These last weeks since Easter Day, we have been telling the story of what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion. We heard the wonderful stories of discovery on Easter Day, the news from Mary Magdalene that Christ is risen. We heard that familiar story of Thomas and the other disciples who were able to see and touch Jesus’ risen body. We heard that beloved story of the walk to Emmaus, where two disciples were able to walk and talk with Jesus, and were reminded that Jesus is still with them. And then today, we hear in the Acts story what has happened to the disciples. They have gathered a community of believers who are growing every day. People are sharing the holy meal, praying together, living in community, and praising God in the temple. They are seeing signs and wonders, they are being generous with one another, and they have even sold their possessions like Jesus told them to, and are sharing their resources. Today’s reading from Acts takes all of good stuff from Jesus’ ministry, all the heartache of Holy Week, and all of the joy of Eastertide, and basically concludes, “And they all lived happily ever after!”
In some ways, I cannot imagine a better text for today. At our later service, we will be confirming and receiving nine parishioners in the church. These are parishioners who have been studying Holy Scripture, Church History, the sacraments, Church polity, spirituality, and vocation. Some are teenagers and some have grandchildren. Some have spent a lifetime in other Christian traditions, and others were born and raised in the Episcopal Church. And all of them feel called at this point in their spiritual journey to claim their faith as their own and begin a new phase of their walk with Christ at Hickory Neck. What better thing than for these reinvigorated Christians to hear than a text about what their life will now look like? They will be sharing in communion, worshiping God in God’s temple, praying together, living generous lives, and sharing their resources communally. Is that not the image you have of Hickory Neck?
Well…. Okay, so maybe Hickory Neck does not look exactly like that early Christian community. We certainly have some things down. We baptize, are generous with one another, share the Holy meal, and praise God in worship. But as far as I know, we have yet to enter a relationship with one another where we have sold everything we have and are living communally. I suspect there would be a stack of cots at the back of the church today since we would all need a place to sleep. I suspect we would have a roster to indicate who was cooking us lunch after services today and who was on clean-up duty. I suspect we might have a line of zip cars and bike shares in the parking lot every day for those who work further away from church. I suspect that our retirees here would be responsible for the children while their parents are out working. Though Hickory Neck has certainly gotten close to the early Church community, we have a long way to go.
Now some of you may be rolling your eyes right now – wondering if Holy Scripture is trying to make the case for socialism or some hippie compound. Since you know I try to avoid politics in the pulpit, here’s what I can tell you: there are some Christian communities that are in fact trying to get much closer to the early church than we have ever considered. When the housing crisis hit almost ten years ago, there were stories about neighbors who made agreements. One family would sell their house and move in with another struggling family. The two families would double up in rooms, figure out childcare sharing, meal sharing, and payment sharing. They found that although the home felt crowded, the home also felt like a place of support, security, and serenity.[i] And of course, there are what are called, “intentional Christian communities” all over the country. I had multiple friends from college who volunteered or took nonprofit jobs out of college and lived in these intentional communities. They shared rooms in a house, took turns with the household duties, gathered for communal dinners every night, and shared in worship a few times a week.
But I think we all know that this lifestyle is not “normal.” We are not raised nowadays to live communally with other Christians, sharing our possessions and life. In fact, when we hear Jesus say today that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly, we often think that means that Jesus came so that we might experience financial stability, good health, and happiness. We confuse our American sensibilities of achievement and accumulation of wealth, with the kind of abundance that Jesus is talking about.[ii] The truth is, those crazy hippies in the early church were on to something. They did have an abundance – but they had the abundance because they shared. And they were able to share because they listened to the teachings of Jesus through his disciples, they broke break regularly, they worshiped in the temple, and they shared the good news. Their understanding of abundance changed – not an overwhelming sense of monetary wealth, but an overwhelming sense of community, of belonging, of purpose, and of “enough.”
Now before we get too down on ourselves or start thinking about all our possession that we would need to sell, we know the story takes a twist. Three chapters later in Acts we learn about two members of the community who keep some of their wealth back – they start hording, hoping no one will know their secret. So, like any of us, not everyone was on board with the communal living thing. But the majority of the community entered into a covenant about this new way of being together.
I like that we get this text today because I like how the text makes us all ever so slightly uncomfortable. I like that our new confirmands and those being received are hearing this today because they will need to struggle with this notion of Christian community with each of us too. I do not know if we will ever get to the ideal found in the early Church, but we need these days of the newly received to remind us that we are not there yet. We have not yet lived into the abundant life that Christ intended for us. We are still on our journey, prayerfully pondering how to open ourselves up to the invitation to live life, and live it more abundantly.
That is why at our later service we will reaffirm our baptismal covenant. Like we do over and over again throughout the year, we remind ourselves of the promises we made in baptism and in confirmation. To gather with the community of faith, to repent and return to the Lord when we sin, to share the good news of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace. That baptismal covenant is our touchstone – that five-part measuring stick that lets us know those areas where we are really thriving in our spiritual journey, and those areas that need some work. On Sundays like this, we get the questions once again, “Are you all in? Are you ready for the gift of abundant life in Christ and all of the implications that gift involves?” That gift is both a promise and a challenge – a blessing and what sometimes feels like a curse. But we have all seen glimpses of that abundant life, and know how the abundant life is like milk and honey. We just sometimes need a nudge to get us back on the way. Amen.
[i] Joanna Goddard, “Two Families Sharing a House (Would You?),” October 26, 2015, as found at https://cupofjo.com/2015/10/communal-house-cohousing-san-francisco/ on May 4, 2017.
[ii] Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner, “Sermon Brainwave Podcast: #539 – Fourth Sunday of Easter,” April 29, 2017, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=880 on May 3, 2017.