Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
When I was in seminary, I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua and spend some time with an organization that was supporting sustainable development. That organization, Jubilee House-Center for Development in Central America is located in a city called Ciudad Sandino, right outside of Managua. They’d welcome church groups who would help work on the development projects they were supporting. For example, we learned how to mix and lay concrete to build a security wall around a brick-making business and finish the walls of a small medical clinic. For the record, I am terrible at working with concrete. I got it all over my hands and they shriveled up like raisins. Our hosts would also show us around the country, teaching us about Nicaragua’s complex history and the US’s largely disastrous interventions there. And, because most people who came were Christians and because the leaders of the group guiding us had once been Presbyterian pastors, they would also take us to church.
Well, worship wasn’t exactly in a church building... though they did take us to a Cathedral in the middle of Managua. The actual worship service we attended was at the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. The cultural center was started by Sr. Margarita Navarro, CSJ, and Fr. Angel Torrellas, OP. They moved to the Batahola Norte neighborhood in 1983 and began a process very much like an expanded version of our SEE-JUDGE-ACT program. In a website for an organization that supports the community center, their process is described as “visiting more than 800 homes, learning the people’s needs and dreams, recognizing who they were and what they had.” They visited so many people because they realized that it is not good practice to show up and start educational and service programs without the input and involvement of the people you are trying to serve. I have heard people say we should be guided by the principle “nothing for us, without us.”
The Cultural Center of Batahola Norte would go on to describe their work as "accompany[ing] the people of the neighborhood in their search for new forms of a simple life with dignity and friendship without fear in the midst of deep poverty.” They started their work with Fr. Angel teaching music and religious education to the kids of the neighborhood, and Sr. Margie teaching a sewing class to empower local women. In the nearly 40 years since it began, the culture center has grown from a trailer with two rooms to half a block of the city with classrooms, a library, an auditorium, and gardens. I attended a worship service, in a style called the Misa Campesina, Nicaraguan Peasants’ Mass, in the auditorium. They have this service weekly.
Admittedly, my Spanish is... not great. It was better at that time. Thankfully, one of the people from the group hosting us was there to help translate. With my rudimentary Spanish and my knowledge of our shared Christian traditions, I was pleasantly surprised that I got the gist of the service. When it came time for Communion, I assumed that I would not be allowed to partake. The tradition that the priest was from has closed communion... you have to be a member to take the sacraments. The priest surprised me though. He looked at us and began the invitation. I knew that my Spanish was minimal at best, so I looked over to our guide, who was Quaker and fluent in both Spanish and English, and I asked if I had translated what I was hearing correctly. She said yes. I was right. The priest did just say that all people were welcome to the table. You didn’t have to be of the same denomination as him. If you felt the call to eat, you ate. So, I ate. I went up to the altar and took communion.
Back in June of this year, a picture that a UCC colleague of mine took at a church in North Carolina was making its way around the clergy corners of my Facebook feed. Rev. Laura Everett, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, had traveled to Black Mountain Presbyterian Church to officiate a wedding. When she got there, she saw that they had a communion table, much like ours... much like thousands of communion tables in thousands of churches that, like ours, branch out of Reformed Protestant traditions. On the front of the table is this phrase, “Has Everyone Been Fed?” I’ve never seen a communion table like it. Has everyone been fed? This seems like a quintessential question of our faith. I think we could make the argument that this question is one that could shape every part of our life as a church together. At the very least, it could guide our worship and our mission. Has everyone been fed?
Today’s reading comes from the part of Acts just after that wild, wonderful, and possibly terrifying Pentecost story. The Holy Spirit has whipped up, empowering the disciples to speak of Jesus in all kinds of new ways and in new languages. After that story, Peter goes on to preach and teach about Jesus working through all kinds of different people... people of all genders, people of all ages, the enslaved and the ones who were free... all would dream dreams and see visions and speak of how God moves in their lives. The ones who were most moved by the disciples’ testimonies were baptized. Old and new believers alike all joined together, and began crafting a community where everyone could eat.
Inspired by how they saw God moving through the work of the disciples in the world, the people set about to do what Ron Allen has referred to as “living in the present, insofar as possible, as if the Realm [of God] has already come.” And, they understood that the primary identifier of the Realm of God was that everyone would have what they needed to live. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all as any had need.” This was a community deeply invested in their spiritual growth while also just as invested in the making sure the material needs of those who gathered would be met. Acts is the sequel to the book of Luke and Luke makes clear that God is invested in the needs of the vulnerable. Dr. Allen even argues that Jesus’ ministry, as an inbreaking of the God’s Realm into this world, demonstrates that the goal of the Realm of God is “restor[ing] material well-being for all to the quality of life and level of abundance pictured in Genesis 1.” Today’s reading from acts shows us that people do the work of the Realm, and recognize Jesus among them, not just by sharing in ritual meals, but by literally sharing food with others.
Today we’ll bless some food that you all have donated to the food pantry... our own wagon-full of the God’s Realm. And, we’ll spend some time after church discerning how we, too, might put our glad and generous hearts to this question, and others like it: Has everyone been fed? Do people have what they need to thrive? Who has the energy and the skills and curiosity to help? May we, too, praise God, and pray and act for each other.
Resources consulted white writing this sermon:
Ron Allen from the "Bread and Cup to Faith and Giving" resources
The history of the Batahola Norte Cultural Center: https://friendsofbatahola.org/history-fob/
Rev. Everett's original post about the Communion Table: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid02NToqVNvEG9zWNKuRyWsx99Mv89px5o31Y5ofKLX87b5uEjZLnkismRUTxVEE6T4Kl&id=560738503&sfnsn=mo
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.