Psalm 23, Acts 2:42-47 and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Thank you once again for connecting this morning! Welcome to what in our flavor of Christian tradition is the Fourth Sunday of Easter and in our church- no big surprise, it is also a day that we celebrate something from an entirely different tradition. If we were together in person, we would dance around the Maypole on our patio! So instead we will say a Beltane prayer separately but together and we will wear our rainbow colors boldly with our own flair and we will celebrate the signs of spring that we see and we shall feel free to dance wherever we are…
I invite each of us to begin with some centering, turning all of our minds toward whatever message meant for each of you today. We open our minds and hearts to this prayer from Psalm 19:14, God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
All who believed, were together and had all things in common. All things in common. That is what our sacred text says about the focus of the Early Church. Their focus wasn’t theology or evangelism, it was figuring out the common part of community. They didn’t start the Jesus movement by shaming and blaming those who didn’t have enough, instead they shared. They weren’t organized so that everyone would have what they wanted, instead everyone had what they needed. We don’t read that their first order of business was to stock their shelves and fill their crates and lock their doors and leave the unsheltered to thoughts and prayers.
No, instead, their devotions went to teaching and fellowship, which is really a boring way of saying they invested their time in learning and hanging out- they devoted themselves to diving into what Jesus taught and they took it so seriously that they had fun doing it. And then we read that the earliest followers of Jesus decided to put all that they had together, to literally sell their stuff and to bring the proceeds to the common treasure. If this whole thing was meant to be about love, then they would need to love one another through it, in a different kind of way.
And here’s the other thing that jumped out at me: we don’t read that their first focus was making people understand the teachings, or believe the teachings, rather their first and most important task was living them. Instead of spending their energy racing around getting others to believe that Jesus had something God-sized to say, they decided to take a risk, to do the harder thing and try and live it- to live out the wild and wonderful idea that we are here for a life in common in ways that we have yet to understand- that we are meant to live in common.
Some read this passage as a challenge to unbridled capitalism, others read it as an invitation for communal living, still others read it as a spiritual message about holding our lives in common.
Especially with the viewpoint of this current moment in history, it seems to me that at the very least, this text implies that all who say yes to being apart of this thing called Church are committed to the radical and sometimes impossible idea that we don’t just belong to one another, but that we are called to be invested in one another.
There is now a lot of advertising about being in this together, but I am left wondering what this could really mean. Are we really?
What does it mean to be in something together? Does it mean we commit to protecting one another? Does it mean we commit to picking up the pieces together when this is over? When those that at one time in history were labeled as ESSENTIAL, are back to their former title of UNSKILLED, how will we be in it together? I think that we might have a fresh take on what it means to be in this life together beyond this. Maybe you saw that piece on social media- if you are making my kids do lockdown drills for your right to carry an assault weapon, you can wear a mask to Costco! What does it mean to be in this together? Do my duty-bound Thursday morning Waste Management workers feel we are in this together?
I know it will take a while for us to figure that out, among state and local governments, among human service agencies, educational and philanthropic institutions, but in the meantime, while the rest of the world begins to comprehend, I wonder if this is a chance for churches everywhere to reset, to remember where we came from, to return to the foundation of who we are. They chose to have all things in common.
Much of Christianity has been reduced to an individualized sin management system, that can be practiced without connection to a community, without service to a bigger thing, without being humbled by a Higher Love, but what if the truth is that the foundation of Church is to be all in together, for real, to literally be invested in the thriving of one another? Risking comfort to strive for something deeper, sharing our gifts, our time, our hopes for the vision of modeling internally that we wish for the whole world- where everyone feels they belong, where there is growth and good things, failure and fellowship, hard stuff and beauty, and where everyone has what they need and no one leaves with an empty stomach.This is a chance to remember our roots, to return to the foundation of who we are: we are called to figure out the common part of community, we are meant to devote ourselves to learning and love, to cultivating fun and faith in one another, to sharing meals together and sharing dreams together and being open to awe and turning to wonder, to selling stuff and giving things away so that no goes hungry.
What if that was what Jesus meant for the Church to be about?
Like what Robin Wall Kimmerer wrote about how trees are, “they act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective. Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know. But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together.”
I can see why Christianity generally steered away from this and became more of a philosophy about the afterlife- that is so much easier! Being a part of a church, with our whole selves, where we promise to pray for one another and call on another and care for one another, where we dare to place our lives in common with a diverse and passionate people, this asks something of us, in fact it demands something from us.
As Matt Skinner writes, “The community of faith in Jerusalem lived a multifaceted witness, one not restricted to a single place or mode. This witness manifests itself in houses and in the Jerusalem temple. It benefits its members and earns the admiration of outsiders. The community exists not for its own sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be a means by which God extends salvation to others (v. 47).”
He goes on, “The idea of community simultaneously attracts and repels most of us. We long for the life-affirming benefits that community can bestow, but we resist the demands that community makes.”
And yet I believe this is the call of the church. The common in community.
So what does it mean to be this together? Trying to figure that out for the whole world feels overwhelming. Let’s just start here. Let’s do as our ancestors did at the beginning. Let us devote ourselves to learning and love, to cultivating fun and faith in one another, to sharing bread and dreams together and being open to awe and being seen. Let’s turn to wonder and look for signs, let’s sell stuff and give things away so that no goes hungry.
“What happens to one happens to us all. We can starve together or feast together.” What if this was what Jesus meant for the Church to be about?
All. Things. In common. May it be so.