Note: This article has been excerpted from The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible, by Sean Gladding. The book is a narrative telling of the Bible, and this passage depicts the story of the Church in Acts. The woman, the host, is telling the story of God to the ekklesia, or church, in her home. Included in the meeting is a guest, the merchant. Read this familiar story with fresh eyes.
"The twelve disciples called everyone together and said, 'It wouldn't be right for us to neglect preaching the word of God in order to serve at table. So choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we'll assign them to the task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to speaking God's word.'
"Perhaps the twelve thought that waiting at tables was somehow beneath them, or that preaching was more important. How quickly they had forgotten what Jesus had said to them at that last meal they shared together,
Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant.
For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves at table? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
"And yet, there they were saying, 'It wouldn't be right for us to neglect preaching in order to serve at table.' They had not listened to Jesus.
"But others understood. Among the seven people chosen to serve the widows were Stephen and Philip. Stephen later stood before the Sanhedrin and told the Story, and was stoned to death for it, becoming the first martyr of the church. And Philip took the good news to Samaria, even telling the Story to a man from Ethiopia—someone from the ends of the earth—baptizing him before he returned to Africa. These men who waited at table acted as apostles, doing just what Jesus had told the disciples to; whereas the disciples stayed in Jerusalem and argued about who was truly welcome in the kingdom.
"But they did finally learn, and went their separate ways, taking the good news of the kingdom, the Story of God, wherever the Spirit led them." The host's body slumps forward. "For many of them, telling the Story has cost them their life. Peter was killed in Rome after the Great Fire, crucified just as his Lord was. Paul was beheaded; being a Roman citizen spared him from crucifixion."
The ekklesia still feels these losses deeply, and tears come to the eyes of those listening to the story. The merchant is surprised to find himself wiping tears from his own eyes. "Yet you still choose to give your allegiance to Christ. I think you are as remarkable as your Jesus."
The woman shakes her head and says with a sad smile, "We do not think so. We have found a way of living, a common life that is beautiful and, yes, costly at times. We share a deep hope and a joy from being a small part of the work of new creation that God is doing. We experience the same sense of koinonia that those first ekklesias did." She perks up. "Let me tell you of life in the early days of the church.
"Those first believers committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, sharing a common meal and praying. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People looked on and liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were being saved.