Watch this video - "Life is Better with Community"
Not exactly new news for us, but a fun way to name what we know: that life IS better with community. Not only is it better but it is also something we need. We could examine research by social anthropologists, and look at study after study and statistics to prove it, but community/tribe/family/friends: life is better with them AND we need them.
Communities have existed throughout time, but what was distinct for that first community of Christians? At other places in Acts it describes their shared life, it was fun, meaningful, they ate together, they were united around serving those in need. But what it says here is that this shared life quickly developed in one particular direction that is both fascinating and controversial. Notice where it says:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.” Acts 2:42-45
Did you hear that last part? They took their stuff, sold their stuff, gave away the money from the stuff to be used by the community. What reactions do you have to this? Or what words you would use to describe what this was like? It is all of these things.
What about the word: family? The early Christians lived together as if they were a single family. Think about how when you live under the same roof you don’t see this chair, this table, this jug of milk as yours. The early Christian impulse was to say: hey, we’re family. We’re in this together. Let’s figure out how to take care of each other. And they sold off property – probably extra homes and land because it says they continued meeting in their homes. A highly significant thing for a people for whom land was not just an economic asset but part of their ancestral heritage.
The other word for this that we need to grab hold of is generosity. To be generous: to give more than is necessary or expected. Generosity is what marked the life together of this new community.
How did people around them respond as they witnessed this generosity, this giving more than expected? People took notice. The text says people were in awe. This kind of behavior was unheard of. A generosity expressed with the money, yes, but also their life together was marked by acceptance, welcome, attention, care. Why were they doing it? Their generosity was an expression of the generosity of God that they now knew.
This was revolutionary. People noticed because – never had they known a god like this. The only “gods” they had known were gods that demanded a lot – animal sacrifices in the temple, strict laws and religious codes that had to be followed. And if you didn’t or if the gods were just having a bad day they’d wipe out your crops or cause sickness in your family. That’s the “gods” they had known.
For the first time ever these new Christians was telling the story of a different God. Creator. Redeemer. Healer. At the center of the Christian story (their story and ours) is that God is love and God is generous! Comes to us, lives with us, is one of us, enters into the quirks and pain and grungy reality of life. Stands in our place of death. And defeats death. God is powerful, God is love, and God is generous!
The text says: People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. Acts 2:47. This attractive, dynamic generosity. As people watched, people liked it, it moved them, they wanted to be a part of it, too. Boom.
That same sense of awe for radical generosity is still something we experience today. People want to be moved. So on this particular day as we talk about “life together” as a community, we want Salt House to tell a story in how we live with one another that is a story of God’s radical generosity. This community has been birthed out of God’s generosity in Trinity Lutheran church giving us this property. And that story continues in us. Here are three things to get us started in living generously:
For our Life Together:
1. We don’t have to have it all together. (Or pretend like we do). Notice: the text says how people were selling off property giving it to the apostles to distribute to those in need. Not only was this sharing and supporting financially, but this meeting of “needs” extended to other emotional needs for support.
The text actually says: “each person’s needs were met.” Um, no one had any need. But they had need before becoming a part of the community. Those who had needs must have been open, honest, real about that need and willing to say: hey guys, I really need some help – in order to then receive the help and support they needed. Are you tracking with me? This means that people were honest about their struggles. Vulnerable. My observation in my eight extensive years as a pastor: people have a hard time being real about their struggles.
People actually tell me: “Oh, with what I’m going through right now, I cannot go to church. I’m afraid I’d cry.” Breaks my heart. Because – if a church community is not a place that you can go to when you don’t have it all together – when you are tired, broken, lost, sick, hurting, betrayed – if you can’t come then, then what are we doing here? That’s why we’re here to meet the needs of those in community.
Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” Gal. 6:2. And Paul here was even talking about the burdens of struggling with sin – so he’s talking about the messy stuff that everyone wants to hide – he says get all up in there, be in peoples’ ugly pain. Carry it with them.
This may be a time in your life where you need some care, so soak it up. If you are struggling because you did not get into the school you wanted to get into, or a relationship just ended, or you’re sick of living with your parents, or you’re not dating someone and you want to be, or you’re sick and hurting and tired of it – be real.
There are people here to sit with you in that, who know that pain, who will buy you a beer, who believe in a God who is always working to redeem our lives. And in due time you will get to be the one who is there for someone else. Right?
I know it’s hard, but can we be real with each other? Can we not have it together? Can we be ok with crying and whatever else people need to do in a cathartic way to encounter God and love and generosity here? We don’t have to have it all together. We can be real.
