Grace Presbyterian Church
May 7, 2017, Easter 4A
Do you remember “choosing up sides” as a kid?
You know, the group is all set to play some game, but you need to divide into teams, so two “captains” are appointed and then they take turns choosing until everybody’s on a team?
I remember mostly being chosen near the end most of the time. Never have been terribly athletic, although I could hit a little if the game were baseball or softball.
But maybe you remember “choosing up sides” and then playing. Of course, how you chose depended a little bit on what game you were playing. The big stocky guy would be great for a game of pickup football, or for that childhood favorite “Red Rover” where you formed lines and called out one from the other team to dare them to break through your line. I never really thought at the time just how violent a game “Red Rover” was. But anyway, that big stocky guy might not the best choice for a game of pickup basketball.
So yeah, choosing up sides could sting a little if you were chronically chosen last. Maybe the bigger problem, though, is that in a lot of ways, we never do get over “choosing up sides,” even as we pass from childhood to adulthood and we’re not playing games anymore. In many ways we “choose up sides” when we choose where to live, with whom to socialize or spend our time, certainly when we vote, who we respect or who we scorn.
And yeah, Christians can be guilty of “choosing up sides” even in the church.
Sometimes it shows up simply in choosing which individual church to attend, seeking out people who “look like us”, or who we know “think like us”. Sometimes it’s all about whatever gain a person can gain from being among that congregation’s members in terms of social status or influence.
Suffice to say that this kind of “choosing up sides” isn’t at all what is at work in today’s reading from Acts. This brief vignette from the life of the early followers of Christ, still not quite a church yet, follows after the Pentecost story and Peter’s subsequent sermon that day. One of the key points of that Pentecost account was the presence of Jews from points far and near, speakers of many languages, who were first drawn to the event by hearing the disciples’ proclamation in their own varied languages. Aside from the moving of the Spirit in that Pentecost event there was very little reason for those people to be together in that place in that time, much less for three thousand of them to stick around and be part of the still-forming community.
Today’s reading contains another similar point, maybe a little hidden behind the part of the scripture that always gets people on edge.
Particularly among those of a particular political persuasion, verses 44-45 are guaranteed to provoke a pointed reaction. Just the mention of a community that “had all things in common” and that “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” is virtually guaranteed to provoke horrified gasps and mutterings of “socialism!” or worse. I’m watching y’all right now, you know, for signs of exactly that.
And yes, I get that this is a shocking thing to see right here in your Bible, and probably downright offensive to that particular political ruling class holding power right now. But maybe the larger shock, the larger miracle is that this particular community, drawn together by nothing in common other than the Spirit, includes both the folks with possessions to sell and those without. Rich and poor together, in addition to people of all nations together. Let’s face it, we just don’t see that so often in many churches, either of those let alone both.
And all of the things happening in this community described in this passage – together in fellowship and breaking bread, the “wonders and signs” in verse 43, being together in the Temple and in one another’s homes, and yes, the having everything in common and selling stuff to provide for one another – seems to be connected to, and maybe inseparable from, this being brought together in the Holy Spirit. Maybe none of those things happen in a community that comes together by plain old human “choosing up sides.” Maybe it takes being so caught up in the leading and moving of the Spirit that we live and work among a community we would otherwise never have chosen to be ready for wonders and signs.
As we come together around this table, like those followers so long ago, look around. Did we choose up sides to be here? Or is the Spirit moving among us and within us and through us, drawing us together for, literally, God only knows what? Who knows what wonders and signs might come? For whatever comes, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #249, Because You Live, O Christ; #526, Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ; #528, Come, Let Us Eat; #39, Great Is Thy Faithfulness