This is one of my favorite moments in the Bible. The Book of Acts is considered to be the second part of the Gospel of Luke, kind of a sequel. Acts tells the story of what happens after Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven. The full title is “Acts of the Apostles,” and though it only mentions Peter by name, the book begins with Jesus’ chosen twelve – well, eleven now without Judas. After they replace Judas, we hear the story of Pentecost – what we consider the birth of the Christian church and then we’re given this piece that we read today – my favorite part. Here we have the story of a movement reborn. Even without Jesus who led them for three years, the apostles are able to continue sharing the Gospel – the good news. They gather new followers and here, in these few verses, we’re painted a picture of what seems to be a perfect church, committed to learning, gathering together, breaking bread, and praying.
And these qualities allow the church to continue growing. “Day after day,” the scripture says, the Lord added to their number everyone who was experiencing liberation.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Thousands of people getting baptized, coming together as church, sharing communion, praying. Sounds like the kind of church I’d like to be a part of. I love the hope in this story; the possibilities of this new church that is going to change the world.
Oh wait, I skipped something. “There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. They sold any possessions and goods that did not benefit the community and used the money to help everyone in need.”
Ok, I like the part about the praying and the gathering and the breaking bread but…sharing everything together? With, like, thousands of people? That sounds much more difficult. Impossible, even.
[A note about this translation: you’ll notice that part of that verse is written in italics, the part that says “that did not benefit the community.” In The Voice translation, the editors have added text that they believe will help us understand the scripture better. The pieces in italics, they argue, is information that the original listeners would have known implicitly, without the author having to mention it. Now, normally I like this technique and find it helpful but here – I’m not so sure. Here, it really changes the meaning. But, anyway, whether they sold everything or just the things they didn’t need, we hear about this radical notion that this community shared all of their possessions, everything each individual had was shared among everyone.]
Believe it or not, that’s what we’re called to do. As we continue to explore the United Church of Christ’s “Be the Church” campaign by going through the statements listed on the banner on our front lawn, we look today at the line that says “Share Spiritual and Earthly Resources.” That’s part of what it means to “Be the Church” – “Share Spiritual and Earthly Resources.” Just like the early church.
In some ways, we’re already doing that. You donate some of your hard-earned money to the MCC, you share your resources so that the church can operate. And, as has been the practice for many years, MCC shares 9% of what is given to us with other organizations – charities around the world that do good works, so that we can support them in their mission to make the world a better place.
And you share spiritual resources as well. You give your time to help teach our children or to participate in small group Bible studies or The Well where you share your understanding of God. You offer prayers for the names on our Prayer List and the names that are lifted up during Joys and Concerns.
So, on the “share spiritual and earthly resources,” we’re doing alright as a church.
Of course, we can always do better. And it’s not always easy. This hopeful picture from the Acts of a church on the precipice of growth and prosperity comes right at the beginning of the book. This is only chapter 2. We haven’t yet reached the martyrdom of Stephen – stoned to death for preaching a message of peace and love. We haven’t heard about the apostles being persecuted, hunted, and arrested for trying to share and live out the gospel that Jesus preached. This is one of my favorite parts of the Bible because it’s filled with hope but I also need to remember the rest of the story – that being the church is not always easy, especially if we’re doing it right.
For the same reason, I tend to skip over the part where they say the community shared everything together and sold all their things to benefit others. That’s a difficult message to hear.
And it’s one that doesn’t just apply to a church community. We are called to share resources with everyone, like, literally the whole world.
Each year, a group called the Global Footprint Network calculates what’s known as “Earth’s overshoot day.” The thinking is that we who occupy this planet should be using Earth’s resources at a rate that allows those resources to be renewed. Earth Overshoot Day is the date on which humanity’s resource consumption for twelve months exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year.
In 1961, humankind used only about three-quarters of Earth’s annual resource allotment. By the 1970s, economic and population growth sent Earth into annual overshoot as we began using resources faster than they could regenerate. By 1991, the date that happenef was calculated to be December 7. In 2000, it was November 1. Any guesses as to what it was this year? We’ve already passed it – August 8. “This is possible,” according to the Global Footprint Network, “because we emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than our oceans and forests can absorb, and we deplete fisheries and harvest forests more quickly than they can reproduce and regrow.” we’re using more than our fair share of resources.
Like the other ways we’re called to Be the Church, our call to share resources goes beyond our church walls. We are called to live out the message of the early church – the community that was filled with hope even after losing Jesus, even in the face of persecution and arrests.
It’s hard for me to consider the ways in which I’m called to share more. I often feel like the three year old who lives in my house – when I’m told to share, I just want to cry out “No! It’s mine!” But the truth is: we cannot live up to God’s full potential if we don’t. Sharing as a community ensures that everyone is able to benefit from God’s blessing. Sharing as a nation ensure that no one goes without. Sharing as a planet ensures that the Earth will survive and support the lives of our children’s children for generations to come.
These few verses from the Book of Acts paint a picture of hope – hope in a church that is filled with God’s love, a church that is growing with new disciples every day, a church that is poised to change the world. Indeed, it’s because of that early church that MCC exists today and it’s because of their dedication to sharing Christ’s Gospel even in the face of oppression and fear that we can continue telling the story.
So, when I realize the obstacles that the early church faced, I’m a little less likely to feel like a three year old saying “it’s too hard, I don’t want to.” And when I think about the obstacles that we face today, the overwhelming charge that it’s up to us to save the Earth, I’m bolstered by the faith and the courage of the early church.
As we get closer to the conclusion of our conversation about the “Be the Church” banner, we’ll continue to explore what it means for us at MCC. As the summer comes to an end and the pews begin to fill up with old friends and new visitors, we’ll remember the hope of the early church and we’ll tap into the Holy Spirit to help us spread the gospel through our words and deeds as we do our best to share our spiritual and earthly resources. We can be heroes. We’ll do it with Gods help, we’ll do it by following Jesus, we’ll do it together. As always, I look forward to being the church together with you.