The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859.
Texts: Acts 4:32–37; 2 Cor 8:1-15
Guest Speaker: Alison Casella Brookins
So. Happy Independence day weekend. The favorite Mennonite holiday celebrating the
beginning of a war, commemorated every year by the setting of off tiny bombs all night
for a whole weekend (or, where I live in Chicago, for a month), the holiday when babies
can’t sleep and dogs go on poop strike.
When I’m explaining Mennonites, I often say: “Our denomination holds its meeting
every other year over the 4th of July weekend in a conference center in the hottest place
in the country. No one else is holding their conference in the sweltering heat of a holiday
weekend, so it’s inexpensive. This demonstrates our core values: not aligning too closely
with the political state, and being cheap.”
This holiday makes me uncomfortable. But I think it’s something deeper than just a
reaction against the “rockets’ red glare.” There’s something at the core of what it means
to our society to be American, to be independent, to be free, that feels very twisted.
I was not financially viable in my early to mid 20s.
I had quit college in my third year to intern on farms for a few years and then moved
back to my hometown to figure out what the heck I was going to do next. I worked—a
lot—but all low-paying work, a mix of barista-ing and gig work cleaning houses,
babysitting, and farm and garden work for friends and family.
When I figured out that I really did need to finish college I balked at the price tag. There
was no way THAT was going to work.
I talked to my parents. My parents believe in education, and are also rabidly anti-debt.
They said don’t worry. They would pay for it. Once again, I balked. My parents both
grew up very poor and they both worked their way through college (fun fact: my mom
worked at a Little Debbie factory where she got to eat as many Nutty Bars hot off the
assembly line as she wanted, a story that makes me as envious today as it did when I
was five). They made their own way, and I had some sense that I was supposed to do the
“I should be independent by now,” I whined at my dad one day—I used to do that a lot.
I’ve never forgotten what he said, and it changed the way I think about the world:
“You’ll always be dependent on someone or something. And I’d rather you be dependent
on people who love you and care about you than on a bank.”
You’ll always be dependent on something. So be dependent on people who love you.
I think this is where my discomfort with Independence day lies. Our society’s ideas
about independence have come to mean separation and individualism, being self-reliant,
taking care of our own physical, financial, and even emotional needs, without needing
I do want to acknowledge that there are many layers of privilege in my story—the
privilege of having parents to depend on who were able and willing to pay for my
education. The specifically white privilege of my family being allowed to work their
way out of poverty to have the means to pay for their kid’s education. My mom’s dad
worked as a janitor for the university, so she got cheap tuition, and they went to a school
associated with their Seventh Day Adventist faith tradition, which valued education and
worked to make it accessible for them. My parents worked so hard in their lives, but did
not accomplish what they did completely by themselves—theirs is not a “pull yourself
up by your bootstraps” story.
We love those kind of stories, though.
I grew up loving the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of my earliest
literary memories are hearing my mom read them to my older sister. Farmer Boy was
always my favorite—living a year on a successful farm where almost everything
operates as a closed, self-contained system. I wanted the life in those books, deep in my
gut: a life where hard work is directly rewarded with success, a life of deep knowledge
and satisfaction with simple, hard-earned pleasures. That is how we OUGHT to live.
I recently read “Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder” by
Caroline Fraser. If you, like me, were raised on these beautiful, idyllic pieces of
libertarian propaganda, I recommend reading “Prairie Fires.”
Laura once said the story in her books is “all true. But it is not the whole truth.” With
love and honesty, Prairie Fires walks through how the Little House books came into
being and the role they played in constructing the mythology of our nation. I admit, part
of me was devastated to learn that the rugged self-reliance of the characters was a gross
exaggeration—even the indomitable Pa Ingalls actually failed at his every attempt at
farming and skipped out of town at least once to escape debts. But another part of me
felt freed—freed from (unknowingly) trying to live up to a standard of independence
and self-sufficiency that has simply NEVER EXISTED.
We will always be dependent on others. And we always have been.
So today, on this 4th of July weekend, I want to celebrate Interdependence day. We are
celebrating the ways that we depend and rely on one another.
In our scripture passages for today, we see two examples of the early church practicing
In Acts, the community of Jesus followers are trying to figure out what it means to
follow in the way of Jesus now that he’s gone. The story says that they “were of one
heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything
they owned was held in common.”
