But the Wedding is in New York
Picture a man preparing for a trip to New York. He begins planning maybe a few months in advance. He books a room. He books a flight. He packs his bags. He prepares the agenda for the event when he arrives at his destination. In this case, the man is very excited about the trip because he is going to be the best man in his best friend’s wedding. He has prepared a speech and prayed that he will be a blessing to his friend. He has even prayed for his friend’s marriage that the couple will find purpose, friendship, and satisfaction in raising a healthy family together.
Our traveler rides to the airport with his wife and is filled with a sense of peace and confidence. This is going to be a great wedding, he says to himself. His flight is flight 87 for New York. He checks his bags and finds the gate. He sits next to another man in the waiting area. He gets his boarding pass and boards the plane. The planes are all lined up waiting their turn to accelerate down the run way.
The planes on this runway are all 737s and they take off to the East and fly over the Los Angeles basin before realigning themselves as needed for their ultimate destination. Our traveler has taken this flight before and likes to look out the window over the great deserts of Arizona and Texas as the flight takes its path to the South before heading up the East coast to New York. This particular flight lands in New York near sunset and the view coming up the eastern seaboard and into Manhattan is profound. After flying over 2,000 miles of desert and then the farms of the Eastern United States, the astute passenger can see the great massive city in the distance. As the plane draws nearer, you realize there are 8 million stories in this city. You feel as if you can see into the apartment windows and into the lives of the various cultures of New York: a Puerto Rican family here, the famous Italian and Irish districts there, Harlem and the birth of Jazz to the North of the city, wall street and the New York stock exchange. I picture the history of so many of the American people groups. My mind thinks of African Americans listening to a Joe Louis fight around a radio with hope of freedom and dignity. As the plane enters the city and fly’s out over the Atlantic, the statue of liberty comes into site.
I remember when I first visited New York with my soon to be wife. We rode the subway into the city from JFK airport. We got off the subway and walked up the stairs to the streets. When I stepped out onto the street, I could not control the emotion as I began to cry. The massive skyscrapers are like no others on earth. The racial tension is palpable. The story of humanity is distilled in every scent and every sight.
All these memories fill our traveler’s mind as he prays for his family back home. The plane hovers over the LA basin and begins to gain altitude. With his eyes closed, he hears the pilot speak over the PA system as the plane backs to the North. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to flight 87. We will be landing in San Francisco in 56 minutes”. Our traveler’s eyes dart open as he realizes, he isn’t going to New York.
The Meaning of the Parable
God puts in our hearts a visions for the great city. He has shown us that we can arrive at our destination just as the first century church did. Our model is Acts chapter two. We are part of a great story of each generation struggling to build a community immersed in the presence of the Holy Spirit and directed into holiness by the teachings of Jesus. Contemplation of this purpose and the hope of arrival is in itself life transforming and filled with peace and joy.
As communities begin to launch down the run way toward their destination, they all look similar. The accelerate down the same runway all headed in the same direction. This is Christianity. We all have the same faith in Jesus as our savior. We all have the same ticket. We are all on flight 87. BUT the fact is we all have different visions of where we are going. Some understandings of the ultimate destination are quite mature and biblical. Some are merely going on a vacation. But ultimately, it is the pastor, the pilot in this analogy that will determine the ultimate destination.
Not to offend any Bay Area residents, San Francisco is a beautiful city and all, but it ain’t New York City. The Transamerica building isn’t the Empire State Building. Oakland isn’t the Bronx. Berkeley isn’t Greenwich Village. There is a Broadway street in San Francisco but it isn’t the Broadway. So too if we seek to become like the successful church down the road, we will not find ourselves in Acts 2.
Acts 2 or The 20th Century Models
There is only one destination for the New Testament church and that is to model itself in principle after the prototype church of Acts chapter 2. The New Testament has a wonderful statement that teaches us to look to God’s model and not each other as our goal. Paul said of some early Christians, “They compare themselves with themselves and have no understanding”. It is not unless we seek as our destination the New Testament ideal that we will travel in the proper direction and find unity in the body.
The first and most important key to understanding the Acts Chapter 2 community is that the Holiness and beauty of the Acts 2 community is impossible to attain naturally. As we set the target or the preferred future to which we are going to strive to enter, the vision must elicit the response, “We can’t get there from here”. A key principle of faith is that apart from God it is impossible to get from “our here” to “God’s there”. This is true in our individual lives and it is just as true as we set our vision for our corporate life. So often, we settle for less than God’s vision because we cannot see how the community we are part of could ever get from here to there. So instead, we set more “practical” goals. We choose to attract people through natural means. We use good music, a naturally charismatic speaker. We avoid challenging the listeners with the uncompromised biblical standard of sacrifice. We catter to people’s natural inabilities and
The Standard of the Acts 2 prototype is so beautiful that this ideal reveals to us our wretchedness and sin. It is the uncompromising contemplation of this biblical model of community that brings us to a place of mourning and spiritual poverty. In the Acts 2 church no one had any needs that were not cared for. In our communities, if a man loses his job is it not possible that he could lose his home as well. Is there not someone in the church to pay his mortgage for a time and another to offer him a job? Is this love the norm in our community? If it is not, then contemplation of the biblical model drive us to ask why is this not our experience and what do we need to do to align our lives with the kingdom model.
Does the lady in the pew next to us in church know how to get to our houses? Are our lives and our communities intimate enough that we take our meals together and meet regularly in one another’s homes? Is such intimacy threatening to us? If it is, can we say that the gospel has set us free from shame? Are we free from the curse in Adam if we still hide and live guarded lives?