September 7, 2003

Pursuing Our Purposes
Acts 2:37-47

The tower-building termites of Africa and Australia are remarkable social insects. These termites accomplish virtually nothing when they act alone. On a good day, they may dig a seemingly undetectable pile or two of dirt. But when they attract other termites and form a group—that is another story altogether! Suddenly, they begin producing engineering wonders of the insect world: rising towers with arches, tunnels, air conditioning systems, and secret chambers. In proportion to the size of their energetic builders, these towers are perhaps the largest structures in the world. Not too shabby a feat for a group of termites who are virtually incapable of doing anything individually.

I saw much the same thing when I stepped out of my back door in Zambia a few years ago. There was what appeared to be a black line running through my yard and into the adjoining field. When I got closer to the line, I realized that it was in reality a parade of large ants, walking in the most orderly and rhythmic of fashions. At the end of the line, well off in the distance, was an anthill far larger than any that I had ever seen. It was immense, standing several feet high. None of these ants could ever have constructed such a hill acting alone, but what they did together still amazes me.

Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers call this phenomenon of collective enterprising “emergence.” “Emergence,” in their words, “is the surprising capacity we discover only when we join together. New systems have properties that appear suddenly and mysteriously. They do not exist in the individuals who compose the system…. Once individuals link together they become something different (p. 67).”

Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers might very well have been describing the emergence of the church here in Acts 2, although they make no mention of it. Those tower-building termites of Africa and Australia certainly help me envision what I read here. Expanding and contracting lungs. Beating hearts. Individuals coming from every direction and forming a new “whole.” Why, even a casual reader can sense a degree of amazement similar to what I experienced when I stepped through my back door, followed the black line, and saw a hill rising to the sky in the neighboring field. With passion, purpose, and a spirit of cooperation, these early Christians “emerge” and begin to build a church the likes of which no isolated individual could ever hope to build. Look briefly at this emerging church with me:
It is diverse, people coming together from every imaginable geographical area (2:2, 9ff.).
It is Spirit-empowered, its participants both receiving the Holy Spirit and living spirit-filled lives (2:38, 43).
It is a community, a brand new body consisting of those who were previously isolated individuals (2:46).
This new community worships together, gathering together in the temple and praising God in each other’s homes (2:46-47).
This new community follows Jesus together, longing for spiritual newness, repenting of their sins, being baptized, learning from the teaching of the apostles, and living lives of obedience (2:37-38, 41-42).
This new community cares for its various members, making sure that the tangible needs of everyone involved are adequately met (2:44-46b).
This new community welcomes others into their midst, throwing out welcome mats rather than no-trespassing signs (2:47). 3,000 new people are embraced one day, and who knows how many the next?
And this new community shares the love and peace of Christ with everyone, near and far. Some rise to preach, and others share simple stories with their neighbors (2:41, 47).
It is quite a picture, isn’t it? Corporate energy. Collective responses. People of all colors, shapes and sizes growing excited and getting involved. God at work in and through this new gathering of “social creatures.”

And I can’t help but wonder while looking at this text if these early believers somehow got a hold of a copy of our purpose statement centuries in advance! The similarities, after all, are striking. These characteristics that spring to life here in Acts 2 are the very same as those we felt inspired to include in our statement when we developed it together one year ago now. Like the church in Acts 2, we want to be a diverse community made up of all types of people—young and old, rich and poor, professionals and laborers. And like the church in Acts 2, we want always to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit rather than to rely on our own ingenuity and craftiness. We want to be a living church like the one described here.

So how did we do this past year living out our statement? There is a lot of room for growth, to be sure, but there are endless signs of life:
Worshipping God Joyfully
expanding ministry of the visual arts team (remember Susan Getty’s inspiring visuals and accompanying writings during the series on Job)
captivating dramas, including Jeremy Ross’s impersonations of Job and Amy Hess’ challenging “Fear Factor”
participation of people of all ages in leading worship—do you remember when Oliva and Austin Hess played their violins, Katie Lesher sang “The Via Delarosa,” the Youth planned and led an entire service, the Brass Ensemble played like the angels, the Worship Team encouraged us to spread our wings a bit, and the Chancel Choir sang “The Promise of the Thorn,” a song so moving that I could hardly stand when they were finished. Do you remember when little Elisa Venema read the Scripture passage, then virtually skipped down the isle in excitement on her way back to her seat?

