Summit Presbyterian Church
6757 Greene St., Philadelphia, PA 19119
May 14, 2017
Acts 6: 1-11
Holy Skill Set
The day after tomorrow, at 6:00 in the morning, election-day volunteers will enter the Summit gym and begin setting up for the municipal primaries. They’ll put out the tables and the voting machines, and donuts in the kitchen. It’s an important primary, the race for District Attorney being the most heated, with seven candidates in the democratic field. I’m not going to endorse anyone from the pulpit -just in case you’re getting nervous. I’d be tempted, but I’m still undecided! For months people have been talking and posting about the candidates. Who has the right vision for the D.A’s office? Who has the best position and ideas, on issues such as civil forfeiture, cash bail and the death penalty? Who has the experience to be effective and follow through on campaign promises? Who’s the most ethical, given that we’re having this election while the current DA is under indictment? Who’s been endorsed by who, who’s gotten money from who, and what does it matter? Good questions, important questions. Questions we need to wrestle with as we try and figure out who to vote for. Very different questions, however, then the ones asked by that early church in what we might call the first congregational election.
To step back for a minute: since the day of Pentecost, the number of disciples has been growing exponentially, with hundreds, even thousands of people being baptized in short order. That may seem like good news — doesn’t everyone like church growth? — and it was good news, but there’s nothing like a growing church to generate conflict. New people with new ideas coming in. Different interpretations of God’s Word. Arguments about what needs to change and what should stay the same. Anxiety about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Systems that used to work perfectly well no longer working and people getting irritated. Much of Acts is about the conflicts that arose in a rapidly growing church, and this is the first big one. The Hellenists — Greek speaking Jewish Christians — are complaining that the Hebrews - Aramaic speaking Jewish Christians — are neglecting their widows in the daily distribution of food. We don’t have the full story, but it seems to be a fairly straightforward problem of an “old” system not being able to keep up with new demand, with some group favoritism or suspicion possibly throw in. The twelve disciples identify the problem as a shortage of workers. So they call together the whole community, and ask them to chose seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, that they can appoint to the task. Everyone thinks this is a good idea - please note the Risen Christ is working a miracle here — and the congregation chooses seven people. The apostles pray and lay hands on them, and as far as we know, the Hellenist widows and the Hebrew widows were all cared for from that time on. And the number of disciples continued to increase.
So the problem is solved, the conflict resolved, even though - as far as we know - none of the seven had food pantry experience. None of them were asked about their qualifications - if they could cook, read a budget, or if they had a driver’s license. None of them were asked to explain their vision for the food program — or their position on the nature of the resurrection or the meaning of the cross. No one lobbied to be chosen, or greased any palms. They were chosen for three reasons (in addition, we must acknowledge, to being men): they were in good standing, meaning the people trusted them; they were filled with the Spirit; and they were filled with wisdom. That doesn’t mean they were especially smart or innately spiritual. It means their ears were attentive to wisdom, their hearts inclined to understanding. It means they opened themselves to the Holy Spirit and presumably showed forth its fruits — fruits such as love, joy, peace, gentleness. For the in Bible, the Spirit and Wisdom come from God. And if the church was to be the church it had to be guided by the Spirit and the wisdom of God. That’s what mattered. The practical skills of food distribution could be learned.
Today, when a church-wide nominating committee thinks about who might serve as a church officer, it’s perfectly appropriate to think about particular gifts and talents. It’s helpful to have people on the Trustees with an understanding of accounting and plumbing. It’s good to have folks on the Session with experience in Christian Education or personnel and an understanding of theology. Deacons need people who know how to listen and who have organizational skills. But all of those qualifications are secondary. They’re not necessary. What’s necessary is for the church leadership, and the church as a whole, to have people full of the Spirit and wisdom. People who incline their ears and hearts to God. People who pray, and who seek God’s word. People who are open to the Holy Spirit and show forth its fruits. People who understand that the church is the church of Christ, and our calling is to follow Christ — not just to do what pleases us or even what seems right.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s easy to confuse our will with God’s will, especially when we’re anxious. It’s easy to let practical concerns obscure our purpose and calling as Christ’s church. And Jesus understands that we’ll stray, we’ll be distracted, we just won’t get it much of the time. But if we seek the Spirit and wisdom of God, if that’s our prayer, both here at Summit and in the church universal — we’ll be the church of Christ. Folks will be fed and the Word will be served. Justice will be done and peace proclaimed.
I’d like to close with a few words about MK. At our Session meeting, during the joys and concerns that we share before our closing prayer, an Elder offered thanksgiving for the ministry of MK among us. That began a little conversation about MK’s gifts for ministry, which might have burned her ears, since she wasn’t there. She “has the goods” as one person put it. She relates to people of all ages, said another. We’ve seen her eloquence and growth in preaching, her creativity in worship, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s a darn good cook and a fabulous fundraiser. But really, what qualifies MK for leadership in the church, whether or not she’s ever ordained as a minister, whether or not she’s ever hired as staff somewhere, is her attentiveness to the Wisdom of God and her openness to the Spirit. It’s her love and faithfulness, her joy and gentleness. So we give thanks for her time with us, as we remember the calling that we all share, whether or not we’re ordained and whether or not we even serve on a committee. It’s the calling to follow the Spirit. For we’re all called and we’re all qualified to be disciples. No experience necessary.