4th Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2012
4th Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2012
Elizabeth M. Deibert
This reading from Acts 4 was one of our four readings for April 15 in the common lectionary that many churches use. But as that was just the second Sunday of Easter, I chose to preach on the Gospel lesson, the Doubting Thomas story, one of the resurrection narratives. But I did send Acts 4 out to the Elders on Session and to the Ministry Teams as a scripture for opening devotions – the thing we call Word-Share-Prayer. We open all our meetings with those because it helps us to keep our work grounded in scripture and in our mutual calling as Christ’s disciples. It also helps us all to learn to be interpreters of scripture.
So Thursday night ten days ago, I was traveling back from a meeting at the Presbyterian seminary in Atlanta, and as expected, I arrived after our session meeting had begun. Tricia was leading the meeting and as I came in, she and the elders all exclaimed, “Well, we had quite a debate on this passage! Maybe you should preach on it sometime.” So I took them at their word, and decided that this would be a great reading for this day of significance.
Because the essence of this story is that the early church was empowered by a shared, bold purpose. It drove them to great sacrifice, great generosity, and great transformation of life. It is not too different from what is going on here in this new church. We too have a shared, bold purpose – to build a permanent home for this church, the people called Peace.
We’ve been building the people for a few years. We now number 222 people, which is ten times more than when I came in 2005. The choir had about five people when Gia started the beginning of 2007 and now the music program has more than fifty. The youth group consisted of Catherine and Andrew Deibert when Tricia began in 2008 and at last count, I think there are twenty active adolescents. So by every count, we have increased ten-fold. We’ve come a long way from the kitchen table vision for a new PC(USA) Church in Lakewood Ranch.
When we first started Sunday morning worship, we were thankful for four hours in an auditorium at SCF, which was then called MCC, and for accompanying classrooms. We had choir and ministry team meetings in homes. But how much more fruitful we have been once we made this place our home, with 24/7 use of some of this space, and with permanent signage at least on the back face of the building. As we begin to out-grow this space, it is time for us to rally our resources and to see what God can do when we all stretch to give as much as we can.
Before we read Acts 4, let me set the context for you. Peter and John had been arrested by the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, for preaching that in Jesus there is resurrection of the dead. But when they asked Peter and John to stop preaching this, the apostles simply pointed to those who had been healed and said, “We cannot stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.” And the crowds were in full support, because so many lives were being transformed. So the religious leaders reluctantly let them go, still pitching threats at them. We begin our reading with the end of prayer said by the believers who apparently were asking God to continue to give boldness to the apostles, despite the risks they were taking by proclaiming this gospel.
And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." 31 When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet. (NRSV)
Many people react to this text, thinking immediately that it is a prescription for communism. I want to assert that I am not advocating communism as a political social construct. First of all, this is a narrative about the life of the early church, not the Roman Empire, in a first century context. So this passage is about the church, not the state or nation. Furthermore, just like we do not adopt first century attitudes about the place of women in society nor do we justify slavery based on Biblical texts which assume it nor do we understand sexuality or science from a first century mindset, so we do not read this passage literally, thinking that the only way to be faithful as a church is to live in a commune and share all our possessions.
Having made these disclaimers, we also do not cavalierly reject scripture as having nothing to teach us. So what does this passage teach us? Well, it shows us that the early church made great sacrifices because they were captivated by a bold, shared purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, which was transforming lives by the power of the Spirit. They could not stop, even when their lives were at risk. They could not stop proclaiming what they had seen and heard regarding Jesus the Christ.
Barnabas, the one whose name means “son of encouragement” chose to sell his piece land and bring the money to the leaders of the church. That’s not a far-fetched idea. There may be some of you who have property that could be sold for the furtherance of Peace’s proclamation of the Gospel. Your property may be house, land, stocks or bonds, and when we bring our gifts together we can do great things. It requires a commitment to our shared, bold purpose.
How much do you value the kind of church community Peace is? Is there another church that can meet people’s spiritual needs in the deeply authentic way that Peace does? There are plenty of churches in Lakewood Ranch, but not one with the uniqueness of Peace.
And does Peace need a permanent building to further our goals of inspiring worship, authentic relationships, nurturing discipleship, compassionate outreach, and responsive stewardship? Well…., we could stay here a bit longer in the Realtors facility, but with the threat of a sale of this property, we live with some anxiety about the security of this home. We could keep moving around, perhaps finding odd places like abandoned retail locations to hold worship, but that will keep the church on edge and probably would not secure our future development.
Finally, when you consider all God in Jesus Christ has done for you and for the whole earth, don’t you think God deserves a house that is ten times as nice as the average house in this area. If you took the current value every one of our homes and averaged them, I expect you’d come to a value of about $300,000. Doesn’t God deserve a house ten times nicer than mine? I think so.
None of us can build God the house God deserves all by ourselves. That would be as ridiculous as one person trying to run all the ministries of Peace alone. Eleven ministry teams headed by one person. No, the beauty of the church is when all of us come together with all our varied gifts and we pool them together and what happens is something beautiful. We have already done that with our operating budget of close to $300,000.
We pool our resources, so we can do more together than we could do as individuals. We cannot all give equally because we all have differing abilities and differing circumstances and differing commitments and differing values. But when we all do as much as we can do, the result is beautiful – like that dinner and talent show last night where everyone contributed food, door prizes and talent.
Some of you value the beauty of a sanctuary in which to worship, where the ceiling height and natural light inspire to trust in the God of all beauty and love. Some of you value the beauty of excellent music and can hardly wait for a sanctuary in which the acoustics enhance the diligent rehearsals of the choirs and the organ is one that utilizes all the talent that Gia can bring to it.
Some of you value fellowship space where we can actually use the kitchen for events like last night, where we can spread out during coffee time to build relationships and make everyone who comes to Peace feel warmly welcomed and appreciated.
Some of you really value outdoor spaces where children can run and play away from the dangers of parking lots. You value outdoor gardens where we can meditate, converse with one another and God, and remember those have died.
Some of you are eager to have a building of our own, where we can more easily welcome support groups, and do mission work with the hungry and homeless and aging.
All of these desires have driven the Building Vision Team to work hard for more than two years to bring us to this point of decision. What is the depth of our support for this our shared, bold purpose? Are you willing to risk a little, as the disciples did a lot, to accomplish this goal of building a permanent home for Peace?
I think what we are doing here, in developing a church like Peace Presbyterian, is of pre-eminent and enduring value. I’d rather eat at home, which is healthier anyway, than eat out and have more money to give to the church. I’d rather contribute to Peace Presbyterian’s excellence than drive an excellent car. I’d rather give to Peace than put extra money away for retirement. I’d rather give significant sums of money to Peace than to my college alma mater. I’d rather give to Peace than ever own a second home. I’d rather leave an inheritance to secure Peace Presbyterian’s future than to set my children up with an inheritance. Richard and I benefitted from an inheritance from his grandfather, but I’m not sure that it is always very helpful to heirs to depend on money they did not earn.
What Richard and I cannot relinquish is the desire to give our children a good college education. You have precious values than you don’t want to sacrifice. My values are not your values, so you have to decide what you can do. But the point is this: We share a common goal. Our mission is to make God known, by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. Will we have a permanent home in which to flourish in our mission? That depends on all of us, seriously considering what we can do to secure the future of Peace. It is a once in a life-time opportunity to change lives.