Having been lazy on the blogging front, it was hard to find common themes in this week’s readings. But, it’s like anything else. You have to write, and think, and pray, to be able to write, think, and pray. Or something like that. Anyway, I think this week introduces us to a God whose forgiveness just doesn’t make sense. And we couldn’t be any luckier.
Shocking pinko communists! Oh wait, Extreme Stewardship (don’t ask – I trademarked it!).
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one hear 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. 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. Acts 4:32-35
There’s a lot going on in this passage. But we also have the opportunity to choose a theme that resonates with us. Remember, people – opportunities, not challenges!
Lately, Diakonia classes have been doubled-up. Today I studied worship in the morning, and doctrine in the afternoon. Though I have to say, I’m very fond of learning doctrine, so all in all this is a good day! Taking two classes at the same time, you notice some things. I’m thinking of “unity.” One of the benefits of our liturgical tradition, is that while we may sing radically different songs, or use different languages, we are still unified in confession and doctrine. When I read “of one heart and soul”, it reminds me of the unity that is so crucial for our community in Christ.
And though we may seek to live in unity, something stands in our way. Our stuff. Our privilege. And our heartstrings are easily tugged by stories of need or of loss. Reasonable reaction when we become aware of the need of the world.
Back to the reading – it’s curious. Luke could have just waxed on about “one heart and soul.” But he also talks of believers selling everything and giving it to the community. Little extreme, that. Were God calling us all to sell everything and give it to the poor, I don’t picture many people jumping at the opportunity. Our dirty little secret, that we don’t want to talk about. It’s hard enough to deal with people asking “how much should I tithe?” And we know the answer – everything. No, not 10%. Not any specific amount. Everything. Speaking for myself, I certainly don’t do that. And surely we all sense a little guilt about our generosity. That’s God’s Law speaking to us, showing us our true selves.
But in spite of our epic fail, Christ died for us. All of us. And has met our epic fail with grace, freely bestowed upon all of us. Grace that covers us as we are, generous or not. And in that grace, we begin to feel the pull, the prodding of faith. In that faith, I find this passage reminding us that the need surrounding us, even in our own congregations, stands in the way of the unity that our faith drives us to seek. So often, our “help” just allows people to continue surviving their diminished state of existence. This passage asks us to picture what unity looks like. How can we stand on the same patch of ground, together? It’s easy to not think about it whenever we hear insidious phrases like “those people”, or “over there”, or even “them.” If we can envision “us”, being one community with varying needs and privileges, we might find ourselves beginning to really understand others’ needs, and how we might meet them.
In this, I feel like offering a prayer for our government and leaders, that they might strive for the benefit of all people in need, enabling us to live with a greater sense of unity.
God of Justice, we pray for our govenment and leaders, that they might strive for the benefit of all people in need, enabling us to live in unity as a people of one heart and soul. Grant them wisdom and a hunger for justice, to understand and address the needs of all people.
1 John 1:1 – 2:2
So, the last passage seemed to point out our true selves, showing us a “perfect” community that we just can’t bring ourselves to be. And it’s hard to be open to that thought when we’re in the midst of Easter, continuing our celebration of the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty.
This is the message we have heard from him, and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7
And indeed, right now, we shriek that we walk in the light of resurrection, as we allow our clouded vision to continue to obscure the truth of our condition. But, the light of resurrection is shining upon us, and clearing our vision (whether we like it or not!). Only when we see and acknowledge this painful truth, can we offer it to Christ, who cleanses and heals us from our sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
Just as we hear proclaimed every Sunday in worship. Ever wonder where it came from? But the evolving theme for this week’s readings is begging us to stop denying what’s truly obvious. We’ve been shown the model of perfection, of perfect stewardship and generosity, and we know we’ll never rise to that. We’ve been named. It hurts. But if we stop the denial, and lift our eyes to Jesus, his blood, newly shed for us in this Easter time, will cleanse us. And we will be freed from guilt, driven to engage the needs of our communities, and hungry to strengthen the unity that allows our communities to thrive.
In this, I feel like offering a prayer for our Church, that we might proclaim the new life made manifest through the resurrection of Jesus, and freely offered to all people. And we can proclaim the joy of our new life, that sees our brokenness healed and reconciled through Christ, freeing us to care for others.
Lord of New Life, we pray for the Church, that we might proclaim the new life made manifest through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Help us to proclaim your promises to the world, that you heal brokenness, that you reconcile us to yourself, and that you have freed us to care for all people in need.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:27-29
We’ve all heard the phrase “doubting Thomas.” I think this is probably the best-known passage regarding doubt. And doubt is embarrassing, to be sure. For all our talk of faith (while things are great), we all experience times of doubt and fear, which might seem to call our faith into question. But I think this passage is meant to show us that even among the disciples, who we tend to put on a pedestal, there was doubt. As Thomas had not been gathered with the disciples when Jesus had appeared and bestowed the Holy Spirit upon them, he bluntly declared that he would not believe unless he could see and touch the wounds of Christ.
And Jesus humored him! Almighty, all-powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent God humored Thomas! “Yeah, o.k., whatever. Here you go.” So far I see this week’s evolving theme as how God in Christ knows our failings and brokenness, yet truly does forgive us and keeps us. And a timely theme in the week after Easter Sunday. We avoid and deny dealing with our brokenness partly because we just can’t believe that we’re forgivable. Which of course puts up roadblocks to cleansing and healing.
Yet, this passage seems to drive home that point in the most extreme way possible. God in Christ knows us as we are in perfect clarity, and forgives in all completeness. And this passage says “look how far I’ll go, in spite of your willfulness.” It’s not a story of a faithless, good for nothing disciple – it’s a story of a God so consumed with passion for us, that he would stoop this far when he never had to do so. And this God can and will forgive your most unforgivable sins.
In this, I feel like offering a prayer for our community, that we might come to greater terms with this forgiveness that exceeds our comprehension, and that we might even offer a fragment of it to each other, thereby bringing us to unity.
Spirit of Mercy, like the disciples, you forgive us graciously, and you call us to be people of forgiveness. Grant us hearts of graciousness and compassion, to forgive those around us who have wronged us, and grant us boldness to know and trust that you forgive us our own wrongs.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he taught us about this God that we took for granted. We thought we knew righteousness, and in the end, we didn’t even know half the story. In the light of the Easter resurrection story, we might find ourselves focusing on how to come to terms with a God who forgives. Because we don’t understand how it’s possible. We don’t understand why God would be this way. And regardless of all that, we might not even be admitting the reality and depth of our own sin anyway. Yet, God shows us how he surpasses our wildest dreams. Just ask Thomas.