Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
In 1933 Radio Station WXYZ premiered a new show. This show began with a fast tempo piece of classical music entitle March of the Swiss Soldiers the final piece from the William Tell Overture and then the listeners were invited to wild west adventure with the neighing of a horse and voice shouting “Hi-yo Silver, Away!” The Lone Ranger became a big hit. By 1939 The Lone Ranger had 20 million listeners an episode. While the show was targeted to children, demographic research shows about half the audience were adults. The Lone Ranger radio show ran for twenty three years and had 2,956 episodes. For a number of years the radio program ran concurrent with a TV program that lasted nine years and 221 episodes. The Lone Ranger continued on in pop culture in the form of a syndicated newspaper strip and comic books into the 1970’s. A decade ago Disney tried to revive the character with a summer blockbuster movie that ended up being a huge flop. Despite that, the Lone Ranger’s cultural footprint still has not faded away completely. The finale of the William Tell overture is even to this day associated with the character and catchphrases such as the character’s nickname “Kemo sabe” and asking “Who was that masked man” are still tropes that other media call back to.
There is another way that the cultural influence of the Lone Ranger has endured and made its mark. Even to this day it is possible to find commentators who warn of the dangers Lone Range Syndrome. While this is not an actual pathological diagnosis, it is an idea based on consistently observed behavior. Lone Ranger Syndrome is when someone takes an “I can do it all on my own” approach. The concept first emerged in the corporate world in the late 1970’s, but it is one that commentators have found to approach to all facets of life. Sometimes the Lone Ranger syndrome is the product of a person’s own rugged determinism. They truly believe they can do it best on their own and set a course to prove themselves right. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why the Lone Ranger was so popular in the first place. The American ethos has radical determination and individualism at its very core, and there is something appealing about being the mysterious masked man who can do it all and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Of course, this viewpoint forgets that despite the name the Lone Ranger was rarely alone. He often had his friend Tonto and his trusty horse Silver by his side.
Other times Lone Ranger syndrome is the result of feeling isolated. It is less a desire to be on our own, and more a feeling of there is no other choice. Lone Ranger Syndrome can be accepting the assumption that we must shoulder our responsibilities, our hardships, or our convictions all on our own. Lone Ranger Syndrome can look like when get trapped in feeling like doing it alone is the only option available to us.
It is probably not a surprise that a lot of the articles written about this so-called Lone Ranger syndrome, always are to mention how and why it should be avoided. The Lone Ranger may have been a compelling western hero back in the day, but it is not a philosophy that anyone should live by. Yet, it is one that we struggle to get away from. Three out of every five Americans report feeling lonely or isolated. The number of people who feel this way has been steadily rising, and somewhat surprising people in their twenties are more likely to feel lonely than people in their sixties and seventies. This morning’s scripture is an incredible reminder why we should never chose to go at life as a lone ranger, and if we feel stuck in that role this morning’s scripture brings hope that we are not alone and even if we feel isolated there are more of us.
This morning’s scripture is the first of several in Acts that give snapshot of the first Christian church that formed in Jerusalem and was led by Jesus’ disciples. All of the passages that give a glimpse of this early church make one thing clear, the early church did not have any lone rangers. We can see that really stick out right at the beginning in verse 42. This verse indicates these believers devoted themselves to four things. It says they devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles, which makes sense. As the people who were with Jesus, they were the ones entrusted with Jesus’ miracles, Jesus’ teaching, and the good news of the resurrection. It also states they were devoted to prayer, which again makes a lot of sense. Yet this verse also says they were devoted to fellowship and breaking bread together. These first Christians did not just learn and pray, they intentionally ate together. They intentionally spent time with each other, just for the sake of being together. They intentionally created and lived as a community.
Verse 44 builds on this and states all of the believers were together and had everything in common. When we read that in our modern day context, we completely miss the undertones that were readily apparent to the original readers. The phrase “everything in common” was a common expression in Greek philosophy used to express friendship. It was a phrase that was used to communicate that someone was a friend you could always count on. The friend you held everything in common with was your B.F.F. your ride or die friend, the first one you call when you know you need someone who always comes through. The early church of Jerusalem did not just worship together and they did not just fellowship together. It goes a little further than that, they were friends. Yet the church of Acts goes one step further than that. They embody a community that is devoted to one another that they hold possessions communally and give to one another who has need. This aspect of the early church is reiterated again in Acts chapter and chapter 5. They were better together and there was fruit to this complete unity as verse 47 points out, “And the Lord added to their number daily those were being saved.”
