Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Testimony to the Resurrection" - Sermon, April 8, 2018

Community UMC Quincy
“In the Name of Jesus Christ...Testimony to the Resurrection”
Pastor Andrew Davis
April 8, 2018
Acts 4: 32-35

            Last week after Easter dinner with my parents, I was perusing Facebook and came across a little comic that says it all for clergy on Easter Sunday and the following week…”Christ is Risen…the clergy is dead.” Holy Week and Easter are among the highest points of the Christian year next to Advent and Christmas, and there is definitely a lot of extra work that goes into the season…extra studies, extra services, extra bulletins, not as much sleep or rest as we’d always like.  You get the idea.  As our Plumas-Lassen UM Circuit met on Wednesday morning, all four of us pastors concurred that it felt like a post-Easter coma this last week, hence why many of my colleagues take vacation the week after Christmas and Easter, or why my colleagues who are pastors of larger congregations with an associate pastor or seminary interns have the associate pastor or intern preach the Sunday after Easter. 
            While all the candy and Easter merchandise at Safeway, Rite-Aid, SavMor, and Dollar Tree have been marked down to quickly sell, it’s STILL Easter here in the church and will be well into next month.  While we might not have the attendance, people decked out in their Sunday best, nor have quite the pomp and circumstance that we did last Sunday, Easter Sunday is just the beginning of the Easter season, which lasts 50 days and will conclude on May 20, Pentecost Sunday.  At the same time, this second Sunday of Easter is a good time to begin a new series, or in this case first of two mini-series, “In the Name of Jesus Christ” and “By the Power of the Holy Spirit.” During this time, we will be talking about the formation of the early church by the community of believers as we engage with the Book of Acts, in conjunction with Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances to the disciples.
In the first series, “In the Name of Jesus,” we will be focusing on what it means to claim the power of the name of Jesus as his followers. We will journey with the first disciples through the early chapters in the book of Acts, following them as they plant the very first Christian church and identifying how claiming the name of Jesus was the source of their strength, healing power and salvation.

Then, in our second series, “And the Power of the Holy Spirit,” we will explore what it means to be a church powered by the very Spirit of Christ. All of this will culminate on the final day of the season as we celebrate the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church on the day of Pentecost.[i]

            The only caveat to note is that we’ll be bouncing around chapters a little bit, as it isn’t going to be a neat, tidy chronological reading of the Book of Acts, so some of the sequences of events might seem a little off. 
            Just to set some further context, particularly for this morning, the Book of Acts is an extension of the Gospel of Luke, as it focuses on the work of the disciples following Jesus’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit as it works through the community of believers in the name of Jesus Christ.[ii]  
In addition, “the picture of the developing church painted by the author is of a growing community of believers powered by the Holy Spirit, and witnessed in the visible signs and wonders offered through the teachings and healings of the apostles.”[iii]
Leading up to where we are in the story that Charlotte read to us this morning, Peter, with John standing by, has healed a man who was crippled and spent all of his days begging at the gate of temple.  Following healing the crippled man, Peter and John then addressed the crowd and called them to repent of their sins, much to the annoyance of the chief priests and religious authorities of the temple.  Almost like being called to the principal’s office, Peter and John are called to go before the council, although the council couldn’t find a reason to punish Peter and John. 
As the team at Discipleship Ministries Worship resources explains,
It was the healing of the lame beggar at the Beautiful Gate that began to draw more and more people to recognize the power of the name of Jesus.  The first group of believers are the ones the author of Acts writes about in today’s scripture lesson from the end of chapter four, where the whole group has become, in essence, one in body in Christ.  And it is the same healing power that has enabled them to be of one heart and soul, and for no one to have more possessions than others, but rather, to hold all their assets in common, sharing what they had so that no one in the community would be without.  Especially folks like the lame beggar.  They pooled their resources to care for each other and gave whatever they had leftover to those around them who were in need. 

            Which in essence, perfectly summarizes our lesson from Acts, as the apostles testify, or witness to the resurrection in the formation of the community of faith.  On the other hand, this morning’s lesson from Acts could almost sound like a stewardship sermon on how we give away what we have, how we pool our resources, and such.  In The New Interpreter’s Commentary, the author here “is paying special attention to the church’s distinctive practice of sharing goods” and that “the resurrection practice of holding everything in common, which enjoys favorable public reputation, is now used as evidence of the apostles’ increasing grip on the inner life and destiny of all believers.”[iv]
Now, all of this could cause us to wrestle a little bit, especially when we heard the gathering meditation at the beginning of the service and in conversations among friends and colleagues on this week’s passage, there were some concerns brought up about the implications the mediation and passage both hold.   However, we also need to remember that the Book of Acts and all of scripture were written in different times in history and have different contexts than today, as the early church was a lot more communal in nature, in which everyone distributed what they had equally. 
 As I’ve been wrestling some with today’s context, we have a lot more in the way of boundaries and such which also ask the questions, do we just let anyone into our homes to sleep, give whatever we have to eat out of our pantries and refrigerators, give just anyone clothes in our closet?... Amidst these questions and some boundaries that are necessary for our safety and the safety of those we are called to help. we still witness and testify to the resurrection of Jesus today when we do our best to answer such a call and share our resources.  Then again, we live in a much more complicated, although not any less messy world that the apostles and early community of believers lived in.  Yet this is where like I said last week and in many other sermons before, the way isn’t necessarily easy.  The reality is that with a high cost of living, low wages, a disproportion of wealth, and other challenges that are relevant to the world we live in today, there are more people in need that we may not always see and we may not always be fully aware that they are in need. 
Like it was in the first group of believers, there are definitely ways we in the church today can share what we have and pool our resources to help those in need, as “we can still make choices in our everyday lives to live on less so that we may give more to support those in need around us.”[v] At the same time,
We all have opportunities to see [the people in need in our midst, similar to the beggar at the gate of the Temple who Peter and John healed.]  They may not be standing on a street corner with a “Homeless, please help me” sign in their hands.  You may not pass them at the same spot every morning when you get your coffee at Starbucks [Peet’s, or wherever you get your coffee].  But there are people who are struggling to make ends meet, people who are in need of God’s healing touch, all around us.  All we have to do is look around and see them.[vi]

