Lesson: Acts 2:42-47
As I get started, I need to warn you: I’m about to get all TELEOLOGICAL on you. (not theological)
Now there’s a $5 word if ever there was one.
TELEOLOGICAL – it is a particular way of thinking about the world and how we live in it. TELEOLOGICAL is a word that describes one of the ways that we can order and shape our lives together – one of the ways that we can look at the world we live in, the challenges we face, and decide how we will live our lives today.
Now, there are a number of ways that we can order our lives together. We can order our lives by RULES: Do this. Don’t do that. That offers some clarity – you know where you stand. But we know that life is wild and wooly – and you just can’t come up with a rule for everything.
We can order our lives by the VALUES that we hold. We believe in this value, therefore, we will make decisions and live our life to reflect that value. I believe in honesty and truth, therefore, I will choose to do the most honest thing.
A TELEOLOGICAL approach invites us to order our lives based on our GOALS or the ENDS that we want to achieve – in Greek, the telos, the goal, the end – hence, teleological. This is our goal – this is the end that we want to achieve – how shall we live now to make that so? We want to end the historic and persistent power of racism in our country – how shall we live now to make that so? It is a TELEOLOGICAL approach.
So, in this summer sermon series, as we turn to a list of what Presbyterians call the GREAT ENDS OF THE CHURCH – we are engaging in TELEOLOGICAL thinking. This is the end – the six ends – that we want to achieve as the church. This is what we want to be – in the name of Jesus. How shall we live our life now – in this moment, and in the next – to make it so?
Today, we are turning to the second GREAT END OF THE CHURCH: “The shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” Our end – our goal – is that the church offer to the world, to the Children of God -- Shelter. Nurture. Fellowship/community. Or, I might say – our goal is that the church offer to the children of God – which is everybody – a place in the world.
If that is our goal – our telos –
we want to offer everyone a place in the world, in the name of Jesus –
then how shall we live our life now?
How shall we live.... to make it so?
And so we come to this morning’s Scripture, which is a story from the early church about... shelter, nurture, and the spiritual community of the children of God. It offers us a glimpse of how they lived that out – the story they told of how they had experienced this. And it is a beautiful glimpse: They were all together, all the time; they broke bread together; they prayed and worshipped; they shared everything they had as anyone had need; they sold what they had so that everyone had enough; and day by day, more and more people gathered with them.
It is a glimpse of the shelter and nurture and community that they created together. But we should also note that this beautiful glimpse – comes to us out of a less-than-beautiful world of dislocation, disorientation, and loss. The world of the early church was a world of dislocation and disorientation – and if we zoom out even more – we can really say that of the whole of Scripture.
The whole of the Bible tells us of a world of dislocation, disorientation, and loss. Just think about it. The first story is the story of Adam and Eve being dislocated from the garden. Abraham and Sarah migrate from their home in the land of Ur to a far-off land, promised but utterly unknown. Their descendants – the twelve tribes—ultimately find themselves displaced by famine, and then enslaved in Egypt. And then they escape Egypt – they migrate again – and wander in the wilderness for years and years and years. Even for the brief time that these tribes form a kingdom (or two kingdoms actually) – they are but one or two tiny kingdoms among many tiny kingdoms – at a geographic crossroads where Empire after Empire sweeps through and conquers.
Eventually, the Northern Kingdom is conquered and dispersed throughout the known world, and the Southern Kingdom is conquered – the leaders, and then most of the people taken into exile in Babylon. The whole of the Hebrew Scripture tells us stories of dislocation, displacement, and migration. And so, in these stories, these people cling to the shelter and nurture of God – like in this morning’s Psalm: The people wander in a wasteland, and God brings them to a city where they can settle. The people are oppressed and brought low, they cry out, and God raises up the needy.
This is true in this New Testament text, too. The early Christian community lives in their world of dislocation and loss. The Jesus movement has lost Jesus. And in the Roman-occupied world of First Century Palestine – when the gospels were written – the Jewish Temple has been razed to the ground. All the familiar markers wiped away. And this tiny offshoot Jesus movement staggers out into the Gentile world.
