“Common Good(s)”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 5, 2014 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (World Communion Sunday)

Scripture:  Acts 4:32-37

 

Do you know what the first words you ever spoke were?

How about the first words of a child you know—your son or daughter, your niece or nephew, your grandchild or godchild or student or friend? Do you remember that first intelligible utterance—“dada,” or, “mama,” or, “dog,” or, “bye-bye”?

If you asked my parents, they would tell you that my first words have become a bit of a family legend. It’s a story I’ve been told so often that I don’t remember not knowing it. Even now, decades later, I still get ribbed about it from time to time.

To understand why this story quickly became the stuff of legend, you need to know that I come from a family that sang songs about peace, and talked about our feelings, and played cooperative games rather than competitive ones. I learned early on about the importance of sharing, and caring, and loving those around me. So I imagine that my first words must have been met with some consternation. My parents must have looked at each other, eyebrows raised, wondering what had gone wrong, when I opened my little mouth and said this:

“No! Mine!”

 

Of course, it turns out that self-centeredness is a normal developmental stage. Most, if not all, children go through it; most, if not all, children eventually outgrow it. I like to think that I’ve moved at least a bit beyond “No! Mine!” in the intervening decades.

But when I hear the scripture lesson that Dustin just read for us, I can’t help thinking that maybe I haven’t advanced at all. Maybe I’m still right there in my one-year-old self-centeredness. Maybe we all are.

Look at the world around us. Globally, there are 600 million children living in extreme poverty. (600 million—that’s too big a number to really imagine, isn’t it? As a point of reference, the entire population of North America is about 529 million. If you took the entire population of our continent, and added 70 million more, and then imagined they were all children—who, of course, are part of families—all those people live in extreme poverty.) One in ten people worldwide does not have access to fresh, clean water; one in eight people suffers from chronic undernourishment; one in three does not have access to appropriate sanitation.

In the United States—one of the wealthiest nations on earth—one in seven people lives below the poverty line. One in six families experiences food insecurity, which means there are times when they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. One in five children lives in poverty. Over the course of the last four decades, the yawning gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest has grown dramatically. The top 1% of earners take home almost a quarter of the total income, while the bottom 90% together earn less than half of the total. Even in Connecticut—the wealthiest state in the nation based on per capita income—more than one in ten people lives below the poverty line.

One in three people worldwide without access to sanitation. One in five children in this country living in poverty. And I sit in my comfortable house with plentiful food and potable water. I use clean, fresh water that’s good enough to drink to flush the toilet, for God’s sakes!

I like to think that I’ve moved at least a bit beyond “No! Mine!” in the decades since I spoke my first words. But when I look at the state of the world around us, I can’t help thinking that maybe I haven’t advanced at all. Maybe I’m still right there in my one-year-old self-centeredness. Maybe we all are.

 

Friends, it does not have to be that way.

Researchers tell us that the earth actually produces more than enough food to feed everyone in the world with some left over. The cost of eradicating poverty is estimated at 1% of global income. These striking statistics about hunger and poverty—such a far cry from the vision set forth in our scripture reading, of a world in which there are no needy persons among us, in which resources are available to anyone who is in need—these inequalities and disparities do not have to be the way they are.

What if we did grow out of our self-centeredness? What if we did grow closer to the spiritual maturity that the early Christian community exemplified? What if we lived in a world that looked more like the world as God yearns for it to be?

What if we lived in a world where those who have resources saw them not as personal possessions, but as goods held in trust for the benefit of the world? What if each one of us saw our personal resources not as something we owned, something to cling to, but as something on loan, something entrusted to us to steward on behalf of our God?

What if we lived in a world where every baby was chubby and growing and well-fed? What if we lived in a world where parents did not have to choose between feeding their children and feeding themselves, where elders did not have to choose between buying groceries and paying for heat?

What if we lived in a world where no child died of malnutrition, where no one caught cholera or typhoid from contaminated water? What if every child in Woodstock and in Putnam, in Thompson and in Danielson, in Greenwich and in Bridgeport and in Hartford—every child from Connecticut to Mississippi, every child from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—what if every child came to school each day with a full belly, free from the stress of hunger and able to focus on learning?

What if we were as concerned about children in faraway places, or about children from the wrong side of the tracks, as we are about the ones who live in our own homes, or the homes of our loved ones? What if we took seriously the notion that we are all connected, all united, all God’s children, all sharing together in the body and blood of Christ?

Then maybe, just maybe, we would find ways to share what we have received so that everyone might have what they need. Maybe, just maybe, we would look at those earliest followers of Jesus with new eyes, and maybe we would think not that they were crazy, but that they were on to something.

Maybe we would put our heads and our hearts and our hands together to build a world we would be proud to leave to our children. Maybe we would put our deeds and our desires and our dollars together to build a world prepared to play host to God’s Spirit.

Maybe we would grow from “No! Mine!” to “Yes! Ours!” And in so doing, maybe we would discover that in giving and receiving—in sharing of our time, our resources, our lives, our very selves—in having our goods in common for the common good, we experience the greatest joy there is, which is to live into our true nature as the united people of God.