This Lenten season we’re drilling into this experience of what the first Jesus-following community was like after Jesus died, resurrected and ascended. A great question for us to ask at Salt House as we become a new community together.
You’ll remember last week that this is rooted in Acts 2, which starts out with the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given, then 3000 people choose to be baptized and live the life of Jesus after hearing Peter speak.
Then it describes how they were figuring out what life together looked like, and the text says this: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Today we’re looking at this first piece – they committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles. The apostle’s teaching. Let’s sort out what this meant then and for us now.
The apostle’s teaching. This tells us that this new community of folks recognized that they had a lot to learn. They said yes to the life of Jesus, but there was more to it than just signing up – they had to learn what this meant and how to live. And they had the best possible source to learn from: the 12 dudes who were with Jesus when he was around. So the “apostles” that are teaching are the twelve disciples (minus Judas Iscariot, who was now dead and replaced by Mathias).
These 3000 people were committed. In it, ready to learn.
Question: have you ever watched a “How To” video? Watched a video to learn how to do something. Maybe you searched on YouTube, or someone posted something on Facebook and you watched it. I’ve seen so many cooking/kitchen tricks – how to peel hard-boiled eggs, how to cut a pineapple. I’ve looked up how to knit, how to caulk our bathtub, open the garage door when the power is out. And I know Jason has looked up the video on how to tie a tie.
“How To” videos are everywhere. This week I wondered how many “How To” videos are on YouTube. Turns out: 158,000,000. I watched a few that came up. I learned the right way to eat sushi, and how to cut a rope in an emergency. What “How To” videos have you seen?
Many of the videos on YouTube have been watched 8 million or even 15 million times. People use them, right? We use them! “How To” videos are everywhere. And the fact that they are produced and used so prolifically, it points us toward something that is true about how we learn – which I’ll get to in a moment.
First I want to say, when it comes to learning, by definition to learn is to acquire knowledge. There is information that is passed on. That’s why we sit in classrooms and listen and watch and read. For information. And even for these 3000 folks trying to learn about following Jesus, there would have been the sitting and listening as the apostles spoke – teaching in that format. The apostles used similar techniques as Jesus, parables, stories, laying things out. Peter with his laptop out and the powerpoint presentation all cued up. There was a certain amount of talking head teaching that had to have happened.
But to really learn something – particularly more than just facts – the reason we google to find “How To” videos, the reason we take lessons and classes from actual people who show us things, the reason we pay attention when we’re cooking something with someone who knows what they’re doing – we do that because we need to observe actual demonstration. So this “teaching of the apostles” – also includes demonstration of how to live this life. Not just a talking head telling them about it – but someone to show them.
When it comes to learning then – here’s the point I want to make: what we really need is the chance for imitation. Someone showing us how to do it, in a way we can imitate. Oh, to cut an onion I hold the layers together like this to keep it from sliding out… Not just information, but actual, living examples of what it is we’re talking about. …Can you imagine learning to drive a car having never seen someone do it? Are there other things you have learned to do that you learned by imitation – by someone showing you? Shout them out.
Style your hair. Put on make-up. Shave.
Change a diaper.
Hit a baseball, spike a volleyball, shoot a free-throw
Play the guitar, sing in a choir, Work a sound board.
Having a good example is the best way to learn! Think of this as it comes to the jobs we have. I’ve realized one of the best gifts when it comes to your job is having a good supervisor – for many reasons, but especially as someone you can learn from, someone, if they’re a good, healthy leader, who shows you how to lead well – that’s the best chance you have for becoming a better leader. Or when you get married, you want to hang out with married couples whose marriage you admire. Learn from their example. And when it comes to parenting – having other parents you can look up to and ask questions and learn from – necessary. You don’t just automatically know how to change a diaper, by the way.
You see this kind of imitation happening in Scripture. The way the prophet Elijah was with Elisha. Elisha stepped into Elijah role as prophet after Elijah was taken up into heaven – he could do that because Elijah had demonstrated how to be a prophet, Elisha had an example to imitate. You see it in how the apostle Paul had so many mentoring relationships with others – he’s always with someone. And in all his letters, Paul always writes a word of greeting to the specific people he knows in the town he is writing to. “Greet my friend Andronicus and Rufus and Mark and Jason and Julia” – this shows us how many people Paul had nurtured and demonstrated the faith to.
Jesus did this all the time with his disciples. He invited his disciples to follow him, literally to learn from his example. He took them around, showed them how to interact with everyday things in a way consistent with the Kingdom of God. He showed them how to heal, cast out demons, notice the people on the fringes, invite in the ones who are left out. They saw the Jesus version of the “How To” video, right? Except it was better than a video because it was enfleshed, in person.
