Sermon Title “Act of Care” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! This is the Sunday after Pentecost, and the second Sunday in our sermon Series “Courageous Acts;” we are going to looking at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the Acts of the Apostles. Last week I talked about God’s act of communication in sending the Spirit to allow the apostles to speak so that others heard the message of the good news of Christ in their own native language. Like any act of communication, God’s communication with human beings is not complete until it is received. For us, that means hearing the message and embodying it in our lives. Continuing the work of Jesus is the mission of the church, and what that mission is in the context of Creekside Church is what this series is about.
Karen shared with us from the end of Acts chapter 2 — the report of the aftermath of the wind and fire and display of the day of Pentecost. I jokingly told the Worship Team when I planned this series that since I’m departing from the lectionary readings for the next few weeks and preaching from the book of Acts instead, that maybe I should call this series “Random Acts.” This text, in particular, details acts of caring and kindness. Our Outreach Team, and Brandom Borem in particular, have encouraged us to practice Random Acts of Kindness. Here’s a bit of background on RAKs:
There is a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK) which was founded in 1995 in the US Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) day began in 2004 in New Zealand Promoters of the day suggest paying for another person’s meal in drive-thrus, letting someone go ahead in line, buying extra at the grocery store and donating it to a food pantry, buying flowers for someone, complimenting a colleague on their work, or paying the bus fare for another passenger. Random Acts of Kindness Day is Feb 17 in the United States.
I have nothing against random acts of kindness, and some of you have shared what it has been like to give or receive kindness from a stranger, often someone you will never see again. This passage from Acts would include kindness like that, but I believe the acts of caring described in verse 37-47 go beyond random acts of kindness — these are intentional acts of caring for folks in the family of God.
First of all, there is the vital question which gets asked in Verse 37. Remember, we have just had this amazing act of communication facilitated by the Holy Spirit, and a stirring sermon by the apostle Peter. If you remember last week, I said that even if there was a sign which proved God’s existence beyond a doubt, sooner or later, we would ask: So what? This is that question: so what? Only the author of Luke/Acts writes it, “Brothers, what should we do?” We know the Spirit is with us, we’ve heard this amazing testimony from Peter, now what should we do? And that question begins to move us into the specifics of the mission of God for the church.
Peter tells the crowd, “repent and be baptized, for you will receive the Holy Spirit. For this promise is for you and your children and everyone who hears God’s call.” Remember, God made this happen so that a lot of people heard God’s call in a way that they could understand. And about three thousand people were baptized that day. So, believing that the message is true, turning our lives in a different direction, believing in Jesus Christ and making a commitment through baptism to follow Jesus’ teaching is the first thing we can do when we hear God’s call. Those are great big things — things many of you made a commitment to decades ago, or at least have been exposed to for many years if you have darkened the door of a church.
The second thing may not seem like a big thing, but it was a hallmark of Jesus’ earthly ministry. New believers devoted themselves to fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. Eating together may not sound like a big deal, but it has a long, complicated history which stretches way back in the Jewish faith, which had complicated dietary laws about what food you could eat, what utensils had to be used to prepare and serve that food, and who was ritually clean — or not — to sit at that table and eat it. We may think we’re past those archaic practices now, but if you have ever had to prepare a meal for a group of people which includes folks who are diary-free, gluten-free, sugar free, vegetarian or vegan, that meal can get complicated pretty quickly. And that’s just food tolerances, not even food preferences about what people do or don’t like. And if you have ever had an extended family or other gathering where you have had to prep participants ahead of time about topics of conversation to be avoided — politics, religion, race, living arrangements with significant others, whatever — you know that there are many, many ways that table fellowship can go off the rails.
We have no indication from the book of Acts that the first converts to Christianity were a culturally cohesive bunch with similar views on events of the day. In fact, given that they heard the message in many different languages, it’s a good bet that they were culturally diverse, although, given the arguments which erupt later in the book of Acts, the earliest Christians were almost certainly practicing Jews. It seems as though the strength of these folks was their human diversity, more than their similarity. What is striking is how these diverse folks were brought together by a common purpose — the mission of God. Verse 44 says that all who believed had all things in common, and that they sell their possessions and use the proceeds to care for any who had need. This is, at this time, caring for the needs of those within the community. The author end chapter 2 with the words, “They broke bread at homes and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all people.” That is a wonderful vision of the church, and one which I believe we got a glimpse of this morning and this past week.
Acts of caring are a basic answer to the “What should we do?” question of Pentecost. I know it would be a lot more difficult to get you to a meeting at 8:30 in the morning if there wasn’t food here. We are blessed to have some gifted people who prepare food — and go through the calculations of various dietary needs — but the quality of the food (or whether or not you liked it) is not the point of fellowship. In fact, you can have excellent food and very poor fellowship, if those gathered do not have glad and generous hearts. If you show up at any activity, but especially to worship or to a meal, with the intent of being critical, cynical, withdrawn, or resentful, you will likely not get much out of that fellowship, regardless of the food, and you won’t be much of blessing to anyone else, either. Glad and generous hearts enrich any gathering they are a part of. I intentionally saved this message for after the business meeting today because I’m not trying to say that you can’t question things which are going on at the church, or express reservations about my ministry or my work. Of course that is OK, and we welcome inquiries that cause us to examine ourselves and become a stronger or more faithful church. Those conversations can and should happen within the context of table fellowship — that is part of the purpose of fellowship. When it is not helpful is when those conversations happen with only certain people at certain tables, or when they happen in the parking lot after the meeting and all involved decide to go home and nurse their grudges in private.
Caring about and for other people is not a random act; it takes intention, and it takes effort. It may be easier to do something kind — share a word of encouragement, listen to a concern — for someone you don’t know and will never see again than it is to affirm someone you know and don’t particularly like, and have to keep rubbing up against. I have been pleased with how many of the “Thank you for sharing your gifts” cards you have gone through in the past few months: I thought about asking you to think of someone here at Creekside who rubs you the wrong way, and see if you could think of a something positive to affirm in that person. I decided this would be a bad idea — too much along the lines of the Irish saying that says: May those who love us love us, and may God turn the hearts of the others. And if God cannot turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so that we may know them by their limping. As we joined our voices to sing at the beginning of the service, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. We need to first practice acts of fellowship and caring with our sisters and brothers in Christ, because that is how other people see Christ in us and what we do; that is how other people are attracted to Christ. Our caring for one another is preparation for the more difficult, more demanding and more risky act of caring for people we don’t know — not just drive-by acts of kindness, but inviting others to the table of fellowship and care, seeing what kind of common ground we can find with folks who may come from a different family or a different background, or a different culture. When we begin with acts of caring, we can begin to expand into God’s mission sharing and proclamation and healing. We’ll be talking more about those in the coming weeks. The message for next week will be the account of a healing, which happens in Acts chapter 3, immediately after the passage we studied today.