This side of Easter there are many stories of communities of faith in our scriptures and beyond. This one that we hear about in Acts is one that regularly inspires me and more often challenges me. This very new community of faith numbered about 5000, were led by the apostles, and faced no small amount of harassment and persecution from the same folks who had killed Jesus. Still, they gathered and as our reading today tells us, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Whether it sounds like a perfect community, or a perfect example of communism, I can’t decide. It sounds like a fairy tale anyway, and if we read a little further, we hear of those like Barnabas who sees a need, and truly sells his property, giving it to the apostles to be distributed as any needed. Then we hear of Ananias and Sapphira who did similarly, except… they kept some money back just for themselves. This ideal community had its own problems, just like all faith communities do. Still, it didn’t stop them from trying.
One of the great joys of being on maternity leave was the ability to worship elsewhere, and to experience other forms of Christian community. One such church has discerned that they were called to build a city where nobody journeys alone. As such, the church folk work hard within their city to accompany the most vulnerable. They regularly volunteer at the soup kitchen, do some work with the homeless, with folks who have mental health needs, sing at the local care homes, you get the idea. While I’ve heard their minister describe the congregation as a porch-light within the community: a place of welcome and acceptance, they don’t necessarily expect that the folks to whom they minister will come sit in the pews. It’s a church that struggles, like many churches these days, with finances, and buildings, and dwindling resources. It’s not stopping them.
As an elected commissioner to the General Council, I, along with the other commissioners in our Conference have been learning about the many changes that are being proposed by this new church model. We hear how the future is bleak, we need to cut million dollars from the Church’s budget by 2018. We wrestle with changes, with challenges, with what the lived reality might look like, and we pray. Still, it’s not stopping us, we will continue to be the church.
Here’s the commonality with communities of faith: there are always problems that have the potential to stop us from gathering, from believing, from living out our faith. It could be persecution, apathy, lack of resources, too much wealth, what have you. As an Easter people, we know the Good Fridays of this world; we know the forces of death and destruction, as they threaten to overwhelm us all in different ways.
The miracle of Easter is that even in the midst of death, destruction, and neglect, we can find signs of new life, of hope, of love. The Good Fridays of the world would have us all feeling like we need to go it alone, like we are the only ones facing whatever problems we are facing. This side of Easter, we know the powers of love and community are stronger.
Let me tell you a story…
Story: Stone soup
Once there was a young woman who was traveling around the country, seeing what she could see. She sometimes did odd jobs to help pay for her trip. But there came a day when she ran out of money and food at the same time.
On that same day that she ran out of both money and food, she happened upon a small village. She thought that in this village she was sure to find someone who would give her a bit of food.
She knocked at the door of a friendly looking house. The woman of the house opened the door slightly. The young woman asked if the woman had a bit of food to spare for a weary traveler. Sadly, the woman answered that she did not have any food in the house at all.
The same thing happened at all the other houses the young woman visited. Not a single person in the whole village had so much as a crumb of bread in the house. The young woman did not get discouraged, however. Instead she came up with a plan.
The young woman went up to what appeared to be a wealthy house in the centre of the village and asked the old man who answered the door if he had a large kettle of water he could spare. The old man asked the young woman why she wanted the kettle of water. She told him that she was so sad about the lack of food in the village that she was going to make the entire village a big pot of soup from the special stone she had found on her travels.
Very curious, the old man got the kettle of water and a large stirring spoon and helped the young woman build a good fire in the barbecue pit he had along the side of his house. The young woman took a smooth stone out of her pocket and put it in the pot of water.
As she stirred the water in the kettle the young woman mentioned to the old man that the stone soup is always very good, but it would be even better with a little onion and cabbage to add some extra flavour. The old man thought he just might have a little bit of onion and cabbage that could be added to the soup. He went inside his house and returned with a handful of onions and a large head of cabbage and added these things to the water in the kettle.
A neighbour nearby stepped out of her house to put some laundry on her line. She smelled the onions and cabbage cooking and became curious about the good smell. She went next door to the old man’s house where she was told about the special soup made from a stone.
The young woman stirred the pot some more and mentioned to the neighbour that the soup is always very good, but it would be even better with a little bit of meat to add some extra flavour. The neighbour thought she must might have a bit of meat at home. She went to get it and returned shortly with a large chunk of meat and added this to the kettle of soup.
A young man came down the road walking his dog. He smelled the onions and cabbage and meat cooking and became curious about the good smell. He came to the old man’s house and was told about the special soup made from a stone.
The young woman stirred the pot some more and mentioned to the young man that the stone soup is always very good, but it would be even better with a little bit of carrot and potato to add some flavour. The young man hurried home and returned with a bunch of carrots and a handful of potatoes and added these to the kettle of soup.
A little girl down the street came outside to play and smelled the onions, cabbage, meat, carrots and potatoes, and became curious about the smell. She went over to the old man’s house and was told about the special soup made from a stone.
The young woman stirred the pot some more and mentioned to the little girl that the stone soup is always very good, but it would be even better with a few beans and a pinch of salt and pepper to add some flavour. The little girl hurried home and returned with her mother and a bowl of beans and some salt and pepper, and added these to the kettle of soup.
The woman from the very first house where the young woman had asked for some food came outside with her basket to collect some herbs and mushrooms from her garden, and smelled the onions, cabbage, meat, carrots, potatoes, beans, and salt and pepper, and became curious about the smell. She walked down the lane to the old man’s house and was told about the special soup made from a stone. The young woman stirred the pot some more and mentioned that the soup is always very good, but it would be even better with a few mushrooms and some of the sage the woman had in her basket to add some flavour. The woman from the first house took another look at the soup and gladly added her mushrooms and sage to the kettle of soup.
In a little while the soup was done and everyone had a big bowl of the delicious soup. Everyone marveled at how such a wonderful soup could be made from only a stone. The young woman spooned a second helping of the stone soup into her bowl and smiled to herself. **
We live in a world that would have us believe that we are better on our own, that we are safer if we hang onto everything we own with a closed fist, that we should make sure we’re only putting in as much as we get out – or maybe even less. This is a reality that keeps us looking hopelessly at the reality of Good Fridays.
This side of Easter, our focus is on the resurrected Christ: the one who does not let the powers of death and destruction have the final say. The resurrected Christ meets us in places of fear and doubt, and offers us what we need to move beyond them, so that we can both proclaim and embody the Good News of life abundant. The truth is when we all come together, when we all bring a little something, we can create something amazing. Christ is the one who sees our needs and our gifts, our challenges and our joys. Christ is the one who knows all that we have to offer, and who calls us to offer those things so that we might embody our hope, and find God’s great grace in our life. May we be a community of faith who seeks to live our faith boldly, offering God’s great grace to all whom we meet. May it be so.
**story taken from : http://www.bry-backmanor.org/actpag70.html