In Common

Sermon preached at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Acts 2:42-47
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. 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.

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. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

***

In this Easter season, we’ve been looking at the second chapter of Acts, which, in its own way, lays out a sort of blueprint for what the church of Christ is supposed to be. We began with Peter’s sermon on Christ’s resurrection; everything we do, everything we are, is founded on Christ, on his ministry, his power, his grace, his love, the abundant life he offers. Last week we heard how the people responded to this message—they received baptism for forgiveness, throwing aside old labels and divisions to become Christ’s people. This week we get a tantalizing glimpse into the what of this first Christian community—what it was they actually did.

It’s a short reading, just a few verses, but it lays out so simply, so beautifully, what it means to be the church. It actually ends up being ten instructions, which pleases me to no end:

  1. Christ’s people devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching
  2. they share in fellowship
  3. they break bread together
  4. they pray
  5. they are open to God’s presence in the world
  6. they gather together and share everything
  7. they sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any have need.
  8. they spend much time together in the temple,
  9. they break bread at home and eat with glad and generous hearts,
  10. they praise God and have the goodwill of all the people.

It really does sound like the perfect church. A Christian utopia, where everything is easy and joyful and nobody gets on anybody’s nerves and the bread is never burned and pledges are never down.

I have a deep love for this passage. I truly believe this is God’s vision for the church—that these are the nuts and bolts of what we are called to do. Pray. Feast. Worship. Share.

However, I also know that this passage, with its clear cut idealism, can be a bit of a trap. It seems so right and perfect that we can move quickly to beating ourselves up—or beating the church up—for not living up to its standards.

Because we don’t. We try. We gather and worship and pray and break bread once a month, right on schedule. We pool resources and we go to Sunday School and we host fellowship lunches. We do our darndest to cover the whole checklist.

But eventually, we fall short. We don’t always eat with glad and generous hearts; sometimes our hearts are grumpy or cynical or just plain burned-out. We don’t also react with awe to God’s miracles; sometimes we don’t even notice them. And mostly we don’t even attempt that whole “share everything you own and sell what can’t be shared so the money can go to those who need it.” We echo this in our offering, but we don’t go whole hog. We keep what’s ours; we tithe; 10 percent, not 100, because we think we know that’s unsustainable. And, I hate to say it, but we as a capital C church hardly have the goodwill of all the people. A lot of folks are ambivalent about the church. A lot more plain don’t like it.

Seminary is a great place for idealists, folks who fall head over heels for this utopian Acts 2 church. We fairly drool over this image, a church so perfect that everyone inside it’s always happy and everyone outside it gives it two thumbs up. Anybody who could pastor a church like that would get a great ego boost.

But let me tell you a story, about a group of seminarians, idealistic, big-hearted, visionary. The kind of folks who loooove this Acts 2 church with all it’s sharing and caring and joyful feasting.

Let me tell you a story of what happens when 16 of them share a house—and a single kitchen.

Ideals crash hard.

All three years I spent on campus in seminary I lived in communal housing. We each had our own room, our own bathroom, but we shared a kitchen. And anyone who’s ever done this will tell you—communal living is made or broken in the kitchen.

It began well. We all staked out our cabinets, taped our names on shelves, drew up a rotating schedule for buying paper towels. We would share all of the cookware and dining ware—most of it leftover from other residents, which made for a pretty epic collection of novelty mugs. The rules were simple: wash what you use, don’t touch other people’s food, and unload the dishwasher when it’s clean.

You might have guessed it was the dishwasher that did us in.

It began as an argument over forks: in the dishwasher, do they go tines up or tines down? Arguments were made about safety and sanitation. Accusations were then made about who always loaded the dishes and who never did. It was the beginning of the end for our communal living dream.

Over time other problems arose. Food going missing, or people taking up too much freezer space with leftovers. Dishes being left in the sink to soak for days on end. Flour residue left on the counter. Ovens and stoves left on. That one guy who always made fish, and you couldn’t really be mad at him for it, except that you don’t always want your room smelling like fish and it’s not like you chose the room next to the kitchen, it was just assigned to you.

Nothing was critical or dramatic. Nothing escalated beyond passive aggressive notes on the white board. We coped as best we could with each others’ eccentricities. We grit our teeth and reminded ourselves that this was the deal, this Christian living, this sharing with others. I’m sure we all unloaded the dishwasher for more often that anybody had any idea.

The kitchen was not a kumbiotic experience. It was not utopia. There was no room for ideals—every cabinet was crammed full. And this was with a houseful of wannabe pastors. We did share everything in common—or at least, many things. But it was hard work. It was hard work to forgive, hard work to let things go, hard work to make room for others. Necessary work, and we were all happier when we did it. But it gave me a much less rosy-eyed perspective on the Acts 2 church. I still believe in its vision. But I also see a group of people working hard to follow the example of Christ. Not easy, not simple. Hard. But worth it.

Totally worth it.

Because as often as the kitchen drama made us roll our eyes or hold our noses, there were also times when it was the absolute heartbeat of our house. Like when we would gather before snowstorms, pretending to flip through reading assignments, hoping that school would be cancelled the next day, wanting to celebrate together when it was (it almost never was, but that didn’t keep us from hoping). Like the times you’d walk in after a long day and someone had made fresh cookies and put them on the table with a sign that said “eat me.” Like the times when we’d set up board games and play way too late into the night.

And most of all, like the times when Lynne would make us dinner.

Lynne was a student, but she didn’t live in the house most of the time. She commuted from about an hour away, and only stayed over Tuesday nights. But on Tuesdays she would pack into her car all the ingredients and pots and pans and supplies she needed to make us all dinner. We’d pitch in a dollar or two to help cover costs, but nothing could put a price on those Moore Family Dinners. Sometimes there’d be a big crowd and we’d worry there wouldn’t be enough, but Lynne would always smile and somehow the food would last. We’d sit around the table and talk about theology and vent about professors and sort out the world’s problems. We laughed a lot; we cried too, sometimes. And of course sometimes we laughed until we cried.

Lynne didn’t have to do it. It was a crazy amount of added work for her. She cooked for her family of five at home; it’s not like she couldn’t have used a day off. But she loved doing it, loved bringing people together, loved the way we let our guard down over her famous garlic bites or veggie pizza or taco soup.

I can tell you, Tuesday nights were good for the soul.

I find it telling that in our scripture today, the only thing it mentions twice is how this church broke bread together. Not even prayer or study or worship gets two shout-outs, but breaking bread does, and breaking bread joyfully, with glad and generous hearts.

And so I think if we are going to strive to be Christ’s church—a church of prayer and praise and fellowship and wonder—it starts at the table. This table, this communion table, with its broken bread, but also any table where we gather together to share each other’s joys and sorrows, to tell stories, to work through the news of the day. In eating together we get to know each other as people, and hopefully, in knowing each other, to love each other. And that’s the only thing that’s going to get us through the hard work of being church. That’s the only thing that’s going to give us courage to keep going when ideals don’t quite hold and visions start to fade.

But if we all pitch in to cook, and all pitch in to clean, and all invite Jesus to be our host, I think we’ll make it out okay.

It will be hard work. But it will be so, so worth it.

To God be the glory. Amen.

 

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