Acts 4 isn’t as crazy as it sounds
(I preached this sermon on Sunday, April 11, 2021 in response to Acts 4:32-35. You can find the recording of the sermon and the entire worship service on our church website – www.ststephenlc.org.)
I’m currently reading a fascinating book called “Church Refugees” by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. It’s about the “Dones” – the people who were most engaged in the life of their congregations and called it quits – there are some pastors, youth directors, and church staff, but also plenty of lay people who devoted time, energy, and money over many years. Not just their quitting their congregation, but all of organized religion, for a number of reasons. They quit because, as the authors found out in the numerous interviews, the dones, “wanted community, but got judgement. They wanted to affect the life of the church but got bureaucracy. They wanted conversation but got doctrine. And finally, they wanted meaningful engagement with the world, and got moral prescription.” (pg. 28)
Josh Packard tells this story in the book:
“When we walk into Target, we expect there be organized shelves of products for sale and people who are working to help us complete our purchases. We aren’t expecting to walk in and make the things we want from scratch. People aren’t sewing clothes at Target. People aren’t making their own lawn furniture. And the people working there would never expect their customers to act that way. Imagine how bizarre it would be if someone walked into a Target and started building his own toaster.
Packard continued, “On the other hand, think of our homes. I don’t even want to think about the ‘conversation’ my wife and I would have if I walked in the door of my house and treated it like a Target, expecting everything to be done and made for me, ready to consume. Home isn’t solely a place of consumption; It is a production site as well. If we want food, we have to make it. If something breaks, we fix it. If we want a room painted, we paint it. Our organizational resources at home are configured much more differently than organizational resources are at Target, and these configurations help to shape our expectations.
Packard concludes with these questions, “What kind of organizational expectations do we have of our churches? Are they set up like Target or like home? Do our churches produce a product to be consumed, or are they sites where the people who walk in the door are themselves producers and makers?” (Pages 95-96)
What a great set of questions. Maybe you’ve never considered these questions before. Is church supposed to be like Target or any other store that you go into? Is it a social club where the staff takes care of all your needs and tries to keep you happy? Or is the church more like home where you do the things that need to be done with others, you learn from each other, and you grow in relationship together?
If we listen to the reading from Acts, the answer should be obvious. Church is a community like home. It’s a place where we not only take care of each other’s needs, but we also look out for our neighbors. We do that because we have built trust with them. We know them. We invest in one another.
As we’ve gone through the R3 redevelopment process, one of the consistent phrases that has come up about our church is that it feels like family. Family implies certain things and creates expectations. It’s not just about how we feel about each other and the community gathered, but it also conveys expectations about how we engage in ministry together too.
Did you know that 27 different people helped throughout Holy Week? 27 different people helped make worship possible over six worship services – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday at noon, Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, in person Easter morning worship, and our online Easter worship in the late morning. And that’s not counting the numerous people who worked behind the scenes in preparation of those services.
Those 27 people ranged in age from youth to seniors. They ranged in their abilities and capabilities. They ranged from people who are very devoted and assist with worship often to first time helpers. It was a beautiful array of people. And without those 27 people, worship would not have happened.
The beautiful thing about this is that there are plenty of opportunities for others to join in and help with worship on any given week. Just speak up, we would love to have you actively participate and we need your help.
And while it’s easiest to see the engagement of many people through worship, it goes far beyond that. Over 2/3rd of our congregation are engaged in at least one small group activity outside of worship. That’s the core and life of the congregation because church isn’t a building – a place to go to with a bunch of programs or only a worship service.
No, Church is who we are. It’s what our faith calls on us to be and do. It’s why I suspect that so many of you talk about church as family. Church is about how we serve our neighbors, how we grow in relationship, and how we live life together. It’s how we learn about faith, but also about each other and from each other. It’s how we can talk about difficult subjects and struggle together to live into what faithfulness is about. It’s about how we find great joy and celebrate wonderful life events together, and we cry and mourn through difficult loss and walk with each other and offer a listening and caring ear as we struggle through life and relationship challenges. Jesus shows up in many ways through this community of faith and frees us to be fully who God made us to be.