Now I don’t want us to read this statement in Acts with too rosy of glasses. There were
conflicts and challenges, just as every Christian community since has faced challenges
when it comes to questions of money, property, and sharing. But there is historical
evidence of the radical mutual aid that was happening in these early communities—
members using their houses as, basically, homeless shelters, with caches of food and
clothing to give out, members going to each other to receive care.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is asking believers in Corinth to stretch themselves
to be generous to a group of believers in Jerusalem who are living in extreme poverty.
Paul uses the Greek word Charis many times in this passage. This word is translated as
blessing, generous act, thanks, privilege, and generous undertaking, but the root word
“charis” means grace. The people of Macedonia begged Paul for the privilege, the grace,
of contributing to the collection, and they contribute because they have experienced
The key line in the Acts passage is, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
They have power (from the HS); they speak, sharing their experiences, their truth; grace
(that unearned presence and love of God) is upon them. Out of this, people are inspired
to enter the movement, asking for what they need, and bringing whatever they have to
contribute. Giving and receiving as a result of experiencing grace.
There’s a well known saying, it’s better to have gifts than receipts—hang on I read that
wrong—it’s better to give than receive.
I still think this is wrong. Receiving is a grace-filled act. And these people who are
giving—they have also received.
The people of Macedonia who were so generous had also received—they received
grace, they received abundant joy. They probably were following the pattern of other
Christian communities, giving and receiving mutual aid from each other and from
They were overflowing with all that they had received, and they were in a place where
they were able to extend that grace, being generous to others.
In Acts, the apostles have received the HS, received grace, received power. No one in
the community was in need—they were all receiving what they needed.
Paul ends the passage: The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who
had little did not have too little. This is a reference to the story of Manna from heaven in
Exodus, when ““Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered
little had no lack”
Mutual aid networks have exploded across the country since the pandemic began.
I’ll describe the one in my neighborhood—this isn’t one I’ve been involved with, but I
was curious how it worked, and I think it’s worth sharing these sorts of details to
demystify the whole idea of mutual aid.
The premise is that everyone has something to give and everyone has something they
need; everyone has some times when they can give and some times when they need;
some people have time but no money, others have money but no time.
-People submit a request through a Google form. Common requests are for food,
diapers, rent assistance. Sometimes legal assistance. This gets posted anonymously to a
- Someone “claims” it, admin sends info. The person then contacts the requester and
arranges to fill the need.
- There are members with experience and expertise in social service system who can
help members navigate rental assistance, unemployment insurance, and things like that.
There are also lots of members who pick up and deliver groceries and medications, or
who donate money, or who post flyers. There are areas where we all have need; there are
areas where we all have resources.
Mutual aid is a part of many faith traditions, and it’s a strong tenant among Anabaptists,
who read passages like these we read today and try their darndest to live into holding
things in common, caring for each other and being cared for by people who loved them,
depending on others, and letting others depend on them.
I asked pastor Joel about some specific ways this congregation engages in mutual aid.
I heard about your Compassion Fund: members donate to it, and members receive from
Every year you fill out the Opportunities to Serve form, indicating whether you are up
for doing things like taking meals to people who need them, giving people rides, and
other everyday things.
You have small groups where mutual aid can be practiced organically and
And you practice reparations, sending funds to different organizations including those
that practice mutual aid within their own communities.
This 4th of July weekend, we celebrate freedom from the lie of independence. We
celebrate that when we have a network of relationships that we can rely on, this is true
freedom. Freedom to flourish, freedom to thrive.
A good friend of mine, who is currently pregnant, recently got COVID. She was laid up
for weeks, utterly exhausted. Because she had a network of relationships—because her
co-pastor husband recovered faster and was able to take on more church work, because
lay leaders in the congregation stepped up to keep things running, because her neighbors
and church members went grocery shopping for them and dropped off meals on their
porch—she was free to actually be sick! She was free to lie in bed for 10 days and give
her body time to recover. Freedom to acknowledge the reality of what is, freedom to
honor our body’s needs and limits. That is true freedom.
This 4th of July weekend, we celebrate Interdependence as a good and sacred thing, part
of our lives of discipleship, not a failing or a source of shame. We celebrate freedom—
the freedom to thrive that comes from having a network of support. We celebrate
dependence—depending on our community members who love us, depending on a God
who loves us.