And so, as we zoom back in on this moment in Acts – out of their world of dislocation, disorientation, and loss, they are giving us a glimpse of the shelter, nurture, and community that they have formed and found – in those days just after resurrection and Pentecost: They devoted themselves to fellowship together, to the breaking of bread and prayer; they were all together and held everything in common. They sold their possessions as anyone had need, so that everyone had enough. Day by day, the broke bread and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
It’s almost too good to be true. And here’s the thing: I don’t know if it happened exactly like that. Or if it did – for a moment – I don’t know that it lasted very long. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s some memory reflected here – some powerful memory of a powerful experience – so powerful that it will be repeated again in chapter 4 of Acts. But then this beautiful model of life together disappears from the story – it disintegrates really into the disagreements and division of the various Christianities that emerged in those early days.
But even so, they kept telling this story, they clung to it. This story – this glimpse – is part memory... and part hope. “Do you remember? This is who we once were. Oh. And this is who we still hope to be.” This story – told again and again from their day all the way up to ours – is, in one sense, TELEOLOGICAL. This is who we hope to be – the shelter, the nurture, the community – the place in the world – that we hope to embody in Jesus Christ – in the Risen Christ. One of the ends – the goals – of their church, and of ours.
So let’s notice a few things about this place in the world that they remembered and longed for:
1. First, the place in the world that they describe here is primarily located in community – in relationships of mutuality that that affirm and sustain the humanity of all people – they break bread and eat together, everyone has a place at the table, everyone shares what they have, everyone has enough. The place in the world described here is not confined to any one patch of land – it thrives and grows and expands in human relationship and in a deep and abiding sense of belonging.
2. Second, this place in the world is explicitly about actual bodily shelter and nurture. In the description of their life together, shelter and nurture are not metaphor – we are talking about the sharing of actual food, an actual roof over folks’ heads, actual relief from poverty – an actual enough for everyone.
3. Third, the shelter, nurture, and community described here requires the relinquishment and the sharing of resources. And here’s where it gets scary. (Birmingham story). This text says that those who have sell what they have and give to those who have not. Those with power and privilege let go of it – relinquish it – like a reparation – so that everyone will have enough.
4. Fourth, the shelter, nurture, and community described here is defined by human need. It’s not defined or prescribed top-down – by what the haves have and are willing to give, by what we think we can allocate. They hold all things in common, and then share on the basis of who needs what. Everyone shares everything with everybody as anyone has need.
5. And fifth, this experience of shelter, nurture, and community is expansive and contagious. There’s something so winsome about what they are living – about how they are shaping their life together – that people want to join in – with glad and grateful hearts.
The task of any preacher is to look at what is going on in the Biblical text – both the challenges and how God is at work – and then to think about where we might see that – or need that in our world. This shelter, nurture, and spiritual community of the children of God – I thought of how we experience that here – of how this congregation honors and cares for its children – its seniors – of our experiences of the REST shelter. I could talk about that.
Or, I thought about how I have experienced shelter here, in my bones. Jeff and I arrived here in 2005 when I started seminary – in a denomination that said that they would not ordain me – and how we found here – in you, shelter, nurture, and spiritual community. I could talk about that.
But I don’t think that we can talk about shelter, nurture, and community – on July 28, 2019 – without talking about the dislocations of our day – without talking about the peoples who are on the move with no shelter – without talking about the radical inhospitality of our nation in this moment – in our moment.
In our moment, in response to the mass dislocations of our day, our government is meeting dislocated, migrating peoples at our borders, separating children from their families, and then caging children and their families in detention camps in over-crowded conditions that the government’s own inspector general has described as unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous. This has been going on for some years now under this Administration, but now we’ve had a glimpse of what it looks like. The government’s Inspector General has released photos of the overcrowded conditions in a report describing how children in these detention camps have no access to showers or soap, no change of clothes, and they’ve not been receiving hot meals.
A group of lawyers has visited the children, talked with them. They’ve attached to one of their court-filings excerpts of their interviews with the children about their experience of detention. Here’s what the children have said:
· One 8-year-old boy said: “They took us away from our grandmother and now we are all alone. They have not given us to our mother. We have been here for a long time. I have to take care of my little sister. She is very sad because she misses our mother and grandmother very much... We sleep on a cement bench. There are two mats in the room, but the big kids sleep on the mats so we have to sleep on the cement bench.”
· A 5-year-old said: “I was apprehended with my father. The immigration agents separated me from my father right away. I was very frightened and scared. I cried. I have not seen my father again... I have had a cold and cough for several days. I have not seen a doctor and I have not been given any medicine.”
