Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV)
As I’ve lived in various places around the western U.S., I’ve often discovered that each place has a history, each area has its own unique history. I’ve lived now in Kentucky for three months. What I’ve discovered here is that this place, more than many of the other places I’ve lived, has a much richer and deeper history.
Perhaps some of this is because of its physical location, bounded by the Appalachian Mountains on the east, which provided access for early settlers, who were seeking more land and adventure as they moved west from the original 13 colonies. Perhaps it’s because of the rich native American history, a history that precedes that of the early settlers and that includes tribes so familiar to any student of history--the Cherokee, the Chickasaw, and the Shawnee, to name just a few. Perhaps it’s because of the Ohio River, sometimes considered the western extension of the Mason-Dixon line--the border that separated slave states from free states. This river that was called the River Jordan by those traveling the Underground Railroad from slavery to The Promised Land.
And, then, there is the Kentucky Derby. Over these past couple of weeks, I am learning about the breadth and depth of this great race, this “Run for the Roses.” This “Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.” This first leg of the Triple Crown. This grandparent of horse races that has been run consecutively every year since 1875.
So, in honor of the Derby this week and of the history of this amazing place, I started reading a book titled The Sport of Kings, written by C.E. Morgan, an author who is a graduate of Berea College and a native Kentuckian. It’s one of those huge Southern Gothic novels, like Gone With the Wind.
It weaves together characters from three family lines, three lineages. One that includes the son of one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Kentucky. One that includes the great, great, great grandson of a runaway slave who gained freedom by crossing the Ohio River. And one that includes Hellsmouth, a thoroughbred racing horse that comes from a long line of winning thoroughbreds. And, although, this book on it’s surface is about horse racing, it is about much more than that. It is mostly about race.
Throughout the novel, the author’s premise is that our genes don’t control our destinies, but that what is more decisive is the sheer unstoppable momentum of history. She believes that we can and we must refuse to perpetuate the sins of our parents. But she is also a realist, recognizing how nearly impossible this is, how hard it is to unbind ourselves from our own histories. From histories that keep us apart from each other.
Why is it so hard to separate ourselves from our own histories? Why is it nearly impossible to break down the walls, the barriers, that so often keep people apart? It seems that more and more frequently we are so divided from each other. Whether it is because of race. Or class. Or political persuasion. Or gender. Or sexual identity. Or whatever it is, doesn’t it just feel as though we are so divided? That our own histories are wrapped around us, keeping us bound and isolated. Keeping us apart from each other.
Perhaps that’s why, when we read our Acts text today, it seems so unrealistic. This idea of holding everything in common. It seems so fanciful. I mean, really. Could you see this happening in our world today? Could you?
Clearly in this early community, people were divided by class. Some had money and possessions. Others didn’t. And, yet, our text reads, “All who believed were together and had all things in common: they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
This, my friends, is exactly what happens when God breaks in. When God intrudes and disrupts with the Good News. With the promise that we talked about last Sunday. With the promise of salvation.
Because, this is what salvation looks like. It is a picture of life. Of the abundant life that is promised to us in Christ’s words in our Gospel, “I came that they (that you and I) may have life, and have it abundantly.”
What is in that picture of abundant life?
In our world, abundant life is so often equated with wealth. With wealth and prosperity. With a big home in the suburbs and maybe a timeshare in Florida or a cabin somewhere up north. With a boat. With possessions. With stuff. With access to experience, like tickets to the Kentucky Derby. This is what, to the world, abundance looks like.
The world’s idea of abundance divides. The haves and the have nots. The rich and the poor. Those with housing, those without. Those with food, those who are hungry. Those with health care, those with none.
This is not God’s picture of abundant life, of salvation. For God, abundant life is life that is lived out in the church, where the Word of God is made manifest. It isn’t about gaining prosperity or wealth. It is about people’s needs being met. It is about worship. About fellowship and belonging. About safety and security. About the breaking of bread. And prayers. And signs and miracles.
This is what salvation looks like. Life. Abundance. Unity. Commitment. Commonality. The same as that of the early church. Holding fast. And dedicating ourselves, like the early church, to the teachings of the apostles. To studying God’s Word, in Sunday school, in Bible study, here in worship, at home in our regular devotion.
And to the breaking of bread. That ritual observance of the Lord’s Supper, the communal meal. The Eucharistic feast--an abundant feast portrayed so richly in our psalm today. Did you hear the language? A feast in which the psalmist’s cup overflows. A feast that happens even in the presence of the enemy. A feast for everyone. For every kid who has been picked on. For every person escorted to the door after being laid off. For every person every abandoned by a spouse. Or by a parent. For anyone ever shamed for being poor. For being undocumented. For every outcast from society. It is for you and for all people. A place of honor at God’s feast. No more separation. No more shame.
This is the model of the early church. This is the model for us today. And, interestingly, in the book I’m reading, it is ultimately the only model of how to slip the bonds of history: not by having no family at all, but by deciding that your family includes everyone. That the only lineage, the only family line that matters is the one that is common to us all. The line that has been created by God, broken by sin, yet redeemed by Christ and for which the Spirit seeks to work full restoration.
This is God’s vision of abundant life. It is idealistic. It is fanciful. And, yet, it is for us. And it is for all people. It is God’s vision for what salvation looks like.
I hope and pray that it is our vision, too.
Preached May 7, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10