* We’re working through technical issues with our sound system, so it may be a bit before recordings are uploaded again. ???Whit
32Now 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. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There 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. 35They laid it at the apostles??? feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
This text is skimmed over and passed by way too much. Very few stop and hang around this scripture, pondering its meaning and its application. In fact, the example set by the early Church often stirs up excuses that this way of life was meant for these first Christians or that this was necessary in the beginning but not-so-much now. But others are convicted by it, quickly turning the page or walking away feeling like the rich man in Matthew 19, when Jesus tried to explain to him that salvation meant total dependence upon God and not just following all the written rules. But v.22 tells us, “When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” So my prayer for us today is that we will take away a deeper understanding of what it means to give in order to be closer to God.
So, did you hear those claims?! The people were of one heart and soul?! They held everything in common?! There was great grace upon them?! There weren???t any needy persons among them?! When people had needs they were provided for?! O my! I want that! In our dreams, isn???t that what we envision the Church to look like? Each of us has our own idea of what ???Church??? is, but this scripture seems to represent an idealistic view. And yet the good news that comes from this text today is that this is not an ideal but actually what the Church is to be in reality! But is that possible? Can we really do that? Is there any among us that is willing to make such strides, such leaps of faith for our little Church community called New Liberty and do such wild things?
My point this morning is not going to be that we should sell our toys or our land and give that money to New Liberty. The Christian life is not about liquidation or about making yourself earthly-poor so you can be heavenly-rich. The point this morning is ???formation.??? God is forming your life into the kind of witness that proves Jesus Christ is alive and well, resurrected and living within his Church. That Church has one purpose, to be Christ???s representatives in the world, pouring out herself for the sake of the world???s health and healing. Remember, this world is broken???limping along a dangerous path of self-centeredness, choosing itself over its Creator, the One who desires to fix it through Jesus Christ. The Christian life is one that is to be lived by all people, a life that God has intended all peoples to engage in from the beginning.
But this concept of being united, of being witnesses, and of sharing resources isn???t something BRAND NEW that these first disciples invented. If anything, this was the life that was expected of them originally, only now they have the power???the Holy Spirit???to actually live the way God needs for the world to find salvation. It started with Moses, as God was forming a people that would witness to what true community was like when God was at the center. God instructed the community in Deuteronomy 15,
There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy, if only you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing this entire commandment that I command you today. When the Lord your God has blessed you, as he promised you, you will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ???Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.???
God was leading them to a promise land where they could live out this ethic everyday, raising up generations of people that would glorify God and serve each other. These principles set the pace for what daily interaction is like within a community of people focused on God. By developing a lifestyle of hospitality, the people were being formed into a community that served one another. The root problem, then, was ???attachment???. People were too attached to either themselves or their ???things???. But by teaching people to give of who they were and give of what they had, they were able to let go of things that stood between them and God and make the lives of those around them better. Is there a greater reward than for us to make more space for God in our lives AND bless the lives of others at the same time?
In regards to blessing the lives of others, I love this teaching from St. Basil, ???No Christian should think of himself as his own master, but each should rather so think and act as though given by God to be slave to his fellow brothers and sisters,??? meaning that each of us should submit to one another, so as to put others needs before our own, which forms our hearts and attitudes into the likeness of Jesus and witnesses to Jesus within us. We are serving Jesus by serving others. As he said in Matthew 25, ???Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.??? What we do to others, we do to God. Think of the times when you???ve passed by someone on the highway and thought, ???Was that a missed opportunity? Were they an angel in disguise and I just zipped on by going 80mph????
In regards to making space for God, I want us to see that detachment from material things is good, in that it frees us up to do God???s work. The more we are concerned with the affairs of the world, the less we are focused on the mission of God. If we are sent into the world to serve it, then we must be sure that we are creating every opportunity to do so. But if we are taking on the habits of the world, then we, like the world, will be caught in the thick mud that attachment and an abundance of possessions creates. Christians are meant to travel light. When Jesus sent his disciples out to do ministry he told them,
???Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money???not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them??? (Luke 9.3???5).
The less the disciples carried on their person, the less likely they are to be tempted to use those resources on themselves or even the less likely they are to be robbed of their possessions. The point wasn???t that the disciples be unprepared, but that they abandon themselves to God???s care; that they trust God and depend upon him for their needs. Jesus knew that in the peaceful, compassionate presence of his messengers, that their hospitality would be returned and appreciated enough to care for them as they journeyed. Sure, there would be those who would turn them away, but there would also be those who recognized the sincere nature of caring people, wanting to reach out and help others in need.
So, Christians. What kind of community will you be? Will you unite in heart and soul, focusing on the needs of others and sharing the resources that are among us? Will you let that kind of life be proof of Christ???s presence within us, witnessing to his resurrection? Will you help to eliminate the need that is among us, so that we can turn to the outside world and begin to help them, too?
Let us take our lives and witness to the Resurrected Jesus by living ad Christ lived. Amen.