Have you ever said something to someone else, and then realized you really said it for you? I wrote this sermon this am, and I thought I was just talking about community, a topic on which I could talk forever. I do truly believe in the power and necessity of community in our lives. The thing is when I was actually preaching, when I was reading this transcript, I realized that I was preaching to me too. The last couple of days have been hard and challenging and really making me question why I talk about God with anyone, ever. I am the most liberal person in this organization, and on many things we don’t agree. And I realized while I was preaching that this sermon was for me. I was reaffirming that I have to have the difficult and painful conversations about our beautiful faith because that is what a community does. Struggling with these issues are what we do. This sermon also highlights other issues that have been raised among our community, the presentness of God in pain and struggle and in joy. And though I do know that me preaching isn’t something that I do well, and my thoughts are often scattered and not well put together, I hope it can speak to you as it spoke to me in the midst of the words coming out of my mouth tonight.
Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35
So as I was preparing for this sermon tonight, I was looking through some commentaries about these particular passages. I mean it’s always good to have some second, third and fourth opinions right? And I came across an article whose header was, “Does the New Testament indicate that the early Christians were forced to equally distribute their possessions among one another?” I continued to read this article despite what I thought was a bad start. Nothing to me in this passage from Acts dictates a forced giving, it is just representing the fact of the state of these believers. And the article refutes this question, saying of course not. Saying that Luke just wanted to present the facts. But then it takes an interesting turn. A turn to politics. You know, in The States, we say there are two things you never discuss, politics and religion. Since we’re already breaking the one rule, why not break the other right? It talked about the principal of socialism in the bible and how some point to these verses as the “proof” that we are called to be socialists. But the thing is if you read this bit carefully I’m not sure it points us there either.
So if these passages aren’t about us all becoming socialists, what are they about?
In these passages from Acts, Luke is painting us a picture of what the early church was like. This community of believers. Up until this point, in Acts, Jesus has left them, the Holy Spirit has anointed them, and many great miracles have been being performed in the name of God. So what does this early church have to teach us today?
We are going to talk a lot this year about community. How we build it, what it looks like, and why it’s important. We are going to talk a lot about the type of community that God calls us into. True community isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to obtain. It requires a lot of hard work, it requires trust, faith, honesty, flexibility, and love. I have long believed that one very large part of our faith journey is centered on this idea of living in community. Living in a sacred community.
For the disciples during the life of Christ, living in community was an essential part of their training. Jesus lived, quite literally, in community with them. He ate, drank, and traveled with them. I am sure he borrowed shoes from them and them from him. That from time to time they shared soap, hair brushes, and stories; which is what happens when you live in community with one another. But what Jesus also shared with them, was his life. Jesus partook of life with the disciples. And I believe that God has called us to live in a similar way.
God calls us not only into community with other believers but into community with Him. God calls us to commune with our maker every day, and that is what makes this early church’s doings so notable.
So what makes a sacred community sacred?
Well, I think the first and most important thing, is that you must surround yourself with people that believe in God. With fellow ‘like-minded’ believers. When Acts says, ‘they had everything in common’ I’m not sure that that means exactly what you think it does. It doesn’t mean that they all liked the same soccer team or that they all wore their hair the same way, but it means that they all had the same center. They were all focused on God, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and therefore wanted similar things in life, and had similar goals for their community and the world. They were all passionate about spreading the word of God and making disciples of Christ. They were all passionate about living as Christians in all that that would entail. They were certainly all not in the coolest club in school. They were certainly not all the most popular people in the world, because that’s easy right? It’s easy to have the popular opinion. It’s easy to have the same ideals of the people that you’re surrounded with, the same ideals of the world. It’s easy to say, well I want that house because we all want that house. I want that car because cars are cool. I want a baby or a husband or wealth or fame or whatever it is because that is what society decrees is the way of things. But friends this early church, they were radicals. They were thrown in prison and chased out of towns. They were spat upon, stoned, and persecuted in the name of God. But that’s the thing about a sacred community, it’s always there. It’s there during those times. It’s there during the hard, the good, the bad, the ugly. We are called to be the place where each one of us finds rest when we need it, food when we’re hungry, and correction when we are wrong. A place where we can fellowship together, where we can find God together, and where we worship God together.
