Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
Ever wonder how this time of quarantine will be talked about in years to come - in 1 year, 50 years, 100 years, 2000 years? In talking with people from older generations recently, it’s interesting and honestly encouraging to hear them reflect on similar hard times - the Great Depression, WWII, etc. It helps to hear their perspective on what was hard and what they learned from it. Grandma always jokes that her generation are the original recyclers because she literally will recycle a yogurt container to be a pencil holder.
And so it makes me wonder years down the road how this time will be reflected upon. Will it include all the challenges and the joys? Will it be reflected upon idealistically or realistically? And all of that depends really on who is doing the reflecting; it depends on the perspective and individual experience.
It’s not too far off from how the early church was recorded. The book of Acts includes lots of challenges, lots of joys, perhaps some idealistic remembering and some realistic remembering….all from one person’s perspective.
It wasn’t written as the events were happening, it was written after the fact. Approximately 40-60 years after Jesus died. So, close enough that the people lived it, but far enough away that every single detail might not be remembered.
Our 5 verses that we read sound like the highlights of that time, right? The people were generously sharing and were grateful and in awe and the numbers were growing! I mean, sounds like a party I’d want to get in on!
Before we get too idealistic about that early church, though, it would be wise to read and remember what is in the rest of Acts as well….”right after Luke says that everyone shared what they had, two people are found to have held back some of the profits on the sale of their property. In a dramatic story, each of them drops dead when confronted with what they had done. This must have caused at least a little talk in the church afterward.
And then there was grumbling among the Greek converts who complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So they had a big meeting, and they decided to designate seven people to be deacons who would distribute the food fairly; that way, the apostles could continue to preach, teach and pray.
Of course, right away one of the deacons, Stephen, starts to preach, teach and pray--the apostles' job! [gasp] Nobody can convince me that that didn't hit somebody the wrong way.” Because we’re humans.
So, today’s passage doesn’t include those controversies - it “holds up for us a wonderful model, a memory and ideal for the Christians at the end of the first century, and for us, too, here in the early twenty-first.” (Kathryn Matthews, ucc.org, Sermon Seeds) I have no doubt that what we read today did take place in some form in the early community - and I also have no doubt that the early church had their share of challenges and conflict.
Our congregation’s story doesn’t have to say that we were perfect - we know that we aren’t. However, someday (even now), someone will tell the story that we tried really hard to live into the teachings of Jesus. In some ways, we were spot on and, in other ways, we missed the mark.
From today’s reading, though, I gather some really key teachings:
To be grateful
To generously share so that no one is without
To build community through eating together
To be in awe
Right now, we may feel some extra challenges in building community through meals and also sharing with one another, simply because we can’t meet in person without restrictions. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still try to do those things, and it doesn’t mean we don’t brainstorm ways of doing them once restrictions are lifted.
For right now, it means we simply need to be creative.
We’re going to take communion together in a moment via the wonders of technology.
We can still share or donate to those in need through online giving or contacting local charities. Many food banks remain open in the area and are still in need of donations.
We simply have an extra step in front of us now.
In doing so, we can be in awe of the wonders happening around us. Still be in awe of the ways people are showing God’s love to one another. Still be in awe of the ways that nonprofits are organizing and striving towards goals of social justice. Still be in awe of the willingness of people to work long hours to bring healing and recovery to communities.
Being in “awe” of the simple wonders around us or having “glad and generous hearts” may be hard to obtain at times - especially right now because of restrictions that are surrounding us. But even in “normal” times, it is sometimes hard to obtain. Sometimes those mindsets are hard to obtain because of mental health issues (which I hope you’ll join us for a series of discussions on mental health - posted on Facebook). Sometimes those mindsets are hard to obtain because we don’t exercise them enough. Just like a muscle needs exercise to gain strength, so do our grateful and generous hearts.
I firmly believe that making lists of what you are grateful for only grows your gratefulness and generosity - it encourages us to share more of what we have with others. It encourages us to live more fully into the ideal set forth by the early Christ-followers and to strive more earnestly toward the justice and mercy Jesus taught.
We won’t get it right every time, but we will get closer.