            I think I may have felt a little conviction last Sunday in my sermon, particularly when it comes to erring on the side of grace instead of judgment, as I admit that some of this stuff about sharing resources is where I wrestle and find myself operating more under a presumption of judgment, and some of it based on some past experiences… 
In thinking about the words of the opening meditation, I think in a perfect, we should be able to get food out of our pantries, take someone in our car, get people off the streets, although I also know that sometimes such does not always end very well, as there are people out there who know the church can be benevolent and will often do what they can to exploit and take advantage of that benevolence then turn around and call us bad Christians when we won’t help them.  That’s my biggest struggle in all of this, yet God is working on me to be more grace-filled in this area, which is why things are more complicated in today’s world.  Late this last week when I got a call from out of the area from someone seeking shelter before the two days of rain.  Initially, I tried to find an excuse not to help, but then I believe God was moving me more towards a presumption of grace, as when I was getting ready to call this person back, they called again and went ahead and got them a room at Gold Pan Lodge.  It turns out the person and a friend were on the way to a job site in Oregon and was able to have a good, albeit brief conversation with them and they were grateful.  On the other hand, just after I arrived here a couple years ago, I put someone in a room at another motel and was stuck with a repair bill after the person trashed and heavily damaged the room.  When I talked about it with a couple of my “holy friends” from seminary, the kind of friends you can go to and talk about anything with and receive feedback from, one of them said it’s ‘the cost of ministry.’ Sometimes ministry does come with a cost.  We’ve encountered both people who are both legitimately in need and those who are out to work the system, yet I keep wrestling with whether or not just to do what we are called by giving everyone what they need or perceive to need and simply let God do the rest as my testimony to the resurrection.  And I’m not the only pastor who struggles with this, as this very topic has invited some very lively conversations among colleagues. 
            As we testify, or witness to the resurrection in our church today, I see us doing our part in pooling our resources and testifying to the resurrection through our ministries of feeding the community with our hot pot lunch and community supper, support of and volunteer work at C.A.N., plus we have people in our church who will provide meals to those after surgery through Meal Train, or after Fall dinner, making soup for those who are sick with the leftover turkey.  We see our resources being shared through different people offering rides to those who don’t want to travel a long distance or to medical appointments in Reno or Chico.  In another conversation with the lay leadership development team last year, some feel we can do a lot more for the community and there are perhaps more places the church can step up and testify to the resurrection and pool resources in the community, especially in how we can find ways to work together with the county’s resources, especially in filling some gaps which is what happened this last week between the sheriff’s office and PCIRC who referred these two people to us. 
Another resource where we have pooled together that I’ve shared before with the congregation and will share again is that we do have a discretionary fund that many of you generously contribute to that we can use to put people in a motel for a couple nights, pay utility or phone bills or partial bills, partial rental deposits or partial rent.  Use of the discretionary fund is not just limited to people in our community, as it is also for people in the church who may find themselves in a bind.  All you need to do is talk with me and have a copy of your bill or your rental agreement.  It will remain confidential should you have such need. 
Likewise, some of the other churches in our town have similar resources and several of us have conversed about how we can pool our resources between the churches and network with each other when we have people in need come to us.  By networking with each other, we can fill the areas one or the other may not have.  In my time here, I have been exploring some ways we can contribute and help people other than with cash, given that cash is not kept here on the premises.  Once in a great while, I have had people come by the office during the week needing money for gas, which I don’t have the resources, but the other churches might in order to fill that need.  How we use our discretionary funds is one of the ways our resources are pooled among the churches, but if anyone would like to make donations to the discretionary fund, those are definitely welcome, yet I will also welcome gift cards from the gas stations to purchase enough for a tank of gas, or gift cards from Safeway for some basic groceries, or from any of the local eateries for a meal.  It’s all in how we use our possessions and how we use our wealth in today’s context, as the early community of believers was more like a commune, way different from what we have today.  Yet, we can still testify to the resurrection and share the Good News of Christ conquering death and sin when we can pool our resources and use our resources for those in need around our community and even around the world through our connectional giving.  When we pool our resources together and testify to the resurrection, maybe we can give people a glimmer of hope, and a new chance at life after they’ve believed it couldn’t happen. 
As we go into this new week and continue offering words of hope and encouragement in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone we encounter,

how are we witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ in places where people have little hope that anything is ever going change for them?  What are we doing as [a community of faith] to share the promises, signs, and wonders that the early church knew and witnessed?  What are we doing to change the situation for the working poor around the globe?  How can we as United Methodists, be of one heart and soul regarding the need to serve the poor, not only in our own communities, but around the world?[vii]

            The world may be complicated more and still messy as ever, yet as the community of faith, we have this essential calling before us as we testify to the resurrection and serve the community in the name of Jesus Christ. 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!   

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 5 2018. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/easter-season-2018-worship-planning-series/april-8-2018-second-sunday-of-easter-year-b/second-sunday-of-easter-2018-preaching-notes.

[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 96. 

[v] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday Of Easter 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed April 5 2018. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/easter-season-2018-worship-planning-series/april-8-2018-second-sunday-of-easter-year-b/second-sunday-of-easter-2018-preaching-notes.

[vi] Ibid. 
[vii] Ibid.

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