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					NOW WHAT? JUDITH B. BRAIN TEXTS: PSALM 133, ACTS 4:32-35 APRIL 27, 2003 PILGRIM CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH—UCC LEXINGTON, MA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE ME: Christ is Risen! CONGREGATION: Christ is Risen, indeed!

Excellent response. You’re still in Easter mode. That’s good because Easter isn’t just one day. Oh, maybe Macy’s and CVS are done with Easter now that there are no more opportunities to purchase dress-up clothes and marshmallow Peeps, but the church likes to hang on to this holiday for a while. In fact, we hang on for 50 days. The Easter season continues from Easter Sunday till Pentecost arrives 50 days later. I certainly think that’s appropriate. How can you have this big blow-out of a celebration in which we proclaim a mystery and a miracle beyond all imagination without having at least 7 Sundays to deal with the “so what” of it all. On the first Sunday after Easter, the Bible readings make it clear that this is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. The gospel lesson is the familiar text of Thomas who doubts witnesses to the resurrection. That has to be dealt with because so many of us do. And the reading from the book of Acts starts talking right away of how Jesus’ followers organize themselves into a community that can effectively convey the Good News. The Psalm for today is really just musical background for it all. It’s a poem about unity with some very vivid imagery.
PSALM 133:1-3

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of [Mt.] Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

How wonderful it is to live harmoniously with one another. Let’s see how this thought is carried out in the church that developed very shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
ACTS 4:32-37

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. 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. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

UTOPIA

I’ve always had a fondness for utopian experiments. I wish I’d had the experience of living on a commune although I suspect an introvert like me would soon go absolutely bonkers with the lack of privacy. Still, one of my all-time favorite books was B. F. Skinner’s Walden II which imagined an egalitarian community for the 20th century and some of my most-admired people were Helen and Scott Nearing who actually seemed to be doing it. I also believe that this and other passages in scripture tell us that church is supposed to be utopian. The most effective form of evangelism is a joyful, caring community so they will know we are Christians by our love. The big question after Easter is, “Now what?” And the scriptural answer is, “Go out live lives that are worthy of the great sacrifice of Jesus. Go out and create communities that not only proclaim but act out the new life of the resurrection.”
SPEAKING AS A CHRISTIAN

Twice this season I was asked to speak on behalf of my faith community. The first was as a member of a panel to explore connections and differences among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. That was a challenge! Part of the problem is, of course, that Christianity is very diverse and divided within itself. There is no single Christianity. There probably never was despite the attempts at various periods in our history to drive out or persecute those who departed from the “orthodoxy” of the ones in power. But try to sum up this complex faith in a few minutes? I don’t think so. My main emphasis was that to me, the Christian faith is not about creeds and belief systems but about a way of life, and a rather scandalous life at that. It is an ideology that directs us to love our enemies, forgive over and over and over, and practice gracious giving instead of fair exchange. It’s more than a little impractical. But that’s why Jesus died. If he were modeling a pragmatic, reasonable faith, it would have been quite easy for him to slip out of the hands of the Roman authorities and the religious leaders who wanted him dead. There were plenty opportunities for moderation or escape, or at least a clever and effective defense. “But he opened not his mouth.” At this panel discussion, I said that, as a Christian, if you were going to emulate Jesus and love people as dearly and thoroughly as he did, you’d need to have the kind of relationship with God that he did, utterly dependent, totally trusting, and caught up in the amazing, loving, powerful being of God. And that if we really were as secure in our belonging to God, we could have complete freedom and endure anything.

I’m not there. I know that so well. Are you? But that is what brought me to my next point. It’s more than an individual effort; we do this communally as well. Oh what a relief it is to fall back on Paul’s delightful metaphor of the church as the "body of Christ." Thank God, I don’t have to be the Messiah all by myself. All of us are together trying to be Jesus—healing the sick, releasing the prisoners, preaching the good news, and inviting people to more whole and happy lives.
CARING FOR ONE ANOTHER

