The sermon from Sunday, May 7, 2017 on Acts 2: 42-47
I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve spent a good bit of this week angry and sad about the world. I have been heartbroken and angered over and over again.
- Climate change and the persistent denial of scientific consensus and the failure to enact necessary changes to protect the planet
- Cultural appropriation and racist caricatures on Cinco de Mayo by partying people who have no interest in Mexican culture, no desire for relationships with actual Mexican people, and no concern for the country of Mexico
- The intentional disregard for human life in the name of privatization and profit in the American HealthCare Act, which passed the House of Representatives this week
- The signing into Alabama law legislation that allows discrimination against LGBTQ prospective foster and adoptive families.
- The passing in the state House and Senate of a bill banning the removal of Confederate war monuments
- The murder of Jordan Edwards. The murder of Jordan Edwards.
That’s not near all, but a fair sample. There is every rightful cause for moral outrage.
And that doesn’t even start on the stories of personal tragedy that I’ve sat with this week – death and illness and confusion and violence and pain. These are everyday sorrows, but no less important for those who are living through them.
Let’s just sit with all of this for a moment. Seriously. Let’s just hold the pain of the world for a moment.
[ a time of silence]
Okay, as we all know, we keep going. Those of us not directly affected in the moment – though each of us in this room is affected for better and for worse by systemic cultural forces all the time – but those of us who do not bear the immediate impact at any give moment, we keep going.
We keep going because we must – one foot after the other.
We keep going because we want to – there are typically adventures ahead.
And we keep going because other folks depend on us to keep going – we don’t travel this journey alone.
However, just because we keep putting one foot after the other, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we do it with grace. Well, maybe you do. I know I don’t half the time.
What might we learn about that process from our Scripture tonight?
This is not a long passage, so let’s read it again – I want to do it a little differently this time. Everybody has it in their bulletins. Somebody read the first sentence out loud.
[different individuals read out loud each sentence]
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I have been reading this passage all week. And I have found that it makes my heart glad. Here we have the early Christians, gathered in community, living radically and practicing the teachings of Jesus.
Note that this comes quite early in Acts. There’s all sorts of trouble ahead there and in the epistles. It’s not that communities of Christians don’t have issues. We know they did. Lots of issues internally and lots of persecution externally. People died for their faith and people fell into every kind of trap of ego and conflict.
But we have this witness of community. The devotion in this passage has great peace in it. We have these essential elements of Christian life – learning, fellowship, communion and prayer.
Those wonders and signs – I’m going to believe that the apostles were busy doing what Jesus did with his wonders and signs – feeding, teaching, healing, speaking truth to power, embracing the marginalized. Sharing deeply of themselves. Caring for one another. Praising God. Having glad and generous hearts and goodwill.
There’s always controversy, especially in the contemporary prosperity Gospel church – where we tie in material gain to supposed spiritual blessing – as to what to make of the fact that early Christians held things in common and sold their possessions and shared the proceeds, as any had need.
FUNNY, all those Biblical literalists, all those fundamentalists, when it comes to this . . ..
Early Christians were living a radically different life than the culture around them. They were called into radical community of care and concern and sharing. It was the opposite of the ethic of empire and exclusion.
And as we know from Acts and from the letters of Paul and others, it often was not easy. But they kept at it. These days it’s pretty hard to get ourselves outside of the system in the same way. The fact is that we don’t live in daily community with one another – there are those among us who have tried. The world we live in – our culture – does not make that easy these days. Our laws don’t make it easy. Our personalities don’t make it easy. The whole system and the whole culture of individualism does not make it easy.
It all gets even more complicated when we start talking about money and possessions. How much is enough? At what point do you have enough? What are you called to give? What can you give? What will you give?
I can’t answer those questions for you – but this passage calls us to ask them. It challenges us – each of us according to the challenge that we need in our lives, just as we might also find comfort according to the comfort we need in our lives.
Regardless of how you answer those questions in your own life, I hear in this passage a serious invitation to live according to an ethic of engagement and community – wherein we together break bread, share of what we have, teach and learn from one another, and practice a generosity of spirit.
We are called to heal and to be healed. We are called to teach and to learn. We are called to nourish others – in body, in mind, and in spirit – and to ourselves be nourished. We are called to be generous and to give deeply – that may be money or it may be time and energy and talents. It most certainly is love and prayer and connection. And we are called to receive.
We do this in the church and as the church and through the church into the broader community – both as a church body and in our individual lives and witness. This community exists in large part to strengthen us on that journey and to deeply ground us in God as we go.
We are invited to live as if something greater than ourselves mattered, even while we do our best to use ourselves as the instruments of that meaning in the world.
There is hope and direction in that. There is a call to be faithful even and especially in the challenging times.
I want to close by reading a section from a newsletter of the local Catholic Worker house, written by friend of Beloved Shelley Douglass:
“Remember we’re in it for the long haul – through Reagans-Clintons-Bushes, even Trumps, the struggle is the same. Corporate power and intent to consume is more visible now, with less control. Disdain for human life is public. We keep working. Nichidatsu Fuji had the most wonderful, child-like smile of joy. Merton loved music and picnics, poetry and beer. They speak to us: enjoy life. Work out of joy. Merton the solitary had a wide range of friends in many places and situations. Fuji traveled to appreciate and support those struggling on the edge. They opened themselves to love and care for others. Work out of love. Love will open us to sorrow. Work out of sorrow. Work from the deep places of love, joy, mourning. Those places anchor us for the long haul.”
May we make it so.