November 13, 2022 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Nancy Talbot

Rev. Nancy Talbot

Leand Minister

Living Generously

“As a Community”

Scripture Reading:Acts 4: 32-25  

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This morning’s scripture reading comes from that time in the early church not long after Jesus had died and people were starting to come together to take up his ministry. One of the best comments I’ve heard about this reading is that this utopian vision of the church in which everyone is of one heart and soul and no one is claiming private ownership of any possessions, instead holding everything in common, is not good yardstick for measuring Christian community.  In fact, it’s a recipe for a host of failing grades.

Let’s be clear, I love you dearly, but at the end of each day, I appreciate going home and turning the lock on the door of my privately owned house. I have no interest in living in a commune with you.

Evidence has shown that although the early church may have aspired to the ideals outlined in this brief passage of scripture, after all they were people who came from a whole variety of backgrounds, knit together by the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit seeking to live a radical new life, there was still division among them and few who actually did give up all their possessions for the good of the whole.

And so this description of the church is less about how to be the perfect community of faith and more about the dynamic power of God to change and transform lives when people gather around the heart of what it means to be a church.

Several years ago now, we took to thoughtfully consider what’s at the heart of Mount Seymour United Church.  We tried to come up with words that described what it means to be part of this community. We ended up with three phrases that we felt summed up what we are about: Being Community, Spirit Nurturing and Living Generously.  We felt so confident that this is who and what we are meant to be about, we put those words on the outside of our building.

Notice that I said what we are “meant” to be about. I said that intentionally because even though we are meant to be about these things, the truth is that we don’t always live up to these ideals.  That’s because inherent in any community is the reality that we are always going to be falling short of these ideals.

We probably all have people in our lives who rarely if ever darken the door of a church or any other religious institution and yet we consider them to be more Christ-like than we are.  I maintain that the reason these folks are able to be more grounded and Christ-like than I am is because they have never had to actually live in Christian community. They’ve never sat through a bible study with someone whose theological perspective is completely different than theirs.  They’ve never had to pass the peace on Sunday morning with someone with whom they’ve just been in conflict or someone they don’t actually like very much.  They’ve never shared a potluck meal with someone they would never otherwise rub shoulders. They’ve never endured a meeting at which their ideas were completely misunderstood and yet they chose to stay in the community anyway because what held them together was something greater than themselves and they acknowledged that.

Being Christian Community or being part of any faith community for that matter, is possibly one of the hardest kinds of community to be because it demands so much of us.

It asks us to be gracious, it asks us to be self-giving and it asks us to care for one another even when we have trouble being in relationship with one another.  It calls us to model and lean into an idealized way of being in the world. It summons us to allow that experience to shape and form us even though we fall short of the vision of being of one heart and soul and sharing what we have in common over and over again because one of the hallmarks of Christian community is forgiveness and grace.

If you were to ask yourself what you value most about being part of this community of faith, how it has shaped and formed you or how you have been changed and transformed because you have been a part of this place and its people, I wonder what you would say?

I wonder if some of us might talk about the ways our hearts have been touched by the music when we sing together and how it transports us. I wonder if we might speak of how often we have heard the exact words of comfort or challenge we needed to hear from scripture or a sermon or the person we chatted with during coffee hour.  I wonder how many of us have been transformed through the wisdom shared with us by the youth and children of this church?  I wonder if some of us might speak of the mystery of knowing we are not alone, times when we sensed that the community was holding us in prayer, or when we were brought food or given a ride or enfolded with a prayer shawl or received a note from someone on the caring connections team or a phone call from someone who noticed we were crying on a Sunday morning? I wonder how many of us would say that we have been shaped and formed by working side by side with others in the garden or the kitchen or in the Thrift Shop, or by what we have learned and shared through a book study or as part of Meeting the Beloved or Pilgrims’ Path. Perhaps we would talk about the way someone’s witness to their own faith deepened ours.  I wonder if those of us who have served on Council would talk about the times we have come to an agreement around something when we thought we would never agree on and we wondered how that mysterious coming together actually happened.

If I were to talk about how I have been shaped and formed by this community of faith I would definitely have something to say about generosity. We may not hold all our possessions in common, but I have watched people reach into their pockets and share what they have for the good of the church and the needs of the world in ways that have humbled me over and over again.  I’ve witnessed that from people who have deep pockets and I’ve seen it from people who have less to share but share sacrificially as an act of faith, a gesture of gratitude or a response to a tangible need.  I’ve watched people share their time when they didn’t really have it to share. I’ve heard about cookies and muffins delivered to people’s homes that were received as if they were more valuable than gold because they are. All of this has made me want to be more generous with what I have to offer, to reflect the generosity I see in others.

I wonder how you have been shaped and formed, changed and transformed because you have been part of this community of faith.

As I was reflecting on today’s reading earlier this week, something that jumped out at me was the part that speaks about the testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. It made me think that if there is anything that held us together these last few years  even when we were physically apart and if there is anything that will continue to hold us together, surely it is that at our core we are an Easter people. We are people who actually believe in the power of hope to overcome despair and life to triumph over death because we have experienced that power in and through our life together as imperfect as it may be. And when I can’t believe in that power because I am feeling too downtrodden or you can’t believe because death has come too close to you, the beauty of a community of faith is that the body is big enough to carry that belief for us and we can ride on the wings of someone else’s faith until ours is strong once again and then we can take our turn being the bearer of good news.

And when a community of faith has that belief at its heart, tangible evidence of that belief is seen and known.  Goods are shared, people are cared for, we have what we need and grace abounds.