March 15th/16th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
It takes dedication to accomplish great things in life. It takes dedication to run a marathon. You don’t just wake up one day and run the 26.2 miles, you train first. You train for months, running each day, eating properly, stretching, disciplining your body so that when the day of the race arrives you are prepared. Such training takes dedication. We hear all the time about the dedication it takes to become a professional athlete, musician, or artist. You have to hone your skills and to develop your talent. Most of all, you have to be willing to get back up when you’ve been knocked down, to edit and resubmit that rejected manuscript, to audition again, to sculpt or paint again in the hopes that this time someone notices your work and sets you on the road to stardom. Celebrities often speak about the dedication and commitment it took to get where they are, and it would take such dedication for any of us in this room to reach that level of fame and fortune.
But that is not the commitment and dedication that I want to talk about today. In fact, I would say that is not the truest form of commitment and dedication. I think the more challenging, yet ultimately more rewarding, form of dedication is dedication to the details of everyday life. Yes, it takes dedication to train yourself to run a marathon, but it also takes dedication to do the laundry each day, to wash the same dishes over and over, to change diapers, to shuttle kids back and forth to their various after school activities. It takes dedication to wake up next to the same person every day and live a life of loving sacrifice to them, to remain faithful to your vows even when times are tough, to remain supportive even when you would rather be left alone. It takes dedication and commitment simply to make dinner each day, to come home after a long day at work only to be confronted with even more work in parenting, housekeeping, and the many other responsibilities that fall upon adult shoulders. The responsibilities and demands of everyday life take tremendous commitment, yet so often we bristle at that commitment. So often we are tempted to treat such commitment as if it is a second class commitment or somehow beneath us or not worth our precious time, to ignore those things and try to find something bigger and supposedly more important to commit ourselves to, even choosing to leave the basic necessities of everyday life unattended while we dedicate ourselves to something else.
And as powerful a temptation as this is in our personal lives, the temptation is even stronger when it comes to the everyday things of God. We are a fickle people, and we so quickly get sick of the same old thing. We are accustomed to the regular routine of the Christian life – we have heard sermons many times, we have knelt in confession, we have heard the words of absolution, we have tasted the bread and wine of communion. But familiarity breeds contempt, and often we are tempted to despise the gifts of God and pursue something that suits our fancy just a little better. Perhaps we expected that once we became Christian all our problems would go away, that our kids would behave perfectly, that our finances would balance out, that the disease or depression that haunts us would miraculously disappear. But when our daily life in the faith doesn’t look all that different from those outside, when our struggles seem to be the exact same struggles as unbelievers, or even worse, when we see other Christians enjoying the good things in life, the blessings and comforts we want for ourselves, then we begin to wonder whether this Christianity thing is worth the hassle. When such temptation surfaces, we remember the example of the earliest Christians, those we just heard about in the reading from Acts. In that reading we hear of their dedication to the everyday things of the Christian life, of their devotion to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. We have these same gifts among us today, and part of our lives as the baptized children of God is commitment and dedication to these things.
We are called to be dedicated to the apostles’ teaching. This is not a burden, it is a gift. We have the teaching of the apostles themselves recorded for us in the pages of Scripture. Rather than smugness toward the study God’s Word, the new man receives this teaching joyfully and dedicates himself to it. In a world filled with differing voices, it can be easy to fall into the trap of ignoring God’s Word. We spend several hours each week listening to the voices of the world, in the television shows we watch, in the music we listen to, in the books we read, even in the casual conversations we have with a coworker. The slow drip of the world’s opinions will break through our Christian minds if we are not intentionally fortifying our position. But our Lord has not left us helpless. Rather, he has given us the means to strengthen the defenses of our faith, and those means are found in the apostles’ teaching. So we dedicate ourselves in study of the apostles’ teaching. We don’t assume that because we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it enough. We don’t assume that we are so strong in our faith and understanding of God’s Word that we would never fall prey to the vain philosophies of our world. Rather, we take seriously the threats of the world’s sinful philosophies and we joyfully sit at the feet of the apostles, learning from them each week in bible studies, personal devotions and bible readings, and in the services of the church.
