Sermon Sept 11 2022

In his book, The Promise of Paradise: Utopian Communities in B.C. author Andrew Scott describes various intentional communities that attempted to find success in British Columbia. He writes of the Danish settlers who tried to make their home at Cape Scott and the community of Holberg which is named after 18th century Danish historian and dramatist Baron Ludwig Holberg. There is the story of Finnish settlers who established the
community of Sointula which means, “place of harmony” in Finnish and there is the strange tale of Brother X11 and the Aquarian Foundation who resided on De Courcy Island. What these, and many other communities like them, have in common is that they were fleeing religious persecution and attempting to create a secure paradise where everyone held things in common. Scott concludes however, that “ultimately, all uptopias
are doomed.” because their goals are unattainable and he argues it is the journey towards utopia or “the good place” that matters not the achievement of it. As I read of the crumble and scandals and tribulations that plagued these communities I could not help but think of
the descriptions of the early church like the one we heard last week and the one we hear today. What makes the early church story any different from those intentional communities in BC at the turn of the 20th century? This is the second time in Acts that we  hear of how they held ownership in common and it seems, for the most part that it worked. New believers eagerly sold their property and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Spoiler alert, however, it doesn’t stay that way- all we have to do is look at the dissonance among the church today to know that we have not remained one in heart, soul or property. Perhaps, however there is more to the story and to the experience. Perhaps we have to look at what happened just
before the passage regarding possessions to understand what was going on as the church was becoming the church.
Peter, accompanied by John, delivers a sermon in Solomon’s Portico. It must have been one amazing sermon because those who heard the word, believed in what Peter was saying and they numbered about five thousand! As a result the authorities in the temple, the rulers, elders, scribes and priests are a bit alarmed and annoyed. None of their sermons
ever get that kind of traction. They arrest Peter and John , hold them overnight and the next day they assemble, have the men stand before them and Peter delivers the exact same sermon- but this time with very different results. Not one of the leaders are willing to believe in the resurrection, despite the fact that Peter heals someone right in front of their
eyes. After further investigation all the authorities are able to do at this stage is threaten them, order them to remain silent and release them. Now, I look at the fearlessness of Peter and John in awe in this moment. Imagine being able to speak with such confidence to the group of people who a few months ago had put your leader to death. I get nervous just talking to a boarder guard, even when I know full well that I have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong. It is the boldness of Peter and John that I want to focus on today, but I also think they are able to be bold because of the community that is backing them up, not just with prayers but with possessions. They know this community is sharing all things in common. And maybe that boldness is what is behind this sharing of possessions. The apostles have managed to not only garner a following but dedicated people, people willing to give over everything to their cause, maybe that is what
helps them to be bold.
Peter and John return to their friends, tell them what happened and immediately  everyone turns to prayer but instead of praying for protection, like I would do, they pray for more boldness! I like Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase of verses 29 and 30, his version of the prayer goes, “Give your servants fearless confidence in preaching your Message, as you stretch out your hand to us in healings and miracles and wonders done in the name of
your holy servant Jesus.” Notice that the only thing this community asks of God is boldness to speak the word. They don’t ask for protection, they don’t ask for more things or even people, they don’t ask for the ability to heal- that’s God’s responsibility. All they ask for is boldness.
I mentioned last week that we would be looking at Acts to help us see how the circumstances of the early church might help us in our modern circumstances as the church today. When was the last time we asked God for boldness? I’m not a risk taker- being bold is not in my blood- and yet, here we have the community praying for fearless confidence in preaching- not just for the apostles like Peter and John but for everyone in the believing
Will Willimon also catches something that I think is important for our current  context too. He notes that in this prayer the people ask to be bold while God stretches out God’s hand to heal and demonstrate signs and wonders. “It is God’s business to heal and to work signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. It is the community’s business to speak the word with boldness in the midst of the mighty acts of God.” This reminds me of something The Rev. Dr. Tim Dickau said in relation to the missional church. He said, “God is a missionary God. The church is a product of God’s mission rather than a producer of it…Christians are detectives of divinity on the look for clues of God’s activity in the world.” This is supposed to bring us some relief- meaning- as we ask ourselves what’s the point of our church? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. God is at work- we are tasked with seeing that work and getting wrapped up in it, being bold within it, speaking about it!
It also reminds me of something theologian Leslie Newbigin said, the church is a sign, instrument and foretaste of the reign of God. We are to be a sign planted in the midst of present realities, an instrument available for God’s use and a foretaste of the peace and joy found in God’s kingdom.
As the disciples are praying God seems to affirm their prayers with a shaking and  the presence of the Holy Spirit. Once again, I turn to the disciples in awe because, even if I was praying for it, if this room began to shake I would be struck with fear and a heart rate well beyond safe levels! Perhaps, however, this relates to Willimon’s statement of what is
God’s business and what is our business. Here God gives a sign- a big one! Willimon says, “Throughout this section we have seen a relationship between divine deeds and human words. Here is a God who comes to us not simply with words but also with mighty acts (from earthquakes to healing). But mighty acts must be interpreted and proclaimed, witnessed and defended through words. There is an interplay of witness and worship.”
Aha! So, here is a piece to that how are we to be the church today? We worship- yes, as we do each week- but we also witness- and witnessing requires boldness and an equality that is not always seen in the rest of the world.
God not only provides miracles like the earth shaking on cue or healing a lame person but I think one of the biggest miracles of the early church is that they worked together in harmony and there was not a needy person among them. They were moved by generosity. As much as I want to turn this into some kind of socialist declaration I’m not going to- I simply want to point out that a part of the witnessing that took place in this
community was a bold generosity. How can we be bold not only in our witnessing words  but in our generosity? Willimon says, “In this rhythm of action and speech, witness and worship, the church discovers the source of its life.” Last week I introduced the plan to meet together in districts or quoinania groups.
This will start on Sept 25th. Two districts will meet after church for about an hour in the classroom to discuss those aforementioned questions, what is the point of our church? What is our church about? How do we embody the gospel in this neighbourhood? Within the context of today’s sermon this is about how we boldly witness with the resources we have been given- that’s people and place. How are we generous in the giving
we have been gifted? I’m not looking to create a utopian society based on loosely constructed ideals rather I am looking at the example of the early church- the community that started it all. I’m not about to start a cult or intentional community and ask you to give up your property so that we can live together on a commune. I am, however, asking you to pray for boldness and generosity. How can be we a sign, an instrument and a foretaste of
the reign of God? Amen