Be the Church: Share Earthly and Spiritual Resources (Sermon for July 19, 2020)

James W. Fifield, Jr., graduated from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1924. And he received an honorary doctorate from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1934. And I know that—I remember that—because I think it’s weird.

You see, after he got that honorary degree, he went to Los Angeles… and he became the Apostle to the Millionaires. Seriously. Someone gave him that nickname. And he liked it.

He supported Herbert Hoover. And he denounced Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he campaigned against the minimum wage, price controls, Social Security for the elderly, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits, tyrannical taxation, the New Deal in general, and anything else that he believed smacked of godless socialism.

And I think that’s weird because I graduated from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2006—they haven’t given me an honorary doctorate yet—and I guess that the seminary must have changed over the decades. 

Because Fifield managed to read the Bible and learn that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, and that God called people to rugged individualism, and that the gospel is solely concerned with the salvation of your individual soul.

And I read the Bible and learned… other things.

If you’ve been watching or listening to these sermons this summer, you know what I’m about to say: we’re continuing our summer sermon series about Being the Church; we’re continuing our journey through that list:

Be the church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.

And this week, as we approach the end of the list, we’re on this: Be the church; share earthly and spiritual resources.

Our reading today is from the book of Acts, the sequel to the Gospel According to Luke, where Luke describes life in the early church:

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… They gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. And there was not a needy person among them.

And it’s a short reading, but the same idea shows up again and again. The ancient Israelites were commanded to leave grain standing at the edges of their fields so that the poor could come and take it, and to set aside the first fruits of their harvests for those in need. And the disciples were commanded to give alms and build up treasures in heaven. 

And among this community of believers, they shared everything that they owned, and there was not a needy person among them.

You see, God loved the world this way; this is a piece of the good news.

God is generous. God creates and sustains a world of abundance where there is enough and more than enough.

And we break it. We fall into the sin that is the root of so much evil: we reach out and grab more than we need and more than we even want. I do that. You do that. We all do that. And we make the world look like a world of scarcity where there is not enough at all.

And when God sees us breaking the world, God is generous. God lays aside glory and enters the world as one of us.

Once, God came into the world as a baby, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land. And God taught us how to live and love and be human. And when we nailed God to a cross and laid God into a tomb, God was generous again. God got up and said, “I’m not done with you yet.”

And God comes into the world again and again. Christ lives in the world… in every pleading face and outstretched hand… asking us to believe that there is enough and more than enough.

And I’ll be honest. I don’t know how James W. Fifield, Jr., did it. Because I don’t know how someone can hear the gospel, and take the waters of baptism, and believe that all of this is solely about the salvation of your individual soul… or that God calls us to rugged individualism… or that God shares wealth with us for any other purpose than our sharing it with each other.

We are called to share the abundance of this world. It’s earthly resources and its spiritual ones.

Our reading today is about earthly resources: the believers shared their possessions, and Barnabas sold a field that he owned and shared the money that he got for it. But those spiritual resources are just as important. We are called to share our stuff… and we’re called to share our love.

Every Valentine’s Day when I was high school, students could have Valentine’s Day gifts delivered to the cafeteria, where their sweetheart could pick them up after school. And some kids went all out—huge bouquets and big balloons and giant stuffed animals—because when you’re in high school, love looks like a big romantic gesture.

And big gestures are nice. But those of us who are a little older know that love is also found in small things: a well-timed cup of coffee, a hand to hold, a dinner that you’re only eating because someone else loves it. Love—maybe the deepest and most profound love—is found in the small things.

And not just romantic love. We love our neighbor when we learn to pronounce their name, or work to not trip over the letters in LGBTQ, or use their preferred pronouns. We love our neighbor when we listen to their stories, and believe them when they tell us they can’t breathe, and learn what they would like public safety to look like. 

Small things. Deep things. Profound things. Important things. Not necessarily easy things.

I know that the small things are not always easy things. I know that I am not always good at sharing love. Not with my neighbors who like to set off fireworks outside the designated hours. Not with folks who claim that it’s heritage, not hate. Not with James W. Fifield, Jr. Sharing love, even in small ways, can be hard. It can be exhausting.

And here’s the thing:

Sharing love can be exhausting. It can leave us feeling like there just isn’t enough love to give any more away. But if, in that moment, someone shares love with us, then we discover the truth: that there is enough and more than enough. That we can feed love to each other until everyone is full.

And that works with everything. There is enough and more than enough. Enough and more than enough money. Enough and more than enough food. Enough and more than enough housing. Enough and more than enough love. If we share.

And I know. In a world that tells us that things are scarce, that there isn’t enough to go around, that we need to display rugged individualism and grab whatever we can for ourselves, that can be hard. But there are pleading faces and outstretched hands all around us. And sharing is our testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and our witness to the grace that he has given us all.

It is a big bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled thing. So thank God I know some people who can do big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some people who can be leaders in doing big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some folks who can be the church.

Amen.

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