Sunday, April 30, 2023

HOMILY: "Be Boldly Bountiful!"

A Meditation on Acts 2:42-47
Sunday, April 30, 2023
Community Church of Durham


So what does it mean for us to live, my friends, on this side of Easter Sunday?  What does it mean for disciples of the crucified Christ to celebrate his resurrection, to bear witness to his resurrection, to believe in the great promise and mystery of Easter?  These questions drive the storytelling in the Book of Acts.  What does it mean to live on this side of Easter Sunday?

The proposal this morning is deceptively simple and delightfully radical.  "All who believed were together."  That is: they showed up for one another.  They weren't casual abouit it, but were committed to one another.  "And they had all things in common."  That is: they opened their homes to one another, they broke bread generously with one another.  "And they would sell their possessions," this is in the text.  "They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need."  As - any - had - need.

It seems to me, friends, that if we really want to live in the wild energy, in the unsettling wonder, in the potency of our Easter proclamation—these four words require our attention, our reflection, even our prayer.  “As any had need.”  They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Somehow the mystery of the resurrection, the passion of God is hidden in these four words.  As any had need.  And I’d hazard a guess this morning that this snippet of storytelling in the Book of Acts is perhaps the most radically hopeful, prophetically important, and (let’s be honest) practically ignored texts in Christian life, in Christian tradition.  

How easily we Christians reduce the resurrection to a theological litmus test or a wildly improbable tale of divine correction.  As if the whole point of Easter is God’s intention to divide and conquer the world: to prove the righteousness of the believers and condemn the infidelity of everyone else.  But what we hear this morning, what we hear in the Book of Acts is entirely different, profoundly revealing.  

And it invites you and me, it invites the church to a whole new pattern of living, a wonderfully new passion for community life and community care and community ministry.  “And day by day,” this is in the text, “as they spent much time together in the temple, as they dedicated themselves to God and one another, they broke bread in their homes and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.  And they praised God, and they praised God, and they praised God together.”  The Word of the Lord!  The Easter Good News!  

If there’s a three-word message in all of this, if there’s a three-word take-away for the church this morning, on this side of Easter Sunday—I think it just might be this: “Be Boldly Bountiful.”  Be boldly bountiful, church!  Not because we’re getting tested by an angry God who’s anxious to judge the good from the bad, or the righteous from the wrong.  But because our God is generous beyond measure and abundant in love and mercy.  And because our God has indeed raised Jesus from the grave and resurrected our spirits, our dreams, our commitment to the common good.  Be boldly bountiful, church!  

What’s offered to us in the Book of Acts is not a church in retreat, and neither is it a church apologizing for its vocation or its mission.  No, what we’ve got this morning is a promise that God’s dynamic love, that God’s amazing grace is sufficient for a boldly bountiful mission in a wildly wonderful world.  That’s us, friends.  That’s who we are, and who can be.  A boldly bountiful mission in a wildly wonderful world.


Now I have to confess, pretty quickly, that this language is not mine, not mine at all, but original to our brand new, just formed Capital Campaign Leadership Team.  And we’re going to commission that wonderful team right here in worship next week.  Don’t miss that!   

When they got together this past week to dream up a theme for this year’s Campaign, the team played around with all kinds of words, all sorts of combinations—and they landed enthusiastically on these three.  And I couldn’t be happier, or any more grateful for their work.  “Be Boldly Bountiful!”  “Be Boldly Bountiful.”  And it fits, right?!  It fits the campaign we’re developing.  It fits our visions and intentions for ministry and service and community here in this place.  And doesn’t it fit this passage from the Book of Acts, too?  “Be Boldly Bountiful!”  God calls the church—that’s you and me—God calls us to share our lives and our resources and our energies with glad and generous hearts.  God calls us to a spirit of resilience, to a practice of abundance, to a vision of inclusion that celebrates the rainbow spectrum of humankind in a Christian community that meets the resurrected Christ in every broken heart and every beautiful child and every hungry neighbor and every questioning soul we meet.  “Be Boldly Bountiful!”  

“The crowning evidence that Jesus lives,” these are the words of the great farmer-theologian Clarence Jordan in the 60s…“The crowning evidence that Jesus lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship.  Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.”  Now it’s just storytelling.  You can make an argument.  It’s just storytelling.  But, friends, storytelling is our way of making sense of sacred tradition and divine intention.  Storytelling is our way of leaning into the presence of Jesus in our lives and churches.  Storytelling is our way of celebrating his rising in the midst of our brokenness, his defiance in the face of violence and empire, his passion for peace and his commitment to abundance and plenty.  

