Sermon For November 9, 2014

Acts 2:43-47

“Present At The Diner: Who’s Missing From Your Table Of Love?”

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.32.44 AMCo-Preached with the Rev. Sandhya Jha

A Sermon Series On “From Bread & Wine To Faith & Giving:

God gives to us at the table and, in turn, God’s giving inspires and empowers our own giving.”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail:

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog:



Yesterday Craig and I went shopping for a few items at the grocery story. Outside of Dave’s were a group of Boy Scouts who were collecting food items to take to a neighborhood food pantry. They were pretty effective. At the entrance to the store they had some guys handing flyers explaining their project along with a list of food items they needed. Then as you left there were other young men at several shopping carts ready to receive your donations and offer their gratitude. I bought a few items and gladly gave it to them, impressed by their energy and their generous hearts.


At home as I was putting away the items in the refrigerator and cupboard I realized I was a bit hungry myself. So I do what I always do for a guy who eats at home rarely and goes to the restaurants far too frequently: I foraged. As I looked for something quick and easy to fix (I had warm soup on my mind as it was a cold day) I noticed all the cans and boxes of food in our cupboards and then back in our pantry, as well as a refrigerator and freezer stuffed to the gills. I was embarrassed with how much food we have stored up, especially in contrast to the cupboards that the Boy Scouts were trying to fill.


As I settled back to working on our sermon, hot soup in hand, I thought back a few years ago to Thursday, August 14, 2003 when a huge swath of the Northeastern United States, including Ohio, and parts of Canada had an electric power outage. What I was reflecting on was, once we all figured out that it was a big deal and power wasn’t coming back on soon, how immediately folks began getting food out of our freezers and refrigerators and began asking neighbors if they could find a way to cook or eat from their abundance. There was a natural and easy redistribution of food that wasn’t simply practical, it was fun! I recall sitting on the back deck of our friend Andy and Chandy’s house grilling salmon steaks and chicken and eating ice cream to our hearts content. And we could both see and hear others doing very much the same. What a contrast between the hording of food in my house and the generous sharing of food in our neighborhood that night of the blackout.


Sandhya: Meanwhile, back in Oakland, in the basement of the Oakland Peace Center, two floors below where First Christian Church of Oakland worshipped in the sanctuary, Belinda Gilchrist was folding clothes at Project Darries. Project Darries is a food and clothing distribution program run by a woman whose son was killed a few blocks from the OPC about 8 years ago. She established the program so that “no one in this neighborhood needs to turn to violence when they can turn to us instead.” In the midst of the clothes sat a woman happily picking through the clothes for items for her 6 children. She didn’t say anything as she sat there for hours. When one of Belinda’s volunteers asked, “Should we ask her if she should get home,” Belinda said, “she’s surrounded by kids at her house, and I don’t think her husband treats her well. Let her stay here and have a little peace. This is more home for her than her actual home.” Belinda made her choose out something for herself before she left that night.


Allen: When we hear scriptures such as Acts 2:43-47 we tend to do one of two things: we discount it as being fanciful and idealistic, or we write it off as being too impractical. Now it is true that much of the Acts of the Apostles is a bit of an idealized look at the first years of the early church. In the same way one might understand the founding writings of the Shakers, the Quakers, the Oneida, or other utopian communities as being a sanitized image of what the in-house historians wanted people to think or believe about the founding values of the movement. But let us not discount what Luke is doing here, because even if the earliest church didn’t hold everything in common, didn’t sell everything they possessed, and didn’t distribute to any who had need, they probably did most of what they said, and anyway the story of them doing so was written down, then handed down, as if they had. Never discount the power of stories! They have the possibility of transforming later generations who, though they might not do it exactly as the founders purportedly had, they are more likely to adhere more closely to those values if the story had not existed!


Diner+interior1This is why Carrie Newcomer’s song, Betty’s Diner, is so compelling. It presents an image of heaven on earth, the Beloved Community, the kin-dom of God made real in our midst… in this case in a diner, the quintessential local where anybody is welcome!

Here we are all in one place

The wants and wounds of the human race

Despair and hope sit face to face

When you come in from the cold

Let her fill your cup with something kind

Eggs and toast like bread and wine

She’s heard it all so she don’t mind.


