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“To Be Channels of God’s Goodness”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23

 

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
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.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.


 

Reading this passage from Acts about the apostles and early believers sharing everything they have in common, I am struck anew at how very, very counter-cultural this act is.  One could even say it is subversive.

We buy and sell.  We own and transfer ownership.  We own land.  We build and own property.  And back in Jesus’ day, even women, many servants, enslaved persons, and children were all considered property.  As capitalistic as we are today, there was an even bigger spectrum in Jesus’ day of what and who people thought could be bought and sold, owned, possessed.

Frankly the idea of a person owning another person causes a visceral response in my body.  I find it so very offensive.  Nonetheless, the culture and world to which Jesus came and gave his life saw ownership as a sign of wealth and power, much as we do today.

So when the disciples ask new believers to share everything freely with one another, to sell their possession and give to the poor, to hold nothing back – it is most certainly subversive.  It is a hard ask.  Can you imagine asking that of another person?

 

I cannot.

I truly delight in ownership.  I love owning a car.  I adore owning real estate.  I love the items that I’ve purchased or found and now call my own.  I love the memories.  I love the resourcefulness.  I love being prepared.

And yet the disciples learned a very different way of living from Jesus.  They travelled from place to place, without ownership, without provision, without knowing where their next shelter or meal would come from.  Sometimes they picked wheat and produce from the fields through which they wandered.  And sometimes Jesus asked them to feed people, when they themselves did not have anything on them to offer another.

But Jesus had shown them the power of this way of life.  They’d been challenged to wholly lean on God for their well-being.  When they split up to go and witness to the Kingdom of God in neighboring towns, Jesus had instructed them to go empty-handed.  They were to take nothing but the tunic on their backs.  And they were to rely, wholly, on the generosity of those they met.  Can you imagine?

 

Some in our culture know this way of life.

There are a few who also know not where their next meal will come from or where they will find shelter and rest.  There are some who travel without provision, wholly reliant on those around them to survive.  Many hustle in their own way – trying to sell goods or services to make a buck.  And others beg on street corners, traffic islands, and even grocery store parking lots.

We tend to look unfavorably on these folks.

They are not being responsible, we say.  They are mooching off the rest of us.  We are paying for their laziness, we feel.

We don’t know what to do when we see them.  Are they truly in need?  Are they a victim?  Are they victimizing me?  What will they use my gift for?  Will they use it for life-crushing substances?  Will they use it for food?  Will they use it wisely?

Our questions are left unanswered, as we each try to make up our own minds.  And this discomfort weighs on us, especially as we pass by those we choose not to help.  Are we doing the right thing??

 

And though these wanderers and sojourners differ in some ways from Jesus’ disciples, they also have enough similarity, that it behooves us to pay attention.

 

In America we have some exposure as well to a culture that did not believe in land ownership:  the Native Americans.  The earth and all its fullness is seen as a gift – not to be grasped, but to be received with gratitude and respect.  The earth and all its fullness is not for us to use and squander however we choose.  Rather, we are given its keeping for a little while, and it is our great and holy responsibility to keep it thriving for our children and our children’s children.

Frankly, this view of creation sounds far more in keeping with Christ’s manner of living than our own.  And sometimes, the manner of living of the homeless and wanderers among us, seems much more in keeping with Jesus’ manner of living.  Jesus was, after all, homeless.  He did not have money.  He was not beholden to the systems and powers that be.  He was not part of the economic engine, the machine.  So in this way, he was uniquely free, a freedom many of our homeless brothers and sisters have also known.

 

So where does this leave us?

I’d like to think that our society is just what Jesus would have designed, but I cannot imagine that is true.  I appreciate capitalism.  I love home and land ownership, but this is not what we see in Jesus’ own life, and as uncomfortable as it makes me, I believe you and I are responsible to God for how we life, be it for good or for ill.

So whether we own or use land, whether we own or use resources, whether we buy or borrow goods and services, we are responsible.  And our actions reflect, in some way, our levels of trust, in the good shepherd, with whom “I shall not want.”

