Second Sunday of Easter
8 April 2018

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 133
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31

 

It has sometimes been suggested that the Book of Acts is a bit like a collection of fairy tales: everything is wonderful, the church is vibrant, miracles happen, all followers are of one mind and of one spirit.  It is then suggested that such rosy view of the life of the early church came about because Luke wrote a considerable time after Paul, whose letters address much conflict in the early church. Yet, by the time Luke wrote Acts, most of these conflicts had been resolved. And, there is much truth to this. Not in the sense of fairy tales (not at all) but in regards to the fact that Luke writes after Paul and that many conflicts Paul had encountered had indeed been resolved.

If we take the view of Acts as a Book that idealized the time of the early church, we may think of today’s reading as an expression of the enthusiasm of the early followers of Jesus who thought his return immanent, but for us who live much later as something that has neither practical value nor is imperative for discipleship.

However, there are two places in Acts in which Luke tells us about the economy of the early church. One is today’s reading: 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 (Acts 4), the other one occurs two chapters earlier, All who believed were together and had all things in common; {45} they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. {46} Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, {47} praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2)

This suggests that Luke is trying to make a point about what it means to be church.

A few things come to mind:

+ The lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin but are more beautiful than King Solomon in all his glory. Jesus says that our heavenly Father knows what we need, thus we must strive for his Kingdom before we seek anything else. (Luke 12)
+ Jesus’s reading of us that where our treasure is there our heart is also (Luke 12).
+ The rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus but was unable to part with his possessions. (Luke 18) After the Holy Spirit is poured out on the church, the church is able to part from its possessions and live such discipleship as the young man had been unable to render.

We live in a time where we participate in things as we see them relate to us: Is it worth it, will it enhance my life, will it provide meaning, will it be fun? And our attempts at evangelism seek to reach people by answering their questions with a decisive ‘yes’ to all of these. In essence, we tell people that their life will be better if they believe in Jesus. That is true.

But is that all that it’s about? Are those even the right questions to ask? Doesn’t this relegate God into the role of life-coach?

We who believe in the One who gave himself for the world should have a hunch that it’s not all about us, not all about personal fulfilment, not all about a happier life (joy may be a better way of putting it.).

Luke is telling us something about the early followers of Jesus that validates their witness and  that makes us take notice. An early Christian text expresses the same in these words: If you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more so in the things that perish! (Didache 4.8)[1] Isn’t that true! Spiritual things do have physical manifestations.

There is a word we like to use to describe our community. That word is fellowship. We have fellowship with one another. We belong together and are no longer alone. We care about one another. If someone isn’t here we notice their absence. We care and pray for one another when we are sick. We enjoy each others’ cooking. We’re glad to see each other.

The word the New Testament uses for fellowship is koinonia. Koinonia means more than the relatively private definition we have given fellowship in the English language. The word koinonia is also used for business relationships. Those who are in business together have koinonia. Paul uses the word when he writes about the collection for the church in Jerusalem. Koinonia describes the joint-venture of the followers of Jesus. In such relationship it is no longer only about cordial words but about where our heart is (and therefore our possessions also).

In Acts two Luke tells us that day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Could it be that this had something to do with the fact that the early church lived and modeled the Kingdom of God to the world? A little later Luke writes that 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. (Acts 4)

Could it be that Luke means that by sharing their possessions they showed the power of the resurrection, they showed what God’s kingdom looks like? Could it be that our witness today would be that much stronger if we understood what Luke is teaching us, namely that we who share immortal things must not be afraid to share mortal things?

 

O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?[2]

These words could be mine, and they are – even though in this particular phrasing, they are the words of Henri Nouwen. And yet they are my words, they are your words, they are our words. What the church practiced in the Book of Acts is not so far away that we could not emulate it. And doing so would make our witness stronger and be a sign that those who believe truly are truly those who can see.

Amen.

 

[1]               “Do not turn away from the needy; rather, share everything with your brother. And do not say: It is private property.” If you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more so in the things that perish!” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

[2]               from: A Cry for Mercy, quoted in A Guide to Prayer, Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, 1983  The Upper Room: Nashville TN, page 149