The second time I had to speak for a faith community was for a seminarian writing a paper on Pastoral Care. “What,” she asked, “did Pilgrim do to foster an emphasis on pastoral care as a value for the whole congregation.” She was aware that we have an excellent team of care-givers here and wanted to know how they came to be. My answers were all grounded in this comment. “Start with a church in which caring for one another is normative and expected. As basic as that sounds, this is not always the case. Often people tend to keep to themselves and feel that admitting they need help is a sign of weakness. But a church needs to be more than a gathering of individuals. The scripture calls us to be a true community of love, praying for one another and bearing each other’s burdens. That requires trust. It is a precious gift to receive requests for prayer and care and we have a responsibility never to abuse that trust. The vulnerabilities of people must be held with the greatest reverence. Back again to our passage in Acts. Imagine this being written about our church.
Now the whole group of the believers at Pilgrim were united as one—one heart, one mind. The didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s my car; you can’t have it.” Or “My house is only big enough for my family.” No, they shared everything. And they all lived in a way that their neighbors down the street on Mass. Ave and their co-workers at Fidelity knew that they were inspired by the life and resurrection of Jesus. And they weren’t ashamed to admit it either. The grace of God was on all of them. And it turned out that not a single person in that congregation ever had a need for anything. Even those who were relative newcomers.”
THEY’LL KNOW WE ARE CHRISTIANS BY OUR LOVE

People get a little scared by such concepts. They think, “I suppose the pastor is going to tell me that if I were a good Christian, I’d sell my house and give the money to the church and move in with Bob and Carolyn Beckwith.” Like the country congregation who listened to their preacher hold forth.

“Farmer Jones, if you had two million dollars in cash, would you give a million to the church?” “You know I would, Pastor.” “Farmer Jones, if you had two large farms instead of one, and they were both paid for, would you give one of them to the Lord?” “You know I would, Pastor!” “Farmer Jones, if you had two hogs, would you give one of them to the Lord for the church barbeque next month?” “Pastor, that ain’t fair. You know I’ve got two hogs.” Well, I admit, I have been thinking a little like that preacher. I’ve interpreted these passages in Acts through a kind of Marxist lens. And I mean that in a positive way. At the very least, I believe in distributing wealth so that everyone has an adequate standard of living. I’ve considered this description in Acts typical of the way the church turned social values upside down; nothing is owned by individuals everything is shared. But I no longer think this is about an economic system. That’s too limited. It’s about that sentence that’s buried in the middle of the passage, “The grace of God was on all of them.” I don’t think handing over your goods was a requirement for membership, I think the emphasis was on generosity and love. They were so filled with resurrection hope, so overwhelmed by the love of God, so convinced by the rightness of this cause, that they willingly, joyfully, and even sacrificially supported and cared for one another. This is surely an ideal to strive for; I know we haven’t reached such a spirit of communality. But I do think we are reaching for it; trying to create a community that is gracious, loving toward one another, and caring for each other and the world by sharing what we have: money, time, prayer, ourselves.
LOOK AROUND AT THE BODY OF CHRIST

Look around. The people who are in worship today are the core of Pilgrim. You are people who opened the doors to all the seekers who were here last weekend for the big Easter service. You created a place for people to get a taste of Easter joy and perhaps come back again. You sang about your faith in Christ and it could be that somebody found hope in that. You flung prayers out to God and included the world in them and maybe somebody knew that here was a place they could be prayed for too. Look around. Here are the Collins/Lania/Kimball family whose mission to Honduras so many of us have a part in.

Look around. There are the Babsons enlisting the help of their church to join them in their battle against cystic fibrosis. And they’re sending a message…even children can make a difference. Look around. There are those of us who have willingly entrusted our congregation to hold us in our times of distress. We’ve accepted prayers and food and rides to doctors. And then we’ve turned around and provided prayers and food and rides to doctors to somebody else. How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity! It is like the dew falling on the mountainside. That is the “now what?” of Easter. Jesus’ death will not be in vain if his church grasps his message. Jesus’ resurrection will be real when we become his body. When we bring Jesus back into this world doing what he did—healing, freeing, saving, loving, forgiving. The Easter poem I included in our last newsletter said it best. When the broken come to wholeness, when the wounded come to healing, when the frightened come to trusting, the stone has been rolled away. When the lonely find friendship, when the hurt find new loving, when the worried find peace, the stone has been rolled away. When we share instead of taking, when we stroke instead of striking, when we join around the table, the stone has been rolled away.
— Author unknown


				
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