Here’s why this matters for us here at Salt House. Think about what “learning” and “teaching” look like in most churches and faith communities, it’s about information. We sign up for Bible classes. We listen to brilliant sermons. We study. We try to be theologically accurate. That’s where the emphasis is placed. Information. All of these things are important and we need them! But what is so often missing is the chance for people to have a living example to learn from. Someone to imitate. Someone to demonstrate what this life looks like. Small group ministry and life groups have sprung up in churches to give an opportunity for some of that.
Jesus made it very clear that he was an example to follow. He says to his disciples as they are gathered with him during the Last Supper in:
John 15: 12-17
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Wait, Jesus. How are we supposed to do this? Jesus says: I showed you – as I have loved you. Jesus goes on, and articulates who it is that HE has been imitating:
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
Have you ever thought about that? That everything Jesus learned he learned from God and shared with us? That Jesus shows us who God is? Cool. BOOM.
Here at Salt House, we want to name this, celebrate this – that there is a desperate need to consider how we are living in a way as a community that gives people access to actual, organic, lived faith. We want to live an incarnated faith that people can see. How are we making opportunities for people to learn by example? If you’re an older adult or even a younger adult who has grown deeper in your faith – how are you letting people newer to their faith access you and the way you live your life? We’ll have to continue to figure out what this looks like, but as a scaffolding community, we want to hold on to this as central to what we’re doing. Here are a few ideas for where we might start:
1. Talk about how you live your faith (ahem, at times when it is pertinent). Do you pray? When, how? Do you read things that stretch your faith? The Bible? How do you connect with God? Talk about it. One place to do this is when we share meals with others! Did you have a chance to share meals with others this week?. Use those opportunities to live out your faith.
2. Invite people into what you’re doing (how to pray, lead a meeting, plan a meal for the community, cook). Show them. Incarnate your faith and service.
3. Seek out people to imitate. The 3000 people who “committed themselves to the apostles teaching”, they knew of this Jesus who had just conquered death and who had taught and healed and loved and had begun to turn all the structures of power upside down. And they made a commitment to learn because they were hungry to know the kind of life Jesus made possible for them. That’s who they wanted to imitate.
Whether or not you know this you are imitating someone. Actually, many someones. Let me tell you that the longer I live the more I become like my mother. How about you? Jesus shows us this way of people teaching people by example because God knows that we are most impacted by people. You’re becoming who you are because of how people in your life – and on FB and in pop culture – influence you. An example of this in my own life was my sophomore year of college at PLU. The dorm wing I lived on with about 25 girls, they were all kind, fun, pretty, charismatic gals. We had a blast that year. But we also all acted and spoke the same. Largely influenced by quotes from the movie Dumb and Dumber. Big Gulps, huh? Welp, see ya later. But I come back to that because it reminds me of how we talk and act and live and become people like those whom we spend time with.
I say “Seek out people to imitate” as a way of encouraging you to intentionally seek out the kind of influence you would like to have. Someone who shows you the kind of person you’d like to be. The input of others matters in who we become – can you think of someone in your life that you want to be particularly intentional about learning from? Spend time with them.
So there is Information that we can use as we then try to imitate Imitation a good living example that someone shows us. BUT – there is one final piece. It does not end with copying. Once you have an example to imitate, then you figure out how to make it your own. Like driving a car. You learn how to do all the things, but then as you start driving on your own, you add your own style. You learned how to dribble a basketball, but you actually like a little more spin. You admire the way this friend prays, but you figure out a language for yourself. The point is: we innovate. Innovation. We learn something and make it our own, we find our own expression and way for ourselves.
This is so true when it comes to discipleship, to becoming like Jesus. Jesus says: Love each other as I have loved you. Do the things I showed you! BUT it looks different for each of us. There’s a great definition of discipleship that I invite you to memorize: Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you (Dallas Willard, author and theologian).
In all aspects of our lives AND especially when it comes to growing in our faith and becoming more like Jesus, we move through information, imitation, and into innovation. We learn from the input and examples of others and by the grace of God we grow into who we are – which is always unfolding, always becoming – we’re always a beautiful, imperfect, work in progress.
As we break out into ministry teams for the first time tonight after dinner, let us hold onto this reality and this invitation to both enflesh, live out the faith we have, and to position ourselves with curiosity, humility, and an eagerness to learn from one another. For we know that God is present in the time we share and in this amazing work of building this new community of Salt House together. Amen.