Sermon delivered April 11, 2021 by the Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
It’s time for Rip Van Winkle to wake up. You remember Rip Van Winkle, don’t you? It’s the story of a man who walks into the Catskill mountains with his dog and meets a group of mountain dwarves. Rip enjoys their hospitality and falls fast asleep and sleeps for over twenty years. He wakes up and his dog is gone, the dwarves have disappeared, he’s grown a long grey beard, and his musket is rusted and rotted. He makes his way out of the woods to discover that his wife has since died and that he slept through the entire Revolutionary War! Everything has changed!
Over the past few weeks, the Gallup Poll released some startling trends facing us as a country. It revealed that in 1999, American membership in church, synagogue or mosque was roughly 70% of our population; today, twenty-two years later, membership and allegiance to a spiritual organization has plummeted to 47% of our population! Friends, it’s time for Rip Van Winkle, in other words, it’s time for the Church, to wake up! The world around has changed and we have been caught sleeping.
Today’s scripture texts highlight the brilliance of the people who composed the lectionary we follow. Last week we celebrated the resurrected Jesus and derived comfort knowing that the power of sin and death have been conquered and that we who love God back will live with God for eternity. This is incredibly good news and is why it’s called, The Gospel! The challenge is, however, we fall into the tendency to make Easter and the resurrection all about each of us individually. Easter becomes about my salvation, my relationship with Jesus, my spot in heaven. It is all these things but there’s more. Those who put together the lectionary knew this and that’s why our scripture texts this week shift from “me” to “we.” It’s a shift from the individual to the power of the resurrected community.
Psalm 133 that we heard a few minutes ago is one of the Psalms of Ascent. The psalms of ascent were sung by those Jews making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the religious festivals. They would sing these psalms as a way to encourage each other on the hard trip through the wilderness and up and over the mountains while getting there. Psalm 133 reminds the pilgrims, “How beautiful it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!” They would sing this song as a reminder that there were times in their shared history they didn’t get along so now when they are, it’s like an anointed blessing of oil poured over the head of Aaron! It’s extravagant, aromatic, and festive!
Our Story from Acts picks up on that, too. It’s a Story about community making a pilgrimage through life together with Jesus as the focal point. It’s a Story about a group of people who took seriously the words of Jesus to “love one another as I have loved you.” It’s a group of people who understood that the Spirit of God is able to transform and stir up an entire city when the faithful community, the Church, begin living a corporate expression of Christ’s love.
Pastor/Author/Teacher Brian McLaren writes in his book, The Great Spiritual Migration, “When people climb out of their all-too-familiar ruts of the religious left and right, Christian faith can actually be interesting again.” What he’s saying is that Church folks like to gather around issues or causes first and then figure out how to love others within the boundaries of their particular causes and agendas. Our scripture says it is the other way around; the Church fulfills and lives its purpose when it shares the love of Jesus first. Christianity in America has been sullied in that we have made it all about “me.”
Hey Church, let me remind us, Rip, it’s time to wake up. It’s time we move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. The Easter Story is a Story that gives life to the Church! The Easter Story unleashes the Holy Spirit who then weaves your gifts and graces with her gifts and graces and then again with his gifts and graces and then transformation and new life, resurrection, occurs in community!
Friends, we live in a time when Church, spiritual community, is seen as optional. “I can find God on my own. I don’t need to go to worship; I can sit on the beach or my boat instead. I don’t need to give to the church because I know better how to spend my money.” Our scripture today reminds us community is not optional and that spiritual community is a nuclear reactor for generating Holy Spirit power in Fort Lauderdale and beyond! It reminds us that our personal spiritual life is inextricably tied to one another’s.
What is written in our text? “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” The text then goes on to say two more times how people sold their property and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Now before we go and start thinking this is a biblical call for communism, let’s stop. What these verses are declaring is that when members of the Church, the spiritual community, start re-ligamenting and attaching themselves unselfishly, humbly, lovingly to each other and for each other in the name of Jesus, then the Spirit of Jesus brings life and resurrection to that community. New life emerges.
We hear each week how your offering is combined with the gifts of others that in turn have tremendous impact in our community. Will you give?
We heard John Ripley this morning talk about the importance of listening for God’s call to be a church leader using your particular giftedness to move the community forward. Will you lead?
We are about to ordain and install three people who are placing themselves at the disposal of Christ in loving service to you, the Church. Will you serve?
Easter is so much more than just my personal spiritual salvation or your personal salvation; Easter encompasses the transforming our whole community so we can share God’s graceful love with others.
Beloved Church, it’s time to wake up and step out in resurrection power into our part of the world! And all God’s people say, Amen.
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 See the article by Ross Douthat, The New York Times, “Can the Meritocracy Find God?” April 10, 2021. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/opinion/sunday/religion-meritocracy-god.html
 Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration. How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian (New York: NY, Convergent Books, 2016), 175.