Holy Habits Reconsidered: Stewardship-Acts 4: 32-35

The Puritan, Cotton Mather, noted a peculiar trait of bees.  It seems every swarm has its own scent.  The conflicting smells trigger a fight when different swarms meet.  This is true, except for one time of year.  When the bees are pollinating plants, they are covered in pollen nectar, which masks the smell of the individual groups.  There is no competition and they can get their work done cooperatively when they all smell the same.

We know the difference between working with a group of people bathed in the sweet nectar of God’s grace and people that sniff each other to determine whether they are suitable.  We fray the bonds of fellowship when we constantly harp on what is different between us instead of what is common to us.   Worse, the work of gospel pollination is threatened.

Acts 4 portrays an alternative vision when the early church was bathed in sweet nectar of God’s grace.  They held things in common, no one claimed private ownership, many sold lands, laid proceeds at the apostles feet, distributed to those in need, and not a needy person,.  Luke points to the kind of church, which we can aspire.  This was only true of the church inJerusalem in its earliest days.  They did not keep it together any more than we.  As the church grew, some of this spirit waned.  Throughout the ages the Spirit has led people of the church to hold things in common.  Any time this spirit is present, the church held two things in common.  I want to consider these two things as we reconsider the holy habit of stewardship.

They held in common a common possession of their faith.  They had professed their faith in Christ and were possessed by a common Spirit.  Luke wrote, “They were of one heart and soul.”  The fellowship is based upon a common faith experience with the Spirit of Christ which claims us at our baptism.  We hold this spirit in common with all who call on the name of Christ and live in the legacy of faithfulness that motivates us to be faithful.

Having a common faith experience is not the same as having the same experience of faith.  We each have our own story, thoughts, emotions, and life events that shape our faith experience.  We don’t squeeze everyone into the same experience so we might share a common faith.  Some are more intellectual, drawn to Christ’s wisdom.  Some are more intuitive, drawn to Christ’s unconditional love.  Some are more practical, drawn to Christ’s teachings.  Some are more ethically minded, drawn to justice embodied by Christ.  Some are more relational, drawn to the reconciliation Christ offers.  Some are more aesthetic, drawn to the beauty of Christ.  One experience is not more right and another experience wrong.

Theology strengthens, not weakens community.  It pulls us to the center than push us to the fringes.  We set ourselves up as authorities over others when we add nuances as tests of fellowship to the common possession of the Spirit of Christ.  People can find as much error in us, as we in them.  Christians are at our best when we live our theology in humble service to others, rather than use our olfactory skills to smell out others differences.

In the church, some are passionate about prayer, some study, some music, some stewardship, some missions and some social justice.  Rather than set up tests which to measure others; we should simply practice our faith the way that is most meaningful, and thank God for those who practice their same faith in other ways.  A healthy church is covered in the sweet nectar of God’s grace as the Spirit of Christ possesses all who profess Christ.

The love a couple exudes at a wedding is inspiring.  They are covered with the sweet nectar of love.  They aren’t blind to their differences; they just don’t have a nose for them yet.  After a few years, they are able to sniff out those peculiarities and possibly take their common love for granted.  The grace of their love will remain if they can always appreciate the unique gift each of them brings to the other’s life.  May it be so in the church!

Christ is the center of our faith, not our various views of him.  Our common profession of faith in Christ brings about a Spirit that unites.  We ought to strive to widen the circle sharing this common possession by being Christ’s witnesses in our world by the way we serve others.  A reconsideration of the holy habit of stewardship starts with the understanding of our common possession of the same spirit before speaking of our common possessions.

They held common possessions in common.  When we hold this common possession of faith we are naturally led to a common possession of possessions.  There was not a needy person among them, Luke says.  They considered their lives and fortunes joined to one another.  This is not state-coerced communism; but Spirit-induced community.

The most important common possession is each other.  We need each other, so no one is needy.  A healthy church takes care of member and stranger alike.  We do that well most of the time.  But, for all the stories of support, there are stories of neglect.  Ultimately, I’m responsible; the paid minister is not the answer.  We capture the spirit of our common faith, when each person ministers to a person(s).  We call when we’ve not seen someone after a while.  Those calls are appreciated and often a person needs someone to know what has been keeping them away.  Holding each other in common involves common things:  casseroles, notes, hugs, a word spoken or an ear to listen.  It starts with the willingness to hold things in common with one another because of our common faith in Christ.

The essential common possession is our material goods.  The cultural model of success through acquisition of goods that distinguishes persons from others stands in stark contrast to this model of generosity.  We don’t make such distinctions.  We can’t claim ownership and do as we please with of what we have for ourselves.  It all belongs to God; we are God’s stewards.  We are to be equally generous, regardless how many dollars we have in the bank.  So, we offer an equal gift based on the percentage of our income.  Our worth is determined how generous we are with what we have.  Sharing the common possessions of our material goods is possible when we are connected by the common possession of the Spirit of Christ.

Stewardship campaign starts next week.  We want to raise nearly a million dollars in pledges for the coming year to be a better witness for Christ.  We hope FUMC can have a greater impact on our community.  We are laying the foundation of common faith before pledging common possessions.  We will better ready to pledge our common possessions if we believe we’re equally yoked by our one faith to our one Lord and to each other.

We can name those at FUMC who have incarnated the spirit of Acts 4 in their stewardship.  They gave sacrificially during campaigns and at times when no one asked.  Some reevaluated rainy day money.  Some gave estates in return for income for the rest of their lives.  Some sold property, stock, or have foregone personal luxuries.  They gave generously; not out of duty, not for tax deductions, and not for personal or social advancement.  They had compassion on others and want to allow God to increase their witness with their substance. They believed if they make their resources available, God’s Spirit could do with them what they could not do.

All of us want to be part of a church bathed in the sweet nectar of grace.  When that happens we will be holding the Spirit of Christ in common with each other ready and willing to hold in common our possessions.  Acts 4 church is possible if we will reconsider the holy habit of stewardship.

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