Our Ideal Church

(Easter 4A    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. (Acts 2:42-45, NRSV)

We're in Acts 2, just after Pentecost, and we're hearing about the earliest Early Church there ever was. Could there be a vision of church more likely to get a pastor fired?

I want to follow that question both with a wink and with a tear.

Many, many sincere people want to live in a world where this is the guiding principle of what it means to be church: "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." But our reality is very different. We pinch pennies at church, or we wish we could give more but are faced with the reality of $3.29 for a gallon of gas. We want our church to do a lot of things, but most of us don't feel we can do more ourselves. Would we dare ask anyone to give EVERYthing when we wouldn't feel safe doing it ourselves?

I love the idea of giving it all, theoretically. I love it. But can I make that choice for my spouse and my children? Or do I ask that question to protect myself from going all the way?

I'm reading Karen Armstrong's "Spiral Staircase," which is really about her life after leaving a religious order, but the beginning sections take you into her life as a nun. It's a funny thing for this former Southern Baptist girl to admit, but I've always been fascinated with stories of nuns, with the idea of the discipline of convent life, the notion of leaving the regular world behind to serve God in a different way.

It's harder to draw the defining lines for a church in 2008, isn't it? If we use only the markers of Acts 2, we may well give up, saying "no church will ever do it, because no group of people will give up that much." We might point to unsuccessful communes or the number of people who have left that sort of committed religious life. How can it be possible in our time to live this way?

Some days I feel I give all I have to God; other days I feel I can never give enough of who I am. I guess my ideal is to try to be giving and to notice as quickly as possible when I am not, then to get back to giving again. It's the same for a church, writ larger. A church that is faithful and fruitful has to spend time checking in, asking questions. What is enough? Are we getting there? When we slip backward, are we committed to getting on track again?

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. (Acts 2:46-47)

Doesn't it sound warm? If this were all we had to do, could we do it? Break bread together, share our possessions, see to the needs of the poor and praise God all the time? Isn't there more to it, though? I can't help feeling Jesus asked us for more. He set a standard that was a little more ferocious than this passage sounds. And sometimes we get ferocious about the wrong things, passionate about things that are too small-minded and lukewarm about enormous matters that feel too big to embrace. This almost feels like a fairy tale happy-ever-after church, the ending, not the beginning.

2 thoughts on “Our Ideal Church”

  1. This passage fascinates me, and I want to preach on it Sunday. It seems to me that people want to come up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn’t be expected to live this way–to pool our resources to make sure everyone is cared for. Maybe we should take it more seriously.

  2. I guess it puts us into an either-or tailspin, doesn’t it? If we can’t go all the way there, what’s the point, that kind of thing.
    I’m actually going to use Psalm 23 and possibly the gospel on Sunday, but I love these Acts passages, too.

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