We are also called to be dedicated to the fellowship. No Christian is an island entire unto himself. We are baptized into the body of Christ, a body with many members. Sometimes we would rather stay home and read the bible by ourselves or find some devotional material on the internet, but to do so would cut us off from the fellowship. We are called to be committed to this fellowship, to this gathering together of God’s people, for through it we are uplifted and encouraged in our faith. If you have read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, you might remember that in the 5th one there is a conversation between Harry and Luna Lovegood. She reminds Harry not to ignore his friends, she reminds him that he is not alone in his struggle. She says that she imagines that the Dark Lord wants Harry to feel all alone, because if Harry feels all alone then he is weak. So she reminds Harry to find strength in the people who are fighting with him, those who are supporting him. That is the joy of fellowship. Our Lord has not left us to struggle through this world alone, but has surrounded us with other believers who know our pain and can encourage us in our time of need with the same encouragement that they received from someone else when they were in need. Satan would have us let disagreements or hurt feelings drive us into isolation, so we are called to dedicate ourselves to the fellowship of believers.
It takes dedication because there is a certain comfort found in remaining unknown. It would be easier to sneak into church, hear the word, and sneak out the back without having to talk to anyone, without having to answer questions about how it’s going at work or at home. There is a draw to the anonymity of the shadows. We are tempted to believe that church would be better if people just left me alone and let me keep my private life to myself. But the community of believers is not a burden, it is a gift. It is the gift of knowing that others are praying for me in my time of need. It is the gift of knowing that when I am struggling with temptation that there is a group of people to encourage me. It is a group of people to help me continue in my life of faith, challenging me in my study of God’s Word, confessing their sin right next to me as I confess mine, and receiving the same forgiveness I receive. Such experiences build bonds, and such bonds are truly a gift from God. We find great strength in the fellowship of God’s church.
In this fellowship as the body of Christ, we are dedicated to the breaking of bread, which means we are dedicated to faithfully and regularly receiving the Sacrament of the Altar. In this sacrament we have the forgiveness of sins. We have a restored relationship with God and with each other. We have heaven itself brought down to earth and placed on our tongues. What a tremendous gift this is. Familiarity might tempt us to grumble about the 15 minutes it adds to the service. But we are dedicated to receiving this gift; we will not give it up. There are churches who never celebrate communion in regularly scheduled services. While their reasons may differ, the result remains a tragic rejection of one of the greatest gifts God has given us. So we are dedicated to the breaking of bread for it is nothing short of Christ among us today, the body of Christ that unites us as the body of Christ. It puts at peace with God and strengthens us for the challenges we face in life outside these walls.
When you put these things together, the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, and the breaking of bread, it becomes clear why we are called to be dedicated to the prayers. This is not dedication to prayer, although that is important too. No, this is dedication to the prayers, which are the services of God’s house. We are called to dedicate ourselves to regular worship. Such worship embraces all the other aspects of the Christian life already discussed. It is one place where we intentionally hear the teaching of the apostles as their Scriptures are read and as pastors preach on them. Worship also includes fellowship because the public worship of the Church is an opportunity to surround ourselves with other believers, to have our faith uplifted and strengthened before facing yet another week in an unbelieving world. Public worship is also the places where we break bread together, the place where we feast on the body and blood of our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins. The teaching, fellowship, and bread all come together in the liturgies of the church, which Luke here calls the prayers.
This is the shape of the Christian life – dedication to the gifts of God, for these are the very things that sustain and nurture us in our faith. Often we are tempted to ignore these basic things in favor of greater and grander aspirations, looking for something more noteworthy to devote ourselves to. And sometimes, bigger projects do demand our attention. But those are always short lived. Like training for a marathon, there comes a point when the race is complete and the training done. It is the dedication to daily life, to the challenges we face each day, the ones that never go away, that is true dedication. And this is the dedication the Holy Spirit works in the heart of the baptized. This is the dedication he works in each of our hearts – dedication to the gifts of God: to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Through these things our Lord is living and active among us, strengthening our faith in him. Through these things we are equipped to face both the challenges of daily life as well as the larger tasks that we must dedicate ourselves to. But left to our own strength, we cannot accomplish anything spiritually. So we rejoice in the gifts of God and dedicate ourselves to them first, for it is only through them that we can accomplish anything else our Lord has prepared for us to do. May God grant this congregation and each person here such commitment and dedication, that the world may be blessed through us.