· When asked to describe their living conditions, one girl said: “We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold. We each got a mylar blanket, but it is not enough to warm up. fenced area.”
· A 16-year-old said: “We slept on mats on the floor and they gave us aluminum blankets. They took our baby’s diapers, baby formula, and all of our belongings. Our clothes were still wet and we were very cold, so we got sick... I’ve been in the US for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap and our clothes are dirty. They have never been washed.”
· And because children have been separated from their parents, often children are taking care of children. A 15-year-old girl described it like this: “I started taking care of xxx (age 5) in the Ice Box after they separated her from her father. I did not know either of them before that. She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. [This child] sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor. We spend all day every day in that room. There are no activities, only crying.”
We are here today, talking about shelter, nurture, and the spiritual community of the children of God. We can’t NOT talk about this. We can’t NOT talk about children caged at the borders – also, not only those children – also, the Dreamers who have lived in our midst their whole lives, and who now fear deportation – and also, the children living across this country, and right here in Marin County living in fear of ICE raids, and of their families being broken apart. We can’t NOT talk about them.
· So, I want to invite you, if you want, to imagine one of these children – any one – imagine them – and for a moment, I invite you to take their hand.
· Standing here, in our moment, we say that the Second Great End of the Church is “shelter, nurture, and spiritual community of the children of God” – a place in the world nurtured in community; relationships of mutuality that affirm and sustain the humanity of all people; the relinquishing of what we have so that everyone, every child, has enough; shelter and nurture that meets human need for all the children of God.
· How shall we live, right here and right now, to make that so, in our moment, and in our day?
Now, I talked about this in a different sermon at 7th Avenue Presbyterian just a few weeks ago, and after church, people kept asking, “What can I do? SPECIFICALLY, what can I do?” And that is a fair question – so I have three suggestions:
1. First, protest – in every way you can, in every space you can, with your whole voice, and your whole self. I know, that in our day, with so much to protest – it may seem like writing letters, or posting these stories on Facebook, or showing up in a crowd of thousands may feel like shouting into the wind – but just last week, the people of Puerto Rico brought down a corrupt governor by showing up in the streets.
2. Second, find organizations that are already doing this work, and join in their work. We probably don’t know enough on our own to get started – but we don’t have to go it alone – there are plenty of organizations – those working at the border and those working locally with immigrant people who are seeking shelter, nurture, and work, and education, and a meaningful life for their families. Here, locally, we have the Canal Alliance – and they are doing so much. Just go on their website – there are opportunities to work their food bank; to volunteer in ESL classes
3. And third, you can give of your resources, our money. To organizations working at the border, to organizations working with immigrant families and children here in Marin. I’m going to take the honorarium that you give me today, and make a donation in that amount to the Canal Alliance. I invite you to go home and find an organization doing this work and give, “as they have need.”
But those are just three ideas – that one person came up with, with a very basic amount of study – there is abundant creativity in this room – we can imagine so much more.
Now, that’s a lot to think about – and it’s a lot to do, so I should probably stop here for now. But before I sit down, I should make one thing clear. When I’ve been saying that the church offers the children of God a place in the world, the place in the world that we offer is Jesus Christ. In all of the Bible’s stories of dislocation, disorientation, and loss – the whole point is that God is always with us, in every circumstance, everywhere we go. God has never left us alone, and never will. When the people were in slavery, God came and set them free. When the people were in exile, God came and brought them home. And when the people were most in need, God came to us in Jesus Christ – God’s word – God’s presence in our flesh. God’s abundant, expansive love embodied in Jesus – now through the power of Resurrection and Pentecost – by the power of the Holy Spirit – embodied in us – for the shelter and nurture of the world God loves.
The Second Great End of the Church
is “the shelter, and nurture, and spiritual community of the children of God.”
This is what we want to be – in the name of Jesus.
How shall we live our life now – in this moment, and in the next – to make it so?
Copyright 2019 Scott Clark
 I’m indebted to SFTS Professor Emerita Carol Robb for this understanding of three categories and approaches for ethical thinking.
 The interview excerpts come from an exhibit to the TRO filing by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, filed in Flores v. Barr, which can be found at https://files.constantcontact.com/baccf499301/d3c3ef25-8a85-457d-847a-b4d6aa7fa94f.pdf