Or, as the authors of Church Refugees put it, “People are not expecting or desiring to join churches or do life with others just so they can have their beliefs confirmed or reinforced. What they want out of their communities is a commitment that people will be along with them for the journey.” (Pg. 41)
Matt Skinner, a Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, said this in his commentary for the passage in Acts that we heard this morning:
We learn in Acts 4:34 that some of the more prosperous members of the church sell homes and land to support their sibling Christ-followers. They offer their proceeds to the apostles to manage, suggesting that they are doing more than redistributing wealth; they are willingly handing over status, privilege, and security as well all for the sake of believers’ common good…Everyone participates. Everyone dares to show solidarity. Because everyone belongs.
Something greater than charity and mission is surging through this passage;” Matt Skinner says. “Believers are living out a commitment to belong to one another, and they recognize they must address the impediments to doing so. As Willie James Jennings puts it, “Money here will be used to destroy what money is usually used to create: distance and boundaries between people.”
“This passage offers a stunning display not of mutual concern but of mutual identity—an identity formed in Christ and his new life.
Listen to what we are told in Acts: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Grace was upon them. Of course it was – they held all things in common, they had enough, and no one was in want or need. Isn’t that what is supposed to happen in a home? That’s the very definition of grace. Grace can be defined as getting what you don’t deserve and haven’t earned. Grace is given to us by God. Because we are a part of God’s family, a part of God’s home. And so, God gives us what we need, and gives it in abundance. And we in turn do the same with others.
There were differences in this community described in Acts. There had to be because I’ve never seen any community ever be completely uniform. But uniformity is not the same thing as unity. Scripture doesn’t call for uniformity. Uniformity is everything and everyone is the same – like an army of robots. That’s not what Jesus calls us to. The Kingdom of God has never been described as being uniform. It is described as being united in identity. And that identity comes in diverse forms but centered around one thing – Jesus.
I’m willing to bet money that the community described in Acts was both rich and poor, had those who were loyal to Rome and the empire, as well as those who wanted to see the empire crash and burn, had those who’s politics were at odds with each other, had different mental and educational levels and abilities, had different sexualities, had different religious backgrounds and experiences, had different forms of family, some probably had slaves while others wanted slaves to be free, and any number of other differences that humanity has had over the eons.
Are we any different than that community? Really? Are we? We are a community that has a range of political beliefs and partisan attachments. We are community that ranges in economic levels, from people who are experiencing homelessness to people who are pretty well off. We are community that ranges in age from under a year of age up to almost 100 years old. We are community that ranges in physical abilities, mental capacities, educational levels, employment, and so much more.
As a church, what is it that draws us together to be of one heart and soul, like we hear in Acts? Is it a tribe of some sort? A political party or ideology? Money? National identity? Maybe regional identity? A sports team? No, none of those things. None of those things can sustain us. None of those things provide the nourishment we need as a community. None of those things will last.
Instead, we are called to be of one heart and soul, just like the community in Acts. And that comes from Jesus and in Jesus. We see it when we are gathered for worship and read Scripture and sing hymns together. When we share the sacraments and remember the Spirit’s promises to us in baptism. But even more so, we see it when we serve together, do ministry together. When we engage in our lives together and in the lives of our neighborhood and community. We see it when we grow in discipleship and faith. When we walk with others in their faith journey as well.
Christian Dixon wrote an article entitled “Here’s why I stopped going to church.” Dixon said this, “I stopped simply goingto church, and I think you should, too — God calls us to something much better.
He doesn’t want you to go to church, but He desires for you to be the church. He desires us to love and spurn one another on for the Great Commission He’s called us to. It’s not just about going to a building on a certain day; it’s about going on the greatest journey with other people pursuing Jesus and sharing their love with those far from Him.
That’s what the church in Acts 4 was about. It’s what we are called to as well. And it’s what we already are doing. We are the church. We live into what the church is all about. We are of one heart and soul. Thanks be to God. Amen.