Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
When I received this week’s readings after having agreed to share this morning, I will be honest and say I had a sinking feeling. A guilty, sinking feeling. A feeling that I would, in the process of preparing this homily, have to face something I mostly avoid because I’m just not sure what to do with it. So today I will share, but I will share in many ways the anxieties of the rich. And I want to recognize up front that for many in our midst, these are not your anxieties. And that reality is in some ways at the heart of the question. How do I live in the light of the apostle’s example, of Christ’s example, in 2011 at Holy Trinity in Toronto, Ontario, Canada when I read:
“They would sell their goods and possessions, distributing the proceeds to all, according to people’s needs. Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they ate with glad and generous hearts”?
I find this overwhelming. I do not find the principle overwhelming. Alright, maybe a little bit. The selfish part of me, the anxious for the future part of me, the deserving because I have earned it part of me, raise a skeptical brow. But in my heart of hearts I sing yes. Yes! This is the kind of community I want. This is the kind of community we need. This is what I want for my children. This is the world I want them to inherit. But how, how can I actually DO this?
Well, honestly, my usual approach to this question is rationalization. The reading seems unreasonable. I know that it could not have been as harmonious as all that. There must have been some in-fighting, some jealousy, some corruption. In fact, a couple chapters later we are told about Ananias who apparently held back some money from some land he sold, lied about it, and was struck down as a result. Not a standard I feel capable of achieving. Maybe if the passage said, “After they paid their mortgage, and insurance, and made their RRSP contribution they would sell their possessions” I could believe it, or have a hope of emulating it. It’s different today.
Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe there is some truth in it.
Excuse #1 – Taxes and Social Programs
I pay my taxes . Did you catch that? Whose taxes? As I understand it they had the taxes without the social programs in the 1st century. But in 2011 I pay my taxes in part to support a health care system, an employment insurance system, a social assistance system, a housing system, an immigration and refugee system. This is true. I don’t mind telling you that I willingly pay a lot of tax. What saddens and worries me is that these systems, despite good intent, are clearly insufficient. They are not enough to live on. Yes, we need to advocate with governments that feel corporate tax cuts will trickle down in some magical way to alleviate unemployment, and by extension poverty and homelessness. But whatever I do, I cannot deny that it is not enough. And that I have more than enough.
Excuse # 2 – Charitable Giving
I give some of my money away. Did you catch that? Whose money? There are many organizations and people focusing their collective expertise on the critically important needs of our sisters and brothers, and of our planet. And I am thankful we have a system in Canada that recognizes that, and rewards it. One of the positive legacies of my parents and grandparent’s evangelical faith in my life is tithing. For those of you not aware of this discipline, it means setting aside a percentage of money that you earn for giving away. Often the amount cited, based on a somewhat selective reading of the Hebrew Bible, is 10%. I strive to honour this principle. I watched my grandmother, on her tiny pension, honour it. I was the recipient on more than one occasion of small but sacrificial giving. I believe it is an important, valuable, practical expression of the apostle’s example. But whatever I do, I cannot deny it is not enough. And that I still have more than enough.
Excuse # 3 – Being Overwhelmed
I am overwhelmed by the needs I know about, and I know they are but the tip of the iceberg. Did you catch that? Whose needs? In the world of tweets and twitters and texts and information from every corner of our global home, I am more aware than ever before of suffering, poverty, violence, and discrimination. I am also aware of people and communities who are finding ways to meet them with creative courage. But how could I possibly choose? And these things are so intertwined, and the forces arrayed so complex and powerful, that I can’t see where to begin. موقع بوكر And I despair that it will not do any good anyway. And so I retreat into my life, and try to do good where I can. And then something comes along that I cannot ignore. Sometimes I give, usually money. And I feel better, for a bit. And then I lose heart or interest or feel guilty or get distracted by the rest of life. And so I retreat into my life, and try to do good where I can. And then something comes along that I cannot ignore…and so on. But whatever I do, I cannot deny it is not enough. And that I still have more than enough.
So here’s the point I am supposed to provide the answers. But I don’t have them. I do think our readings might help us as we try to find our way. Whatever you might think about the Kielburger brothers and their organization, I think they have captured something essential in the phrase “Me to We”. Later in Acts (vs 4:32) we are told “those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything was held in common.” Me to We. A very simple, but very profound and challenging call. I think this is the beginning. The taxes are not mine, they are ours. The gifts are not mine to give, they are ours to share. And the needs that overwhelm me are our needs, not mine or theirs. Our lives are gifts meant for giving. لعبة الروليت المجانيه
In John’s gospel Christ speaks of himself as the gate. I can understand why (as the reading tells us) “when Jesus used this figure of speech those listening didn’t understand what he meant by it”. I thought he was the Shepherd, not the gate? Turns out he’s also the Shepherd. But for today he’s the gate. At least part of what I think this means is that through Christ, in Christ, with Christ we are called to both the sheepfold and the pastures. We need to move. I recall Fran’s tapestry Doves Getting the Squares Moving. I, we, must engage in the overwhelming, complex, inequitable world all around us. We need to be “called by name and led out”, next door and around the globe. اربح We all need to find a pasture where we feel we can contribute and engage. And we must return to the sheepfold through that gate, along with those we have encountered, for reflection and rest. That too is part of what this space is about. We need both to figure out how to share what we have, and who we are.
Peter’s letter speaks of sacrifice, of suffering for doing good. I don’t know very much about this. I have not really suffered for doing good. Rather, mostly I am rewarded and honoured for being generous when I do good. And my sacrifices so far have not cost me very much, not in the big picture. My suffering, if you can call it that, is the struggle to share what I have been given well. Never did I feel this struggle more acutely than living in Malawi, though I feel it here too. Outside our gates (yes our house had a gate), and inside it too, were countless faces and lives that spoke to the inequity of our world, and of our life in it. And sometimes we struggled, imperfectly, to open the gates and go out and listen and respond. Frequently we retreated and reflected and did our best to share with those we met. And it never felt enough, and it never will. And I still cannot drink tea without seeing the women in a green sea of tea bushes picking leaves under a blazing sun.
So I am left with my, no OUR, goods and possessions, and our community. I must take responsibility for what I have been given on behalf of us all. Me to we. And we must keep going out and opening ourselves and trying to find ways to share that are authentic. We must keep trying to find spaces and tasks that bring us on to common ground, into common life. The light will shine on our goods and possessions. Our lives will become interconnected and messier and richer as a result. And we must accept that it will not be enough. And that together we have more than enough. And we can only hope there is enough mercy and grace and forgiveness for us all, as together and imperfectly we find our way.