Rev. Pamela Shepherd
In our reading from the book of Acts we see the early church as Luke sees it. He says of those who gathered together after the resurrection, they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The Book of Acts is the book that teaches us how to be church together. We are to sing and pray and share food here. We are to share our money. We are to care more about each other and less about our stuff.
If we choose to love God and share with our neighbors our hearts will grow in that direction. If we choose to focus our lives on possessions and money, our hearts will rust and break and wear out, just like all our stuff.
This is not a stewardship sermon. What I want to talk about one more time before I go is community. I want to talk about our life as the church together, and how we are to love each other more than we love stuff.
The earliest followers of Jesus, who hid themselves after his arrest, began to gather together after the resurrection.
A lot of you progressive Christians get hung up on the resurrection. Take your eyes off the body; the angels all say it. Notice what is happening to the living. Notice the resurrection things they said and did.
First they felt awe, a genuine awe, as they saw for themselves that the world is so much bigger, and so much stranger than anything we can imagine. These people were no more prepared to see the dead raised than we are.
Awe. It’s an almost unused word these days—our sense of how incredible, how sacred life is. When I look at our perfect blue planet floating in space—the only one we know, the only place we’ll ever live—I feel such tender love, such awe. We are the only human beings in the history of humanity who have been given this incredible gift–to see our Earth, our home, from space. How could we not feel perfect awe? How could we not fall in love with this Earth, our Mother?
Awe is what we feel at the Mystery of Life. And our lived response is community. The mindful joining together of what has always been joined together. We just were confused about that.
Community is an important word to me. You might have noticed that for nine years I’ve been trying to iron it in here. I don’t call this church a church. I call us a community of faith; I call us a faith community.
This is because people got confused. Maybe you are confused. You might think church is a place, a building you enter for an event, a worship service you attend or don’t attend. That is not what church is.
Church is what we do and who we are together. Church is the community gathered, strengthened, fed, and sent; the people who choose to live awkwardly, patiently, lovingly and unskillfully, into the kin-dom of God.
Now that sounds elevated, but in fact its elemental. People gather in trust that this gathered life is a bigger life than the life we’ve known. We feel awe at what we see or sense is a bigger, deeper truth than our minds can think, and together in community we choose to praise and serve that.
We get so focused on that joy we give away our money. The people around us don’t feel separate from us. Our sense of family gets so much more spacious. We feel protective and loving toward our elders, and end up loving everybody’s kids.
We find that spending one or two afternoons a week tutoring teenagers is more fun, more alive than our normal activities. We find that visiting our elders and the sick and homebound, though we often hesitate to do it, makes us feel more grateful and alive.
We share meals. The church was born to potluck. Before you just grab a bag of chips to bring to the next potluck, I want you to think about that. One the first things the early church teaches and argues about is hospitality—who’ll bring the food—just like for nine years we all did.
I’ve tried my best to teach you what little of our faith tradition I have understood. But I don’t think I ever was able to teach you that bringing food to share with others is not a little, annoying, unnecessary thing. It’s the very first thing the church did.
Our confusion about food and the spiritual life comes from our church history’s false duality that the spiritual is not the physical; that the soul is separate from the body; that the things we think and believe are somehow more important than the things we simply did. Oops.
I apologize for how wrong Christianity got that. And I encourage you, as you go forward, to be a community that gets that right together.
People who show up here hungry for God will never meet God here unless you feed them. Do not argue about whether the food should be vegan or donuts, just help these hungry people to come home.
I’ve been joking these past weeks about how I wanted our church membership to hit 250 before I leave. But really, I only ever thought about how big we might grow because I’d read in our scripture that when people become a living community of faith, God keeps adding to their numbers. When people do what God calls us to do, God magnifies what we did.
It is not at all our business what size this church becomes. Our business is to welcome and feed and make room for those who come; to make room for them in the pews and classrooms, and in the social groups, to welcome them home like our sisters and brothers.
If you do that, God will take care of this church. The church is not really our business. Humankind is our business. Creation Care is our business. Justice is our business. Peacemaking is our business. Love of God and neighbor is our number one business. God holds the church—the church is God’s—and where the church is alive it keeps growing.
Before I close I want to mention some things not on that early church list. You might keep this in mind as you go forward. There are no committee meetings on that list. There are no people working themselves to exhaustion for the common good. Our faith is about trust, about joy, and rest—resting in trust in our faithful God.
If church wears you out, you are doing it wrong. I am speaking, you know, from experience. Surely goodness and mercy are what we are promised, and the life force to walk our faith our whole life long.
I am not saying you should not have committees. Our new structure with ministry teams has strengthened and helped our community. I am saying that as you discern how to be part of this church, give yourself to community as fully as you can, but in ways that bring you alive.
God will help you. God is already helping you. God will rearrange your values and rearrange your life. God will tease from you lots of your money.
And God will slowly, gently, lovingly and certainly meet you at the welcome table, and in love, rearrange your whole life. Surely goodness and mercy will follow you, but be careful, for you can outrun them. Do not be a fool and flee from the commitments that bring you most fully to life.