Sermon preached on June 25, 2017
Engaging Acts of Community
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.
43A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles.
44 All the believers were united and shared everything.
45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.
46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity.
47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
So as a reminder, on Pentecost, we followed the disciples as they awaited the coming of the Spirit. And like wind and flame, the Spirit appeared, and each person heard in their own language what was being preached.
I have to say that’s remarkable, as I try to preach in a way that brings as many people along as possible, but sometimes words are misplaced or misunderstood. And sometimes when you don’t laugh at my jokes, I wonder to myself if maybe it’s just that you aren’t hearing in your own language…As if that’s more likely than my jokes being terrible.
Well, in today’s text, the disciples are inspired to a new way of living. They’ve seen a few miracles in their brief journey of faith, and they are moved to action.
In one verse, we take note that the Spirit performed many wonders and signs. And surely we read of miracles and signs in the Gospels regarding Jesus.
And yet in this particular section we don’t hear what those signs and wonders are. We’re left to imagine what Jesus might have done. Or to imagine what the disciples experienced at Pentecost.
Reading closely, I can’t help wondering if some of these wonders weren’t a bit more subtle.
It says that together, mind you, not individually, they devoted themselves to teaching, and to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.
Maybe it’s the context of our world today, but I can’t help wondering if finding common ground with a group of diverse people isn’t a wonder in and of itself.
And even if these signs and wonders are being performed by the apostles, they aren’t being performed by these other believers, as they are called.
The you’s and the me’s of this story.
They aren’t sitting back waiting for more miracles. They devote themselves to one another.
Over the Eucharistic meal, no doubt.
Praying for one another.
They were united and shared everything.
And no, that’s not my way of hinting that you should share your place on the Cape with me.
It says they sold pieces of property and their possessions, again, I’m not coming after your vacation home in Maine either, and they redistributed the proceeds to everyone who needed them.
It seems instructive for us, whether we believe in the miracles of the Gospel accounts or not, or in a resurrection or in the events of Pentecost or not, nonetheless, the believers don’t sit around and wait for more miracles. They aren’t simply waiting for the disciples to try to feed the 5000 again.
They get to work.
Doing what they can.
Pooling their resources.
Spending their time.
Using their gifts and giftedness to further God’s Way in the world.
Call it urgency or epiphany or faithfulness or naiveté, they are motivated to engage their faith beyond simple words. They were awakened, and now they are engaging their imaginations with actions.
Last year we spent the summer exploring the idea of our being the Risen Community. We looked at what it meant to be the church, to be a community of people devoted to one another and to the way of God.
This summer is the same, except we go one step further. We have reminded ourselves what it means to be a church, who loves and knows and cares for one another. That’s deep within your bones, and it has been for a few years now.
But what does it mean to be so devoted to one another that we honor those outside of our community of faith?
What does it look like to be devoted to one another’s faith and faithfulness in a way that keeps us from being insular and self-centered, and instead opens us open to deeper experiences of awakening and imagination because we encounter and become friends with people who aren’t just like us.
This is one of the most educated congregations I’ve been a part of, either on staff or as a member. Learning is a huge part of who you are. Educating yourselves. So, in that same spirit of learning, of listening, of growing, who do we need to open ourselves up to in our city? To listen to their stories, to learn from their experiences, to grow into new perspectives and actions?
I’m not sure which is the most wondrous part of the story, but I keep landing on this notion of sharing everything, and having everything in common.
What does that mean, to share in everything, to have everything in common?
Does it mean that conservatives and liberals must punt their ideologies out the door? Does it mean we must live in one big communal home?
I’m rarely going to preach or teach or write or have conversations where I have 100% job approval. Where everyone agrees with everything I say and believe. Pastors might want that, but it’s not a good sign.
As a pastor, the mark of a healthy church isn’t uniformity or unanimity, but unity that stems from a willingness to be authentic and open about your beliefs. It shows that this living organism, this church, is a safe space to be vulnerable and real about who you are and what you believe.
So, maybe instead of understanding this phrase had everything in common as if we must agree on everything, maybe we think of it more like we searched for common ground.
After all, in a world in which humanity has never had more choices afforded to it than at this point now, we have myriad choices every day, perhaps one of the wonders the Spirit is still working is getting us to do the hard work of choosing to find common ground.
Surely, we can do that.
Our sibling congregation, the Riverside Church is in NYC. The Pastor, Amy Butler, recently wrote an article in USA Today. In it, she described an interaction with a man she had never met before.
The story begins with a sermon she preached about people on opposite ends of the gun debate loving one another. She used the phrase “loving your enemies,” just as Jesus calls all of us to do. The woman saw a loved one die at the hands of gun violence. The man was the owner of a website that sold the gun of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
Not long after the sermon, she heard from the man, and he asked if Amy thought he was an enemy. It struck a chord with her; she realized that her language might have indicated otherwise, but in reality she was just showing what it looks like to find common ground with one another.
As the story goes on, he comes to NYC for a business trip, and the two have a meeting in person. She asks him what he thinks the Bible boils down to in one sentence, he being a Christian just like her. He said, “to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” She replied to him that it’s exactly what she believes, too.
From there her article explained that while their differences didn’t dissipate—and they have strong differences—she began to discover that there is at least a starting place, common ground as it were, for the two of them to have dialogue.
It seems like this, is what it looks like to understand this verse.
Everything around us seeks to pit us against one another, to get us to compete, to strive, to succeed, to win, to be right—and everyone else is our enemy, our competition, a loser.
What if we scaled that back a few notches and tried to find commonality with one another?
What do conservatives and liberals have in common?
What do biblical literalists and Unitarian-leaning Baptists have in common?
Gay and straight lives?
Black and White and Blue lives?
People born in the US and those from a different country of origin?
Christian and Buddhist and Muslim and Jewish believers?
Perhaps the wonder of Pentecost is not in the glitz and glamor of flames and multiple languages, but that common ground was made possible by the Spirit who transcends our artificial boundaries.
I was reminded this week of how reticent we are to talk about some of those violent stories in our Scriptures. They’re off-putting and they don’t seem to relate to our God of love and compassion.
And then we read something like this, where it seems like mainline Protestants have found a way to avoid another difficult text, only this time the excuse is about miracles and wonders that are too good to believe.
At some point, friends, we have to believe something. And more than that, we have to do something. Maybe the wonders and miracles are hard to believe, but there are wonders to be seen if we would only devote ourselves to one another.
Sharing our meals,
Sitting down and listening,
Discovering a common ground.
That’s when and how the Spirit is still performing wonders today.
That’s when and how the Way of Jesus looks different than an American culture that profits on the backs of our competition with one another.
That’s when and how people see that we are doing something good and vital.
That’s when people pay attention, and how they are invited to join in.
Because we seek common ground with them.
They had everything in common.
They discovered common ground.
A type of holy ground, you might say.
Our shared Ground of being.
So go and seek common ground, that you may discover things in common, and help reshape this world.