I confess I didn’t anticipate the number of barbs sticking out of that harmless-sounding phrase on our “Be the Church” banner. “Share earthly and spiritual resources.” Of course that’s what we we’re about–don’t we teach “sharing” as a value to our children? “Protect the environment” or “Reject racism” stood out in my mind as much more challenging subjects, even controversial. But “Share earthly and spiritual resources”? What’s not to like?
But as soon as I started investigating Biblical texts that might inform my thinking about this matter, I quickly came perilously close to that “third rail” in church conversations–money. And as if that weren’t bad enough, there appeared another deadly “third rail” in American Christianity, if you’re allowed to have more than one third rail–socialism.
Did you hear that description of the early Christian community in Acts?
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.
Oh man, let’s hope that isn’t what’s meant by “Share earthly and spiritual resources”!
Then there’s the story Jesus told about the man whose business had done well–his land had produced abundantly. The problem wasn’t that he wanted more or was particularly greedy. He just wanted to make sure that he had big enough barns to hold all the produce to secure his future. He was setting up his pension fund.
As someone who has just received her Medicare card and who is going to a pre-retirement seminar in June given by the Pension Boards, this is getting a little close, a little uncomfortable.
And I will say to my soul [the rich man says in Jesus’ parable], ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Needless to say, this is all just compounded for me by the prospect of having to distribute my mom’s possessions and resources, after the night when her life was “demanded” of her, which was really more like the night she handed it over.
“Share earthly and spiritual resources,” tra la. “Be the church.” No problem.
The United Church of Christ invited churches to enter a “Be the Church” monthly contest, with winners announced for each of the phrases on the banner. Land of the Sky UCC in Asheville, NC won the “Share earthly and spiritual resources” contest. Land of the Sky was co-founded in 2009 by two clergywomen–The Revs Sarah Wilcox and Amanda Hendler-Voss– who had been awarded a New and Renewing Church Grant in 2012.
The purpose of the church is not simply to sustain the institution, [they write] but to bless the wider world and prosper the work of justice, and we are committed to that. We give not out of our excess, but from our first fruits and we invite those in our community to do that as well.
Granted, Church of the Sky does not own a building, but rather shares one with two other congre-gations. They give away their money first each month, not out of what’s left over after bills are paid. “We are always mindful of the generosity afforded us as we launched Land of the Sky UCC,” the pastors write, “and so we are committed to creating a DNA that reflects generous living and radical grace.”
We, of course, do own a building, and there are certain bills that must be paid if we are to keep this building not only for our own use but for the use of countless other community groups. Over a hundred community groups, in fact, and I know that there are times when I get a little defensive, a little possessive, when some group is meeting and “interfering” with something I had wanted to do, taking over space that is “ours.” Just this past Friday morning, I found myself just the teeniest bit on edge when the HeadStart group who was here all day was singing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” outside the office when I was trying to get the bulletin done. “Be the church. Share earthly and spiritual resources.” That is who we are called to be.
The early Christian community could hold all things in common because they were so filled with spirit of resurrection of the Lord Jesus. If God could raise Jesus from death, why should they not have boldness of spirit to trust in God to give new life to them? Wasn’t there an abundance of power and plenty that overflowed so that no one should be in need? Weren’t they one in that Spirit? It used to be that the family was the social safety net. It was the family unit that took care of any in need, so regardless of what the family was like, you stayed within that rigid structure because your life literally depended upon it. As Greco-Roman culture became more cosmopolitan and people became more mobile, the church became the new family unit.
It’s not so different for us, as our families are scattered, our economic and social structures changing and eating too many people up. The churches and faith communities are still looked to fill in gaps where political and social structures fail, but/and the need seems to be endless. Until a more equitable distribution of resources becomes our political and moral will, we will continue to experience scarcity and need, with a growing gap–or chasm, really–between the haves and have nots.
“Be the church.” “Share earthly and spiritual resources.” Our Capital Campaign coming up in May will invite us to consider more deeply how we all can participate in sharing our earthly resources, as we look not only to our future but also the current needs of our community and beyond. We’re calling the campaign “A Bridge to the Future,” and sharing our earthly and spiritual resources is the only way forward.
Then there’s the “spiritual resources” the banner proclaims. “Share earthly and spiritual resources.” I am here with you this morning because I need the spiritual resources you have to share. Love, support, compassion, sympathy, wisdom, understanding, music, hugs …how I need all of those today! And, I daresay, all of us have been in need of those resources more often than not in our lives. Who of us has not lost a loved one? Who of us has never felt lost or helpless? Not that our culture encourages us to admit that. Get over your grief. Power through that illness or injury. Pull yourself together.
How many people do you suppose turn to alcohol or heroin or oxycodone when what they are in genuine need of is spiritual resources? Something to address that “God-shaped hole” that is in each of us, as Blaise Pascal described it? “Be the church. Share earthly and spiritual resources.” We have life-saving resources to offer, but we are too often embarrassed or afraid to offer them, too afraid to appear “religious” in our “non-religious” state culture. So people go looking elsewhere for them, too often to places that will do further harm to their bodies and souls. We must “be the church. Share our earthly and spiritual resources.”
So, I have a confessino to make. That’s about all I could muster this week. “Share spiritual resources.” I’m running a bit of a deficit this week, but we as a community are not. This is where speakers who run workshops and forums and seminars would have you turn to eah other and share with the person next to you what some of the spiritual resources are that you have to share. As an introvert, I always find those words–”Turn to the person next to you”–terrifying. I won’t do that to you. What I am going to do is invite us all to take minute here and just think of a time when you were in need of spiritual resources. When were you at a loss? Frightened? Worried” Maybe so full of joy you didn’t know what to do with it? Think of a time. Then begin to remember what helped…
As our time together continues this morning, maybe during the silence of the prayers or during Matt’s offering of music, think also about how you could share those spiritual resources that helped you. And finally, if you’d like tell someone–perhaps me, maybe somebody else– about your experience, WITHOUT using the words, “You know what you should do… or believe..” but rather something like, “What helped me when I was hurting…”
Be the church. Share earthly and spiritual resources.
“God, whose giving knows no ending,” we’ll sing in a little while, “from your rich and endless store, nature’s wonder, Jesus’ wisdom, costly cross, grave’s shattered door: Gifted by You, we turn to You, offering up ourselves in praise; thankful song shall rise forever, gracious donor of our days.” We are loved by an unending love. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark