Identity Politics

Well, it’s taken me a whole three months to post a new blog. I apologize for that. Here we go, second sermon of 2017, first blog of the year.

Acts 4: 32 – 35

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. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

They were an unlikely group.  If I were to describe them to you, I’d label them as “the princess”, “the athlete”, “the brain”, “the basket case”, and “the criminal”.   You can probably imagine your group of friends this way.  You’re now wondering to yourself, “am I the basket case?”.    No worries.  I’m not talking about anyone in here, nor am I talking about the group of people I spend time with.  

I’m talking about The Breakfast Club.  That’s right, The Breakfast Club.    A film made immortal in 1985 when Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez danced their way around a library on a Saturday morning in detention.  They are a modern day Acts 4 community.  

This early church movement that we are discussing in Acts is exactly that.  They are a new community of believers.    They had been on the outskirts of these stories of Christ.  Some of them may have encountered Christ.  Others are only hearing about him from the Apostles.

They are being told stories about a man.  A man who could heal you with simple words.    A man who could multiply loaves and fishes to feed all those around him.  A man who brought the dead to life and loved and lived so radically that everything we had known was flipped upside down on its head.

Meanwhile, in the library of Shermer High School, we find our five friends posed with an assignment.  They are to write a paper on “who they think they are”.   At the age of sixteen, do you think you could succinctly answer that question?  At the age of twenty?  How about now?  How do we find our identity?   

For the five students, the movie unfolds and we learn about their home life.  They have parents who mistreat them, they lie compulsively, they feel pressure to make good grades, to be the best athlete and to never do anything wrong.

The community in Acts probably felt the same way.    They were still reeling from the events of Christ’s ministry and life.  They were trying to find their identity.  Their world had been turned upside down by the acts of a man they called Jesus.  There was no church building.  They didn’t have the label “Christian”.  They were a people searching for an identity.  

We, the readers, are wondering who is leading Israel now?  It rests on the shoulders of the twelve, the apostles.  In a renewal of the power of the Holy Spirit, they are finding their identity.    They share the witness and the power of the resurrection with everyone that they can and they push these radical ideas onto the communities they encounter.  

Who did this post-resurrection community think that they were?    Our Scripture today tells us that no-one wanted for anything.  They shared their wealth and possessions with one another.  If your neighbor didn’t have enough food to feed their family, you dined together at the common table.    If you could provide cloth for a newborn baby, you shared it with the first-time mother who was in your village.  When your crops overflowed and your harvest was abundant, everyone shared in the feast.

Who did the members of the breakfast club claim to be?    At the end of their day, they claimed to be nothing more than “the princess”, “the athlete”, “the brain”, “the basket case”, and “the criminal”.   But they were changed.    They cried with each other as they shared stories of the constant pressure they face to fit in.  They find a common thread in knowing that they share similar complications and trials.

The community in Acts felt this way too.  While they shared freely of all of their possessions, they were still faced with challenges.  They did not know when Christ would return and that weighed on their hearts.     They wanted to be looked on with favor from God and they wanted to freely share and be filled with God’s grace.  

If this community were to write a letter on who they think they are, I think they would say the following:  that they were a people who knew the divisiveness of wealth.  They were no strangers to the powers and dangers hidden within possessions.  They did not let this deter them.   No, they let it strengthen them.  Sharing their possessions freed them from holding power over one another.  It freed them to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.  

When the members of The Breakfast Club let their barriers down, when they pushed aside their cliques and differences in appearance, they freed themselves to be open to what each other had to offer.  

How do we identify ourselves?    Can we truly claim, like the community in Acts that we are “of one heart and soul”?    If I were to ask you now how you identify yourself, we could come up with a plethora of answers: man, woman, young, old, straight, LGBTQ, married, widowed, single, divorced.  The list could go on and on.  

Where are the commonalities?    Why is it when we first imagine all of the things that identify us, we don’t automatically jump to words like “Christian”, “human”, or “resident of Lynchburg”?    Why is it easier to identify the divisions than the unifying elements?

How can we be of one heart and one soul when in the United Methodist Church we’re identifying ourselves as reconciling or non-reconciling?  How can we be of one heart and one soul when we are quicker to put up walls than to build bridges?

What image are we projecting when we worship a crucified refugee yet turn away those who seeking refuge? How can we be of one heart and soul when our hearts and souls are breaking?    When we are crying out to God to come and save us and to save our disenfranchised sisters and brothers?

I believe, like the brat pack in the Breakfast Club, like the community of Acts, we are a broken people.  Waiting.  Hoping.  Sustaining ourselves on the bread of life and cup of salvation.    We are collectively crying out for the hope of God to flip tables, tear down walls and be able to share in the new creation where all lives indeed do matter.  When possessions and wealth are an afterthought.  When health is restored and the lowly lifted up.  

At the end of The Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald’s character stops Judd Nelson’s character and she takes her diamond earring out and gives it to him. She offers a sign of peace. She offers reconciliation. She gives him a seat at the table. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that he accepts her offering. He takes that step towards wholeness.

What can we do to offer reconciliation to others? It can be as simple as asking someone you disagree with to join you for a cup of coffee and conversation. It can be as simple as saying a prayer not only for those you love, but for those whom it may be hard to love…it is also as bold as praying for your own heart to be softened. That we all may extend grace and love to one another. Find ways to share that diamond earring with the person you never thought you’d talk to.

We do not, we are not chained to or held down by the things that separate us. It is because of Jesus, because of his love and his life that we are one body. It is because of the radical hospitality extended to us that we are able to sit with those who do not look like or talk like us.

We are a united body and we are beautiful not only because we are different from one another, but also because we celebrate and worship together as one body united in Christ. Make room in your life for the Holy Spirit to fill your cup to overflowing. Make room for your faith and your life to be so radically changed that people see God through all that you do.

That was their hope and it is our hope today.  The transformation of our communities.  The hope for a new day and a new life with Christ.  It was happening then, it is happening now and it will be happening until that glorious day when our hearts and souls are one with each other and with Christ.

Amen

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One thought on “Identity Politics

  1. ….and we restrained ourselves from all standing up and clapping…with agreement? recognizing each of us in our innermost soul? seeing the need to do better and stand up and be counted? perhaps all this and appreciation for the nudge to be better than we are now.

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