May 7, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
So I have been bragging on this congregation in all sorts of places recently. At Diversity Council and Mayo events. At clergy gatherings. At casual conversations with friends. I tell them about all the work we are doing together. Serving at funerals. Opening our doors to a food shelf. Juggling schedules that make use of the building challenging at times. Collecting items for adults who face challenges in their lives through addictions and mental illness and debilitating disabilities.
I tell them how we find those things that touch our hearts and respond with acts of mercy and compassion.
I tell them how we are living out the heritage of our founder, John Wesley and the call of God through Jesus who told us to give a cup of cold water to those in need.
As a side note, do you know how hard it was to give a cup of cold water to people in Jesus day? Unless you were at the well when the water was drawn the water you drank was probably at the most lukewarm if not hot. Whenever I travel to developing countries one of the greatest luxury is often a cup of cold water that is safe to drink.
Jesus was saying more than just give people a drink. Jesus was saying, give people a precious type of drink. One that would cost you something and would be out of the ordinary.
I think that is what we do here. It isn’t convenient to do what we do, to juggle schedules, to allow our building to be used up, to work with others in the community who aren’t always on the same page as we are.
I don’t always keep the schedule straight. I so appreciate all of you who help us get from one event to another seamlessly. Particularly my husband Steve who has put up and taken down more tables and chairs than most paid custodians.
You know, when people go to seminary to train to be a pastor or when people think of church what they imagine is worship, prayer, visiting the sick and dying, teaching classes that sort of thing. So, in one of my facebook pages I follow called: Things they didn’t teach us in seminary, new clergy are astounded at the ways being in ministry is complicated and challenging. And so much more than worship, prayer, visiting and teaching.
The early church found that out too. In our passage from Acts this morning, it would be tempting to think that worship, praying and visiting were all the early church was about. But if we read any of the other passages about the early church we will learn that they were doing quite a bit of juggling and figuring things out.
There was the whole question of where to meet. How to meet. Who all to meet with.
Then there was the question of how to take care of each other and how to manage their resources. From the sounds of this passage everyone just gladly shared what they had with each other. But we know from other passages in the scripture that wasn’t the reality. People who were wealthier weren’t so generous as this passage suggests.
There was a huge conflict in the early church about who could come and eat at the weekly potluck type of meal that was held before regular worship. While we don’t know the exact details, it seems that the wealthy only wanted to eat with their own kind. The poor people had to come after the meal was over to join in on the worship service. So, the wealthy were full and well fed while the poor came with rumbling stomachs.
That seems like a no brainer when you think about Jesus teaching about sharing and the first shall be last and last shall be first and whoever has a coat should share with those who don’t. You would think the church wouldn’t have even struggled with this.
But they did.
And not just this. They struggled with how to be a Christian in the midst of a culture that was much like our own. Full of temptations toward violence as entertainment. Full of the disrespect of women as sexual objects. Full of abuse of the environment, abuse of power, abuse of children.
They struggle just like we do. And were making it up as they went along, just like we do.
Which is good news for us, isn’t it?
We won’t always get it right, even the obvious stuff.
But God continues to use us for God’s purposes and even God’s glory! Amazing!
And I believe that God will always use us for God’s purposes as long as we have the attitude of Jesus. Or as it is put in this scripture passage:
They served with glad and generous hearts. I really like that, glad and generous hearts.
You know, sometimes when things don’t work out very smoothly and things get complicated… Sometimes when we don’t see eye to eye with another person… Sometimes when what you planned to do conflicts with what is on the schedule…Sometimes when things get complicated our hearts become sad and mean spirited. We become discouraged and discouraging.
And the whole point of what we do becomes clouded and a burden rather than a joy.
But then, the Holy Spirit does her work, if we are open to her.
The Holy Spirit warms our hearts again.
The Holy Spirit does what we cannot do on our own.
The Holy Spirit creates a community that can work together in spite of the challenges. In spite of the complications. In spite of the differences of opinion.
Which brings me back to bragging on you all.
What I say to people is: we are not of one mind. We have different ways of being and seeing the world. Our farmers have different ways of farming. Our shop keepers have different ways of looking at the community. Our people who work in Rochester have different places in society.
Our people who work in Chatfield have different ways of looking at the economy and how it should work.
Our people who are retired have different experiences and expectations.
Yet, in the midst of all of these differences, we come together to worship and celebrate the sacraments and speak words of blessing to each other and serve the community together.
(Invitation to the Lord’s Supper:
Today we will all eat at the table of God. No one will be turned away. We will come no matter who we voted for, where we shop, what team we root for. We come because this is not our table it is God’s table and God invites us saint and sinner to eat.)
The Holy Spirit works in the midst of our differences to create a community that means something. For us and for our neighbor and for the glory of God.
When people ask me if I believe in miracles, I say, “yes” Because I live in the midst of a miracle called Chatfield UMC every day.