Well, we made it back! I’ll admit, I had my reservations at times about how, exactly, it would all work out a few weeks ago when Julie and I were discussing this move. Somehow in the month of December Julie was able to graduate with a Master’s Degree in Fisheries from Auburn University in Alabama and move her life’s possessions back to Virginia. In the meantime I was finishing up work here in Portland, and was able to fly out on Christmas morning back to Virginia, where in a few days, on the 30th of December, we were married! After months of planning and preparations, mostly by Julie, we were officially hitched…and we weren’t even done yet!
What happened next was a new challenge. Amidst various family members scattering back to the four corners of the globe, our next task was to somehow fit all of Julie’s life possessions into her 2006 Subaru Outback, that is now living in its post mid-life years. I would get a seat for the journey if there was enough room.
The day before our departure from Virginia involved Julie combing over piles and boxes of her life’s possessions strewn throughout her parent’s living room as she had to wrestle with the question: what do I keep, and what do I leave behind?
Eventually, we found a way to fill just about every available inch of that car’s interior and roof space—think Beverly Hillbillies. But it got me thinking…and maybe we can all think about this morning: if we were forced to fit our most prized possessions in the back of a car, what do we keep, and what stays behind? What do we value most?
And maybe here’s a bit of a deeper question to wrestle with: what do all of our possessions mean anyways? Why do we have so much stuff? Do we really need it?
I was thinking about this on Christmas morning as I took the train to the airport. I was thinking about this as I lugged along a giant suitcase, and I watched as the train passed several of the thousands of homeless men, women, and children on the streets and under the bridges of Portland on a bitterly cold and icy Christmas morning.
I think about this now as our attention is drawn to countries like Haiti, El Salvador, and many nations in Africa, where the majority of our brothers and sisters live with next to nothing in comparison to our daily lifestyles. What do we value most in this world? And maybe more importantly, how do our lives reflect what matters most to us in this world?
We pick up in the book of Acts. Some of us have learned to call this book the Acts of the Apostles, since it captures some of the accounts of the disciples of Jesus who were then sent out into the world to proclaim the Good News of the risen Christ. Another way of thinking about this book, however, is to consider it as the Acts of the Holy Spirit. The author, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, continued to focus on the movement of God through the Holy Spirit in ways that allow us to get a glimpse of the third person of the Trinity in ways we might not have before imagined.
In the opening three chapters we read of the risen Christ with the disciples, what is called the Ascension of Christ, the story of Pentecost (the birth of the Church) and accounts of Peter and others proclaiming witness to the Jesus as the Christ. Chapter 4, verse 31 reads that the early Christians ‘…were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.’ The Spirit is at work in amazing ways!
And now we pick up with our scripture for today…Acts 4:32-37
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
Wait a minute, I thought we were talking about the Spirit here in this book. Why in the world are we talking about Marxism? Was Jesus a Communist?
The short answer is: no. He wasn’t a Capitalist either. Jesus and the apostles were not concerned with models of economics or government structures; especially those that weren’t even identified at that time. The utopian imagery of the first Christians described is not necessarily a surprise; we even do that today to describe our own churches. But it is interesting that the author, Luke, continues to write about both the Spirit, and wealth, concurrently. It is not the first time Luke talks about wealth and money as it relates to the life of faith; and it will not be the last.
Again, the Spirit leads the community in their actions, as we read in verse 33…
33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
And then verse 34 gets back to this talk about wealth and possessions…
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Luke even goes on to tell a very quick story of a wealthy man who actually gave his wealth to this new community…
36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
So what does this all have to do with us today? I wonder what we can learn from God’s word for us as it relates to today’s story.
The next few weeks I would like for us to think about what’s really important in our individual lives, and the life of this church. We are going to be looking at our church mission statement, and I will be addressing different parts of it each week. This week we look at the first two of eight statements:
Valley Community Presbyterian Church is the people of God in one place and one time. We are called by God to gather, in the name of Christ, and we have responded to that call with a commitment to active membership in this body, this community of Christians.
We are called, and we have committed: to worship God regularly in this place, in hearing the word, in prayer, in sacrament and sacred music.
We are called, and we have committed: to care for each other, individually, in large groups and small; to form a community in the midst of a rushing world.
Now, the first statement is pretty straightforward. As a church we are called to worship God in our services, and this includes worshiping at a certain time, with scripture, prayer, sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and music.
The second part, however, is something that is not as straightforward. We commit to care for each other and to form a community…what does this mean?
Are we called to form a community like that of the apostles in our scripture this morning? Are we called to share all of our possessions and resources? Are we called to testify to the risen Christ in word and prayer? The short answer is: yes.
Some churches have responded to these words of scripture by literally following this story. They ask all of their members to give all of their possessions, so that all may benefit from them. The Presbyterian Church, and Valley Community, has historically interpreted this call in a different way as we ask members to share as they feel called to do so, but the spirit of the scripture is the same. We are called to gather as a community. We are called to share of our possessions. We are called to meet the needs of each of our church members and friends. And the best part of this all, is that we are called to live in God’s grace as a reflection of such holy love.
The Good News today is this: led by the very Spirit of a living God, we are called to be community in this time and place. What we value most is living as witnesses to the risen Christ and the kingdom of God.
So what does this look like here today? One example is the structure of what is called the Board of Pensions for our pastors here within the PCUSA. Did you know that all active pastors receive the same healthcare for their family, whether they are young or old, single or married, serving a large city church, or a small country church? The money that you pledge to this community goes beyond heating this building and paying this staff; it is part of a larger witness to the Acts church described in our scriptures today.
And here is the challenge for us today. How do our daily actions reflect the call to care for our community as we have read both in the scriptures and in our mission statement? How can we use this New Year, filled with new potential and possibilities, to live into the faith which we affirm each and every Sunday?
If you are feeling compelled by the very same Spirit of God that compelled the apostles some 2000 years ago, then listen to that holy nudging. Perhaps you are feeling called to reach out to those countries mentioned in this week’s new stories. Or perhaps you are feeling called to meet the immediate needs of some of our own homeless and hungry that share the very same streets here in Portland. We have a mission committee, led by our Elder Connie Brenner that would love to talk with you on how to take those steps to build such community, and we’ll talk in more detail about mission in the coming weeks.
Maybe you are feeling called to care for some of own members and friends here, many in this very room, many simply unable to be here on Sundays, that would love to have you spend some time or help with daily living. Our Deacons, led by Janet Adkins, are always available to help with such a calling as we build Christ’s community.
Perhaps you have the financial resources that many in this world do not. I encourage you to give, and to give generously. This is the time of the year that our Elders are making very serious decisions on how our money can be most faithfully used, and part of this task is to responsibly create a budget primarily with the money that has been pledged by you as this community. What a blessing it is to share our financial wealth with the life of the church, so that we can continue to care for our beloved community right here in this building, and throughout the world! Our Elder for Finance, Eben Jenkins, would be happy to speak with you about such opportunities to be a blessing to this church and others.
Today we are called to live as a Spirit-led community in Christ, even here in the year 2018.
We come to this day with our eyes open, fully knowledgeable of the reality that the world is not as it should be; that there is brokenness and sin in the world. And yet today we also realize that this makes our daily living so much more important!
We are called to live as witnesses to the risen Christ.
We are called to care for our sisters and brothers, both near and far.
We are called to model our lives and priorities, what we value most, in the image of our living savior who described the very Kingdom of God to which we aspire.
We are called to live as community, led by the living Spirit of our God!