2. We embrace diversity. Part of why people were in awe was that they were generous with one another, AND they were very different from one another. That’s a big deal. Think about it: all kinds of people were a part of this community – rich, poor, of varying ethnic decent, from different neighborhoods and regions with different customs, opinions, practices. Most were strangers to one another – yet we read how they ate together, shared their stuff, cared for each other, it describes them as “exuberant and joyful” – which means “having a rocking good time with each other.” All kinds of people were included and connected.
So, here is a quote I want to use to name something about the humanity and challenge of community: “Community is messy.” – Sara Wolbrecht
And particularly messy when you’re dealing with different kinds of people. Even Christian communities in the Bible were messy. The apostle Paul wrote all these letters to Christian communities in various cities. And if you actually read them – holy cow those communities had problems. The fighting and hurting that happens in community – because people are different and people see things differently!
A somewhat lighthearted example of this this week: #thedress. Do you know what I’m talking about? This picture was put out there on the interwebs with a single question: is this dress white and gold OR blue and black. And in the course of 12 hours it exploded across the internet with disagreement. As you see this – or as you saw it the first time – do you see a dress that is white and gold OR blue and black? I am totally #teamwhiteandgold. But it is apparently blue and black. And it has to do with color saturation and how the rods and cones in our eyes work– you can read about it online.
The point is: we will each, always, see things from a unique perspective. Politics, human rights, life decisions, music, the arts, humor, what you wear, what you eat. What we do with our time, money, gifts. Different.
The Christian story, our story, is one where people of every kind and every perspective are embraced, accepted. And I mean every kind. Even and especially people who are not like ourselves. We want them here at Salt House because the Kingdom of God – the way God designed and desires this world to be is not sectioned off by types of people, but people radically embraced in their diversity. The opportunity to sit with, eat food with, pray with, to know someone who has a different story than you. Someone who might help you see the world through their eyes and even through God’s eyes.
Because: this kind of generosity of spirit is who God is! And it moves people. People like what they see. This kind of generosity and welcome is so often missing in the wider world – and devastatingly it is so often missing from groups that call themselves Christian. I never want to belittle other faith communities, even Christian, but we need to name and reclaim the reality that Jesus was all about inclusivity and diversity. The first Christians, were all about it. We want to be all about it, too.
Even though: Community is messy. We embrace diversity (and the beautiful mess). Are you willing to get messy?
3. We are generous with our attention. Attention matters. Attention acknowledges something or someone as interesting or important. Our attention for someone ascribes value. This quote from Simone Weil floors me:
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” If we’re talking about generosity, we need to talk about how we might use our attention to express this generosity of God.
My four year old will say countless times each day, “Mommy! Watch this! Daddy, I need all of your attention right now.” Children hunger for the attention of their parents and others. And that need doesn’t go away. Jason joked that the adult equivalent is posting something on Facebook or Instagram because you want people to like it and acknowledge it. Validate me! That desire to be noticed, thought of, to be attend to. And there are deeper and nuanced ways of how we know this to be true in ourselves and others. Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.
At Salt House:
1. We never let anyone relive the trauma of middle school.
You’d be surprised by the number of studies out there where people walk in to a faith community, participate and walk out, and no one has spoken to them. This is a reminder that: who you sit with matters. No sitting alone. No eating alone. No being left out. No clichés. Attention matters.
2. We are mindful of how people are watching us. First a word about social media.
So much about who we are is conveyed before anyone even thinks about driving over here. The story of who we know God to be, of how we are with one another, of how we serve our world – the Come, Thrive, Go of Salt House – how people hear that and observe it will largely be formed by what happens on the interwebs. I cannot encourage you enough to comment on and like posts. To engage in conversation with each other in a public way that gives people again, a taste of this story of God – our God who is fun and meaningful and generous – and a community that is not weird and closed minded.
Most young adults have no idea what God is really like – that there is an incredible story of love and inclusivity and purpose to be engaged with in God. Let yourself get caught up in that story and help them hear that story. Be sure you are following Salt House on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
And a word about our neighborhood. We do not just exist to be a generous community for the sake of our selves but we will look outside these doors. So yes, our attention will always be on our neighborhood – they already know we are here and they are watching to see who we are. And we’ll walk these streets and meet with the PTA at LWHS and low income housing down the street and be a resource to families who use the cemetery – How do we live the generosity of God for our neighborhood? This is what helps folks experience the generosity of God. We will keep our attention on our neighbors, too.
We are generous with our attention. Impressions matter.
We’ve just covered a lot of territory. What is God saying to you I all of this? Is anything grabbing you, nudging you, as we consider the generosity of God? And as we name that we are a people who does not have it all together, who embraces diversity, who uses our attention with intention? I invite the band back up to get set, and as they come. Let me pray for us…