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Sunday, May 7, 2017
Scripture: Ruth 2:1-7, 17-23 & Acts 4:32-37
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

“All the believers were one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). My first thought when I read this sentence is, “Really?” I’m skeptical because if there is anything believers are known for worldwide it’s how good we are at fighting with each other over theological, social, and biblical convictions. We all know people who have given up on the church because of these disagreements. We all know people who have left the church because they were hurt by another person in the church. Perhaps you sit here today still hanging in with the church but wondering why you still are a part of this entity that has confused or hurt you. Believe me, I get it.

“All believers were one in heart and mind.” But the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that my skepticism isn’t enough. There are many times that Christians live up to the name of Christ. Often this goes unnoticed outside of those who have received kindness and grace, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there because it’s quiet or that there isn’t enough good stuff to outweigh the negatives. The negatives just get the press. When the church strives to grow into its identity in Christ I believe that we will be transformative for our community and for individuals in our own neighborhoods.

We are in our third week of our series called “Practicing Faith,” and today’s practice is sharing. We’ve already talked about testimony and healing as practices of Christianity. As we look at sharing today, I believe you’ll come to find that these practices are rooted in your identity. The more you desire to stay connected to Jesus, the more these practices flow through you and bless others. Similarly, if you just try to live this way without the connection to Christ, you will end up burned out and ineffective.

I want to talk about sharing today through a couple of stories. Let’s begin in Ruth, a story set around 3,000 years ago. This brief book offers a glimpse into what it means to live as a beloved community rooted in a relationship with the God who created and ordered everything. Briefly, this book begins with a Jewish family of four leaving Bethlehem behind because of a famine. They move to Moab, which is on the east side of the Dead Sea – a foreign land and a people with whom the Jews were not always friendly. After arriving in Moab, the father of the family dies. Soon, the two sons marry women from Moab – Ruth and Orpah, and they have ten years together before the two sons die, leaving three widows – Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. Word comes to Moab that the famine in Bethlehem is over, so Naomi readies herself to return to her people. Orpah decides to stay in Moab and start again. Ruth clings to Naomi and follows her back to Bethlehem.

Which brings us up to speed with our text today. Naomi is a widow. Ruth is a foreign widow. They are both living on the edges of society because in their world they didn’t have much access to make a living. And while it is true that they lived on the margins of society, God’s law offered them some protections. There are at least three passages in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, that speak to this, including, Leviticus 19:9-10, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”

This is precisely what Naomi takes advantage of when she instructs Ruth to gather the leavings from the harvest. Notice how this law is rooted in the identity of God. I am the Lord your God, which is the foundation of why the people would leave the edges of their fields and vineyards for the poor and the foreigner. But part of what makes Ruth such a remarkable story is that the community doesn’t stop with things on a subsistence level. They share to the point of blessing! The generosity of the community leads to full life for Ruth and a future for God’s people. At the end of the story, Ruth – this foreign woman – ends up being the great-grandmother to King David. The practice of sharing makes a deep difference in the people of God.

Nickel Mines
You may recall the story of the Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered a one-room schoolhouse and executed five girls before taking his own life. This tragedy caught our attention not just because of how horrible it was but also because of how the Amish community responded to it. Yes, they mourned, but they also offered immediate and total forgiveness. The Amish community was living out their Christian faith, but this grabbed our attention because of how total and how rare it is in our world to see Christians act this way.

The story didn’t end in 2006. Charles Roberts’ family still lived in the area. His mother, Terri, assumed that they would need to leave the area. How could they ever have a normal life after what their son had done? Within hours of the massacre, an Amish man named Henry came to the Roberts’ home and gave them this message: They were not an enemy. They were parents who were also grieving the loss of their own child. Henry extended grace and friendship to the Roberts. Soon, the Amish attended Charles’ funeral. A few months later they built an addition on the Roberts’ home, which is graced with the word “Forgiven” above one of the doors. Several years later when Mrs. Roberts was diagnosed with cancer, one of the children who survived the massacre came to help clean her house. The children even came to sing Christmas carols.[1]

This is not to say that community doesn’t struggle with this, but their identity as followers of Jesus puts them in the place of deciding daily to live with forgiveness, even towards the family of someone who harmed them so greatly. It’s not easy, but it’s a practice they live out day to day. To live this way does not come naturally to anyone, even to these remarkable Christians, but because their identity is rooted in Christ and because they have a community of support, they summon up the grace and courage to practice their faith, even sharing life and hospitality with someone who many would have viewed as an enemy from that day forward. Forgiveness is powerful and vital for life. Sharing life together is one of the things that can give us the strength to live as Jesus in the world.

This brings me back to the book of Acts. Our text today offers a remarkable picture of a community that seems ideal. “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” They shared among themselves without worrying about who owned what or who brought the most into the community. The apostles were able to share the gospel powerfully – pointing to Jesus’ resurrection as the sign of God’s work in the world. As remarkable as this description of this early community of believers is, Acts is notable for its bracing honesty about the difficulties these believers faced – both among themselves and in the wider world. Not only in Acts but also throughout the New Testament there is plenty of evidence that life together is not as ideal as these few verses. There are squabbles. There are real difficulties. There is opposition from outside. Yet, it is in the real world mess of life together that this beautiful grace comes along that causes followers of Jesus to learn to live in a new way – a way that is not natural in the least.

Friends, I am convinced that these are not idle words. They are not merely something to aspire to. When our identity is wrapped up in the God we have met in Jesus Christ, this type of selfless living moves into the center of individual lives and radiates outward into the church community, ultimately bearing light into a world that doesn’t understand such care. One commentator on this passage noted, “The reader of Acts is reminded that the church’s internal witness is centered by the sharing of goods, even as its external witness is centered by the proclamation of the gospel.”[2]

Practically speaking, what does this look like in our life together? Here are three quick thoughts on how we learn to practice faith in such a way that we share openhandedly with each other.

First, we must find our own identities – our own stories – rooted into God’s story. These early believers didn’t live this way because they thought it was a good idea. No, they did so because as people living into the resurrection of Christ they knew that their identity in Christ was primary over all other things they believed about themselves. In our world where we find our identity in race, gender, state, nation, sports affiliation, and more, we must remember that God’s definition of who we are overwhelms everything else.

Second, we see plenty of glimpses of what it means to share our possessions and lives in our church life already. We do this when we bake cookies for coffee hour. We do this when we teach our children. We do this when we reach out to our members who are sick, grieving, or lonely. I am so glad that we do this, but I believe we’re only scratching the surface on this. Part of this is rooted in how fiercely independent most of us are – your pastor included! Perhaps you need to practice vulnerability with others, letting them bless you and walk with you in a time of need.

Finally, we must remember our unity in Christ. I’m glad we’re at the communion table today. This meal is the great leveler. All are welcome. There is no cost to come – only a willingness to trust in Jesus with your life. We get to serve each other. We get to see the brokenness of our lives in the brokenness of Christ’s body. We get to share the story of God’s love for the world. We all share the same meal. This practice of sharing communion is one more way we learn to live as people of faith in the world today.

May you today see yourself in God’s story. May you take another step towards dependence upon God and your friends in faith here. And when you share in Christ’s meal, may you remember God’s beautiful, fierce love and forgiveness for you, and may you open yourself up to the Spirit’s work of transformation to share your life with others.

[1] This information was gleaned from this article. “Her son shot their daughters 10 years ago. Then, these Amish families embraced her as a friend.” Washington Post. October 1, 2016.

[2] New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Acts, p. 95.