A few years ago, I was driving down my street headed home on a warm day like this one. I had the windows of the car open, and I could hear the sounds of my neighborhood. It was a good feeling until I heard something strange (but somehow familiar) coming from my own yard. As I got closer and closer to my house, I realized what I was hearing – it was my dog barking hysterically.
She had been at it awhile because her bark was very hoarse and she sounded tired, and I wondered just how long the neighbors had been listening to her.
So I parked the car and hurried to the backyard to see what all her commotion was about, and there she was – right where the fence met the corner of the house – barking and barking, completely focused on one spot in the grass.
And as I approached her, she jumped back just in time to miss a pretty good-sized snake striking at her. Immediately the snake recoiled and the dog went back to her barking stance – and before I could get to them just across the patio, there were three more strikes, three more jumps out of the way, and three more near-misses.
Now the snake never connected, and I got them separated long enough to pitch that snake over the fence and out of the dog’s sight. But when I thought about it, I realized that that dog had never taken a breath.
Once she had seen the danger of the world around her, it was as if she had determined the need to tell others and save them from the threat. She was being the family shepherd of the yard.
And I know that dogs don’t reason and think things through like you and I do, but I also know that my dog had barked every second with full commitment until her master had come. She was completely exhausted, and I wondered just how long she had been at it – but I believe that if I hadn’t come home for hours, she would have been right there committed to her cause.
In the story leading up to our Scripture text, Peter has been preaching – if we know Peter, we can probably assume he has also been barking – but he is committed to his cause, and he has invited his listeners to turn to God, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now Peter’s sermon may have ended with the words of those verses we read – but the TRUE end of a sermon is what happens next. The challenge is what happens in response, how we choose to approach tomorrow, what happens Monday morning. How does our lifting up the Word of God show up among the people of God?
And in Peter’s case here, three thousand people respond to Peter’s invitation. To put that in perspective for us… that’s more than forty school buses filled with people – with three people per seat! And every one of them has committed his or her life, has been baptized, and has become a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. It’s been a busy day!
And these new followers carried maximum commitment with them. They flung themselves fully into their task of barking the story until the Master comes. They approach life from this point on with drive and determination and focus… and holiness. The whole world is open to them with possibilities never before imagined. It’s like they were all new graduates, and the potentials and prospects are wide open!
And for these new converts, the first thing to do is commit to living smack dab in the middle of the community of faith. These new converts committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles beginning with the life together. And their life together began at church.
We have lots of students in our communities who are graduating from high schools and colleges, and it’s happening in a way we’ve not experienced before nor could we have really anticipated it. Their lives have been interrupted in the strangest of ways – with a virus striking from the yards of their summer year.
As we get closer and closer to a time when we might return to being together, it could not be more important to remind one another of our commitment to being together – beginning with life together at church.
Just as those early converts to Christianity realize, life begins at church. Their relationship with one another is found in their fellowship at the Temple. They never give up being good Jews in the Temple courts – they continue to worship at the Temple, but their commitment to God is bigger and stronger and deeper than anything they have ever experienced there before. This is personal. This is the largest tent revival ever known, and they are dedicated to carrying their new diploma throughout today and tomorrow and into next week and the week after that… and for the rest of their lives barking their stories without reserve. This is a certificate that is going to open doors for them – most importantly is the door to eternal life, and they are unbendable in seeking that new opportunity. Life has a new purpose – and it is unending!
These folks are persistent in the time they give to one another and unwavering in the time they give to God. And they carry that time spent in worship out into the world with them.
There is a unity here unknown before. And in that unity, they recognize the needs of one another and everyone gives according to the needs of the whole. Everyone voluntarily gives to the community so that anyone who has need could be cared for. What an example for us today!
They take care of one another understanding that this is how they are to love one another. This is social justice at the top of its game! This is total commitment to the good of the world. Passionate not just for the Scriptures and to the teaching, but completely unswerving in their task – faithful to the way of life that shows Jesus Christ to the world.
And with the center of this commitment being the worship of God, the fanatical enthusiasm for Jesus Christ as their Savior, the devotion to relationship with one another – with that as the center of their lives – with that as the center of our lives – the church grows. When you commit to developing ties within the framework of the Church, the Church grows.
“And in those relationships, day by day the Lord added to their number.” Do you hear it? In the relationships, the Church grows.
We worship together, we talk together, we pray together, we spend time together – even when it has to be through technology for a time – and we tell one another the stories of the Church. And in the togetherness, God blesses us and the Church grows.
Without the effort, though, the Church will not grow. And when you are not growing, you are dying. That’s the danger.
When I stop to think about it, I think maybe I want to be a little more like the dog. Once I’ve heard the Gospel message, and I realize the danger of the world around us, once I have found that there is a need to tell others about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, once I embrace Jesus Christ in my heart and feel compelled to spread his Word… then I have to bark every second with full commitment until my Master comes.
And it doesn’t matter if sometimes I feel completely exhausted. Nor does it matter if I feel that everything is striking against me time after time. I want to be completely committed to the cause because when we are in awe of the Living God, when we live in a wonderful harmony following a daily discipline of worship, when we celebrate as we praise God, when we are dedicated to relationship and intentional in loving and caring for one another – THAT’s when every day our number grows as God adds those who are saved, and THAT’s our fully committed response to the Word of God.