day was the place where heaven and earth overlapped and interlocked. But we’ll notice a few verses later that heaven and earth overlap, not in the temple, but actually at the gate called Beautiful in the life of a lame beggar.

So Peter and John are going to the temple, minding their own business so to speak. Probably preparing their own hearts and minds to focus on prayer and worship of the Risen King, King Jesus. And probably building their own relationship and developing the community between them, when this lame beggar asks them for alms, or money. So here we see two of the three circles of true Kingdom life, they were heading to worship and develop community. But they were open to the leading of the Spirit and to the inbreaking of the Kingdom. The Spirit and the inbreaking of the Kingdom led these men to stop when the lame beggar addressed them. And so Peter and John stop on their way to Temple, share with the man what they have which is healing (spiritually and physically) in the name of Jesus and then they take the beggar into the Temple with them. It is here in the healing part of the story that we notice something profound. Look at verses 6-7 which says, “Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” Here we see mission in the way that it should be. Verse 6 puts the healing squarely where it should be, in the person and work of Jesus. We can’t heal, save, redeem etc.. any one. Only Jesus can. But look at the beginning of verse 7, “Taking him by the hand”. Peter had a role to play. We have a role to play in mission and the moving forward of the Kingdom of God. We are partners with God. Someone said “The Power was Christ’s but the hand was Peter’s.” Peter and John knew that Jesus had them on a Kingdom mission which included Discipleship, Mission, and Community and they were open and willing to be used to further His Kingdom in the world.

But all too often, we can miss the inbreaking of the Kingdom because we are too focused on ourselves, our spiritual walks, and our community and not on the mission that God has for us in the world. We sometimes miss what God is doing out in the world, because we naively believe that he is only working in here and not out there. Peter and John were going to the temple together to pray but they weren’t so focused on getting to the temple to pray that they missed the beggar at the Gate called Beautiful. And here is where the three circles of Kingdom Life (Mission, Discipleship, and Community) come together beautifully. But sometimes we can focus so much on trying to build two of the 3 circles of Kingdom Life we miss the fact that the best way of looking in (building community) is by looking out. Someone said it this way, which I believe is best played out in this text, “You worship best when you’ve been on mission. And you do mission best when you have worshipped.” And here is where this idea of Communitas comes into play. How many of us have seen movies like Remember the Titans, Hoosier’s, Invictus or other movie’s that feature a group of people (team’s, etc..) working towards a common goal or mission? And in these movies we see the mission that drives these teams/groups cultivates community like nothing else. That it is community on steroids so to speak. That is what Communitas is. Community that is derived from being on mission together. Let me give you some brief history of Communitas and where it came from. In the 1950s, anthropologist Victor Turner studied young boys from the Ndembu tribe who, at age 13, were thrust together into the African bush as a rite of passage into manhood. Turner used the word communitas to describe the unique community that developed as these boys faced a common mission...survival. They didn't have time to squabble over insignificant issues because they were united by a common objective. Along the way, they became a community defined by something deeper than friendship. Turner discovered that there is no community like one that forms around a critical mission. I would say the early church lived out communitas. And I believe the Scripture that we looked out today, is an example of Communitas between Peter and John. Their community with each other was grown and developed because they were on mission together. Their faith and discipleship was deepened because they were on mission together. As I said at the beginning one of the best ways to look in (develop community and discipleship) is to look out (into the world where God is working and is asking us to leave our comfort zones, to go where he is, and join him in what he is already doing). We need to be a Communitas of Jesus Followers and not just a community of Jesus Followers.

But what does it look like to look in by looking out? What does it mean to be Communitas together? And how do we seek to develop Communitas at Veritas? And how do we become a balanced Communitas, balancing the 3 circles of Kingdom Life (mission, discipleship, community)? Those are some of the questions that we will seek to unpack together in our discussion time.

1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and the message?

2. Where have you experienced Communitas before? Have you experienced it in a faith community before? In what ways can we be a Communitas and not just a community?

3. How are we doing in balancing the 3 circles of Kingdom Life (Discipleship, Mission, and Commmunity)? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? How can we improve and develop these 3 circles?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is going saying to us and what are we going to do about it?