Follow Jesus Faithfully
panel discussions and seminars dealing with such topics as the ongoing war on terrorism and how to handle depression
Mike Holland’s discipleship network now has some 20 young adults involved
Josh Coles and Matt Hauger served as our interns and Alan Thrush served as our pastor in resident
2 people from within the congregation sensed a calling into pastoral ministry
Countless numbers of you served behind the scenes, and many of you empowered others to follow Jesus by “freeing them up to serve” (you watched their children, etc.)

Care for One Another Graciously
you contributed generously to the deacon fund, and we again gave money to help people buy food and pay their rent, utility bills and medical expenses.
notes and cards sent to people on the fringes so that they don’t feel forgotten—I heard about a note that Ruth Cassel sent to one of our lonely young adults, reminding him how deeply he was loved.
many of you, including Ken and Yvonne Martin, Dave and Lynn Brown, Dale and Harriet Bicksler, Marion and Ellie Yoder, and Rich and Pauline Stevick, gave hours and hours of your time to meet with struggling couples and troubled parents.
and our moving crew—Mike Holland told me that the crew turned up at his house at 5:00 p.m., had the truck loaded by 6:15, traveled to the new house by 6:30, and completely unloaded everything by 7:15. When they were finished, Marti Long had dinner waiting for everyone, and that night, someone spelled “God bless you all” in Spanish across the Hollands’ front lawn, using spoons!

Welcoming Others Warmly
we made our facilities available to various community groups, including the PA Music Teachers’ Association and the local Little League.
two wonderful groups of people joined our church this past year—can you remember some of the stirring testimonies? Alice Kustenbauder shared her story with us, a story from legalism into grace, and Andy Whitcomb modeled a passion for Christ that moved all of us.
Have you ever seen Evan Cosby greeting people in our halls? Evan needs to give us a seminar on welcoming people—he is a natural!
I drove up to the church the other day, and I saw Donna Marzolf weeding the flower beds and Chris Stezin, Tim Garland, Wayne Cassell, Homer Kraybill and others mowing the lawn. I thought to myself—these people are welcoming others by making our grounds look inviting.
Or Erma Hoover, Dan Asbury, Carl Rossetto and so many others who work away in our kitchen and dish room.

Sharing God’s Reconciling Love and Peace Globally
people in our church served all over the world, near and far, during the past year: Dr. Paul Wingert sharing his medical expertise in culture after culture, and Bob and Winnie Worman are about to leave; Rufus Good building buildings in Zambia; the missions trip to Nicaragua; youth in various countries; others of you serving in Harrisburg through our partnership with the Harrisburg Church
Matt Hauger’s challenging proposal to the church board to begin intentionally developing strategies to create an increasing presence in our local communities, including Rolo Court
members of our discipleship network knocking on 111 doors in the community and initiating relationships with people who have never stepped foot in the Grantham Church
in addition to your generous giving to our budgeted missions projects, you gave $25,000 to MCC to help with the pressing needs of the AIDS crisis in Africa, $1500 to the church in Romania through the Thanks to Paula concert, and $10,000 to help support the youth trip to Nicaragua

We still have a long way to go—new forms of worship to explore, other areas of our lives to commit to Jesus, various needs of people in the congregation to meet, other outsiders to welcome, and countless people to share the Gospel with. We have new goals to set and further challenges to address. But this is who we want to be. A community of believers that, like those termites of Africa and Australia, accomplishes far more for God than any of us could ever do alone.

In 1730, a church in Sussex, England, gained a renewed sense of passion and purpose. In their words,
A vision without a task is but a dream.
A task without vision is drudgery.
A vision and a task is the hope of the world.
My prayer is that all of us who make up the Grantham Church would agree. A vision for what God wants us to be and become. A task for all of us to do. That is the hope of the world.