 

We give lip service in the church to trusting God.  We give lip service to trusting God with our money, our goods, our lives.  But when it comes down to it, our actions most accurately reflect our trust. 

Do our gifts of money, answer God’s call on our finances?  Have we taken the time to be still and listen for God’s still, small voice speaking over what we possess?  Do we even dare open up ourselves to such a vulnerable position of listening??

How much treasure do we store up for ourselves?  When do we have enough?
How much toilet paper do we store up?  When do we “have enough?”
Isn’t it all relative?
Isn’t it all so easy to rationalize?

 

I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this.  I dare not venture to prescribe how much you should own or give.  And I think God’s answers and invitations to each of us differ widely. 

 

And so, I invite you, to be still before our God, and to listen. 

 

What does God bring to mind?
Who does God bring to mind?
Is there someone in need nearby, whom you can help?
Do you have resources you’ve outgrown that would tremendously bless someone else?

This process is for you and you alone.   Each person, each family, each couple is responsible for how life is lived, what resources are used, what is shared, and whether or not we obeyed God’s private instruction in our lives.

 

The early believers shared all they had in common.  They sold what they had and gave it to the poor.  They shared, wherever there was need.

THIS my friends, is the Kindom of God.
THIS is the radical way of living Christ calls us to.

We are to place our trust in Christ alone, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

And I am moved to read this now, because so many of us have been acting more like this of late.  Food Lion issued 1,500 $20 gift cards for school children in impoverished neighborhoods in this community.  Jo-ann’s has been giving out mask-making supplies free to anyone who will make them.  Reservoir Distillery here in Richmond is giving away hand sanitizer every weekday – turning their tasting room into a distribution center.  Celebrities are paying rents for entire low-income neighborhoods.  One is even paying for virtual therapy.  Another has started his own boot-leg broadcast called, “SGN” – Some Good News, and he’s using it to spread stories of hope and courage to lift of the community.

You have made masks upon masks for one another.  You have labored long over financial records and payroll sheets – to find and solicit ways to continue employing those workers who have served in our midst for so very long.  You’ve written cards and letters to one another, especially our home-bound members and friends.  Money for projects and paychecks has been provided, mysteriously, anonymously.  You have rallied to put up and fill a new Little Pantry on our church grounds, to supply the community in this needful time.  When various ones among us have been in a bind, you have responded with help, in time.  When folks call our office asking help to pay a bill, you fund an account that pays portions of these bills.  When folks among us need a ride to appointments, you have shown up.

 

Just as the Israelites long ago were not blessed for themselves alone, WE are not blessed for ourselves alone.  We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world – to be CHANNELS of God’s goodness – of grace and love, abundance and provision, comfort and care.  We are called to shepherd one another, as our God has shepherded us – to love and comfort one another as our God has loved and comforted us.

We are blessed in order to BE a BLESSING. 

 

So as we prepare to leave this gathering,
I invite you,
to covenant
– with yourself and with God –
to set aside a holy moment,
this day,
to listen to your God.

Generous and merciful God,
how are you calling us to be faithful,
here and now,
in this time.
Speak, in ways we can hear.

And by your grace, may we most surely be, your faithful disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So Abram Went”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
Genesis 12:1-4a

 

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

Genesis 12:1-4a

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went,


 

 

What a beautiful God we serve!

This passage from Genesis is simple.
And it is beautiful.

 

God planted this dream in Abraham.  God spoke and Abraham listened.

And then, Abraham followed.

 

It is that simple.

 

Did Abraham know the way?

No.  God said God would show him the way.

Did Abraham get to stay in the familiar and the comfortable?

No.  God said to leave everything he had known and to go.

 

And so, Abraham took this leap of faith.

Abraham chose to believe God over his own wisdom.

Abraham chose to follow God over his own Father and family.

Abraham allowed God into the nitty gritty of his life.

Really.

 

For Abraham, God was not a ritual.  Faith was not merely a profession.  Faith was not an assent to a belief system or set of doctrines.

No, for Abraham, God was his life-line.

