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Bringing All of Ourselves

Acts 4:32-5:10

Rev. Wade Lifton

July 19, 2020

We hear this story from Acts, a book of stories about the earliest church communities trying to figure out how to be church community together.

Two things I find disorienting in this story:

  • The level of generosity and sharing we hear about in this community is hard to imagine, in real life.
  • The level of legalism and punishment is hard to understand.

Disorientation can be an invitation to pay attention and to ask questions.

We’re going to take an approach of inquiry here.  I’m going name all kinds of questions about the story, and questions that the story might ask of us.

As I do that, I invite you to notice which questions stir something in you.  Which questions feel exciting or uncomfortable.  Which questions might you want to spend some more time with this week.

Utopian church community

  • They were of one heart and soul
  • Great grace was upon them all
  • Everything they owned was held in common, was distributed to each as any had need, there was not a needy person among them

This brings up all kinds of questions…

  • I wonder about the logistics of this? How was it administered?
  • How was this way of being established? Did the community develop an agreement together? Did the apostles suggest this model or impose it?
  • How on board was everyone? Were Sapphira and Ananias outliers, or was there more dissention in the community than we hear about?

This vision of community where everything is distributed according to need evokes the instructions around distributing manna in the desert.

  • God provides for the people of Israel when they are hungry, and there are really clear instructions:
  • Take what you need, make sure everyone is provided for, don’t store it up.
  • If you take more than you need it will rot.

Here is a community trying to embody a way of life around these instructions.  Take what you need, distribute what God provides so everyone is provided for, don’t take more than you need.

These stories in the book of Acts about the earliest church communities are not meant to be blueprints for how we should be as a community.  They are testimony.  They are glimpses of important experiences shared by a community that was enlivened by God’s Spirit.

So how does this testimony help us to look at the community life of Mount Seymour United with fresh eyes?

What does it look like in this community to share what God has provided?

How has this community been enlivened by generous sharing of spiritual gifts, financial gifts, stories and wisdom?

Throughout history we’ve seen over and over the Christian church storing up wealth and not distributing it – the church aligning itself with the rich and powerful more than the weak and lowly.

Which is why we need stories like the one from this early church community embodying a manna practice of generosity and re-distribution, not as a set model of church practices, but as a testimony to the dynamic movement of God in community.

So we can ask ourselves, how is God moving in our practices of generous sharing?  And where are we tempted to store up what we’ve been given?

 Keeping back

Which brings us to Sapphira and Ananias in the story.

  • Kept back some of the proceeds, brought only a part
    • What was their reason? Were they keeping back proceeds so they could have comfort or security? Distrust of community?  A particular purpose for the money?
    • One thing I’ve learned about living in community is that it’s easy to jump to conclusions when we disagree with something our neighbour has done. So I’m curious what was going on for Sapphira and Ananias. What else is in this story.
  • The accusation made against them is that You did not lie to us but to God…put the Spirit of the Lord to the test
  • When they heard this, They fell down and died…carried out and buried
    • That raises all kinds of questions about this community…
    • I wonder what the different responses were in the community when they heard that these neighbours had kept back proceeds? What were the responses to the Apostle’s accusations and to what happened to Ananias and Sapphira?
    • This shows us how early legalism showed up in church history. How do we understand this idea that you’re either 100% in, sharing everything, or you’re dead?
    • On one hand this community seems to be reflecting God’s generosity and care for all, but the community life also seems to suggest that God is severe and unforgiving.

 Community life is beautiful and challenging

This story raises all kinds of interesting questions about what it means to live in community.  As we continue to sit with this story, I invite you to consider what it means to live in this Mt. Seymour United community?  And the other communities that you are a part of.  Life in your family of origin, your chosen families, the household you live in, the apartment building or street where you live, your work community?

One thing that feels very true to me about this story is that community life is both beautiful and challenging.  It can be so joyful and so messy, and often at the same time.

I live in a cohousing community that has a lot of shared spaces and shared life together, which has meant that navigating life together in a pandemic has involved both beautiful ways of caring for each other, and incredible difficulties of navigating different needs and risk tolerance.

 Ananias and Sapphira broke the norms of their community by keeping back money.  Life in this pandemic shows us the potential cost if we keep things back from our community.  When we’re not honest with each other about our symptoms, our contacts, and risk factors, we may be putting others at risk.

Keeping back parts of ourselves

  • There are many ways that we keep back parts of ourselves in community, for all kinds of reasons.
  • One example is queer and trans folks, who have particular experiences of keeping back parts of themselves in church, or with their families, or in various communities.
  • We learn how to assess, which parts of me are safe to bring to this place but not this one. That’s an important skill for safety and well-being.
  • This necessary but costly skill of assessing safety and deciding what to bring forward and what to keep back, is something that many of us know. Because of how people respond to our mental health realities, our gender, our skin colour. But it comes at a cost.

Bringing All of Ourselves

In the first part of the story from Acts, what we hear in that community is a testimony to God’s promise that when we bring all of ourselves, each and everyone one of us will be cared for.  There will not be a needy person among us.

  • This is the promise of God’s dream which is already here and not yet.
  • The story suggests that keeping parts of ourselves back leads to death, and we also know examples of marginalized folks who bring all of themselves and pay with their lives.
  • So we need to keep hearing testimony to God’s promise.

Pride Celebrations are an example of testimony to bringing all of ourselves.

  • They invite us to keep expanding our imagination of what’s possible when we stop keeping back parts of ourselves.
  • Looking at a Pride celebration today, I wonder if those first protestors at the Stonewall Inn could have imagined that this was possible? That bringing all these parts of ourselves this publicly is possible?
  • And like that early church community, Pride is an imperfect, evolving movement that has more to learn about embodying liberation.
  • This ongoing evolution of queer and trans communities is one expression of God’s unfolding imagination of what’s possible for our world.

To keep glimpsing this imagination and to find courage to keep participating in this promise, we need testimonies.  We need stories of communities bringing all of who they are so that all will be cared for.

We need the testimony of that early church community that imperfectly endeavoured to be a community that kept nothing back, that brought everything so that everyone would be cared for.

We need the testimony of those protestors stepping out of the Stonewall Inn into the streets proclaiming with their voices and their bodies, We will not keep ourselves back anymore.

We need the testimony of the Black Lives Matters movement that continues to challenge us to see where Pride is practicing oppression as well as liberation.

In your life, and in your communities, where are you hearing God’s invitation to bring all of who you are and what you have?

Where are you glimpsing God’s promise that all will be cared for and provided for?

How are you avoiding or participating in that promise?

In the beauty and the challenges of living in community, even at a distance, let us share these testimonies with each other.

May they fill us with courage, and may the Spirit embolden us, to keep participating in God’s promise that all people can bring all of themselves in all places.