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.Acts 2:44-45 NRSV
A few weeks ago, the vestry voted to launch a special giving campaign called Foundations of the Apostles and Prophets. (I hasten to add that we have received just over $3,000 through this campaign thus far.) The effort of the campaign is pitched as one way that our parish is invited into preparing for our future. We are invited to make a gift of $120 or $1200 (or any other amount that you can afford to give) to help us restructure a portion of the parish’s financial matrix. Here is the truth that needs to be recognized: the real thrust of the campaign is not to prepare for the future. It is to live in the now. The debt that our parish carries has been a problem for years. Now, we are waking up to that problem and attempting to discern ways to answer the debt question while also holding true to our ministry.
The lesson that we are going to hear from the Acts of the Apostles this week in worship is a lesson that each one of us should take to heart. In the middle fo the reading, we hear that all who believed were together and had all in things in common. Put into regular English, the community shared all of their belongings with each other, and they provided for the needs of the members of the community – “as any had need.” The question of the now of our parish is a question that the whole of our parish community needs to be grappling with as we move ever deeper into the fallout of this pandemic. The now that is here is a now that will be fundamentally different than what we have known before. The shift in the fundamentals is not simply because a virus is present in the world that we had not yet encountered until a few months ago. The shift is the result of the ways that we have responded to that virus (quite rightly) and the waves that will continue to move outward in the coming months and years.
The economy of the church has always been an economy based on gifts of the members of the community. It has always centered on the ways that different people have different gifts to share, and it creates an economic system (in this case, a fairly small system) in which those gifts are exchanged freely within the community. In our work as a parish, we need to be asking how we can create that kind of exchange when we are likely to be in a roller coaster ride for many more months and possibly years. The moment that has arrived is inviting us to change how we operate as a community, and it is inviting us to think about what it means to be a disciple that is not only willing to share the Gospel with people we know and people we do not know but also is hungry to share the Gospel. It is a moment that is inviting each one of us deeper and deeper into discipleship and into sharing the good news of Christ Jesus. And of course, it is interesting that the invitation arrives precisely at the moment in which it is so easy to sit back and simply consume by way of a live stream on YouTube or Facebook or any other streaming platform.
We find ourselves in a moment in which we need to take on the behavior of the early church. We are invited not simply to share all that we have with each other but also to go out into our community (although that is going to be via online mediums) ready to share the good news of Christ Jesus. In sharing that good news, we are invited to ask people to come to church with us – to show up to a live stream feed of our worship and to see what this particular community of disciples is all about. It is a moment for us to get crystal clear on what makes Epiphany a unique community within the broader church and to know what it is that makes us who we are. It is a moment in which Jesus is calling us forward in mission and ministry. It is a moment in which we are called forward into a life that is filled with an abundance of life and love. It is a moment that we call now. The only real question in front of us is this: we will step into the uncomfortable now, or will we cling to the comfort of the past?
The question is not an easy one. For us to answer affirmatively to stepping into the now, we are going to need to be ready to mourn, grieve, and move forward. We will need to mourn what we once loved about being Epiphany, and we will need to grieve the loss of what those things were. IN moving forward, we will need the courage to identify those core traits that make us who we are as a community because those are going to be the things that we will need to bring forward into this now moment. As we grieve the loss of the things that were, Jesus is inviting us to name the possibilities that create the new future into which we want to enter.
The future is now, and Jesus is beckoning us into that moment.