Sandhya: Part of the reason I’m glad to be worshipping with you at Franklin Circle Christian Church is because you are healthy and thriving and deeply invested in your community. I spend most of my time working with struggling Disciples congregations. They share a few characteristics in common: they invest most of their resources in their building, they focus on worship and they really want more members to help pay the bills. Unlike this church, they have forgotten the lessons of the early church in the book of Acts. The early church’s worship wasn’t distinctive: the early followers of the risen Christ worshipped at the temple down the road. It was their relationships, their generosity, and their connection to the divine through their relationships to each other that made them distinctive.


When I think of communities like the early church, I think of these vital ministries: a UCC church in Phoenix ministering to and with homeless LGBTQ youth who are not welcomed by others, but who are welcomed by this church into membership and into leadership. I think about an Episcopal church in Arkansas that noticed how badly Black and Latino workers were being treated and created a worker center so that those workers would receive the dignity and fair treatment and pay that they deserve as children of God. I think about Recovery Café in San Jose, a Disciples church that has transformed their space into a literal café, like Betty’s Diner, where people can come to deal with any addiction they face, be it alcohol or meth or addiction to consumerism, where they can escape the street and find a community of support. Like the song says, “you never know who’ll be your witness; you never know who’ll grant forgiveness. Look to heaven or sit with us.”


Allen: Franklin Circle Christian Church is and has been for decades a bridge-building community, where people of all walks of life, who reflect at least in some small way the great diversity of God’s people, and where we seek to find value and worth and dignity and gifts in every single person who walks through or past our doors. Here we see each other as equal, in God’s heart and then try to embody that in how we live out being church. We share our resources with one another because we see each other as valued sisters and brothers with inherent dignity and worth.


The way to do this is to make sure that we tell the stories of this radical sense of true community over and over and over again. We tell the stories, not so that we can feel guilty because we aren’t living it exactly as the early church did (or said they did!) but because it can inspire us to live more like the values that they held. Thus their values become our values because we know and experience the amazing love and unbounded grace of God in Christ Jesus, who reminds us of this great equalization at our booth at God’s diner, the table of Holy Communion.


But communities where these values are held, and practiced, and honed, and lived are not common. In fact, they are rare. Thus we must support them when they do appear, and we must support this community to sustain it’s presence in our community. The New Vision Report, which the Official Church Board voted on last month, names that these values, of diversity, inclusivity, hospitality, justice, and equality as critical to the future of this neighborhood. We simply must be the hub in the wheels of development and transformation which are rolling across our community! Without our voice involved in the decision–making that occurs in this community other forces will be allowed to dictate what this community will be based on other values. Franklin Circle Christian Church’s voice must be a part of what is happening, and is going to happen, in this community, and even this city and region.


Sandhya: There’s a famous theologian named Marcus Borg. A few years ago he was giving a lecture and a friend of mine got to ask him a question. She said, “Professor Borg, what is the future of the church?” He must have been asked before, because he responded quickly: “Right now there are two types of Christians: conventional Christians who go to church because that’s what you’re supposed to do, and intentional Christians, hungering for a deeper relationship with the divine and the opportunity to serve the community and be in intentional community with others seeking the same thing. In twenty years, all of the conventional Christians will be dead, and all we’ll have left are the intentional Christians. The church will be much smaller, but much more vital.”


The Disciples were formed 200 years ago with the vision of re-creating the early church from the book of Acts. I’m not sure how well we’ve done. But this is an exciting moment! For the first time in that two hundred years, I believe we have the opportunity to make it happen, un-ideal as the early church was. We get the chance to tell the stories of our faith and generosity to make it so. We can create accountability with each other for building up the beloved community. And we can build a community around the love of God and of God’s most beloved children, who happen to be the children the rest of society ignores.


Allen: We understand that there is no magical place where everyone is happy and all are healthy, where no one has any need that goes unmet and justice reigns supreme. Those places only exist in fantasy comics, Busby Berkeley dance numbers, 1950’s musicals, and histories such as the one offered in the Acts of the Apostles. But every now and then, if we are alert, the electricity may just go off for long enough that we might witness such community appear “as if through a mirror dimly” in the people around us, and even within ourselves. Or we might just walk to the grocery store and see some bright eyed young people acting as if such just and equitable communities are possible, even ordinary and natural.


But let us not wait for such unpredictable and rare moments to come and sweep us away. Let us continue to work hard and support this community of faith as we seek to make real the ideal of our forbearers in the faith, to share and share alike, to worship a God whose creation was designed to be shared, to break bread and drink from the cup as together we rehearse the commonwealth of God, the Beloved Community, the Table of Love, until it becomes a reality.