191013 – Happy Together

Yr C ~ Thanksgiving (Stewardship 4) ~ Acts 2:42-47

This is the last Sunday in our 4 week stewardship campaign called Giving in Faith. Our touchstone word through all this has been the word ‘entrusted’. The heart of stewardship is about faithfully dealing with the abundance with which we’ve been entrusted.
We started by looking at our time and a bit about our money. We’ve been entrusted with many hours each week – a gift and blessing from God – how shall we spend them. We have more than the basic needs of food and shelter. Most of us are probably celebrating Thanksgiving at some point this weekend and there will be bountiful reminders of how we’re not exactly starving! We are richly blessed, in more ways than we can count. What shall we do with that abundance?

Two weeks ago we talked about our local mission here at this church, and the dedication you all pour into the work we do. We’ve been entrusted with spiritual gifts and spiritual passion. The message that week was about keeping them ablaze. And we aim to do that by naming all the wonderful things we do together here, realizing what a profound difference we make in this community and the world, and celebrating our ministry together.

Last week it was all about the wider church – being part of the world wide body of Christ – and that we’ve been entrusted with a Way, with good news, with a gospel. How shall we share that good news? We share it through worship, through creation-care, through service, through justice-making, and through proclamation – we share it by being the Church together.

We’ve also been having coffee parties in people’s homes – gathering together to talk about the blessings of this community of faith, dreaming about the future, and discussing our real needs in the here and now. And on top of that we’ve been having people stand up and give testimonials about their faith journey and the ways that Faith United is an important part of that.

I think it has been a tremendous stewardship campaign. I’m very grateful for the hard working team that has been leading it.
And the best part is that we haven’t been harping on money!
Until now. (Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle!)

But before I do that I want to say this.
We’re not perfect by any means, but this is a fantastic church.
You are in many ways a model of how church ought to be done.
And I think the reason for that is all because of me! NO, I’m totally kidding!!!
The reason is that you are a passionately faithful reflection of the very first church.

In the book of Acts, right after the Holy Spirit does its Pentecost thing, Peter and the gang do their preaching and sharing the good news thing, and it says three thousand people welcomed the message and were baptized.
Can you picture that? And then what? Did all those people just go home and live happily ever after?
No, they became a church. Immediately after the words ‘three thousand’ the text uses the word ‘they’ and describes their relationship. It seems pretty unlikely that all three thousand were hanging around together, but it’s crystal clear that the aftermath of Pentecost wasn’t just the memory of a dazzling event – it was a movement.

Our scripture today describes that movement – that first iteration of church – back before it got all messy with other issues – as churches are wont to do.
And when I read that description of that first church I see Faith United, and I’m filled with gratitude.

Acts 2:42-43 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

Let me start with that last bit. Awe wasn’t happening because the apostles were superstars. The translation is misleading. The signs and wonders weren’t done ‘by’ the apostles but ‘through’ them. It makes a big difference. And signs and wonders don’t mean miracles per se – it just means that the work they were doing was having noticeable and positive effects. I read it as the awe was coming through their ministry together.

And what was their ministry?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
They devoted themselves, as a church, to learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
So do you!

And what did this spiritual grounding, and nurture, and intentionality inspire them to do?
It inspired them to give.

Acts 2:44-45 All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

No, they did not start a hippie commune!
And no, I will not use these verses to suggest that you need to sell all your stuff and give the money to the church.
Well, you could probably do some of that, because you probably have too much stuff, and the church could certainly use the money, but that’s not what this scripture means.

Remember from last week, the word ‘believed’ doesn’t really mean that they were all in intellectual agreement and understood the finer points of theology the same way. To believe means to give your heart to something – as in, “I believe in you” – “I give my heart to you.” It says that in that earliest church all who believed, all who gave their heart to the Way of Jesus, were together, as one, unified.

And the “had all things in common” part is a poor translation.
The word ‘things’ is not in the Greek, and the word ‘common’ means more like ordinary or earthy as opposed to elevated.
It would be better to say “all who gave their heart to the Way of Jesus were unified and saw themselves as equals.”

