April 12, 2015
One of the most difficult things I do as pastor…
is figuring out what to put on our sign outdoors!
I wonder what would happen if we advertised Sunday services more like TV shows?
I smiled a bit when I saw the trailer for this week’s installment of the NBC series AD:
“We saw him die for what he believed in.
Jesus returns in an all new episode Sunday at 9/8 Central”
There’s something amusing about that
because most of us are not expecting something all that new today at
8:30 or 9:45 or 11am (10 Central).
We’re expecting something familiar.
We’re expecting something more like a re-run after sweeps week is over perhaps.
This year, though,
this Sunday after Easter,
let’s listen with new ears.
Let’s imagine that we have come here
sitting on the edge of our seats,
anticipating what’s going to happen next!!
The book of Acts which we will be looking at for the next several weeks
deals with what happens next…how the church goes on after the resurrection.
At the beginning of chapter 4, we hear that
the community of believers has grown to about 5000 members!
There is a confrontation between some of the disciples
and the religious leaders of the city.
What’s happened next to Peter and John is that they have been healing
and preaching about the resurrection,
and they are thrown into jail.
The next day, they are called before Annas and Caiaphas the high priest
(It’s beginning to look like it’ll be a re-run of what happened to Jesus).
The Jewish leaders ask who has given them authority to do these things – to preach and heal,
and they say, “Jesus!”
And can’t you just see the anxiety of the religious leaders skyrocket?
They thought they had gotten rid of this man’s teachings…
and now there are two more preaching and healing just like him!
The religious leaders threaten Peter and John.
They warn them – they can preach and heal –
but just don’t mention that Jesus has anything to do with it!
Don’t mention the name of Jesus!
Peter (the disciple who a week ago had been afraid to be associated with Jesus)…
“We cannot keep from speaking what we have seen and heard!” (4:20)
Peter and John are released and they go to pray with the other members of the community,
when suddenly the place they are gathered begins to shake,
and they are filled with the Holy Spirit and Acts says that everyone begins to speak with boldness. (4:31)
And then we come to this morning’s passage:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 3
3 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.
35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
GK Chesterton once said,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.
It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
As the early Christians live their faith,
I don’t know what’s more difficult:
that the group of believers were of one heart and soul…
or that they held everything in common and shared it with those in need!
We have two themes here:
Unity in the midst of diversity
Generosity in the midst of poverty.[i]
As to the first…
There’s an old saying that if you get together 2 Lutherans
(or Presbyterians or Methodists or Roman Catholics)
you’ll have 3 opinions.
Here we have a community of 5000 believers
and they’re of “one heart and soul.”
This passage from Acts has a compelling message for Christians
to recognize and receive God’s gift of unity in the midst of our diversity.
A perhaps less-compelling message for most of us if we’re honest,
is the radical generosity piece.
Is such generosity even possible?
To sell all your possessions
and to share everything with those in need…
Is that kind of life even realistic?
I think the point is,
that such generosity is not realistic –
if by realistic we mean what is reasonable, rational, logical, natural
for human beings.
It wasn’t realistic then.
And it isn’t realistic now.
What Luke (the author of Acts) seems to say is that
the most convincing proof of the resurrection
is not the empty tomb…
it’s the community of believers and how they live after the resurrection.
It wasn’t realistic…
It wasn’t logical.
They weren’t much different from us…
The only way that a group of people could live so selflessly,
is that they experienced something that was so powerful,
that it changed their entire way of life.[ii]
That something was the resurrection.
Those 5000 believers were so convinced of the resurrection,
they were so radically changed by the person of Jesus,
that they were of one heart and soul,
and everything was shared among them so that no one was in need.
William Willimon says that for those who are wondering about Christianity,
perhaps the greatest question in their minds is not a scientific one at all…
It’s not “How could a thing like the resurrection happen?”
But rather those who are wondering about Christianity wonder instead,
“Why don’t you who believe look more resurrected?”[iii]
Why don’t we look more resurrected in the way we live?
There are communities who have lived
much like the Acts 4 community.
Justin Martyr wrote about his own Christian community
50 years or so after Luke, saying
“We who once coveted most greedily the wealth and fortune of others,
now place in common the goods we possess,
dividing them with all the needy.” (Ist Apology 14:2-3)
As our own Paul Wee will tell us, 1500 years later,
Martin Luther developed the concept of the community chest.
Those who were well off contributed to the community chest
and the contents were distributed to those in need.
In Philadelphia there is a community called “The Simple Way,”
modelled after this passage from Acts.
The founder, Shane Claiborne notes
that many congregations have a “statement of faith,”
but few also adopt a “statement of practices…”
The Simple Way has 12 community faith practices.
Number 2 is “Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.”
Why don’t we look more resurrected?
Watch for the all new episode…
Jesus returns and his followers’ lives are changed!
[i][i][i] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 2, George Bryant Wirth.
[ii] William Willimon, Acts: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.