This summer, we’re looking at what it will take to “build a stronger community.” After considering our community’s spiritual and vocational lives, the last two weeks we’ve turned our attention to… finances. Oh, joy!
Have sermons from the last two weeks offended you at all? I think I’ve offended myself a couple of times. J Even mentioning money in church seems unseemly…much less asking questions about how our relationships with money and with God are related.
So, why delve into this land-mine of an issue? Why not just leave it lie and hope for the best when pledge time comes…or when the HVAC dies?
Despite the taboo against talking about money in church, it seems kind of crucial to do it. Is there anything we spend more time thinking about than money? How to pay the bills, get ahead, pay for college? A deep faith touches every aspect of our lives. So, if we spend all this time thinking about money, doesn’t it make sense to invite our faith into those thoughts?
In the interest of deepening our faith, we’re spending one more sermon of the series reflecting on how our relationships with money and with God are connected. You’re welcome. J
The context for our reflections has been Acts 2:42-47. Usually, we only look at a few verses. Today, I invite us to look at the focus passage in the larger context of Acts 1-4. What might we glean from the longer narrative about our Pilgrimage community’s financial life?
The story begins with the risen Jesus’ followers gathered to see him off as he leaves the scene for good. After he leaves, the followers disperse. Then God’s Spirit blows in and brings the community back life! They “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and have all things in common.” Then, they leave the community to “spend time together in the temple praising God.” After one foray into the wider community, guess to where Peter and John return? To the community of believers.
Are you feeling the flow? Jesus’ followers gather to see him off, then disperse. God’s Spirit blows in, drawing people back into community, where they work for the goodwill of all, or act each other into wellbeing. Then they go out into the wider community, where they act others into wellbeing…after which, they return home to their koinonia community.
That flow—koinonia community, wider community, koinonia community, wider community…acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing, acting each other into wellbeing, acting the world into wellbeing…It’s almost like breathing, isn’t it? Inhale (koinonia community), exhale (wider community), inhale (act each other into wellbing), exhale (act the world into wellbeing). The narrative shows us what keeps a community vital—breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…breathing in God’s love…breathing out God’s love…
Which is a great image…but where does money fit in?
While he was in seminary, today’s passage from Acts grabbed Clarence Jordan’s imagination. Eventually, he and a friend searched for farm land in the deep South. With the help of a benefactor, they purchased 440 acres down near Americus. Koinonia Farm was born.
At Koinonia, they sought to create the kind of community described in Acts 2. Koinonia, which means “fellowship,” is the original Greek word used in this passage. Koinonians lived and ate together… They worked, studied, and prayed together. They also held a common purse…which presented many opportunities for, um, conversation. J
That is, perhaps, the most difficult aspect of living as a community of Jesus’ followers—deciding what to do about money. We don’t want to talk about it, but we need it to function. And, oh my goodness. Each of us has our own history of and habits with money. Trying to get on the same page with everyone else? The. Hardest. Thing. Ever. A story related in Dallas Lee’s history of Koinonia Farm explains just how hard committing to a common purse can be.
One day, an old black car “shuddered into the driveway of Koinonia Farm, coughed to a halt, and delivered a quiet, 40-year-old spinster who asked if she could remain for a visit.”
After a couple of days, she “approached Clarence and [expressed] interest in joining. He explained what Koinonia was striving to be, how one must surrender totally to Christ, including all their earthly possessions. At Koinonia, he said, they do this by asking everyone to enter the same way: ‘flat broke.’ Her eyebrows jerked upward in alarm. She had questions.
“Clarence was perplexed” by the woman’s hesitation. “‘Jesus said it would be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom, but we’d never [actually] had one apply.’” Clarence asked her what difficulty there would be with relinquishing her possessions. She had a fair-size difficulty, somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000.
“Clarence swallowed a couple of times, then reasserted that she would have to dispose of the money to become a part of Koinonia. How, she asked? Give it to the poor, he said, give it to your relatives, throw it over a bridge—but you must enter the fellowship without it.
