Saturday, February 28, 2015

“What if it is OURS, not MINE?” (Acts 2:42-47 & 4:32, 34)

A young man saw an elderly couple sitting down to lunch at McDonald's. He noticed that they had ordered one meal, and an extra drink cup. As he watched, the gentleman carefully divided the hamburger in half, then counted out the fries, one for him, one for her, until each had half of them. Then he poured half of the soft drink into the extra cup and set that in front of his wife. The old man then began to eat, and his wife sat watching, with her hands folded in her lap.

The young man decided to ask if they would allow him to purchase another meal for them so that they didn't have to split theirs.

The old gentleman said, "Oh no. We've been married 50 years, and everything has always been and will always be shared, 50/50."

The young man then asked the wife if she was going to eat, and she replied, "It's his turn with the teeth."

Q: Why wouldn’t the shrimp share his treasure?
A: Because he was a little shell fish.

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God.  So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.  The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we've decided that we no longer need you.  We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and mind your own business?”

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man.  After the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this?  Let’s say we have a man-making contest.”  To which the scientist replied, “Okay, we can handle that!”

“But,” God added, “we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”

The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God looked at him and said, “No, no, no.  You go get your own dirt.”

As astronomer Carl Sagan once said, “If you really want to make an apple pie from scratch, you have to invent the whole universe.”

All three of these humorous stories and joke point to a simple truth:  Everything is on loan from God.  We don’t posses anything, we simply borrow!

Riddle : Why can’t we take it with us?  Because it’s not OURS!

As Christians we often talk about the difference between possessing something and borrowing something as OWNERSHIP verses STEWARDSHIP.  Turing to the OT Book of Genesis we are very much aware that we are invited to partner with God in caring for the earth, we don’t own it.  AND we are aware that God INVITES Adam to name the animal and plants because it’s God’s place to do so—to do the asking that is.

In our lesson today from the New Testament book of Acts, we encounter the early followers of Jesus sharing their possessions with the faith community.  “Everything was held in common,” we hear, and “No one owned anything.”  The New Testament church wasn’t relying on the stories from the Old Testament for motivation, however, they are looking to the resurrection.
“This is how much God loves us, so let us love one another.”  By sharing everything, holding everything in common, they were putting the practice of love into action.   They were expressing their profound love for one another as God had expressed God’s profound love for humanity by the resurrection.  “Let’s keep going,” God says to us, “I forgive you.”  Love was the early Christians’ way of life together, and sharing everything was their way of living.  Every need was met.  No one did without.  After all, we are ALL on loan from God. What they were expressing was a deep respect for humanity! 

This deep respect is hard to find these days.  Pope Francis recently commented, “The world would be a better place if people had less dogs and cats and more babies.”

As you and I grow into our new purpose statement, “To be a WELCOMING COMMUNITY that FOLLOWS the CALL of JESUS to LOVE GOD and NEIGHBOR,” we must add to the list of questions we are asking ourselves, “How do we live with the knowledge that it’s all God’s stuff,” and 
“How do we express love for our neighbor—a deep respect?”  Our board has expressed a desire to get to know the neighborhood, which is a good thing.

But we won’t look like the early church.  We live more apart than together, and our entrance into the neighborhood won’t be every day. 

In the Weavings journal, Christian author and teacher Marilyn McEntyre suggests the following spiritual practices which I think might be excellent goals during LENT for our congregation in light of our purpose statement:  

  • Begin every day for one month with the question “What can I share today?  Where can I pay it ‘forward’?  What do I have that might be given away?”  (This past week I filled a downtown parking meter with two hour’s worth of coins knowing I only needed thirty minutes.)

  • Create a “caring station” in the church where people can donate items and/or use the items collected free of charge—flower pots, children’s clothing and other house goods.  We have such a room for GATEWAY HOUSE, the abused women and children’s shelter, but the items are collected by Church Women United and designated.

  • Journal around the questions “What do you mean by WE instead of ME” and “Who are WE and where does US become THEM?”  I’ll add to the study the discipline of noting in a calendar how much of your day is about you—and how much of your day is about your neighbor, the community?

  • Set aside minutes each week to make a phone call to someone who might be lonely.

  • Practice letting go—if you bring something new into your home, let another object GO.

  • Take a “good for the planet” walk through your home, and through the church.  Are we doing everything we can to support the planet’s health?

  •  Practice intercessory prayer for others for their physical health and their spiritual health--the temptation to be greedy; to hoard possessions.

Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, records that the early church grew because people “liked what they saw.”  What did they see?  They saw compassion.   They saw people living differently in the world—with deep respect for people.   Love in action is AMAZING TO BEHOLD.

Prayer:  Gracious God, may our church embrace your deep respect for humanity.  Amen.

(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings on February 15, 2015.)

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