Message by Rev Jenny Carter
May 7th 2017
(Based on Acts 2:42-47, and John 10:1-10)
It is interesting how much energy we humans spend in trying to fit in. It’s in our nature of course – we’re social beings. We are hard wired to be in relationship. From the beginning of time when our ancestors were out hunting and gathering on some great plain, to be a part of a group meant the difference between life and death.
There is a safety found in a group that one simply does not have when one is all alone. There are also friendships, food sharing, and division of labour, affection, and all the other good things that are needed for life. While we might not be out facing sabre tooth tigers and woolly mammoths with sharpened sticks now, the fact remains that being part of a circle of relationships is still important.
To be a part of a community – a circle of relationships – helps us to not only live longer, but to live better. Through being a part of a community we learn how to get through the tangled web of life, as we help others to do that too.
The very essence of our faith is based in community – in relationships with others. We are the body of Christ. We are to love our neighbour as our selves. We are intimately known by God, and through Christ we have come to know God. When the world goes mad, the prophets among us rise up and call us back to sustainable and loving living.
Everything in our faith is formed and grown through the act of being in community with one another. Everything. Our faith. Our ethics. Our actions. Our love. All grown through the act of being in deep relationship with one another, so that we might, in turn, deepen our relationships with all of creation.
The church was always meant to be a little different from the rest of the world. The communities that we form are often in direct opposition to the way things work in whatever society we are living in.
The reading from Acts is a really good example of this. We heard how, after a rousing sermon by Peter, 3,000 people decided to be baptized, and how those people then began to live in community where they held all things in common. They sold their possessions so that they could fund their communal life and help those that had nothing. They ate all of their meals together. They worshiped together, they studied together, and they shared their stories together. They took living in community and raised it to an art form – where all who were members became the artists that gave it form and beauty.
Whenever I hear this story from Acts I’m a bit torn. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get how important the message of community is to us Christians. I get it, and I try to live it. Yet I struggle with parts of the passage. If this is being held up as a model of Christian community that we are all to live in to, how does that work in the modern world? How do we model a community that sold all of their possessions and lived together? How do we duplicate, in an era of rugged individualism, the notion that we are to make room for those who are really different from us, and despite our differences, become a unified community?
And then it occurs to me that I’m asking the wrong questions. You see we are not being asked to recreate that first community exactly as they created it. The form their community took was perfect for their time. They believed that Christ was going to return and the world was going to end any day. So it made sense to gather and to do all that they did, as they waited for the end which promised to be glorious. They didn’t need to worry about their retirement. They didn’t need to worry about how to raise their children in a difficult and hurting world. They didn’t need to worry about the wars and the degradation of the environment.
But we do.
So how do we take this story and bring it in to our own lives? What does it have to teach us? Well, aside from the great idea of hiring a preacher that can get 3,000 people to join the church after one sermon, it has a lot to tell us. While we don’t need to sell everything we own and buy a condo big enough for all of us to live in, we do need to begin to live ever more deeply into our own faith community. Church is not a one hour live event once a week. Church is community. And we live it 24/7.
We can never re-create that first community, but instead are called to create our own. To do this faithfully, we need to use the same principles as that first one. First, we need to be people who value our faith, and seek to grow it. Second, we need to be people willing to welcome strange people with strange ideas, and from a different station in life than ours. Which means we need to be open to others, whether they are Liberal, NDP or Green. To be open whether they can quote chapter and verse of the Bible, or have never even heard of God. Third, we need to be willing to share. Not just share our money with the needy, but share all of who we are, and all that we hold to be important, with one another.
Our sanctuary set up this morning is a great example of this last point [filled with sound equipment and sets for a community fundraising concert]. Perhaps there is nothing as dear to us as our sanctuary on a Sunday morning. I’m sure many of us came in this morning and went, “Wait, what? This isn’t what worship should look like!” Yet I would argue that the sanctuary set up this morning is what living in community looks like. It is an example of this community sharing what is nearest and dearest to it with others. It is one way of loving our neighbours – through being gracious and sharing this beautiful space with them, so that they, in turn, may create and share some beauty and joy with us and with others.
I know, it can be hard to be in community. It challenges us in so many ways. To seek out diversity, to live with difference of opinions, to be open and generous and welcoming, 24/7, can tax the most saintly among us.
But here is the thing, it’s the only way to be if we want to experience joy. You see, joy is the fruit of our faith – it is what naturally bubbles up in healthy communities. To be faithful, loving, generous, open to others, and kind to ourselves, causes joy to be unleashed in our lives and in our community. And that’s what that first community knew – they knew joy. Whatever else they did, or did not do, they knew the joy that can come from living in true community.
To live together in ways that produce the most joy for the most people is counter cultural. It goes against the societal flow that sees everything in terms of opposites – good/bad, light/dark, right/wrong, and insider/outsider. That’s why I titled this sermon “called to be weird”. We are called to be different from everybody else. As Christians we are called to live in community – and to give that community everything that we can – so that it may be a place of safety, and sharing, and love and joy.