THE WORD Luke 9:1-6
The Mission of the Twelve
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
Acts 2: 37-47
The First Converts
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Life among the Believers
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.
THE MESSAGE “Being Church: Building Community, Rev. Susan Growing Faith, Living Love”
As we hear in these two accounts, a church is not a building. Jesus didn’t even have a home, let alone a church, to call his own. Neither did the early disciples. The Parish of the Messiah in Auburndale recently merged with Trinity Parish in Newton Centre. I’ve driven past the Parish of the Messiah several times with the “For Sale” sign out front. It may look like a church from the outside, but it is no longer a church. A church is the people inside. It’s the household of God. It’s all of us coming together for a purpose.
Why has Christ called us together here at the Eliot Church of Newton? Once upon a time Christ called each one of us and we walked through these doors, and found a community, and a purpose.
Patrick, who’s teaching Sunday school, walked in over 20 years ago. He writes: “I remember the first time on entering Eliot - there was a big bearded guy in bib overalls singing loudly, and an old dog who walked up the center aisle and then laid next to his owner's wheel chair in the front pew. I said to myself, I think this church could work for me. Over time I had the opportunity to become involved in different work at Eliot and hear what others were doing; to see the kids learn and grow in a safe environment, and to see how members cared for each other.”
That’s church. It’s not a noun. It’s an active verb.
Before I walked through these doors a little over three years ago, your Leadership Council came up with six words that we later hung on a banner inside the front door, and printed on all our correspondence. Would you say them with me: Building Community, Growing Faith, Living Love. At the beginning of each worship service Reebee and I remind you all that that’s what we’re here about.
Now talk is cheap. Words alone do not make a church. Creeds, doctrines, scripture, teachings, commandments, do not make a church. As I quoted Barbara Brown Taylor on the front of your bulletins today, “…the world’s great religions have always required communities of people to make them work… the teachings mean little apart from the embodied practices of the community.”
Jesus was a man of many words, and stories, but I’ve always thought his actions spoke louder than his words. When he sent his disciples out in this passage from Luke, they were to proclaim the kingdom of God, but they were to proclaim it, not only in words, but through their actions, healing those they met along the way, and I would imagine, healing not only their bodies, but their minds and spirits. Jesus was concerned about the whole person.
Those first disciples, described by Luke in Acts, carried on the work of creating the kin-dom. It’s all there from the beginning. They laid the groundwork.
We’re told by Luke that they repented - turned their lives around - were baptized, devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and fellowship, spent much time together, broke bread together at their homes, ate together with glad and generous hearts, prayed together and praised God, sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to any who had need. Sounds like Building Community, Growing Faith and Living Love to me.
So we are here at Eliot to carry on that mission. Luke paints a rosy picture of those early times. We know from Paul’s letters that there were more than a few bumps in the road, perpetrated not only by the Romans, but from the fledgling churches themselves. Not everyone agreed, or got along.
Jesus, as he sent them out, realized that not everyone would be receptive of their message. And according to other passages, not all of their healings worked either. The same can be said of the church over the centuries. One size does not fit all. Our message is not for everyone, despite the fact that we think it’s a darn good message.
We try hard to create the kin-dom here on earth, to heal the planet and it’s people, but not everything works out the way we had planned or hoped. I’m constantly reminded of the words of Mike Piazza, an amazing pastor who once headed the Center for Progressive Renewal in the UCC. He told us when something doesn’t work, try something else. Be creative. Keep trying, because eventually you’ll find what works. Like Jesus instructing his disciples here: just shake the dust off your feet and keep going.
Generation after generation have done just that. That’s why we Christians are still here. We keep trying, innovating.
Building Community, Growing Faith and Living Love are all interconnected, but a church is formed and sustained by building a community. A feminist writer by the name of Starhawk describes community this way. See if this speaks to you of Eliot.
“Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.”
Is that Eliot? A community is not built overnight. It’s a fluid entity that keeps changing as people come and go in our fast paced, demanding, mobile society Friendships take time to cultivate. It all takes a concerted effort. But ultimately it’s what gives meaning to our lives.
Building Community begins with hospitality. It begins with an open mind that is generous and receptive of others, even when they hold different views and beliefs than we do. It means looking for the positive in others, in their ideas and dreams. Hospitality became the cardinal virtue in the early church.
Joan Chittister, in her wisdom says, “Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around one heart at a time….Hospitality binds the world together.”
Our world aches for that kind of hospitality today. Where can we find it if not in the church? It’s in this kind of community that we grow in faith by sharing our ideas, challenging each other and expanding our views of what is possible.
I want to share just one example of how I see this happening recently at Eliot. As many of you know, long time member Ginny is now in hospice care. A small group of us have been visiting her each week. We can’t heal her body, although encouraging her to eat and drink certainly helps. But we can lift her spirits, and that too can affect ones’ health.
Ginny can no longer come to church, something she loved to do, so we bring church to her: singing, reading scripture and praying with her, bringing flowers, music, a prayer shawl, communion, cards, stories of what is happening at Eliot - helping her to feel the love of a community that she is still a part of, even from the confines of her room at the care center. This is Building Community, Growing Faith and Living Love.
Pastor Reebee and I can’t do this alone. It takes a village, or in this case a small cadre of loving, caring people. In chapter 18 of Exodus, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law comes to visit and check in on all that he’s doing for his people. He’s aghast! “What’s going on here? Why are you doing all this, and all by yourself?” he asks Moses. “Because people come to me with questions about God. When something comes up, they come to me.”
Moses’ father-in-law said, “This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out, and the people right along with you. This is way too much for you — you can’t do this alone. Find some competent men (and I would add women) of integrity and show them how to live and what to do.”
I had forgotten about that story until a minister friend reminded me of it recently. Good advice for both ministers and congregations. We’re stronger working together. I’m sounding like a Democrat, but it’s true. We can accomplish so much more with everyone contributing.
On that note, Patrick, Reebee and I have been putting our heads together this summer about ways we can do just that. You’re going to be hearing more and more about ways that all of us at Eliot can be Living Love in this coming year, and I’ve invited Patrick to share briefly some of our ideas before our announcement time at the end of the service.