The Resurrection changes things…just look at how it changed the lives of those who became the early Church.
2nd Sunday of Easter (Year B) – April 12, 2015 – Acts 4:32-35, Psalm 133
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“How Good and Pleasant It Is” – Pastor Evan Davis
It’s too bad for the Communists that they were against religion, because they really could have used this passage!! Don’t you think? Right away we can name a hundred ways this won’t work – this picture of the apostles and believers holding all their property in common, with everyone selling their houses and laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Way before we call the realtor, we’ll shout out – well, somebody will cheat! And yes, even in the Acts story, in fact in the very next chapter, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira sell their house but hold back some of the proceeds. Even so, many earnest, conscientious Christians have tried really hard to live into this vision of community. Many monks and nuns and religious people have tried to share everything in common…but those little jealousies and resentments always build. What if somebody freeloads? If we see this as a rule we have to follow, there’s a million ways we can fall short.
This can also feel pretty uncomfortable. Do I have to share my toothbrush? Not sure you want my gym shorts. Do I want everyone at church to know exactly how much money I make? Say we share the costs of something that burdens most families, like healthcare… Do I want all of you to know what kind of healthcare services I need and how much they cost? Just how far do I have to go in holding everything in common?
We can’t put down rules saying you must not have any private property, you must sell your house this month and lay the proceeds at Pastor Evan’s feet (although if you want to….). These kinds of rules won’t work any better than they did in Moscow in the ’80s. It won’t take long before there’s an Ananias and Sapphira….before long someone takes advantage of the system, pretty soon others try to opt-out, shortly sin and self-interest and resentment take over. [Now, that doesn’t mean that in the secular world there doesn’t need to be legislation concerning the common good…but that’s a whole other discussion…] The point is that Acts is trying to show us the kind of life and love and connections that arise from the gift of the Spirit.
We’re told this: “the whole group of believers were of one heart and soul.” They believed and loved as one. Their lives were grounded in the gift of the Spirit whom they had received together at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit who changes us. And Luke (the writer of Acts) tells us this too: great grace was upon them all. The Greek word for “grace,” charis, refers both to God’s feeling toward us and a tangible gift God gives us. They had been given a Spirit of love and connection to people who days before were just strangers, or at least not close friends. Christ was alive and that meant things were different.
But this connection can’t be achieved by laws. And isn’t the failure of the law exactly what Jesus is all about? We couldn’t follow the rules. We always fall short. Even when Jesus came down and gave us the Cliffs Notes version, how the heart of the law is simply to love God and love our neighbor, to be led by that love to cross boundaries and lines of tribe and family to love those we thought unlovable only days before, even then we put him on a cross. Because we weren’t ready to love like Jesus loves. Only grace, only the gift of the Spirit, gives us the ability to do what the law requires. The apostles and earliest believers lived this way because God gave them the power, the faith, and the love to do it, from the great grace which was upon them all.
You see, they were family. They were one heart and soul. And this is just what families do – without being asked, without any rules or systems…we just take care of each other. Joyfully. Willingly. Despite what we might think or how we act sometimes, there is no private ownership in families. I love this – Brett and I got married and immediately I shared with her all my student loans. Wasn’t that nice of me? I shared with her my car which the bank owned and she shared with me her car that she owned free and clear. It’s just what we do in families. She’ll get me back eventually…I’ll probably work until I’m 70, but she really hopes to retire about 55, so it goes both ways. 🙂
All this brings us to the real miracle of this story. It’s not that they shared everything and made sure that every need among them was met. Both Jewish and Greek culture placed a strong value upon hospitality and sharing. Among friends and family, then, even more than today, this was just what you did. This kind of sharing among the apostles might seem shocking and surprising to us, but to first-century people, it was just the right thing to do.1 What was shocking was that….these people were not actually blood relatives. They weren’t all of the same social class. They, God forbid, weren’t even from the same tribe or nation. These were Jews from many nations, and here’s the real shocker, Gentiles as well, living together, treating each other like family, having one heart and soul. That’s the miracle! That’s the fruit of the Spirit! That’s what happens when Jesus is RISEN, not in the grave – strangers become friends. Farmers and city slickers like me become one family. Lutherans and Catholics and Presbyterians and Brethren and Mennonites see themselves more as branches of the same tree rather than rivals duking-it-out for the same water and sunlight. When Jesus is risen, the rich and the poor share the same pews, eat the same bread, drink the same wine, are washed in the same water, and maybe even they will live side-by-side, have the same opportunity to work and live with dignity and peace, and be valued equally for the people God made them to be.
You know, there’s a lot of people out there like Thomas. People who love Jesus, but can’t seem to find him anywhere. People who crave a real sighting, a true experience of Jesus. Maybe what they need, like Thomas, is to experience the Body of Christ….that’s us. Maybe what the world needs, is to see what the family of Jesus, that’s us, really looks like, and feels like, when we love like these people loved, united in heart and soul, when we don’t allow any need among us to go unmet.
Like today’s psalm sings, how good and pleasant that would be, when we live together in unity! I love this Psalm. The psalmist adds a rich image that made more sense back then – it’s like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, flowing down upon the collar of his robe. Ahh. That kind of anointing oil was considered very refreshing back then. Maybe you’d say it’s like teeing off the first hole on a gorgeous, crisp spring morning. Ahh. It’s like that first sip of coffee at the breakfast table. Ahh. It’s like slipping down into the hot tub. Ahh.
How good and pleasant it is….
- when friends and kindred stepped into each other’s churches for the first time in decades
- when relatives and friends were reunited and introduced on Easter morning
- when strangers become friends here in worship on Sunday morning, or at our potluck suppers for Lent, or at the lunch table at community meals downtown, and when the circle of our congregation grows ever wider to embrace more of God’s children
- when we rally around whomever’s in crisis in our congregation, when we make sure no one in this Body goes hungry, or alone, or without a roof over their head.
If you remember back to Maundy Thursday, Jesus said to his disciples: by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. How good and pleasant it is for people all around us, who so desperately need to see that Jesus is real to us, when they see how real our love for each other is. When they see how real our love is not just for each other, but for strangers…strangers who have become sisters, brothers, friends, in our risen Lord Jesus Christ. By this the world knows that Christ is not dead, but very much alive. Amen.
1Troy Troftgruben, Commentary on Acts 4:32-35, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2387 (accessed April 8, 2015).