THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
PRAYER OF THE DAY: O God, your Son makes himself known to all his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Rightly or wrongly, the lectionary makers have aligned the Easter resurrection accounts from the gospels with our earliest testimony to the infancy of the church recorded in the Book of Acts. This blurring of the lines between the seasons of Easter and Pentecost is perhaps a good thing. It reinforces the New Testament insistence that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference. In today’s reading from Acts, the consequence of conversion on the part of those who heard Peter’s Pentecost sermon was that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:43. The word translated “devoted” in the English Bible is the Greek word, “proskartereo,” meaning “to continue in or with.” Thus, the believers who responded in faith to Peter’s preaching did not simply shake his hand, tell him he had preached fine sermon and then go home to chow down on buffalo wings and watch the game. They stuck around. They continued to engage with the apostles by learning the scriptures, strengthening their fellowship through Eucharistic meals and praying together. They grew together as church by engaging together in these ancient disciplines of study, common meals and prayer. That is because conversion is a lifetime project that involves weaning oneself away from social, political and moral norms governing the culture in which we are born and being formed by and within the culture of God’s reign into the image of Christ.
The word “conversion” has taken on unsavory overtones in recent years. In common parlance it is almost synonymous with “brain washing.” Only fanatical cults seek to convert people. Legitimate religious organizations employ civil and logical presentations of their beliefs in a spirit of openness-or cool programming for youth, cheap bus trips to Amish country for seniors and free coffee and donuts for all. To some extent, I agree with the mainline churches’ general reluctance to use the term “conversion” in describing the church’s mission to make disciples of all nations. Conversion is a violent and manipulative process when it involves one person seeking to convert another to his or her faith. I suspect that most of us have at one time or another encountered someone who has tried to “save” us. But that is not the sort of conversion we see in the New Testament church. It is not the apostles, but the Lord who converts people to faith in Jesus. Acts 2:47. Moreover, conversion is not a matter of one person’s making up his or her mind about whether to be a disciple of Jesus. Conversion is the lifetime process, communal and individual, undergone by persons called by the Spirit through the preaching of the word to the life of discipleship. As Paul says, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Romans 12:2. To be sure, we invite enthusiastically everyone we meet to join us in this process of conversion, but it is the Spirit alone who decides whether a person accepts that invitation-or not.
According to the Book of Acts, effective preaching (and all aspects of the church’s mission for that matter) is necessarily grounded in the same faithful practices of study, Eucharist and prayer that sustained the initial converts in the second chapter of that book. Before the launch of the mission on Pentecost, the disciples themselves had been fully and faithfully engaged in these practices. Acts 1:14. In other words, the disciples were undergoing the very process of conversion to which they would soon be inviting the rest of the world. These practices, along with a communal lifestyle intolerant of poverty, selfishness and deceit formed a community reflecting an alternate reality, a radically different culture, a new way of living that proved irresistible and lent credibility to the apostles’ preaching. Of course, the community was hardly perfect. Like the church in every other age, the New Testament church had members who were less than fully committed, members that gamed the system and took more than they contributed, members who deserted when the going got tough and members who saw the church as an opportunity to gain power and control over others. But in spite of all that, the world could still see the reign of God for which the church longed and to which it witnessed. To sum it up, people were drawn to the church as much by what they saw as by what they heard.
That might go a long way toward explaining why us mainliners are bleeding out rather than growing. Read more