Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Truth and Compassion

Pentecost, the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birthpangs of the church. The first sign the church was filled with the Spirit was that the disciples were able to speak the truth. Three thousand people were so convicted that they joined the church. The second sign the church was filled with the Spirit was that the church became a compassionate community. So the two characteristics we are given here of a Spirit-filled church is that it is known for its truth and compassion.
It is never enough for a church to proclaim its truth Sunday after Sunday. There is nothing distinctive about an organization claiming it has the truth. Competing political organizations all claim the truth. Non- profits try to convince you of the truth of their cause. Advertisements peddle their products as the true answer to your needs. Most of the conflicts in society are between people who claim to have the truth. What would be distinctive is if the truth made people loving.
“All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need . . . with glad and generous hearts.” In Acts chapter four, we are told that Barnabas chose to sell a field he owned, and he laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles that they might care for the needs of the church. Can you imagine belonging to a group of people who cared so much about you that they would sell their possessions to take care of your needs? Not because they had to, but because they got to. Because they had glad and generous hearts. Well, you do belong to such a community. Over the last year as I have talked with so many about their commitments to our church’s campaign to build community, I have been moved by the Barnabases living among us. Those who have caught the vision for what we are trying to do have told me they will be traveling less, putting off buying a new car, or selling off their stock, all in order to give to you. It’s not because they have to. It’s because they get to. And it’s because they have glad and generous hearts.
The need that we are trying to meet with this campaign is the great yearning for community today. After decades and decades of rampant individualism, self-constructed lives, lives unteathered to the great claims of a holy tradition, and each of us seeking to enlarge his or her own borders, what have we found? Some of us are successful but lonely and so very confused about the holy purpose to life. Others around us are not so successful. We would love to make a difference for them but don’t know how. We need to be a part of a community that will help us remember who we are and whose we are. And we need a community that will allow us to be loving to those who have so little.
Too often we are dominated by the self. We worry about our jobs, our money, our health, our future. When we don’t get a promotion, we wonder about our dreams. When we get home and the family doesn’t rise to salute, we wonder why they don’t appreciate me. When we get stuck in traffic, we ask, “Why are they doing this to me?” After a week jammed with anxiety about me, by the time we get to church on Sunday, if you are like the rest of us, you are sick and tired of the self. You are ready for someone who has a better story going than you. That’s why we just keep talking about Jesus Christ here. He saves us from ourselves. He fills our lives with holy mission. And he gives us love for them.
Those who get the deep truth of that, like Barnabas, are just so glad. And glad people are always generous. This is what the text means in claiming they “had glad and generous hearts.” So if you are not glad and generous, you don’t get the deep truth because our truth makes us loving, glad, and generous. It is for this reason that we have not marketed this building campaign, or our church’s community, for what you will get out of it. It would be easy to look at our plans and to say, “I’m not getting much out of this.” It would be easy to look at our ministry and to say, “They are not meeting my needs at the church.” You may be right on both accounts. But that is because our focus is not to appeal to your dreams but to the dreams Christ is unfolding among us. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Nothing is more dangerous to authentic community than our dreams for it. For we will always love our dreams more than community, which is not a human idea but a divine reality.” That doesn’t mean it is perfect. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have dreams. But our dreams are not the dreams for a community but the dreams of a community. Dreams for a community are about what you want it to do for you. The dreams of a community are about what the community dreams.
One of the dreams of our community is that everyone who enters here would encounter Jesus Christ not only in worship, but also in education and in hospitable fellowship. That is why we have to make changes to our facility. We don’t just need better accessibility for those with disabilities, a better way to receive visitors. We also need to encourage two or three to come together, even over coffee, because Jesus Christ is in their midst. One of the glorious dreams of this community is that we would be known for our glad and generous hearts. This may be the most important reason for our campaign. Again, truth is manifested in love. And people who love most want to give. We need to commit to this community because giving is what we do when we are at our best. You, too, can be Barnabas—not because you’ve got to, but because you get to. Because your heart is glad and generous.

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