Sermon for July 21, 2019
Getting It Done
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista, UCC
Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar
Church conflict. It happens; to the best, to the worst, in the smallest and in the largest of congregations. As we continue our sermon series, on the Book of Acts, we realize that the early Church was no exception. On the one hand, the fact that more leaders were needed to carry out the ministry of the church was a good thing. On the other hand, how it came about was not. I believe we can learn from what happened at this time in the life of the early church and how the Apostles handled this conflict.
So what was the issue? The issue was that a certain group of people from within the church believed that their own widows of their same back ground, were being neglected from the ministry of the Apostles. We read that there was murmuring (meaning, complaining.) You might recall where else this word was used in the Bible, specifically the Hebrew scriptures? Yes, the Israelites when they are wandering in the desert with Moses, with no end in sight So here we are several centuries later and we have another group, followers of Jesuss teachings now doing the same thing.
But, unlike the Israelites who dared to murmur after it was their own fault that they were stuck wandering for so long, this group of people (the Hellenists/the Greek speaking Jews who have now returned from having left to other areas of the country) seem to have a legitimate concern. The widows were not being cared for properly.
This would have been important as it was instructed to the Jews way back in the time of Moses, in fact, that caring for the widows, the orphans, was paramount. It was a part of the Jewish law. Therefore, a understood as a mandate by God.
In order to remedy the situation, the Apostles call a meeting together, of all of them, so that they may find a solution. The solution was to add numbers to their group of leaders so that the Apostles can focus on one area of the ministry while the new apostles can focus on the other areas. The waiting of tables is not about being waiters. By the way, these tables are about the tables that would have been used for administrative purposes, money chargers and the like.
I like that the Apostles were practical. They saw the problem and they went to find a solution.
They did not however, focus on the misconception that the widows were being discriminated upon because they were of a different background than the Apostles. Instead, they focused on the solution.
Their solution was indeed to find more leaders. And these leaders, you will notice, all had Greek names. Meaning, they were wise to appoint new leaders among those that would have been feeling discriminated against.
The first Apostles must have understood then that it was important that no one felt they were being favored upon or left out in any way. As we all know it is never a good thing when a group of people feel they are being discriminated against or marginalized in any way. Now is it a good thing if a misinterpretation is allowed to grow and fester among a church.
Fortunately, in this case the leaders of this church were able to name the problem, find a solution, act on the solution and were allowed to do all of the above.
I taught confirmation class for about 10 years straight. The students were always a mixture of those who were raised in the church and others who were new to it all. The other teachers and I always tried to show no impartiality amongst them and to allow them to ask any question that they might have. It was an opportunity for them to share their reservations about the Christian faith, about the local church itself, and about the Bible as well. Inevitably, we would receive comments inferring things like it must have been easier to be a Christian back then or that to be a Christian meant you had to be perfect and not have any fun. Later, as time went on and we exposed them to very imperfect people in the Bible, to conflicts within the church or amongst the disciples as well; along with the attempts and actions of the United Church of Christ to make public statements and create ministry focus that showed its commitment toward inclusion of ALL people- all of that helped them to realize that there was a place for them too in the local church and in the Church itself.
But going back to our scripture reading- notice that the Apostles chose new leaders based on certain criteria and laid hands on them. This meant that they wanted to confer the power of the Holy Spirit upon them and allow this act to be a symbol of authority being placed on them as new leaders. It also meant that they werent going to chose just anyone. They had to have demonstrated good character and devotion.
Why is this important to note? Because it tells us that the Apostles did not allow this to be a popularity contest. They entrusted the work of the new disciples, to God. They understood that church leadership and church work is holy work.
Some learnings for us modern day disciples/ followers of Christ, members of this church, in this location, and at this time in history is that- we must realize that conflict will occur in the church but we must not shy away from it but find solutions to those conflicts. We must also continue to trust God with the work of our Church- with whom we call to carry out the work of the church, to place it ALL in Gods holy hands. We cannot therefore, treat ministry as we would treat a secular business or social club.
My hope and prayer is that we continue to carry out the work of THIS church as best as we can- by putting ALL of it into Gods hands. By entrusting and praying for our church leaders, by naming the conflict and finding solutions to them. By trusting one another and more importantly, trusting God.
We are living in a time of this country where there are too many examples of poor leadership, of distrust, of division and conflict. As Christians we have an opportunity to model good behavior, cooperation, partnership, trust in leadership, striving to find good solutions. We can do all of this as we continue to trust God in all of the circles we are a part of- here, home, work, etc. We can be agents of Gods peace, therefore by being disciples that chose to follow God by loving one another as best as we can. Amen.