Good morning. For those of you who might not know me, I am Allison Connelly-Vetter, I use she/her pronouns, and I am the Faith Organizer at the Center for Sustainable Justice at Lyndale UCC. By way of image description, I am a white woman with brown hair and brown glasses. I am wearing a navy jumpsuit with a red and peach flower pattern. It is a gift to dive into this scripture with you all this morning.
I chose our text today for two reasons. First, we are in the Easter season, which begins on Easter Sunday and extends for fifty days (ish) until Pentecost, which, this year, is May 28. So this is the fifth Sunday of Easter. In many Christian traditions, readings from the Book of Acts are common during the Easter season, as Acts describes how some of the earliest communities of Jesus followers formed, grew, and operated after Jesus’ death and resurrection. I also chose this text because this Sunday, after worship, we will be exploring organizations which could be our “reparations partners” for this year. You may remember that last year, in our congregational budget, we added a line-item for funds to surrender as an act of reparations to a Black or Indigenous community organization. The line item amount is based on the amount we would pay in property tax if we were not a religious institution (and therefore tax exempt). The Racial Justice Task Force proposed that we increase the amount of our reparations surrender over the next five years until it totals approximately $25,000, which would be our total portion of the SpringHouse property tax. We are committed to surrendering those funds to a Black or Indigenous organization, or to an organization in coalition with Black and Indigenous communities, as an act of reparations.
This fiscal year we have chosen to surrender that reparations payment to the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute, a multiracial group in coalition with Black and Indigenous leaders organizing to create an Urban Farm in the Phillips neighborhood instead of a parking lot for diesel trucks, which is the city’s proposal. The Racial Justice Task Force is in agreement on four organizations, all of which Lyndalians already have relationships with, which would make excellent reparations partners for the coming year. This reparations partnership could include a reparations payment, budget depending, and it will also include other ways of deepening partnership through truth telling, spiritual practices, political solidarity, and relationship building. Stick around after worship to learn more about those four possible partners, and to offer your feedback on which feel like a good fit to you.
But that’s all the “what” and the “how” of reparations. I want to return to our text to explore the “why.”
Let’s talk through this text together. In this passage from Acts, Peter and the other disciples are teaching and preaching about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and many people are joining their movement. Here we have insight into the life rhythms of one of the earliest communities of Jesus followers, post-Jesus: “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the common life” – not common as in everyday, although it was that, too, but common as in communal. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to communal living. What else? “They devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” Again, we see the rhythms here: rhythms of meals, breaking bread. Rhythms of prayer, which would have been natural for those Jewish Jesus followers. And what did these rhythms inspire? Awe. “Awe was taking place in every soul.” I love the imagery: each soul, unique and yet connected through this deep sense of community, home to awe in an intimate, personal sense. Maybe some felt “awe” as in overwhelm, or fear; maybe some felt “awe” as in expansive imagination, wide-open possibility; maybe others felt “awe” as immense respect for God or the Universe beyond understanding. Maybe “awe” was a little different for each of them, touching every soul with a slightly different flavor or attitude, just as each of us have our own flavor of relationship ith God.
And then what? We encounter “common” again: “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” All things in common – no personal property. That’s pretty radical! What an act of faith – truly trusting the decision making power of the group. “All things” belonged fully to the community, and were at the community’s disposal to do with as they pleased. And what did the community please to do? Redistribute everything. “They were selling their property and possessions and distributing them to all – as any were having need.”
Let’s think that through. Say I owned a piece of property. In this community, in this small-scale societal orientation, I would surrender the ownership of that piece of property to this community of Jesus-followers. The community would make a decision: what is the greatest need here? Do we need that piece of property? Or, could we sell the property and redistribute the money from the sale to those who have need of money? And we see the community’s choice: an active verb, “they were selling. They were distributing.” They would, in all likelihood, sell my piece of property and give the money to those who were in need.
What happens to me, then? I don’t have my property anymore? No worries; here, we have all things in common. The property of others in the community is open to me; we observe the members of this community “breaking bread from house to house.” They were in each other’s space all the time, sharing meals and, I’m sure, hosting guests, or adding new chosen family members to their households.
