Generous Church

Welcome to Stewardship Sunday! I know some pastors like to announce their stewardship drives in advance, to allow time to solicit funds, set goals, and so forth. Me, on the other hand- I like it when you come to church on Sunday rather than finding some convenient reason to stay home, so I like to make it a surprise and then ask the ushers to lock the meeting room doors.

Because here’s the thing: every single one of us is guilted, at every turn, by a well-meaning person or organization looking to take a little bit more:

Level Church

In 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem – the city which God himself had founded, in which the temple of the one true God of Israel was located – was overrun by the Babylonian army.

The prophet Isaiah was busy, to say the least, in the run-up to this great failure. The first thirty-nine chapters of the book bearing his name detail his attempts to call the people of Judah back into relationship with God. He wrote about the idolatry that brought God such displeasure. He wrote about God’s anger at the mistreatment of the poor and the vulnerable. He held out the option of repentance: if we turn and seek God’s face, this looming disaster need not befall us.

No one listened. The city was taken. God’s temple was set on fire, and all of its treasures were carried away.

Simple Church

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

-from Acts 2

When the day of Pentecost came, Jesus’ followers were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

I could tell the story with more elaboration, but this is a sermon on simplicity – a sermon on simple church – so that would be out of place. Let me, instead, summarize the rest of the second chapter of Acts in three points:

Connected Church

Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God…

-from 1 John 4

(Sermon given at the annual church picnic at Quaker Knoll.)

Last week, we talked about integrity, about the Quaker call to live lives of wholeness and honesty. Rather than looking at our personal integrity, though, we looked instead at what it means to be a community of integrity. We looked at examples of communities discerning God’s call together and responding faithfully, without backtracking when the road got rough.

This week, I want to apply the same corporate lens to our testimony of community. It’s a little awkward to talk about being a community of community, though, so let’s talk instead about be a community of communion. Let’s talk about being a connected church.

Honest Church

One thing I ask from the Lordthis only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

-from Psalm 27

Before I really get started on this sermon about integrity, let me note two things:

1. We can’t talk about the testimony of integrity without reference to Jesus’ command that we simply say yes or no, rather than taking oaths to somehow prove that we are telling the truth.

2. It has come to my attention that the integrity of my personal yes has come into question, with regard to my professed willingness to eat my Sunday lunch at Taco Bell with whomever would like to join with me in sharing terrible knock-off Mexican food and discussing the topic of the sermon. So, let me be clear: I am eating lunch today at Taco Bell. I’ll be heading there after today’s session of Meeting for Business. If you’d like to talk about integrity, please come and join me. The food will be mediocre, but the conversation may be excellent.