Preached on 8 April 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B
The book, The Acts of the Apostles, tells the stories of Christian communities trying to discover and articulate who they are. It sounds a bit like what we’re doing, doesn’t it?
They are in a new reality; a post-resurrection world. The world has changed and they don’t necessarily understand what it all means. They have witnessed Jesus life and ministry; his crucifixion and resurrection and he has ascended to the Father. They believe that all that has opened a world of possibilities, but they don’t know what they are. In them, God is creating communities that manifest salvation.
The last thing Jesus said to them was, “You will be my witnesses, to the ends of the earth.” And so they are. Except they don’t know just what that means, so they try stuff. The stories from Acts are big and bold, hyperbolic, even.
When we read Acts, we often have one of a few different responses. We may point and say “Wow! Look what they did! Cool,” but see it as strictly of that time and place; it doesn’t have anything to do with us. Or, we may feel inadequate, like they had it right and we fall short. We may say that we could never live like they did and then just dismiss the stories – again, that they have nothing to do with us.
Or, we may dig a little deeper for the themes, the lessons they learned, the characteristics of their communities and their witness that could apply to us.
How do we bear witness to the Good News in our own lives? How do we, as a community, bear witness? What does it mean to be a community of faith? What characterizes us? To what do we aspire?
The Acts of the Apostles offers us an invitation to Think Big about our own community. I think this is particularly pertinent in this time of transition in the parish and as we are discerning, discovering and articulating who we are and what God is calling us to.
Throughout the season of Easter, we will be hearing readings from this unique book of the Bible. We will hear about what characterizes a community of faith.
This morning we hear about the characteristics of generosity and service. They understand that through his death and resurrection, Christ has made possible a community of one heart and soul. They bear witness by how they live. They bear witness by how they care for one another, especially the vulnerable. No one is in need; they generously share with one another.
As a community, they are a manifestation of the wholeness and dignity of every person, bestowed upon them through the grace of God in Christ. They are a community characterized by relationship with God and with one another. And out of that relationship, they become a community of daring.
How do we or could we, in this community,
manifest that spirit of being a community of one heart and soul? Are we characterized by generosity and service?
All week, we have been hearing about Dr. Martin Luther King as we remember the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination. His life was dedicated to an ideal of a Christian Community, I think. He dared to Think Big; he dared to think long. He wasn’t perfect, far from it. The movement wasn’t perfect and both he and the movement are often sanitized as we look back, often forgetting how much he was vilified at the time. And yet, he dared to think big and to act and to aspire to something far beyond himself or what he would ever hope to see in his lifetime.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a well-known 20th century theologian wrote,
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
To what would we aspire if we dared to Think Big?
 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.