Church is like a Yard Sale
It’s been a busy week here!
Monday through Thursday of this past week, our church hosted Vacation Bible School in the evenings. The sanctuary looked a little different than it does right now.
Arlene, Rachel, and lots of other volunteers put a lot of time and a lot of effort into pulling it together. The people who organized the week are creative, patient, and kind. We can be grateful for the way they offered themselves for the week.
I hope everyone who was involved can agree that it was well worth it to have the chance to love on the kids that were here for the week and teach them about the Holy Spirit.
The children learned how the Spirit came to Jesus’ followers on Pentecost, in tongues of flame and a mighty wind.
They learned how the Spirit led the first believers to come together, to form the church. They learned how the Spirit helps all of us to share the good news of Jesus in word and in deed.
They learned some ways that we can join the Spirit in its work in our world today. We had them think about what gifts God might have given them, and how those gifts might be used to serve the church.
Then, on Friday and Saturday, Rachel and Zack had a big yard sale in the parking lot. This wasn’t part of VBS, but as I helped set up on Friday morning, and as I watched the people coming and going throughout the day, I couldn’t help but make a connection in my head.
Many of you donated items for sale at this event. We brought stuff to the church from far and near. There was big stuff, there was little stuff, there was trinkety, decorative, and crafty type stuff, and there was other, more useful stuff like electronics or furniture. Some stuff was hard, other stuff was soft, some stuff was brand new and still in the packaging, other stuff was slightly broken yet usable or easily repairable with just a little tender loving care.
If you were here, you know that there was plenty of stuff for sale, and there were plenty of people ready to buy the stuff out there. At one point I wondered if someone might try to buy our building out from under us!!
But as people came and browsed around and picked up this and that at the yard sale, I started to think this was kind of a beautiful picture of church!
See, on Thursday night, Christine and I had taught one of the lessons for Bible school. It was about gifts that the Holy Spirit gives each of us, how we might know what gifts we have, and how we might use those gifts as we serve God and His church.
And so that lesson was still on my mind a little bit as we hauled out all these gifts that people brought for the sale on Friday morning.
There were plenty of gifts. But it took a lot of work for Rachel and Zack to organize the gifts, to price the gifts—that is, to give them value—, to set them out there and then wait and see what happened.
And I was astounded at how the stuff sold! For example, we had an old filing cabinet from the office. It was missing a handle, it wasn’t being used, it was big and heavy and just taking up room, something we just wanted to get out of the office—someone bought that thing! They had a use for it!
The gifts we give, no matter how little we value them, they matter to other people!
Our gifts, no matter how little we think they’re worth, they might be just what someone is looking for! Maybe it’s a gift of hospitality, or artwork, or music or just a patient smile.
But whatever it is, whenever you offer it in service to God, it finds just the right home; just the right person will pick it up and recognize its value.
That’s why I say that Church is like a yard sale but better, where the gifts God has given his people are laid out like so many bargains, priceless treasures every single one. J
The problem is that no matter if you’re having a yard sale or if you’re just giving stuff away for free, it’s always easy to arrange the gifts or do the distribution in ways that overlook some people for the privilege of others.
The passage we’re looking at this morning is one that wasn’t covered during Bible school this week. It talks about how one group was overlooking another group as they were sharing gifts in the church.
See, there was a custom at this time that the church had adopted from Judaism. It was actually kind of hard to tell the Christians from the Jews at this time, Christians were actually seen as one sect of Judaism, so the boundaries were a little bit fuzzy.
Anyways, there was a custom where two collectors would go and take a basket around to the market and to private houses every Friday morning, to make a collection for the needy, partly in money and partly in goods.
Later on in the day, this collection was distributed among the poor and needy in the community.
The practice was called the Basket, since they carried a basket around with them to do the collecting.
Once a week, those who were temporarily in need received just enough to keep themselves going, while those who were more permanently unable to support themselves, they received enough for fourteen meals; two meals a day for the following week, until there would be another collection like this.
Beyond this weekly collection and distribution of food, there was also a daily collection taken, where the collectors would go from house to house seeking donations for those in even more pressing need. This was called the Tray, I’m assuming since this was collected on some kind of tray.
The tray’s collection went to those who maybe couldn’t wait until Friday or something happened that forced them into poverty.
Sounds like a pretty good custom, doesn’t it?
This was something the Jews had done for awhile, and it’s a practice that the Christian church continued at least through the book of Acts.
This is probably the custom that is mentioned here, when it talks about how some of the widows were being overlooked during the daily distribution of food.
So what was going on was this—there were two groups of people who had heard about Christ and had joined his church.
We can think of one group being Hebrew and the other group being Foreign.