And that makes the next verse make more sense. Because they were equals they treated one another as equals, and if anyone had any needs they helped one another meet them. They didn’t pool all their finances – they just made sure nobody got left behind.
They took care of one another. They loved one another.

Here’s what that looked like.
Acts 2:46-47 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like Faith United?
They spent tons of time at the church. Check.
They got together in people’s homes. Check.
Their time together gave them glad and generous hearts. Check.
They praised God all the time they were doing those things. Check.
They had the goodwill of everyone around. Check.

In other words, they were happy together. Check!
And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Don’t trip on that word ‘saved’. It means to be delivered from danger to safety, but it also means to be made whole. It’s not that people were being rescued from a one way ticket down – it was that they found wholeness, abundance, transformation, and love.
It simply means that as they lived out their faith as a church community that it was attractive, and people were drawn to this Way that they were living.

They devoted themselves, as a church, to learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
They gave their heart to the Way of Jesus and were unified and saw themselves as equals.
They took care of one another.
They spent hours and hours at church.
They were happy together.
They were well regarded by the community.
And they experienced transformation, wholeness, and abundance as they grew in faith.

That sounds exactly like Faith United to me.
And that’s why this stewardship campaign has been such a joy.
It’s because y’all do church good!
All these tremendously wonderful things that we’ve been entrusted with as a community of faith are being shared in all the right ways.
You are fantastic stewards of God’s blessings in this time and this place.
That’s why we’re flourishing. And that’s why we’re so happy together.

I hope you feel that way too.
And I hope that right now your hearts are overflowing with gratitude and appreciation for one another, and for all we are and all we do as this unique expression of the body of Christ.
It’s even ok to feel a little pride about it all.
And if you’re a visitor it’s ok to feel a little envy. Or better still, join us!

When we started this Giving in Faith campaign I said that I wasn’t going to focus on money. I said that my purpose was to remind us of the foundation of all this – this place, our faith, our ministry together – and then I’m happy to let come whatever may come. But I do need to say a couple things about the money part.

It’s always awkward for the guy who’s the most expensive item on the budget to give a pitch about giving. But here goes.

There are three ways to improve the bottom line of a church.
The most obvious one is to trade me in on a cheaper model. I hope you don’t want to do that!
The second way is to grow your arms a little longer – that way you can reach down further into your pockets! Alternatively we can strike a task group to turn people upside down and shake them.
All kidding aside, some of us have the capacity to give more, and some of us don’t. If you do, please do.

The third way to improve the bottom line is my favourite.
Know that you are richly blessed, keep ablaze and don’t be timid about sharing your spiritual passion with others, live out your faith intentionally, naming the reason why you do what you do, proclaiming the Jesus part, and saying why folks who hang out here are so happy together.

In other words, the best method of financial stewardship is to have more stewards!
And since a fair number of you are no longer in the baby making business you’ll have to do it the other way.
You’ll need to invite people to come and see.
In a word, it’s evangelism – or as I like to call it, faithvertising!

This really is a fantastic church. It should be easy to say good things about it to people. But don’t just talk about the eating part.

Tell them how we devote ourselves to learning, fellowship, sharing meals, and worship.
Tell them how we’re unified and see ourselves as equals.
Tell them how we take care of one another.
Tell them why you’re inspired to spend hours and hours at church and with church folks.
Tell them why we’re well regarded by the community, about all the ministries we have and all the good we do.
Tell them about how as you have grown in faith that you, personally, have experienced transformation, wholeness, and abundance.|
And yes, tell them that we’re happy together!

There are no guarantees of course, but I’d be willing to wager that if we did that, if we really, actually, enthusiastically, vocally did that, that our church would even more closely resemble that earliest church.
We may not have three thousand show up, but you can be sure that day by day the Lord [would be adding] to our number those who were being [made whole and transformed].

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. We have so much to be grateful for.
I’m grateful for you. I’m grateful for all that we’ve been entrusted with.
I’m grateful for your stewardship of these gifts and that you so passionately “give in faith”. I’m grateful for the way you do church.
And I’m grateful that we’re so happy together.

Happy Thanks-“giving” indeed!