“What about giving it to Koinonia Farm, she asked? Clarence grinned: ‘No. If you put that money in here, we’d quit growing peanuts and start discussing theology. That wouldn’t be healthy for us. And, unless I miss my guess, you’re a very lonely person, and you’re lonely because you think every friend you ever had is after your money.’ She confirmed that judgment.
“Well, if you put that money in here, you’d think we courted you for your money, that we loved you for your money. You’d get the idea you were God’s guardian angel, that you endowed the rest of us, and that all of us ought to be grateful to you for your beneficence.’ “She was listening; Clarence pressed his point: ‘Now for your sake and for our sakes, you get rid of that money and come walk this way with us.’ Tearfully, the woman replied: ‘I can’t do it.’ She packed her old car and left.” (The Cotton Patch Evidence, 86-87)
This might seem an odd story to tell as we consider our community’s financial life. Refusing a gift of $90,000? Well, that’s not smart. Just think what we could do with $90,000! We could replace our HVAC system, do all the exterior work, rework our bathrooms, and get a jump on the Next Generation house. Wait a minute. Those were 1950 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the $90,000 would be worth nearly $900,000 today! With that much, we could do all the upgrades and replace the Next Generation House with something really nice.
If Koinonia had only been about money, I’m sure they eagerly would have taken the woman’s money. But Koinonia wasn’t just about money. At Koinonia, they were trying to establish God’s kin-dom here on earth as it is in heaven…and establishing God’s kindom on earth calls us to look at every single aspect of our lives through the lens of faith.
And when we look through the lens of faith, what do we see? We see koinonia. We see community. We see how we’re connected to each other, both inside the community and outside it. I don’t think we’re ready to start living in intentional Christian community here at Pilgrimage. At least, I’m not. I’m still working on having all things in common with Allen. And our cats. J
But—thank goodness!—establishing God’s kindom here on earth as it is in heaven doesn’t begin by living literally in community. Establishing God’s kindom begins with a change of heart….with the recognition that we are all connected and with a commitment to caring for each other and to making sure everyone has what they need to live and to thrive—that’s both in this koinonia community and in the wider community. And, yes. That commitment—if it grows out of faith—extends to what we do with our money.
There was a time when I didn’t like talking about money. But after 20 years of doing church and trying to live the Gospel, especially today’s passage from Acts, now I get excited when we talk about money. Why? Because if we’re dealing with money as a matter of faith, if we’re asking questions about how money is spent, keeping in mind the least of these, if we look at what we spend through the lens of community, then we are living our faith deeply here at Pilgrimage. And that’s kind of the whole point, right? To live faith deeply?
Lest we get too spiritual about this thing–we still need to replace the HVAC. If we don’t replace the fascia on the building’s exterior now, we’re going to have even bigger bills later. And we have a great opportunity to make our bathrooms more accommodating. And the Next Generation House has served its purpose well…AND it needs to be replaced. Growing our children, youth, and adult educational ministries depends on it.
So, well, we need money. If we’re going to accomplish any of these tasks, we’re going to need money. But I’m not here today to cajole you into parting with your hard-earned cash. I could do that, but that wouldn’t be much fun for either of us. That approach also would miss the whole point of koinonia, of the fellowship that is key to being a community of Jesus’ followers.
As a community of Jesus’ followers who have material resources and some specific needs, we have an amazing opportunity right now. And the opportunity isn’t just to get a new HVAC system, a face lift, new bathrooms, and eventually, a replacement for the Next Generation House, as important as those things are.
The real opportunity before us right now is to come together as a community and through our conversations about raising and spending money, to significantly deepen our faith. To think as we give—how might my contribution act Pilgrimage into wellbeing? How might all our contributions help us–as a community– act the world into wellbeing? How might tending to the gift of this space and our property breathe new life into our community as we breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love…breathe in God’s love…breathe out God’s love….
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017