Last Sunday was Bandshell Sunday at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis for my congregation. It’s an outdoor worship service with a reading, sermon and a storytime for kids. But something weird happened. After I preached my sermon, some people clapped.
My first thought was to shy away. Clapping in church as kid was strictly forbidden. The next thought was maybe those who clapped were glad I stopped talking. But I think it was what my Senior Pastor, Debra Samuelson, said knowing how uncomfortable the clapping made me feel or even how I felt it was unwarranted. She states:
“The applause is in response to God’s message that God used Heather as a messenger for God’s powerful message, and she delivered God’s powerful message in an equally powerful way.”
So I share here an excerpt from my sermon based on the story of Acts 2:41-47 (CEV): Following on the heels of Pentecost, this story tells of how Peter, the disciples and 3000 newly baptized people lived in community. Using Jesus’ example, they broke bread in the temple, then replicated this action at home and finally they would share what they had with others. Everything they did was done, together.
“To serve one another with love” seemed to be their motto. They made a conscientious decision to try and be attentive to one another. It’s a decision to choose love for their community through the actions of breaking bread and sharing what they have.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together said this about community: “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community but the person who loves those around him will create it.”
I saw this quote played out in my own neighborhood a couple of weeks ago as my friend and I were walking around Como Lake in St. Paul. We were in the walk lane when this man rollerblading in the biking lane yelled insulting remarks to us about our bodies.
His comments weren’t just towards us but to any group of women. To older couples, he said other things about wealth and jobs. I can only imagine what he said to the two men holding hands a couple of steps in front of us.
Walking home from the lake, I was angry. But as I approached my road, I stopped in my tracks. You see, there is a family who moved in at the end of my street, and they are loud. Like crazy loud. And so, I tend to walk the other way.
I’m not sure why I have been avoiding them. They are louder than me. Possibly shyness? Maybe it is my southern roots? Or is it how our minds are conditioned to think about how we define family? Hollywood and Disney typically show families as a mom and dad, 2.4 kids, a dog and a house with a white picket fence. Never loud families. But I know better. I have worked with 100’s of families in south Minneapolis to know they vary in size, shape and formation. Yet, I have never avoided them.
It’s in this avoidance that I realized that I was no better than that rollerblader. He verbalized his daydream about what community should look like while I internalized it. So I turned around and went over to the loud family and introduced myself. Now, we are no longer strangers but real neighbors with names. I will never forget this day when I chose to create community. It was my decision to choose love.
I am okay if people want to judge me because I have already judged myself. It’s what we call in the church, “self-examination.” Perhaps it is something more that each person should consider doing.
But let’s get real. As people in the church, we all are at some point destroyers of the community. We avoid or judge those around us, deciding who is in or out. But Peter and this new community of believers in the book of Acts show a different way.
They take a risk – a calculated risk to love one another. It’s like a triple dog dare. Just as people thousands of years ago to now, we are not God’s puppets. We are God’s people, and this dare is on us. You. The church.
Do you dare enough to choose love and create community? Or do we continue to destroy it? Self-examination starts at the heart of you. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to do its work and trusting that the Spirit will move the church to be better together.
But in the end, the choice is yours. Please choose love.