Was it hard, this countercultural, anti-capitalist way of life? Was there struggling, and disagreement, and pettiness? Probably. They were human, and community is messy. But what is remembered of them? What is recorded? “They ate with glad and generous hearts.” It can be easy to think of this sort of radical sharing and redistributing as a chore, or an unfortunate and challenging duty. But for this community, this radical sharing, this redistribution, brought joy, and generosity, and glad heartedness. Not only that – it deepened their relationship with God, whom they praised as they broke bread and ate so gladly together.
And then what? What was the result? “Day by day, God added to their number those who were being saved.” This word, “saved,” has been complicated by thousands of years of compounding Christian theology. When I hear the word “saved” in a New Testament context, I immediately think of the idea that Jesus came, basically, to save us from Hell and show us the way to Heaven. Hyper-spiritualized, really disconnected from any sort of lesson for this life on earth, the focus is on avoiding Hell and achieving Heaven.
But this community, the community in Acts, grew in the immediate wake of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Many of the people in this community, like Peter, had known Jesus intimately, and had been with him for most of his three years of active ministry. Through Jesus’ preference for associating with those on the margins, with those far from the seat of power, they had been up close and personal with poverty, hunger, oppression, abuse, exclusion, and violence. I have to think that, to this community, “being saved” was not simply a spiritual achievement in the afterlife, but rather tangible, earthly, and urgent.
The Greek word used here for “saved” is the same word used in the New Testament to describe God “saving” the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. That “salvation,” too, was tangible, earthly, and urgent; a down and dirty rescue mission, a total political freeing, saving real lives and eliminating so much horrific violence and pain. Where I hear “saved” and think of dramatic youth group “come to Jesus” moments and fog machine worship services, this community in Acts would hear “saved” and think of real, tangible, political, lifesaving liberation. And at its core, that’s what redistribution is, what resource sharing is: it’s real, tangible liberation, from poverty, from trauma, from desecration, from death.
Like this community of Jesus followers two thousand years ago, we, at Lyndale, have the opportunity to redistribute what has come to us, so often unjustly: land that was given to our ancestors for free while violently taken from Dakota and Anishinaabe people; homes that were sold to us by enacting racial covenants which meant that Black people could not buy them; retirement accounts funded by mining companies and oil companies which are destroying our sacred earth. What does it mean to give to this community, to trust this community’s discernment process, and, as a community, to redistribute our resources to those who have need, especially those Black and Indigenous communities which have been so harmed by Christian colonialism and anti-Blackness? How can we redistribute what has come to us not begrudgingly, not anxiously, but gladly and generously, praising God all the while?
We don’t only redistribute things, of course; it’s more than just money and property. We also redistribute power, and energy, and time; we redistribute love and compassion, respect and honor, and especially prayer. We have the capacity to redistribute in every aspect of our lives, not just financially. In the model of reparations that Lyndale’s Racial Justice Task Force uses, there are five elements of reparations, and resource redistribution is just one of them. The other elements are spiritual practice, truth-telling, political solidarity, and deep relationship. When we redistribute these intangibles – according respect to someone who has long been disrespected, or decision-making power to one who has been forbidden from making their own decisions – that, too, results in real change, real freedom, tangible, earthly, and urgent.
Today, as we do each month at Lyndale, we will have the opportunity to share in Holy Communion together. Like the disciples, we will break bread together, fed together by God, who is embodied among us in communion both materially and mysteriously. Through the sacred act of communion, Jesus, sharing a final meal with his friends, redistributes what is most intimately his: his own body, his own blood. Jesus shares everything he has with his disciples, and Jesus shares everything he has with us; we who need it so desperately. Who are we to do any different?
As we are fed in communion, nourished by the very stuff of God, may we find strength to share gladly, to act generously, and to trust the ways that the Spirit is working within us and among us to liberate and to rescue. Let us break bread together, drink the cup together, and praise God together, in this sacred community. May it be so, and amen.