The book of Acts gives us a glimpse of a church that was fully devoted to following Jesus and did this by building a radical community that modeled divine love in how its members cared for one another. It did not take us long to get away from that, and there have been attempts over time to recapture the church of Acts. One example of this was the movement headed up by Lonnie Frisbee and recently documented in the movie Jesus Revolution. This movie shows the Jesus Freak movement among hippies, that largely tried to capture the Jesus centered communal living. We may not need to all embrace the lifestyle of a hippy commune, but I think we should confess that today there are too many lone ranger Christians. Our faith should be more than “me and Jesus”. This morning’s scripture shows us the ideal we should strive for, and as disciples of Christ I think there are two lies we need to reject so that we can move in that direction.
I think the first lie that we need to reject is that we should treat church like any other good or service. There is this cultural under current to treat church like a consumer good. We see this in how we talk about looking for a church to attend, as we call it church shopping. This consumer mentality leads us to ask, “What do I get out of this church? How does being part of here benefit me?” This in turn makes Sunday morning worship into a production that seek to be a return on investment to earn the loyalty of the audience. A consumer church model is an approach that has run rampant in the American church for decades. It is an approach that centers worship and faith itself on the individual and lifts up how the individual benefits from the experience over everything else. The result of this emphasis is that it has created a lot of lone ranger Christians who consider their faith a private affair between them and Jesus.
Siblings in Christ, this is not how it should be. On the night of the last supper Jesus gave his disciples a new command, to love one another. This is the command we see lived out in this morning’s scripture. The church in Acts radically embodied the command to love one another and created a beautiful community of faith. Church is not a production to feed us what we think we need, church is a community of faith that we are blessed to be part of. We were never meant to worship God in an auditorium full of strangers, we are meant to worship God as a gathering of friends. That is what the first church as they held everything in common together.
If we are going to follow their example then there are two points from this morning’s scripture that are highly relevant. First, the church we read about this morning devoted themselves to fellowship. This did not happen by accident. It was a choice. They chose to move past strangers with a common religious interest to friends bound by a common savior. In the same way, we only reach a deeper level of community if we choose to be a community who knows one another, cares for one another, and invests in one another. The second relevant point is the fact that the Lord added daily the number being saved. The church of Acts was a community of faith that consistently grew, and this was only possible if the already established people were willing to draw the circle a little wider, scoot a little closer to make room, and be willing to make new friends. If the church in Acts was one where everyone had their 3-7 good church friends and associated only with those people, then the church would not have grown. It had to continually be willing to be open and be fully inclusive of the new people that the Lord was saving and adding to their number. In the same way if we want to truly make any progress on mission of making new disciples, then we must also be a place that fully includes all people who come into this sanctuary.
The second lie we need to reject is one that I have noticed has been steadily increasing over the past fifteen years or so, and that is that we should be afraid of the culture around us. There have been certain segments of media and culture that have been putting forth this idea that people, but especially people of faith should be afraid. This narrative being pushed is that larger cultural forces are aligning against Christians. This narrative creates a feeling that churches are cut off fortress trying to hold out in hostile territory. This narrative has led some faith communities to circle the wagons in an attempt to keep corrupting influences out. Which has the sad result of quieting the good news, because it is impossible to reach out to the very world you are trying to shut out. This lie being pushed would have us believe that the Christian faith is shrinking and it’s only chance for survival is to hold whatever rhetorical line in the sand this lie is being used to push.
We should reject this lie, because there are more of us. As followers of Jesus we are not isolated and we are not alone. In every small town, in every city, in every place where people live in this country you will find people who proclaim the name of Jesus. In just about every corner of this whole world there are groups that lift high the cross. We are not alone. One of the many things that I appreciate about the United Methodist Church, is we embrace the idea that no church is an island to itself, that we are connected, and that there are more of us than we know. At its best our connectionalism is the spirit of the Church of Acts lived out on a regional, national, or global scale. A good example of this connection in action is the United Methodist Committee on Relief or UMCOR. UMCOR is one of the most effective relief organizations on the planet at seeing needs and meeting needs. UMCOR works worldwide, and that even includes in our area. It was recently announced that thousands of dollars from UMCOR is being sent to help with relief work from the recent tornadoes in the central part of Indiana. We truly are better together.
One of the other ways that connectionalism is present in the United Methodist Church is in the annual conference. This is when all of the churches send representatives to be together and make decisions that can impact all of the local churches. This is part of how the United Methodist Church is organized. It is tradition, not just in the Indiana annual conference, but in most of the different annual conferences to sing the same hymn every year. In this hymn we sing “And are we yet alive and see each other’s face?” This hymn begins with the reminder that even if we feel isolated we are not lone rangers, but we are connected to one another. We see each other and we are seen. The first verse then continues to remind us exactly what connects us all in the first place: “Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace.”
May we all realize that we are not alone, that there more of us. May we take the time to see each other’s face, and may we not be lone ranger Christians. Rather may we follow the very command of Jesus to love one another. May we do the work necessary to not worship with a group of strangers, but be bound up in almighty grace with a group of friends. Like the church of Acts may we hold everything in common, so that the Lord too may add to our numbers those who are being saved.