Sermon on Acts 6 June 9, 2013
It was a test of sorts.
An interesting test:
A disagreement in a congregation.
And we know that these things happen.
Great and small.
The list goes on and on in congregations all over this country and around the world.
What color shall the wine be?
What times should services be?
What hymns to sing?
The age of first communion. The place of children.
Should we trim the wicks or just let them be.
Jackets and ties or jeans and flip flops?
Praise bands or pianos.
Contemporary or traditional or blended, whatever those may mean.
The roles of men and women.
What shall our mission be?
How welcoming should we be to people different from us?
On and on and on.
I leave it to history to remember which ones of those are ours.
And there it is in Bible happening in the first few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Back when the church was young and the Holy Spirit seemed to seep out of each and every pore of the Body of Christ: a disagreement.
And if it did not happen. If things just stayed the way they were and no one took issue and questioned the status quo people may have died. Disagreements as a time for discernment and not a thing to avoid.
Here in the Bible, in the Book of Acts it was time to act.
Would the early church, this newborn faith community, filled with the Holy Spirit, these seekers after the way of Jesus, play favorites? Would the community descend into bickering and finger pointing? Crumble under the weight of disagreement? Start meeting in small groups in quiet corners and whisper conspiracy theories and perceived slights? Would they stick their heads in the sand and declare that everything was peachy-keen? Or was there another way? A way led by the Holy Spirit. A healthy, affirming, Spirit-filled, community building, gift acknowledging, disciple-equipping way?
So many choices! So many possibilities! Do nothing. Do something. Or seek to do what God was calling them to do.
Where so many later congregations have struggled, imploded, exploded and worse when beset by disagreement, this first faith community did not and what they did is important for us to pay very close attention to because it suggests a basic understanding of how a Christian community could function, should function.
The Hebrew widows and the Greek speaking widows were having a bit of a tiff over food distribution. “Our widows are not receiving their fair share,” yelled the Hellenists and the Hebrew Christians must have stood their ground because a food distribution team had to be put together to ensure a equitable share for all. This question about equitable food distribution was no small matter since the widows depended upon such charity to survive. Without such food they could starve. This wasn’t a disagreement over the color of the wine for Holy Communion, but a matter of life and death.
So the 12 disciples call everyone together – the whole community – every man, woman, and child and tell them about the problem. And then they tell them that they are not going to wade into the middle of the conflict, take on one more responsibility and fix it by just doing it themselves. Instead they acknowledge that the Holy Sprit gives different gifts and calls people to different types of service to put those gifts to work. They acknowledge that the gifts needed to ensure equitable food distribution included the gift of wisdom and we assume no small amount of that! And the people needed to be full of the Spirit for as anyone who has witnessed conflict within a group, especially a congregation, knows, a discerning and wise spirit is a must. And the people were told to choose seven with these gifts. They didn’t ask for random volunteers – they wanted people with the right gifts, with a sense of call, and who had lived up to their responsibility as part of the faith community by showing themselves to be faithful. And they wanted the community to assist in that discernment rather than just have people self-select.
The leaders were not abdicating their responsibility, rather they led and empowered the community to equip those with the right gifts and a passionate call and a track record of responsibility. And what happened? The community lifted up seven such people who were then commissioned for service in support of mission, in this case, feeding the hungry widows among their community. The 12 disciples knew their gifts, their passions, their calling: attending to the teaching of God’s word. And they knew that whatever ministry and mission God wanted their community to be about – that God would raise up people with the needed gifts and passion and calling.
I have spent nearly 13 years among you and with the rest of Trinity’s leadership have sought the best ways to help people to discern their gifts and equip and empower them for service. It has been quite a journey and not without its frustration and disappointment, but also filled with amazing and I mean amazing people doing amazing things for the glory of God. There is no greater delight for me then to see people passionately using their gifts to glorify God and seeing how such experiences transform them and impact the lives of others.
As we enter the summer, two things are clear, and not just to me, but to our leadership and a number of others. First, we need a means to disciple adults, helping them discern their gifts, equipping them more deeply in the faith, and encouraging them in their serving. Second, that we need to look one to two years ahead and as a community discern together what priorities for mission God is calling us to be about for the sake of the Gospel.
For the best means to make more committed and encouraged disciples equipped to disciple others, we are taking the next couple of months to look at the best working examples available with proven track records of success and will report back to the congregation before summer’s end.
For discerning our missional priorities, we begin today with a sign up list for summer meal and ministry discussion hosts who are willing to have half a dozen people over for a meal, biblical reflection and missional conversation centered around three questions:
The Three Questions:
1. What is going well at Trinity?
2. What are our biggest challenges?
3. What are your hopes and dreams?
More information on the discernment process and these summer gatherings is on the handout that you received as you entered. Prayerfully consider serving as a host or a participant as we begin this journey in prayer.
Let us pray….