And in the storytelling of the Book of Acts, Jesus’ resurrection reconstitutes a community of plenty.  In these stories, Jesus’ resurrection reimagines a church of boldly bountiful care and compassion.  We in the church remember our source, our purpose and our prophetic edge.  And that’s not to say we’re called to religious triumphalism or cultural warfare; no, no, and no.  “All who believed were together, in community; and they had all things in common; and they’d sell their possessions and goods, and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  Easter?  Jesus’ resurrection reconstitutes a community of plenty.  “The crowning evidence that Jesus lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship.”  That’s us.  That’s who we are. 


Some of you will remember the October morning three years ago when two ICE agents pulled up in front of the home of our friends Sherry and Barry in Greenland.  Their official ICE vehicle, dark with tinted windows.  Their demeanor at the front door, serious and stern.  Those agents intended that morning to take Brother Ernie away, to ship him off to a flight back to Cameroon; their intention was his deportation.  It really wasn’t a surprise, but it was, nonetheless, a scary day.

You also remember that, within a half an hour, fifteen, twenty church friends (including some of you here today) arrived on those same front steps in Greenland.  Barry’s house.  Sherry’s house.  It felt like our house.  We created a ring of care and protection.  Manifested divine purpose together.  You remember that we kindly, generously kept watch out there: as Brother Ernie contacted his lawyers from inside, and as those ICE agents waited in their vehicle, and as the lawyers and agents went back and forth.  With Ernie’s future, with Ernie’s life, perhaps, in their hands.  
Now you might say that the reading this morning is fictional, or elaborated somehow by the storyteller, or glossed up a bit by generations passing it along.  And all that may be so.  But what happened in Greenland that day—and really in the three years since—was and is the boldly bountiful mission of the church.  Where believers make commitments to one another.  Where sisters, brothers, siblings show up for one another.  Where what we hold in common is our passion for one another’s safety, and our intention to provide for one another’s protection, and our willingness to weep and laugh and sing one another home.  

When the lawyers had made their case that morning, and when the ICE agents had left town without their man, and when Brother Ernie emerged to greet the rest of us on those same front steps—you might remember (those of you who were there) that he fell to his knees and we gathered close around him.  Praising God.  Praising God with glad and generous hearts.  That day, as much as any day I can remember over many years in ministry, was an Easter Sunday on an October Wednesday.  A church living for one another and providing for one another—on this side of the resurrection.  “Being Boldly Bountiful!”  Together!


I discovered a wonderful commentary on Acts this week by Willie James Jennings, a Baptist scholar at Yale Divinity School.  And Willie James Jennings writes about the “powerful pull” of the life of Jesus, and the ways the Easter Church chooses either to resist that pull or yield to its grace and wonder.  I’m struck by his suggestion that we sometimes resist the pull of Jesus’ life and teaching, of Jesus’ vision and touch; it’s easier to toe the line, to be safe and do all the so-called normal things.  Or to focus theological energies on religious competition and one-upsmanship.  But the Book of Acts tells the story of an Easter Church—a community of friends yielding, surrendering, dancing with the Spirit of the Risen Christ.  And that’s a beautiful thing.  And that’s the gift of his resurrection and new life.  The community that yields to the Spirit, surrenders to the Spirit, and dances with the Spirit of the Risen Christ.

And that’s why—in our story today—that’s why they come together to pray, and they come together to break bread, and they sell possessions and goods, and they distribute proceeds to all, as any had need.  Because of the “powerful pull” of the life of Jesus.  Because of the “powerful pull” of his vision and touch.  Because in his teaching, they have known the bold mercy of a bountiful God.  And it changes everything about them.  The ways they eat and the meals they share.  The ways they live and the homes they live in.  The commitments they make to the common good and the sharing of wealth and resources.  All of it—because of the “powerful pull” of the life of Jesus.

So the opportunity and the challenge for us now—on this side of the resurrection—is to discern together the movement and the intention of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  And in our life together here.  That’s what thrills me, excites me really, about our Capital Campaign and even the big budget mountain we’re going to have to climb in the fall.  To be honest, it’s the gist of it all in the Book of Acts.  Will the church take the time and exert itself in discerning the movement and intention of the Spirit?  We believe (I know we do) that the Holy Spirit is among us, that the Holy Spirit is even now giving birth to new possibilities for human community, and new configurations of human wellness, and new patterns of peace on the planet.  We’ve seen it on those front steps in Greenland.  And that Sunday we re-raised the rainbow flag out here on Main Street.  And that Friday we defied the wind and cold in Newington to demand that Sig Sauer stop making and selling assault rifles and bloodshed.  We’ve seen it.

On this side of the resurrection, now, we will continue to discern the newness of God’s love, to welcome this newness in gladness, and to embrace generously this newness as our own calling in the church.  On this side of the resurrection, we will BE BOLDLY BOUNTIFUL.  Together.