The Hebrew group had grown up in Palestine, they spoke Aramaic (an offshoot of Hebrew), and they prided themselves on being pure-blooded natives with no foreign influence in them.
…They were kind of like those of us who are native to Holmes County and love it that way. They were like those of us who can trace our ancestry back to one of the first settlers in the area, who still drive by the family farm where generations of our family lived and worked and played.
Or maybe they were kind of like those of us who have been Christian, raised in the church since we were born. Those of us who have family histories firmly rooted in church life, back for generations, and we don’t mind if people know it.
Maybe this Hebrew group was kind of like those of us who have the right last name—the “Mennonite” last name that easily identifies who we are, where we come from, etc.
Anyways, these Hebraic Jews who had become Christians, you could say they were kind of proud of their identity. They could think of themselves as ‘real’ people of God because they spoke Dutch—oops…I mean Aramaic. J They had spent generations living in Holmes County—I’m sorry, I mean Palestine.
And so this group was eager to take up the collection and distribute the goods to the poor and the needy in their community, at least the poor and the needy that they KNEW.
Now, the other group were Jews who had been living in foreign countries. These were maybe Jews who had been displaced long ago by the powers that conquered Palestine at one time or another.
Their families had been dispossessed from their land generations ago as political fallout. They no longer remembered Hebrew, or Aramaic, (or German). They spoke Greek…(or Navaho, or Spanish).
They were no longer pure, they no longer had the right last name, the right homestead, or the right connections. But Nevertheless they came to Jerusalem, maybe for Pentecost, and they heard about Jesus! They were eager to join his followers, and so they did!
But probably what happened was, these spiritually snobbish Jews who proudly spoke Aramaic looked down on the foreign-born, Greek-speakers as somehow not worth quite as much, not really part of the Jesus project. After all, they weren’t really from around here like the rest of us. Maybe they should just go home
Maybe these Greek speaking Jews should take care of their own, you know? If they would share their own goods with their own people, then everyone would be better off.
So, whether it was intentional or not, the Hebrew group, (that is, the native group) when they took the collection and passed out the food, they were overlooking the foreigners among them.
And maybe their reasons were more innocent than I’m suggesting today.
Maybe they just didn’t think about it. Maybe they weren’t comfortable communicating with someone who spoke a different language or had a little darker skin…maybe they were just naturally tuned in better to the needs among their own people, and so they met those needs first and left the other needs until last, when there was very little left—I don’t know.
But I do know, that whether it’s food or money or time or attention—there are lots and lots of reasons to overlook needy people when we’re giving stuff away, whether it’s our stuff or whether it’s our gifts.
And so the Apostles call together the whole community when this problem is brought to their attention. They understood that the Spirit of God gives different gifts to different people. They understood that you can’t be all things to all people. They understood that this conflict the church was experiencing couldn’t be explained away, and it wasn’t going to go away by itself.
So they chose 7 people to oversee the distribution of the goods that were collected regularly. 7 is a number of wholeness, and completion in the Bible. So they strive to bring wholeness and balance to a broken situation.
And from their names we learn that the chosen ones were likely foreign born themselves. They are Greek sounding names, which tells us they would have been from the group that was being overlooked.
Sounds like a good idea to me!
I like the idea that if you’re feeling overlooked, or if you have a complaint to bring, then you should take some responsibility not only to tell me about it, but to work towards a solution, with those who have offended you!
I am convinced that the Spirit of God is the voice that speaks to us, that makes us sorry when we’re the ones who have isolated and overlooked others; it’s the voice that cries out on our behalf when we’re the ones who have been isolated or overlooked.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Interesting that the first people we hear of who were called out to give leadership in this new movement of God called the church, that first of all they were foreigners. They weren’t closely connected with that land like so many others were.
And secondly they were called not to preach, to teach or to pray…they were simply called to perform an act of service. Handing out food to people who needed it.
And with the blessing of the Apostles and all the people, these 7 foreign-born Christians stepped up to the plate, exercising the gifts God had given them in service to the church.
And the word of God spread. The number of disciples increased, and many became obedient to the faith.
What might that look like today?
Leadership in God’s garage sale, in God’s church? It often comes from unexpected places. The Spirit moves as it will and leads those sometimes who are the most unlikely to fill positions of service to the church.
We do well to listen carefully to it’s leading, to offer our gifts no matter how little value we think they have, to expectantly wait in anticipation to see then what comes.
May we go from here with peace, joy, and understanding, with a willingness to lay our lives out like garage sale merchandise, willing to follow the spirit’s leading in times of conflict and in times of joy, taking steps towards the fulfillment of God’s vision for our world faithfully with each other.