42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Last week we began a sermon series on the early church as depicted in Acts 2. During my first sermon, I lifted out three different marks of the Christian Community: learning in community, fellowship, and prayer. Today we are going to cover two additional marks, and I will close out this series on May 28 with our final mark of the Christian Community. Spoiler alert: it will be on the giving and receiving of counsel. So I counsel you to not miss that one!
Today we are going to look at the significance of breaking bread together and sharing our goods. Last week after the sermon, one person said to me, “Thanks for your Marxist sermon.” I stepped back a little bit and said, “Just wait until next week, that one will sound Marxist!” You know, with the exception that Marxism discourages the observation of religion.
But what I interpreted as Marxism was intended as marks-ist, a sermon on the marks of Christian Community. So without further ado, we will continue our marks-ist sermon series with our fourth mark of Christian Community: the church values the shared meal.
Over the last few years we have seen a rise in awareness of something that we Christians already knew: eating together is important. In our busy, 21st-century world, many families are finding it more and more difficult to set aside 20-30 minutes each day to share an evening meal (Is it supper or dinner?). Youth sports, late nights at the office, ballet, television, and nontraditional family systems all come into play and keep us from sitting down together to eat. And who has time to bake a meal? If we are able to grab a Happy Meal on the way to some extracurricular event, we really aren’t doing too badly. I consider it a small victory if I remember to feed the children some days. And if we are honest that’s what the kids really want anyway, because at least my children aren’t huge fans of the massaged kale and walnut salads we sometimes offer them at home.
So the secular professions and family therapists are saying that families should try to eat together several times throughout the week. The Child Development Institute claims that a shared meal leads to better nutrition compared to everyone just grabbing something out of the fridge or the drive-through window. There is an opportunity for shared responsibilities, as even young children can wash vegetables, set the table, and help with the dishes. There have been studies that link a shared meal to kids doing better in school and a reduced chance that they get involved with illegal drug use and underage drinking.
But do you know what the most important aspect of the shared meal is? It isn’t the food itself, but the time spent together. Something magical happens when we sit down to a shared meal: our mouths keep moving even after we swallow our food. We talk to one another. We ask how one another’s day went. We ask about issues at work and school.
We all need to eat. That’s how we provide our bodies with the nourishment required to live and move and have our being. When we share a meal, it becomes a communal event where more than just stories are shared, lives are shared. And more than just our waistlines are shaped, we are shaped through these practices of responsibility and caring.
That seems like pretty good reason to eat with your family, and again, this is just from a secular perspective. We haven’t even gotten into the theological reasons for eating together!
Let’s look again at verse 42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” And the second half of verse 46, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
Why was eating together so important to the early church? First of all, think about who was a part of the church in the 1st century? Rich people, poor people, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, religious leaders, rabbis. You get the idea. You had rich and powerful people like Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimathea, and people like the many unnamed social outcasts of the day. And it seems like they were eating together, in one another’s homes, on a regular basis!
Recall all of the trouble that Jesus got into for eating with the wrong people. Mark 2:15-16 tells one such story, “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
In the first century, sharing a meal with someone meant that you accepted them and saw yourselves as equals. And in many ways, this hasn’t changed to this day. Consider the cafeteria at any high school and you will see people sitting according to social status. The cheerleaders sit with the jocks, the bad kids sit together, the farmers, the grungers, the nerds, geeks and dweebs. They sit with their own kind. Schools bring kids of all different backgrounds together to learn, but they quickly sort themselves out when they get the chance.
Church can do the same thing. Different kinds of people may gather together on Sunday morning, but even churches, especially bigger churches, get cliquey. We need to interact with one another. That is why we must not give up on the practice of eating together.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul gives a critique of the way the church has been sharing meals. Yes, they are eating together, but they are missing the point! They are eating based on divisions, namely economic divisions. The rich are eating and drinking in excess, gorging on food, getting drunk on wine, while the poor Christians at the same party are made to wait and they go hungry. The shared meal is about equality. The shared meal is about community. And the shared meal is about loving one another in spite of your differences.
I’ll say one more thing about eating with people who are different from you, and this thought is inspired by the teachings of my own mother. This ever-important rule is one that I’m sure your mother taught you as well: don’t talk with your mouth full.
Now the reason my mother taught me this is not the same reason I lift this important doctrine up to you today. My mother taught us that it is rude to talk with your mouth full; people can see your half-eaten chicken, sometimes bits of masticated food flies from your mouth. It ain’t pretty. But from a theological/ecclesiological/social perspective, I would say that if you make a commitment to not talk with your mouth full, you’re going to do a lot more listening. And when we are gathered with a diverse group, listening is very important.
I know that I can do a better job of this. When we eat with others, I will sometimes look down at my plate and realize that I’ve barely touched my food while others are almost done eating. Believe me, it’s not because I’m a slow eater. It is because I’m always yakking! The early church saw breaking bread, eating together as a diverse group of believers, as a mark of Christian Community. We share responsibility in preparing the meal and in cleaning up afterwards. And we share stories, we share what makes us who we are, over food.
But that’s not all we share! The second mark of the Christian Community that I wish to address this morning, which is the 5th one we’ve considered so far in this series, is that followers of Jesus share their stuff.
Again, I offer an homage to my mother. I am the second of three boys, which means I am the middle child. And I am the stereotypical middle child. I never got the attention that the oldest child or the baby received. I never got the respect. And I never got new things. My toys were hand me downs; my clothes were hand me downs. Do you know how I feel about hand me downs?
