1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Acts 6:1-7
Today, on All Saints’ Day, we celebrate the Saints who have come before us and the Saints in our midst— the people who have shown us what it means to put love first and follow Jesus. So it is fitting that we are talking about our third church goal of putting ministry in the hands of the people and equipping one another to be in ministry. That’s what saints do well, don’t they? They bring out the gifts of others and are willing to share their own skills and gifts without being too shy or egotistical. The saints in my life have been people willing to share their power so that God’s Kingdom can be delighted in, rather than their own egos being stroked. These are people who choose to see the world as it can be and work for a different world.
The early disciples were those people. Justin Martyr, whose named that because he indeed became a martyr by the end of his life, came to be a follower of Jesus when he was in his 30’s in the 2nd Century. And he described his transformation into being a follower of Jesus like this:
We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it.
We who formerly hated and murdered one another and did not even share our hearth with those of a different tribe because of their customs, now, after Christ’s appearance, live together and share the same table.
Now we pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us unjustly so that they too may live in accordance with Christ’s wonderful teachings, that they too may enter into the expectation, that they too may receive the same good things that we will receive from God, the ruler of the universe.
Justin lived around the same time as the book of Acts was written down and he would’ve been familiar with the kinds of practices that those early disciples took on. You see the early church was known, as Justin made mention of, for feeding people; loving people; living as Jesus lived. Their lives were changed because they were following the way Jesus lived his life. They could see the Kingdom that Jesus talked about, and they wanted to be part of partnering with God to create that Kingdom here on earth. But this morning, in the sixth chapter of the book of Acts, we see that because they are growing so quickly, conflict arises. The Hebrew widows and their children are being cared for beautifully by the early follower of Jesus. But the Hellenistic widows and their children, those who are immigrants to Jerusalem and speak Greek, are not always getting fed. This is a challenge for that early community because this is one of their core values, which makes this an important moment for them to practice what it means to follow Jesus.
I think it’s important to point out what they don’t do in this situation. They don’t view their problem through a lens of scarcity, thinking that there are just too many people to feed so they should crack down on membership and get rid of the immigrants. They don’t look for someone to blame— it would be really easy to target those who don’t speak the same language. They don’t gossip about one another— allowing the problem to fester into something more. And they don’t allow their egos to get involved in the conflict. It would’ve been so easy for the disciples to become defensive about not being able to do it all, and in doing so, to make themselves out to be the victims, stalling any kind of solution. But they don’t do that. They realize that its crucial they follow Jesus while dealing with conflict. People are hungry. Children are hungry. And they want to find a solution quickly and effectively, equipping the community to deal with conflict so that everyone can be fed.
Jose Andreas is a top chef in the United States. He owns top notch restaurants on both coasts and has been on TV and in the public eye many times because of his skills as a chef. But what has singled out Jose Andreas in my mind, is that he wants to feed people who are hungry. Do you remember the hurricane that devastated Haiti in 2010? Jose was there. The floods in Houston two years ago? Jose was there. Puerto Rico’s hurricane in 2017? Jose was there. Hurricane Michael a month ago in North Carolina and other areas of the South? Jose was there. And he wasn’t just there by himself. At some point over ten years ago, Jose began to realize that he and all the other chefs he knew were uniquely positioned to help in crisis. He looked at the kitchens he was managing each night and the chaos involved in a Chef’s life, and he realized that he could do something to change the world for hundreds of people. The first time Jose showed up with a team of chefs after a natural disaster, his goal was to feed a hundred people or so. Then the next night he realized he could feed 200. And the next week they figured out how to feed 400 and then 1,000. Pretty soon, Jose began to look past food trucks and realized that stadiums were perfect settings for feeding people. “You think of a stadium as a place to watch a sporting event and maybe eat some food while you watch. I began to see that a stadium is actually a pop up restaurant. There’s a kitchen every few feet! That’s where we can feed 40,000 people.” To date, just in Puerto Rico alone, Jose Andreas’ World Central Kitchen has served 3.6 million meals with the help of 19,000 volunteers. He has changed the way people experience disasters by taking the time to equip thousands of volunteers within the disaster areas, as well as bringing in some from outside; he has set up systems to feed people who are hungry, from doctors, first responders, and police, to those suffering from the crisis. The volunteer chefs use local produce which benefits the local economy in a time when they need sustainability, and many times as the infrastructure begins to be reestablished, the chefs stick around and teach people how to cook, how to bake, how to take on new skills so that they can be equipped to continue feeding people and to start their own businesses. Jose Andreas has led the way to change the world for thousands of people and to bring comfort through food when people need it the most.
The crisis in Jerusalem for widows was traumatic in its own way. Because of the laws of what women could and couldn’t do and could and couldn’t own, widows were dependent on the generosity of those around them, and so were their children. And the Hellenistic women were even more vulnerable because they were immigrants to Jerusalem; they spoke Greek rather than Aramaic; and without citizenship they wouldn’t have had some of the support from the state. So the early followers of Jesus take very seriously their response to these reports that these widows were not getting food in the daily food distribution. They immediately recognize the problem; take responsibility for their own part in the problem— that the movement is growing so quickly they can’t do everything anymore— and they gather the community to share authority and power in solving the problem. The disciples don’t decide they know the solution. They bring people together to discern how God is calling them and they ask the Hellenistic believers to choose from among themselves wise, thoughtful leaders who are filled with the Holy Spirit, to lead the food distribution among their own people. Soon seven people are identified who know the language and culture of the Hellenistic widows, and they pray for God’s Spirit to be upon them so that God’s Kingdom will continue to spread.
Power is truly shared. This is not a hierarchical movement. This is a group of people following Jesus and focused on putting love first, not their own egos. It is one of the last times in Acts that we hear mention of the 12 disciples, because after dealing so faithfully with this conflict, the focus of everyone becomes the spreading of God’s Kingdom rather than on what those 12 men could do. Our third goal as a church is to equip one another to live out love first and share the Kingdom of God. It’s what Jose Andreas is so good at with 19,000 volunteers and millions of meals being served. It’s what those early disciples did so well so that two thousand years later, you and I can be here today rather than it being a movement that died when people thought the church was getting too big. As it turns out, though, this story from Acts actually fits into all of our church goals. The first one is our why— we come together to follow Jesus. That’s all the disciples were doing and they were totally focused on it. The second one is that there are many ways to church— and here we see precisely that some were teachers, some were prophets, some were healers, some were feeders of people, and some people were the recipients of the food! And all are part of the community of faith. Our third goal is to be equipped for ministry—not relying on the staff of our church to do ministry, but instead to staff our church with leaders who equip all of us to serve God. And our fourth goal, which we’ll talk more about in two weeks, is to support stressed out parents and their kids, which is exactly what the disciples’ food distribution was doing in supporting the widows.
The Ad Council thought they were being clever in thinking up these goals, but it turns out, they’re straight out of the Bible!
Today we give thanks for one another. We give thanks for all of the saints that have gone before us who have taught us what it means to put love first. We give thanks for the God-sized dreams that God has put on our hearts and for the opportunity to see the world differently and to work for a different world. May we be inspired by the saints before us, the saints around us, and the saints who will come after us, following our lead of what it means to be Christ-followers in our time and place.
Arnold, Eberhard. The Early Christians: in their own words. Robinson, Anthony B. And Robert Wall. Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day WorldCentralKitchen.org