“They Were All Together in One Place.”
It’s Pentecost Sunday. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, and all I knew about Pentecost up until today was that it was when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and prompted them to speak in different languages. Frankly, it always seemed a little weird and archaic to me, so I paid it little heed.
At church this morning, Rob (Bell) and Ed (Dobson) “tag team” taught together for the first time since the mid-90s (the .mp3 should be posted up here in a few days). Of course, with those two powerhouses pacing the platform together, it was just like being slammed in the face and knocked off your feet with straight KNOWLEDGE. Their explanation of Pentecost made much more sense of why it was so important — it was where God revealed to this new Church of Jesus followers just what their community ought to look like.
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (the story of Jesus) and to fellowship (sincere care for the welfare of one another), to the breaking of bread (both meals and a new way of living with one another) and to prayer.
Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness (literally in Greek, much leaping for joy) and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
**Text in italics are clarifications/explainations from the teaching that I found useful.
This was the original church. A ragtag bunch of people who were excited about loving people through the lens of this story of Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection meant everything was changing. This church was not just interested in “saving your soul” and moving on. This church wanted to know you, wanted to help provide for your needs, and wanted you to come to experience the authentic love of God through how these people cared for one another. This church was seen by those on the outside and admired for how they lived together, prayed together, provided for each other and loved all. Sounds foreign, doesn’t it? It sounds so far away from the judgmental, mega-church, right wing Christianity that most people associate with Jesus today.
The centered message of this text packs a punch mostly because we realize how wrong we’ve gotten it. While personal salvation is acknowledged to be important and necessary, the overarching purpose to care for one another’s needs is the umbrella under which it all hangs. We cannot hope to care for people’s souls if we don’t care for their bodies, for their lives, and for their families too. We have to stop treating the soul and the body as two entirely separate causes, for we do those we serve a great disservice when we separate what God created to be whole.
Walter Brueggemann, a very accomplished Biblical and theological scholar, talks about how since Sinai (in the Old Testament, when God reveals Himself to the Israelites), the “haves” and the “have-nots” have been bound together. He wrote this in a recent article in Sojourners magazine:
“A biblical ethic affirms that all members of society — including the poor, even the ‘undeserving poor’ — are legitimate recipents of enough to live in dignity and safety simply because they are there.”
After they wrapped up their teaching, Rob and Ed picked up a stack of white buckets, and started setting them around the edges of the teaching platform, which stands in the middle of the room where we meet. I thought it strange, because in two years of going there, I have never seen an offering be taken up during a service. It’s normally just the usual “Joy Boxes are in the back and online if you want to give” and that’s it.
“We’re going to do something a little different today,” said Ed. “See these buckets? We’re going to start playing some music and we want those of you whose bills are paid, who have something to spare, to come up and drop money into these buckets. And those of you who are struggling, who have to choose between eating and health care, who just lost a job or who are in danger of foreclosure — we want you to come take a handful out of the bucket. Just come take a handful of money. Take two handfuls if you need it.”
As soon as he gave the go-ahead to come forward, thousands of people crushed into the aisles, digging into their purses and wallets, dropping fistfuls of money into the buckets, which were overflowing by the time I got up there. I saw little kids with their parents, holding a handful of cash, looking astonished and grateful. People were weeping and hugging all over the place. I saw people dancing and singing in the aisles. The recession, the crumbling economy, all the toxic fear that we’ve been living in was forced out of the doors of that room as generosity and the joy of “having all things in common” filled the space.
This is the what the church is. This is what Jesus has been pointing us towards since the church first began. “Having all things in common…sharing them with all who had need….devoting themselves to the [story of Jesus].”
If you’ve always thought that Christians are defined by their arrogance, their hypocrisy, and their negativity, I want to do two things.
1. Apologize deeply for any ways in which we as Christians, and which I personally as a follower of Jesus Christ, have failed to live up to the standards of community that were set out for us. I ask forgiveness for all the ways in which we have slandered the empty tomb, for all the misrepresentations that have prevented anyone from seeing the true Christ. I see that too much of the destruction that modern Christianity seeks to fight is self-made. I hope that those we have hurt and failed can find it in their hearts to forgive us, so that we might work together to rebuild the Church as something which is firmly rooted in common love.
2. This right here, this compassion, sincere care, love, grace, and justice, THIS is what the Christian church was always intended to be. If it’s anything else, then it’s nothing to do with Jesus, and I don’t want any part of it.