I love them.
I love that today we receive clothes for our children from friends whose children have outgrown their clothes. And I love that my sister-in-law gets excited every time we pass on a tote of clothes for my twin nephew and niece. And I really love the way my children get excited to see pictures of Max and Grace wearing their old clothes.
My mother taught me to share, and I am glad that your mothers taught you to share as well.
Verses 44-45 read like this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
As I said last week, I’m not a complete Communist, and I don’t believe that you need to sell everything and give away your money to be a follower of Jesus. I do think we could all probably live off a little less and give away a little more, but that’s a message for another day.
I sometimes need to catch myself because I get caught up in my own desire for private ownership. If we shared more, we could free up a lot of resources to help other people out. And there are some things that we use so infrequently that it doesn’t even make sense for everyone to own their own. There are times when we have to admit that our mothers do know best and that we need to share.
When Sonya and I purchased our first home twelve years ago, we got a few added bonuses with the house. That’s the nice way of saying that the previous owners left some of their junk in the basement for us to sort through. I got an old cordless drill, without a battery or charger. I got an assortment of fasteners: nails, screws, and tacks. I also got this strange-looking device that looks like a mouth opening and closing, chomping on some imaginary circle.
I later found out that this device is a crimping tool for pex water pipe. If you have done any plumbing in the last 10 years, you’ve probably used pex, a flexible, durable, cut-able pipe that is fastened with copper rings. The tool that I received with our house is a ring crimper. You cannot fasten pex piping without a tool similar to this.
Of all the people I know who are not professional plumbers—which is most of the people that I know—I am the only one who owns my own pex crimping tools. I have lent this tool out to at least seven different people in two different states. I haven’t used it myself for years, but some in our church have used it as recently as earlier this month. And if anyone else wants to borrow it, just let me know. It is usually just sitting in my basement.
Sure, if you’re going to do a major plumbing project, you might spend $50 and buy your own crimper. But if you just have a little project, please borrow mine. And if you just need to get rid of that $50, donate it to the Valley Mission, to Mennonite Central Committee, to Love Inc., or to Staunton Mennonite Church. You see, the more we share, the more there is to go around.
Maybe you’re not into plumbing, but where else could we learn to share and go against the culture of private ownership? I keep kicking myself because this spring I needed to purchase a new lawn mower. I got a cheapy and spent about $150 on a push mower. But that mower sits in my little shed for 167 hours each week. I use it for one hour each week, and only for a few months out of the year. And my neighbors on either side of us have a mower, too. Their mowers also sit for 167 hours each week. I know it wouldn’t be feasible for some people, but why is it my automatic response to go out and buy my own mower rather than talking to my neighbor about sharing? It is easier, for sure. And our world is getting more and more private, so much to the point that we don’t even know the people who live beside us. But I come back to the early church and see how they shared everything. And because they shared everything, there was no need among them.
Some churches take this sharing of goods to an extreme, and please know that I’m using this as an example and not saying that we need to go to this length in order to be good Christians. Our Anabaptist siblings, the Hutterites, farm communally. The church pools their resources and buys up large sections of land in rural places like South Dakota and Manitoba. The farms are very efficient, as several families come together to share the work and the equipment of the farm. Now, rather than every farmer on the block having their own tractor, combine, wagons, and other pieces of equipment, several family units work together as a community. And if something happens, like an accident that would keep a farmer from being able to tend to his crops, the community works together, sharing the responsibility. And when the farm gets above a certain number of participants, they start another farming community.
If the rural imagery doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to look into Reba Place just outside of Chicago. Reba Place Fellowship is a Christian community that shares their financial resources. There are people making six-figure incomes living together and sharing their goods with people who make six dollars an hour.
I know that these are starting to sound more and more like communism! But here is the difference between communism and Christian communities who share their goods: in a communist country, everyone has to participate. In a Christian community of shared goods, the members choose to participate. And if you don’t pull your weight, you are asked to leave. If a Hutterite man woke up one day and decided he was just going to let the rest of the community do the farming that week, he would find himself outside of the community.
A Christian community that shares its goods only works if everyone is willing to pull their own weight. Everyone must contribute in some way. If you don’t contribute, you are not a member of the community; you are a moocher.
I’m not at the same place as the Hutterites, nor am I at the same place as the members of Reba Place, or even the early church. But I know that I can do a better job of sharing. Let’s just think of a few things that we could do better when it comes to sharing.
I’ve got a closet full of perfectly good clothes that I don’t wear. Most of them are even pretty stylish, because, as you know, I’m a snappy dresser. What if every year I simply decided that if there are clothes that I haven’t worn in the last year that I’m going to donate them to one of several thrift stores around town? I like to do home improvement projects around the house, and I’ve got a pretty good collection of rarely-used tools. What if before I buy another tool, say anything over $50, I simply stop and ask, “Can I borrow someone else’s instead of buying this?” And let’s combine these two marks of a Christian community for the last one. We often prepare more food than we can eat in one sitting. And most of this is consumed throughout the week as leftovers, but sometimes things are just wasted or I eat more than I should to finish off a pot of spaghetti. What if we made the commitment to have more people over, even last second invitations when the house isn’t in perfect order, for a shared meal? You don’t have to be a Hutterite, a member of Reba Place, or a communist to share. You just have to listen to what your mother probably taught you growing up. Sharing is caring.
The early church dedicated itself to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, prayer, shared meals, and shared goods. How we do these things has surely changed over the last 2,000 years, but I believe that they are still just as important today.