April 30, 2023

Series: April 2023

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon




Scripture Reading

Acts 2:42-47

            42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

            43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day 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, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.


            Listening to a clip this week, I found myself annoyed. It was put out by a group of Christians with whom I’m quite aligned theologically.  What bothered me was I felt they were too easily dismissing part of Jesus’ teachings they didn’t like.  We all make choices about what is central, what is at the core of the gospel, and we should.  That said, part of the gift of the gospel, of the Bible, is that it stretches us beyond what we just like.

            Today’s reading from the Book of Acts is one too quickly overlooked or dismissed or explained away.  As I’ve mentioned before, in many churches, particularly during the Cold War, it would have been ignored altogether.  It sounded too much like communism:  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2 34-45).  As any had need.  Not good distributed based on who deserved it, not based on who worked the hardest, not based on who had the most valuable job according to the market, not based on who was the strongest or smartest or best looking or kindest or most charitable, but as had need. 

            Yes, this way of being clearly faded over time.  Yes, there is doubt it ever really was lived out.  Yes we could say this is great in theory but fails in practice.   But before dismissing it out of hand, stop and consider for a moment that in the wake of the resurrection this is theresponse Christians chose.  Think of that.  A 2018 article in Forbes cited a statistic that said, “Last year, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year.”[1]We’ll pool what we have and share based on need.  The first Christians wanted to establish this to be their normative practice.

            I’m tempted simply to exclaim, “radical,” and it was and is.  As I sit with that word, though, I realize using radical might imply something counter to nature.  It may be counter to dominant culture, but I wonder if actually the ways of being that Jesus inspired are truly natural.  In other words maybe Jesus didn’t teach us to go against our greedy power-hungry nature so much as Jesus unlocked and unleashed in people their innate potential and capacity for living with grace and generosity.  We are capable of avarice and malice, but being generous and compassionate is just as natural.  Maybe we are made for love.  That’s when we are most who we are. 

            Love is a strange word.  You may have noticed that I have almost stopped using it.  It is so overused, so applied to the trivial, so coopted by the commercial, that it’s been bled of meaning.  We certainly don’t have time here to restore it to all its fullness, its expansive character, its beauty.  We can try and speak substance back into it.  The Christian conviction has no choice but to put love at the center. Otherwise it’s just a self-righteous purity cult or a self-righteous group fighting for a way that has forgotten about living the way.  Love is not only soft and sentimental, not only romantic, not only a feeling and not only an individual good.  Love is a way of being that sees past the narrative of our separateness and dedicates itself to caring.  Love considers the impact of actions, words, and even thoughts on the world, on others, and even on the self—we do a tremendous amount of violence to the self.

            Just as we have to ritualize resurrection as we did in baptism over the past two weeks, we have to, as a people of faith, ritualize love whenever we can so it gets inside us, so it flows out of us, so we reinforce it in one another.  There are many forms and manifestations of love.  I want to be clear about recognizing this as I get ready to use the example of marriage, for that expression of love is sometimes placed on an unparalleled pedestal in our culture.  When I perform weddings, I have taken to saying there are really two miracles that are taking place.  The first is finding someone with whom you want to share your life.  This miracle happens to you.  The second is the miracle you enact when every day, every moment, you commit to nurturing that miracle.  This is true with all forms of love.  Love is active.  Love defies some of what we’re told to do, think of self above all, think of separation, dwell in otherness as the fundamental state of being.  Love is radical and it’s natural, and we say Jesus unleashes and unlocks that within us. 

            Since I’ve mentioned ritualizing love, today we have a unique opportunity to do that as part of our worship service.  At the 10:00 service, and you can come back for this, we will bless in the service the marriage of Forrest Craig and Deb Newton.  They wed during the pandemic and were unable to have a religious ceremony, so as their faith community we’re going to give them one. 

For those of us here, now, however, we can take this opportunity to pause and consider where, how, and with whom we might invite love to more firmly reenter our lives. Let’s spend a few moments in prayer, and I’ll even invite you to share if you’d like…

            -prayer, sharing-

            Let us pray, God we recognize that we are not asked to become something other than who we are.  Rather, in you, we come home to ourselves, our loving, compassionate, courageous selves. Yes, those capabilities can be buried, not given a chance, underused, untrusted, unaffirmed, or unlistened to. Resurrect them in us, make them flower in us, that we might live out these very temporal lives with in a way that embodies goodness, fairness, caring, helpfulness, and hopefulness. Release us with unhelpful comparisons or internal dialogues leaving us feeling as though we measure up, teaching us to rejoice in small steps of progress, incremental acts of growth, and sometimes hard to appreciate meaningful moments.  Restore in us a trust in who we know ourselves to be. Amen.

            And amen.