First Congregational United Church of Christ
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Salem, Oregon




Experiencing Awe
Luke’s second book, Acts, follows the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with the story of what happened next. He wrote a couple of generations later to confirm the faith of the early church. Acts tells about Peter’s preaching, the conversion of thousands as the church swelled. It recounts many healings and wonders, Paul’s conversion, meetings with the Jewish religious authorities, persecutions, and the spread of the church all over the Mediterranean area. It has adventures, near escapes, riots….and much, much more! In this short text, we have one of several summaries in the book about how the church was living…how they were getting on…what their life—in a nutshell—was like. From the Common English Bible:
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day they met together in the temple and ate in their own homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. 
We hear in this text about four key elements of the early church’s life as they were flourishing: praying together, sharing their possessions, eating together, and devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles. These could be called “THE MARKS OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY.”  These are the same as those we observe and practice today. But, one element from our text stands out as perhaps sometimes absent. Hear this again: “A sense of awe came over everyone.” We get the impression that this sense of awe was not a one-shot deal but something like a “blanket” coming over the community and encircling their life together. Now, that’s something we don’t necessarily feel all the time…but, maybe we’d like to….
Reading this short summary doesn’t necessarily take us to “awe,” but that is possible when we devote ourselves to reading the text. I remember when I first tried that. I was new on my Christian journey and decided to take a personal retreat one Friday and Saturday at a mountain cabin. I spent most of Saturday just reading and reflecting on the book of Acts. The experience was riveting----because the book, as you get into it—reads like this amazing adventure tale filled with life and death episodes. The only difference between that and watchingIndiana Jones was that in this case God was all over the place as an active participant…and that was clear to me as…as clear could be. When I finally finished in the late afternoon, sitting there on the cabin porch...I sat back, breathed deeply and felt enveloped in that same sense of awe. So, what I share with you is my conviction that really immersing ourselves in the text---devoting ourselves to that deep reading and listening--can still be a gateway to that awe. It’s always available to us.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many people experience a bit of this in favorite texts, and the favorite of all time is probably Psalm 23. I’ll share this with you, also from the Common English Bible. I’ve changed the gender here...bear with me.
The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. She lets me rest in grassy meadows; She leads me to restful waters; She keeps me alive.  She guides me in proper paths for the sake of her good name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.  Your rod and your staff—they protect me. You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over!  Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house--- as long as I live.
Truthfully, I think any of the MARKS of Christian community can be a gateway to awe: praying together, sharing a meal--including the Lord’s Supper--sharing our wealth and possessions, and even standing together and working together to bring our DREAM OF GOD’S REALM on earth into more of a reality. We share that dream where hatred and war and violence are no more; where love and mercy and joy prevail for all God’s children across the face of God’s beloved earth. This is our shared dream—the dream we have received from our spiritual ancestors, and now it’s ours to share with our own children and their children.
And if it is our dream, then it’s also our mission---our goal---our work as brothers and sisters in this community. Living into this dream of doing our part to bring forth God’s realm is a great and exciting and sometimes even dangerous adventure. It takes all we have and even stuff we didn’t know we had. How can we possible sustain this call to such a formidable mission?  
We have to return to the source by pursuing with all our hearts that sense of awe that belongs to us, is ours to claim as followers of Jesus. May God bless our devotions. Amen.
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Welcome to First Congregational United Church of Christ in Salem, Oregon

We are a Just Peace and Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ. This church welcomes everyone without regard to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic class, marital status, or physical/mental abilities and encourages all to share in the life and leadership of this congregation. No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here. Here at the United Church of Christ. 
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Join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

We are wheelchair accessible and have an elevator that services all floors. 

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 First Congregational United Church of Christ
700 Marion Street NE
Salem, Oregon 97301
All are welcome, always.