Acts 6: 1-7 Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.
Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
One person can’t do it all. I remember fondly my mother’s constant refrain when she’s around toddlers who are exploring everything and insisting on trying it all “Me do it me-self.” I’m sure this originated when I, her oldest, insisted that despite all my limitations as a child of two or three, that I could indeed do it all myself- whether that was getting dressed, getting out and putting away my toys, doing the laundry (which I used to think was great fun), or even cooking supper. My twenty-five year old version of this, which my husband has heard more than a few times after asking if I want help is “I’m a strong, independent woman.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good to be strong and independent, and women certainly can be- but there’s very few toddlers who can cook a full meal for themselves, and there are very few humans who can get through life without a little bit of help. That’s what the disciples are realizing in this passage from the Book of Acts. They were the twelve who had walked alongside Jesus during his ministry, they shared communion with him in the Upper Room, and he had appeared to them after his resurrection. As the early church began to form, they were the ones doing everything. They were preaching and teaching, and it appears they were also expected to distribute food to the widows of their community.
What it seems they realized is that their calling was not necessarily to be independent and take every task in the church on for themselves, but rather they had a very specific calling to share what they had experienced as Jesus’ closest followers. It’s not that feeding the widows was unimportant to them, but it wasn’t their particular calling when there were so many other followers who would be perfectly able to lead this ministry. So from among the people, their congregation, they had the people elect seven others who lead the work of feeding the widows in their community, the disciples blessed them, and the work that they did together- each in their own task- helped their community to flourish.
We can take an important lesson from this in the church today- no single person or group of people is intended to take on all the work alone. We don’t all have the gifts or abilities to complete every task- and even if we did, to try to do it all ourselves would deprive us of the sense of community that comes from accomplishing a task or working on an initiative together with our friends, family, and neighbors.
In Acts 2 the early Church gives us an excellent and moving example of what it means to be
a community. And one key feature of any community that the early Church exemplifies in this story and teaches us today is that we must choose to be defined by gifts and possibilities rather than our limitations. The early church could have allowed itself to be defined by what its leaders lacked- the ability to be in prayer, preach the Word, and manage to feed all the widows. But rather than focusing on their deficiencies, they looked around to find the gifts they had- the gift of wise people, devoted to God, who had the time and skills to ensure those who were struggling got taken care of.
So as we think about what it means for us to be in community together, to learn from our ancestors of the Early Church, I think we have to ask ourselves: what are my gifts that I am called by God to bring to my community? What gifts do I currently hold in exile that I haven’t shared? One clue to answering these questions might be to consider this one: what is the positive feedback you receive that still surprises you? Then you have to decide which gifts your going to start sharing with the communities you are involved in!