For in their culture, people survived by clumping.  They survived by numbers and connections.  To go out alone was to ensure your own death.  There were no fast food chains.  There were no internet lists of best hotels and accommodations.  There wasn’t Google Translate or Rosetta Stone language learning systems.  Maps were limited.  And you stayed alive by staying among the familiar, surrounding yourself with family.

New folks in town could be completely on their own, outsiders and excluded.  And worse yet, you were most certainly more likely to be met by armed men than a welcome basket of home-baked goodies…

And God was specifically instructing Abraham to leave all his security, on a mere promise.

God promises to lead Abraham.  God promised to protect Abraham.  God promises to bless Abraham and to make him a blessing.

 

And Abraham believes.

 

This belief is not merely talk.
This belief is up close and personal.

This belief is living and active:  Abraham is leaning on God moment by moment to find his way forward.  Abraham is leaning on God to protect him.  Abraham has put all his eggs in God’s basket.

 

Have you ever experienced such a thing?
To put all your eggs in God’s basket??

 

When I was living at Camp Hanover, I felt God call me into church ministry.  And I was eager to follow.  But God had me on a journey of discovery and transformation as well.  God was freeing me from the weights of oppression.  God was freeing me to finally see and know myself.  God was freeing me to live more authentically true to who I am.

But I was searching for my next step.

And finally in the middle of a worship service at Ginter Park Presbyterian, God spoke to me through the hymn, “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.”  The phrase, “now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me.  By your side, I will seek other seas” struck me.  I felt in my Spirit that God was calling me to walk away from my job, my security, my source of income…and to follow.

 

Now, I don’t think my leaving was as graceful as Abraham’s.  Or if Abraham’s leaving was ungraceful, we’re not privy to that information!  But I needed assurance.  I asked God to confirm it to me, and in moment by tiny & big moment, God made me know in my bones just how needed it was.  And finally, I followed.  I stepped away from where I was, in order to embrace where God was leading me.

And it was terrifying.

I dubbed it: “The Grand Experiment of My Life.”  I was the experiment.  And the question I was asking as I was followed was, “God, if I follow you, will you keep me from harm?  Will you bless me and make me a blessing?”

 

Now, I can assure you that my journey has not been without suffering.  We follow a God who came to us in Christ Jesus and knew an agonizing death.  And I have suffered following God.  That is true.

The way has been fraught with the effects of human sin and discrimination.  The way has been fraught with fears and uncertainties.  The way has been fraught with anger at injustice.

And yet, I once was dead, and I’ve come back alive!

I was lost, and now I’ve been found!

I was alone without true companionship and friendship, and now I am embraced in loving partnership and community.

 

I have grown in depth.

My eyes have opened to many whom I’d never before seen or understood.

I have learned to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

 

And I can honestly say that God has blessed me and made me a blessing. 

 

And my journey is not yet through.

I continue to follow after God:  listening for the still small voice; reclaiming my identity, responsibility, and power; laying down my fears (over and over again) at Christ’s dear feet; and asking God to direct my steps.

 

We all journey differently.  There is no one the same.  But until we let go and fall into God’s waiting arms, we will never truly know the depth of God’s love and mercy, grace and provision, deliverance and protection.  Until then, all these promises of God that we affirm Sunday after Sunday are hardly transformative and little understood.

 

So, will we, like Abraham, choose to follow where God leads?

Will we, like Abraham, release our death-grip on the comfortable and the familiar, in order to follow God into the promised land that awaits?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for the smallest and biggest aspects of our daily lives?

Will we, like Abraham, exercise our daily muscles of faith – trusting God for our common life together, as church?

 

We believe in the cross and resurrection! 

Are we willing to allow God into our moments of obedience (…unto suffering and great loss…)

that we might finally KNOW our God who brings life out of death?

 

THIS is the God we serve.

The God who raised Jesus from the dead is our God.

May we KNOW that God.

May we believe that God.

May we trust our God.

And may we follow, such that our very lives witness – alongside the Bible – to the goodness, might, mercy, grace, healing, wholeness, beauty, protection, provision, and deliverance of our God,…our Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.

 

Amen.