This Sunday we begin a new sermon series and I wish I were preaching. But I had surgery this week instead – Achilles tendon repair surgery to be specific. Apparently, I’m past my peak basketball playing years now, which is an easier lesson to learn after you injure yourself playing.
Ironically, not preaching reinforces the primary message of the book I’ve chosen for our summer sermon series. The New Testament book of Acts ends with these words: “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” A very literal reading could be, “with all boldness unhinderedly.”
Unhinderedly. That word describes the spread of the gospel throughout the book of Acts. Because of Jesus’ Ascension in chapter 1 and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in chapter 2, from chapter 3 all the way through the end in chapter 28, God uses his people unhinderedly to “turn the world upside down” (17:6). The Lord does this despite an unending array of barriers and obstacles that oppose the Church… torn Achilles tendons included.
One reason I chose this book for us this summer is that we will be moving into our new church facility. It will be wonderful… and weird. We will gain something slightly analogous to what the first Christians lost when they began to follow Jesus. They lost the Jerusalem Temple - the primary place they gathered to commune with God and one another and the place out of which their role in God’s mission in the world was launched. Our church building will serve us similarly… I hope.
Many churches struggle spiritually and missionally after gaining a building. Church buildings are a sign of the new heavens and the new earth; they are meant to reverberate with echoes of Eden and offer tastes of the time when time will end, when, “[God] will dwell with them, and they will be his people” (Rev 21:3). That time is coming. Church buildings are signs of it, but they are not it. They give us tastes of the rest to come, but they are not rest itself.
That means when we move in we can’t take a collective sigh of relief and think: “Finally. Now we’ve arrived as a church. Now we can take a break from everything we had to do as a community to get here.” No. We are not a church at rest. Not yet. Because Jesus has not returned. Churches who rest prematurely die - first missionally, then spiritually. They stop looking outwardly beyond themselves to be of service to others and then they stop looking inwardly with attention to their own hearts and relationships with the Lord and one another.
And church buildings, especially beautiful buildings like ours, can facilitate that failure of vision. Church buildings can be a hindrance to a church. So, this summer as we move into our building we‘re going to look at the first Christians in the book of Acts, who lose something analogous to what we’re gaining, that we might not lose the gift they received at Pentecost.
I imagine that once we move into our building at least some of us will wonder, “Well, what do we do now?” I’m already wondering it. May the Lord Jesus Christ himself tell us through the Acts of the Apostles. May we live out of our new building as the body of Christ in Austin for the world “with all boldness and without hindrance.”