And we’re humans, and our communities are made of humans, that are imperfect, cruel, selfish, and mean at times, whether we mean to be or not. And there are times when we fail one another. When we know a brother or sister is hurting and don’t come to their aid. When we know someone’s hungry, and we don’t give them food. For when our communities fail us, and for when they don’t, God is there with us. God is there to accompany us on each and every part of this journey. At no point on this path that you’re on, or the path you will turn onto, or the path you will leave, will God abandon you. You may not feel God’s presence, you may have even turned your back on God, but God’s love knows no limits, and God will always be there in the midst of the good and the bad.
God gave us one another to love and support each other. God knew that our lives would be full of joy and pain, and He gave us companions for the journey. And in the early church they were selfless with one another. They provided for the faith needs of one another as well as the physical needs of one another. When I read that article title, ‘Does the New Testament indicate that the early Christians were forced to equally distribute their possessions among one another?’, my first thought was of course not. Why not? Well mostly because the nature of the giving described in these passages from Acts was not a giving that was commanded, it was a generosity of faith. John Wesley says it like this, ‘it needed not [a command]. It was a natural fruit of that love wherewith each member of the community loved every other as his own soul.’ When we are filled with Christ and the Holy Spirit we aren’t generous because we have to be, we don’t love because we have to love, we do it because we have been transformed through our faith and love in Christ. When in James it says, ‘faith without works is dead’, he says it because a living faith produces the fruits of works. The fruit of generosity and good deeds. Volodya loves to talk about fruit. That you will be able to tell many things by the fruit of people or communities, and if the fruit looks like sharing, loving, and communing with God and one another, who wouldn’t want fruit like that? The thing is, the community that was created in this early church, wasn’t an easy one to achieve. Not only because of the hardships that they had to endure as a community, but because their community was always changing. It says that they were adding to their number daily of those that were being saved. That’s adding more and more people to your sacred community that have to deal and wrestle with all of the same things that you do. That is more mouths to feed and more space to be made, and the believers did so faithfully. And later when Saul started persecuting this early church, the believers became scattered, and they had to form new communities and find new places to be church. Communities ebb and flow. I am a lucky lucky woman that I have been nourished by so many sacred communities. There are places all over the world, that I would consider part of my sacred community, and the thing is, is that community can be made anywhere you decide to make it, and anywhere you find God.
Community is essential to our faith practice. Dealing with our questions and doubts about our faith need to sometimes be dealt with in the context of a community. With different people coming together to discuss the bible. People from different walks of life, with different experiences. I can stay at home all day and read my bible, but without the out loud discussion of its contents I may never get a fuller understanding of the words on these pages. My community can provide for me when I cannot provide for myself. When I need someone to watch my dog, I’ve got someone for that. When Erika wants to go on a date with her husband, she has lots of ready volunteers to watch Marta. When Volodya wants to go hiking, he’s got people to preach for him. In The States when I had car problems I had a car to borrow, or a ride I could catch. When Tonya needs someone to proofread a text, she can send it to her native speaker friends. When someone needs something in their faith or in their life, the community is called to provide for those things. Now, I don’t think that it’s the intention of Christ that we provide for those who are unwilling to provide for themselves and just want us to hand them everything. I think that God is pretty clear that those who can should, but those who need should receive, and they should receive it from those God has put in their lives to provide it.
So here’s my promise to each of you, as part of my sacred community. I promise to give you money when you need it, certainly I don’t need it as much. I promise that when you need a baby sitter I will do it, and I won’t feed your baby chocolate. If you want to practice English with me, I’m there. If you want someone to wrestle with the questions you have about your faith, I’m your woman. If you’re hungry, you can find a meal at my home. *If you need me to come dig potatoes in the village, I’d be happy to help. You will never be homeless as long as I am here. If you need recipes, book suggestions, music, make up, vinegar, a cup of sugar, an encouraging word, or a shoulder to cry on, I will be here for you. Ask and you shall receive. Not because I’m some great person. Lord knows I have my faults, but because you are a part of my sacred community. I love each of you, and my love comes from a place that I can only achieve in God. I too hope that you will be there for one another. That you too will be there for me. That we can build a shelter for one another to dwell in. A shelter where we can watch out for one another and walk with one another. A shelter that has no walls keeping people out, and so that people can see the fruits of living in a sacred community with God; so that we might invite them into our community. And as I wrap up today, I want to end with a song. It’s by Jars of Clay and it’s called Shelter. May we all be the shelter for one another that our souls seek. Amen.
*This line was deemed the most important thing that I left out of my sermon. Per the request of our associate pastor, it has been added for your benefit.