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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter 05/11/2014

The vision of the church from today’s first lesson sure does sound good: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers, they held all things in common, selling their possessions to make sure the poor were taken care of, they praised God with glad and generous hearts. It sounds good; the question with this vision is always about whether this was what was actually going on in that early Christian community or is it just an ideal. For those who study such things, the answer tends to be that it’s an ideal, that this kind of community either never existed or if it did it didn’t last very long. That’s been the fate of most of the attempts to form communities based on these verses and values; it sounds good, but it doesn’t work as things like greed and jealousy get in the way. A follow up question is whether or not this is an ideal that the church should even try to emulate or encourage.

It’s especially problematical in the United States where the ideals of ownership and private property are held quite sacred and there are very few if any of us who don’t embrace that notion to one degree or another. Many people are very generous in sharing what they have, in doing what they can to help those in need, but still, we like our possessions. The thought that it’s my money and I have a right to do what I want with it is pretty strong, the thought of all things held in common pretty foreign, even if the teachings of Jesus do tend to lean in that direction.

Our attraction to ownership and private property does make this a difficult text, but, on the positive side, broader interpretation of texts like this one have led to consideration of some of the things that we do hold in common, things like air and land and water, in short, the earth, nature, creation, the environment whatever we choose to call it.

The discussion about our desire for material possessions is worth having, except for the fact that it does convict all of us, but it’s also worthwhile to set that aside for a moment and to think about the bigger picture, to think about the created world and the things that do connect us and the common responsibility we share. Those first pictures of earth taken from space like the one on the cover of the bulletin, the earth as a blue and green and white marble when you see it in color, with no national boundary lines, no red and blue states, just one planet that we all inhabit, those pictures are often cited in helping us to see the world differently. Seeing it differently, the discussion changes.

For the most part, the church has not been a leader in this discussion, the feeling of some being that the church should mind its own business and tend to saving souls, but more and more there’s the feeling that this is the church’s business, that religious faith has a role to play in this discussion because what we’re talking about is the created world God has given us. That’s what Larry Rasmussen talked about in the talks he gave when he was here back in March.

No one owns the earth in its entirety; no one owns nature. We hold it in common and what we do with the little part that each of us inhabits does make a difference. In church language we’re stewards and within churches and stewardship committees these days, there is much more talk about environmental stewardship being important to faith.

In his book Earth Honoring Faith though, Larry Rasmussen suggests that the relationship between human beings and nature has not been a particularly healthy one, more of a master/slave relationship than one that models good stewardship. As he says, “Nature fits the classic understanding of the slave; living property to be bought, sold and used in keeping with what is necessary, desirable and responsible on the part of the slaveholder—in this case, us.” That’s harsh, but it’s hard to argue against; to a large extent that has been our perspective on the earth and its resources with all the rights being on our side, none on the side of nature. Nature has been our slave.

What this text from Acts does today is to continue the discussion about the “What should we do?” question that was posed last week. What should we do in response to the Easter good news of the Risen Christ? Last week the answer went primarily in the direction of participating in the life of the church, the life of Word and Sacrament. Today with the idealized version of the church community in Acts the answer has more to do with the rest of life, what we do when the worship service is over. Even if the Acts church is just an ideal it still raises questions that call for reflection, especially questions about the things we do hold in common, questions about what our responsibilities are in regard to those things as well as our responsibility in regard to other people, to all, as any had need.

Another angle from which to approach this comes from today’s gospel. Today and throughout the rest of the Easter season we have readings from John, including some of the “I am” statements. This fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday because the psalm is always the 23rd Psalm and there is always shepherd imagery from John, although today “I am the Good Shepherd” doesn’t come until the verse following this reading; today it’s more “I am the gate of the sheep.” The verse that bears attention today though is the last part of verse 10 which says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The question, obviously, is what does that mean? What is abundant life?

In a consumer driven economy, the first thought about abundant life might have to do with an abundance of possessions. Based on the teachings of Jesus and on texts like the one from Acts today, you can be pretty sure that’s not what is meant. Abundant life however, isn’t defined in the passage from John, it’s another of John’s images that calls for imaginative interpretation. Participation in the life of the church could certainly be considered part of abundant life, but it’s also worth noting that this chapter ten of John is a continuation of the healing of the man born blind story that we had a few weeks ago during Lent. Today’s reading is actually continued interpretation of that event.

For the man born blind abundant life was being able to see. With his sight restored he could be part of the community, interacting with others as more than a beggar. Sight opened a new world of opportunity and possibility for him in his relationships with others. As a blind beggar, life for him was pretty much just about him, his interactions with others only had to do with his needs. With sight though, abundant life would not just be about him, it would also be about his relationship and responsibility toward others.

Biblically, abundant life can’t just be about me and my needs, whether it’s my need for possessions, for healing, for forgiveness, whatever; abundant life has to be about the common good and welfare of all people. Part of that is responsible care for those things that we do hold in common, especially the created world that we’ve been given.

Today is Mother’s Day. It’s not a church holiday, but one of the commandments is about honoring your mother and father so I suppose you could say that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are part of that honoring. When we talked about the commandments in confirmation one of the kids even suggested that for kids their age, this might be the most important commandment. It is important as are all the commandments; in fact the Ten Commandments might be a very good description of the abundant life we’re talking about. But thinking about abundant life, in addition to the command to honor father and mother, these days maybe we need one that says that we should honor Mother Earth.

If abundant life is the goal, not just for us but for our children and their children, our relationship to land, air and water can’t continue to be the master/slave relationship described by Larry Rasmussen. The long term and short term needs of the community, which is a global community as pictured on the cover of your bulletin, the common needs and the common good of that community has to be considered for abundant life to take place.

Going back to the first lesson, I don’t think the phrase about holding all things in common is one that we should take literally. However, there are some things that we do hold in common, and that we should take seriously.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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