A New Hope

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

May the 4th Be With You, 2014

Acts 2:36-47

I confess I read this passage and don’t recognize the world described. We started today at the end of a long sermon of Peter’s.

This sermon will be shorter.

I don’t expect crowds of people to come up to me immediately after worship, “cut to the heart” and wanting to repent and be baptized.

It could happen.

Let’s face it, even if it did happen, I’d suggest we meet for coffee and I could tell you about the church and about the next new member class.

That’s what I notice as the preacher.

I suspect you noticed a different discrepancy between the early church described in Acts and 21st century American Christianity.

“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.”

Am I right? Did that freak any of you out a little bit?

This isn’t stewardship season, is it?

“Is Marci going to advocate socialism or communism today? Has she completely lost it?”

Many of you did just sell many of your possessions last week in the Hopefully Yours Sale, generating over $5,000 for Presbyterian Women’s Mission project. While that is a great accomplishment and worth celebrating, we know this text is about more than giving away the things we no longer need. It’s about giving it all away.

This is not a popular text in American Christianity. NONE, and I mean NONE, of the American Christians who claim to take the Bible literally take this passage literally.

“Jesus doesn’t really want us to sell all of our possessions and give the money to the church. He means we should be generous, not homeless.

I wonder if this text is worse than we fear it is. I wonder if money and possessions are just the beginning of what the gospel demands of us.

This text is about giving everything.

Giving our money.

Giving our possessions.

Giving our hearts and minds.

Giving our very lives.

I’m thankful so many of you are still in the room at this point in the sermon.

Because it is daunting, isn’t it?

It makes me tired. What more can we give?

How do we get there from here? Do we even want to get there?

I can’t explain away this text as some people do.

I can only acknowledge the distance between ourselves and this text.

And its quite a distance.  Listen to these verses:

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.

My family likes to break bread at home, but sometimes that doesn’t happen until 9 pm when everyone is home from meetings or soccer practice. My family likes to spend much time together, with glad and generous hearts, but that time is hard to find.

I know that could describe many of your lives as well. And it describes our life as a congregation. For a congregation our size, we have a lot of things going on. And all of those things are led by you, after you’ve worked a full day and taken care of your own families and lives.

If this passage were written to describe our congregation, perhaps it would read:

“Day by day, they spent much time in the temple, maybe too much time. They would have liked to break bread at home, but often ate their food with tired and mildly generous hearts on the way to choir practice, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people, somewhere in the back of their minds as something they should do if they only had time.”

In our New Beginnings small groups, you identified the things you wanted this church to be involved in. You wanted to reach out to the neighborhood. You wanted to offer more education opportunities for ourselves and for the community. You wanted other worship options.

You also said you were tired and had no idea who was going to do all that work.

I’d like to show you a video now from one of my seminary professors. Walter Brueggemann is an Old Testament Scholar. Watch this with our Acts passage in mind.

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/an-alternative-way

He calls the church to live out an alternative way in the world.

Hospitality

Generosity

Forgiveness

Shaping public attitudes and policy—by being more neighborly

Reading this passage from Acts this morning, and listening to his assessment of American Christianity, we see the tension. We see the distance. We feel the anxiety he describes.

He asks how the church can disengage from the anxiety?

“Church needs to be practicing Sabbath. Sabbath is the practice of breaking the vicious cycle that leaves us restless and dissatisfied. It positions us on the receiving end of the gift of life.”

As you may have heard, the Session has decided to try something Sabbath related for the summer months. If you want to continue with it after the summer, we will. But we’re going to practice Sabbath as a congregation. We’re going to encourage you and educate you to find ways to practice Sabbath on a more personal and family level too. But as a church family, we’re going to practice Sabbath.

The last weekend of each month will be a Sabbath weekend. We’ll have a worship service on Saturday at 5 pm. And then Sunday morning, at the end of each month, will be a day of rest. Nothing will meet here at the church. Instead, the instruction for Sabbath is to rest, not to do anything out of obligation.

meal

good conversations over meals with friends

It isn’t an extra day to go to the office or schedule meetings. It is a day to linger over the sunrise, to be with your family, to go for a bike ride, to have friends over for lunch and conversation, to just be.

You do so much for this church and the community. You give of your time, your money, your presence, and your great creative gifts.

When do you put yourself on the receiving end of the gift of life?

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.

I do see similarities between the early Acts church and this church.  There is joy surrounding your work. You have a generosity of spirit. Your faithful work on behalf of others is a witness to the gospel. There is much in our life together that speaks to HOPE.

Brueggemann ended his talk with hope. He described the Spirit moving in the church today. The Book of Acts is all about what happens when, after Easter, the Spirit moved through the followers of Jesus and set them on fire to be the church in the world.

It is sort of stunning, really. After Jesus dies, his remaining followers are hiding in locked rooms, unsure of their future, afraid for their own lives. And then the Spirit comes in on Pentecost, firing them up to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, even to Boise.
Peter, who denied Jesus 3 times after Jesus was arrested, is denying nothing now. He’s preaching sermons that are changing lives.

This is the HOPE to which we are called. And this is the HOPE I feel when we’re together.
I’m thankful for the Spirit at work among you, for the generous way you support God’s work and witness in this community, for the joy you share with each other and all who walk through these doors. There is NEW HOPE in this place. I’m thankful for it. I’m looking forward to seeing how our hope and joy increase with the addition of Sabbath.
Thank you for being who you are.

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12 thoughts on “A New Hope

  1. A New Hope – Did you realize that today was Star Wars Day – May 4 – may the fourth be with you????? Have not read the sermon but will do so later tonight. Back to writing in blocking for A Midsummer Night’s Sleepover.

    -Kim

      • I struggle with finding a church in my community that challenges me! I preached today on Welcoming the stranger based on a video by Parker Palmer. It is the sense of hospitality that Brueggeman is talking about in the video you showed. I must come to visit you sometime!

  2. I’m preaching on this passage this week. I may just read this. It’s far better, more loving, nuanced, and compassionate that the tone I normally strike regarding this passage.

    Lovingly,
    The Bolshevik of Nebraska City

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