Those who had been baptized 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.
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. Acts 4:32-35
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My mother’s brother is seriously interested in genealogy and figuring out who came from what country and when and how everyone is related to each other. As he delves into our family's true history, he has found the good, the bad, and the ugly! He has traced our lineage back into the Middle Ages in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I find it interesting, but it is not something I am willing to research…at least not until I am retired.
I love history and I think it is very important. In fact, recently I’ve read a few books on America’s history, including one about George Washington’s Farewell Address, The Johnstown flood of 1889, the biography of Dr. Benjamin Rush; and, I am now reading about Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt. As I said, I love history…especially American history and Church history. Combined, they tell me part of our story, our national and religious genealogies.
I think the Book of Acts is the Church's equivalent of a genealogy. We read about how we started, the first days of the church, and what occurred at the very beginning of Christianity. I also like it because it is full of amazing action. Of course, the biggest action is on the day of Pentecost where a wind blows through everything, and there are tongues of flame. On that day, the Spirit is very much a lively and tangible thing. People are anxious, amazed, and a bit disturbed as they think the apostles are having a frat party. Then Peter preaches to the crowd, weaving in the Hebrew Scriptures with Jesus' life, and he pleads with them--and 3,000 people are baptized. Simply amazing!
We will read the first passage above on May 23 (when we have our annual visitation by the Bishop) as it describes the Christian community as it begins. The latter reading was the Epistle for Second Easter. They are beautiful stories. As my grandson would say, “They are doing God”: they are living together, they are eating together, they are praying together, and they are building up one another.
What is so beautiful to me is that the new Christians are literally giving everything away so that no one will be hungry or homeless and doing it all in gladness and joy. The Body of Christ, the early Church, kept growing every day. The story of the beginning of the Church is just so awesome. The Church is alive, vibrant, and growing as The Body of Christ.
Unfortunately, this is not how many have experienced the Church. Oftentimes I see those who have been left behind or excluded from the Church and they tell me that they haven't had that kind of loving and accepting experience. I think at some point in time the Church forgot what it meant to be the Body of Christ.
We all know of people (or maybe we are those people) who have been wounded by the Church. We know that churches can be places filled with gossip, infighting, corruption, greed, abuses of power, and abuses of people. There are churches that say God and the Church loves everyone and then silence the voices of women, persons of African descent, and members of the LGBT community. If the Church is the Body of Christ, then the Church may need to use its ears more and its mouth less.
So, what is the Good News?
The Good News is that it is not up to us! Although we should desire to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, we do not need to be saints or angels for God to live, move, and work within the Church. God is still working in and through the messiness of the Church and its individual members. The Church is God's Beloved, and God is not done working with her.
The Spirit is at work when other people’s failings hurt us and when our shortcomings fail other people. The history of the Church is kind of like what my uncle has learned…there are more family members than was let on and he has found that my family is made up of Revolutionary War and Civil War deserters, “Scarlet Letters”, half-brothers\sisters and cousins unbeknownst to the “true full-blooded family.”
If we just get stuck on those beautiful passages from Acts and fail to read the rest of The Acts of the Apostles, we do the Church and ourselves a disservice. For if we read on, we will see that even in that young, beautiful, growing church, they had their stories of embezzlement, church conflict, racial exclusion, leadership failures, congregational self-destruction, and infighting. And yet The Church survived and grew.
Despite the issues of the early Church and whatever may have taken place here in Apalachicola, Trinity is here and alive today – 184 years strong. Trinity is still moving, still growing and changing. The sin, shortcomings, and failures of the early Church didn't stop the Spirit from continuing to move and spread the Good News. Our current sins, shortcomings, and failures cannot stop the grace of the Holy Spirit from continuing to live and move in us and between us. In the Acts of the Apostles, the lead role is played neither by Peter nor Paul. It is played rather by the Holy Spirit, and it is that same Spirit that sweeps through our individual and corporate lives, whether we want it to or not; even when we can't see a way that things can be made new again.
The Good News is that Christ cannot be stopped by our sin or our failures, whether those sins are communal or individual. And the good news is that we are all welcome in all our brokenness, messiness, and diversity.
As the opening acclamation in the service of Baptism states:
“There is One Body, and one Spirit;
there is one hope in God’s call to us.”
The Church universal and Trinity Episcopal Church are one body made up of many different parts that look, move, feel, and act weird or strange at times. And while we know the pain the Church has caused, we can rest assured that the Spirit is busy creating a place for others and ourselves so that we can live, love, and serve Christ and His Church in all our own beautiful messiness.
Wishing you a blessed Ascension Day (May 13),