Sharing – a third Pentecost

Sermon by Wesley White, Interim Pastor
Milton United Methodist Church
August 7, 2005

Acts 4:18-35

 Goodness, the summer has sped by. We began this series on the Acts of the Apostles two months ago. You may remember that there was the prelude of “ascension” and electing an apostle to be done before we arrived at the experience of Pentecost when folks heard the wonders of GOD spoken in their own language, their own life experience.

We have had a lot of good ideas for a new community presented in the first three chapters of Acts. We have affirmed the need to be intentional in speaking to all the different life experiences around and about us. We are not going to leave anyone behind for everyone, even those most different from ourselves, are part of GOD’s creation and included in GOD’s desire for salvation of all. We have affirmed the need for us to daily pay attention to the teachings of the apostles about the Way of Jesus, to fellowship with one another, to frequent communion and other means of grace, and to pray, pray, pray.

These are all well and good. We have been able to affirm these words. Our intentions are honorable.

Let’s see what’s next.

The last part of Chapter 3 and the early part of Chapter 4 describes the aftermath of a crippled person being healed. This offered an opportunity for another sermon by Peter and led to an interaction between the apostles and the religious and political leaders for whom this miracle posed a problem that challenged the bases of their authority.

Peter and John were eventually put in jail and given a warning to not speak about the healing any more.

It is here that we pick up the wonderful insight that not only challenged the political and religious leaders of Jesus’ and Peter’s day, but also challenges us. “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” [NRSV]

We have seen and heard a better way of living, a way that challenges our current relationships between classes, nations, religions, or genders. We have seen and heard the better way of not just talking a good religious game, but actually implementing it in very concrete ways. We have seen and heard the need for a another Pentecost that deals with sharing our resources as well as sharing our languages, our intellects, our relationships, and our spiritual development through worship and prayer.

Here is the way this next Pentecost happens.

The believers saw the need for protection from the Holy. They knew Jesus had been arrested, unfairly sentenced, and executed by the state. They knew they could be summarily arrested and, next time, unfairly sentenced and executed. Protection was needed. Protection was needed from beyond their own strength. They were at a tremendous disadvantage – just as were the people of India who tried to wrest their independence from Britain or the Blacks in this country who tried to wrest their civil rights from a controlling White America or those who tried to wrest justice from a system of apartheid in South Africa. A current struggle that is going on is that of the integrity of Gays and Lesbians. Every minority, such as the followers of Jesus’ Way 2,000 years ago, has needed a protection beyond themselves.

So it was that the believers began to pray for protection. They focused on GOD taking on their enemies. They asked for this to be done in two ways. First, they wanted the right words to be able to frame their quest of living according to their understanding of Jesus’ radical way of being in the presence of GOD. Second, they wanted GOD to provide more wonders that would support their position.

These are pretty natural requests. They focus on personal strength and GOD’s intervention. We are still praying these kinds of prayers even though they need Abraham Lincoln’s corrective that we are not to pray for God to be on our side, but for us to be on God’s side. The challenge here is not to simply think that if we can pray it, GOD will come. This approach lives in a field of dreams.

It is exactly at this point of praying for protection that Pentecosts happen. Each Pentecost is as surprising as was the first Pentecost.

In the first Pentecost the people hid away from anyone who would identify them as followers of Jesus so they wouldn’t be caught and killed. The first Pentecost came and Jesus’ followers found people being drawn to their presence and that they were no longer afraid of strangers, but willingly and excitedly went out to meet anyone and everyone, according to the list of languages given, in order to tell of the wonders of GOD. The sharing of GOD’s wonders became more important than their own fears. And GOD saw that it was good, Pentecost One.

We are still relearning and relearning this experience of being able to go outside ourselves to tell the wonders of GOD. This is never easy to do and so we get in habits and give excuses why we can’t tell the wonders of GOD in today’s world. We are challenged to relearn Pentecost One.

A second Pentecost came after Peter’s sermon about this strange business of telling strangers about the wonders of GOD in our lives. The followers of Jesus had gotten over their fear of outsiders and had committed themselves, along with the new followers, to daily encounters with one another, learning and fellowshipping and worshipping and praying together. And GOD saw that it was good, Pentecost Two.

We are still relearning and relearning this commitment to join together in learning, fellowship, worship, and prayer. This is never easy to do and we get into habits and give excuses why we can’t meet together in today’s world. We are challenged to relearn Pentecost Two.

Yet a third Pentecost came when folks learned through challenges to the new congregation (jailing of Peter and John) and their prayers for protection that they were to willingly and excitedly hold their resources in common for the benefit of one another. And GOD saw that it was good, Pentecost Three.

Pentecost Three goes to having enough experiences of one another that we know each other’s needs and resources and are willing to personally part with some of our resources to assist another. Here we have moved on, from sharing words and sharing time, to sharing property.

Remember, Peter and John had been arrested. This threatens the well-being of the whole community. When they were released the community prayed for protection to keep this from happening again. It is recorded that during that prayer their meeting place was shaken in a similar manner to the Pentecost One and that a new behavior of sharing property was begun. This is not just wise economic behavior in uncertain times, but a religious perspective on life.

Listen to two different translations and see which one catches you. From The New Revised Standard Version we hear this report: “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. 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.”

From The Message by Eugene Peterson we hear this report: “The whole congregation of believers was united as one--one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person's need.”

The movement of GOD’s Spirit moves among us to move us beyond ourselves and to move us into deeper relationships and to move us into deeper sharing, including property.

We are still relearning and relearning this commitment to share our property. This is never easy to do and we get into habits and give excuses why we can’t share this much together in today’s world. We are challenged to relearn Pentecost Three.

There are additional Pentecost experiences and learnings beyond these three, but they give us much to consider as we evaluate the strength of this congregation. How far outside our doors are you willing to talk about the wonders of GOD? How often, inside our doors, are we willing to meet with one another? How much are we willing to financially share with one another?

If we can simply get this far it will pay huge dividends in the way we pay attention to what it is that GOD is asking of us in regard to ministry both within and without our doors and our own growth (we are in a growing community and so we could be growing) if we can get past our habits and excuses for not growing.

Each Pentecost is a quantum leap forward. None are easy and all present a challenge to us. A part of our work here is for our members to willingly and excitedly share what they have experienced as the wonder of GOD with people outside our congregation. Another part of our work is for our members to have enough encounters with one another that we will willingly and excitedly share our time and resources with those inside our congregation.

May GOD help us.