New Life, New Way
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
April 15, 2012
Acts 4: 32-35 (CEB)
The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. 33The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, 35and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.
“Ahhhhhh. Those were the days!” So begins one of our favorite pastimes, recalling the pastimes. But it never seems to take too long before eyes start glazing over or heads start shaking. Because there’s nothing like a good dose of nostalgia to make life seem pretty awful. And for whatever reason, playing the nostalgia game, longing for “the good old days,” is often a part of church life. Especially in well-established churches with storied histories intimately connected with the growth of the community, one often hears the story of how things were “back in the day,” which often means the 1950s. Churches were full to bursting! Pews were packed, Sunday School programs overflowed with adults as well as kids, there were choirs for every age group, and everyone happily contributed to the “unified mission.”
Of course, anyone with a good sense of reality knows that such descriptions represent a case of highly selective memory. There have been problems at every point in history, just like there are problems now. If you had asked a church-goer in the 1950s if his church could be better or bigger, I feel certain he would have answered with a resounding, “YES!” just as any of us would today. Anyone who has hummed, “Those were the days” knows the trap that such nostalgia represents. For one thing, it draws us away from the reality of the present into an imagined past. And for another, it causes cynicism – we all know the past had its problems too. But we have a tendency to see the past through rose-colored glasses.
And so we come to this morning’s passage. Here on the other side of Easter, we encounter the early church as it begins to find its way in the world. And the whole thing sounds like nothing more than “those were the days” nostalgia, doesn’t it? Luke paints this beautiful, almost utopian picture: “The whole group of those who believed” (which number well over 5,000 at this point) “were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions…There was not a needy person among them.” Now, I don’t know about you, but this certainly doesn’t sound like any church group I’ve ever experienced. Even excluding the remarkable willingness to give up private ownership and share with others in need, the vision of a faith community being “of one heart and mind” hardly seems realistic. We just do not know a human community – much less a church – like this!
The natural thing to do with such a passage would be to simply dismiss it as a romantic notion of a bygone era. It’s much easier to just read through this part of the Book of Acts than to consider the implications it has for our lives. But the gospel does have implications for our lives, BIG ones. And as we stand here on “this side” of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have to consider what that means for our lives. This passage forces us to do just that; it makes us think deeply about the effects Jesus’ resurrection might actually have on our lives. And here’s the thing: there’s a lot in this world that can change our lives, but there’s only one way that we can be changed for the better, and that is through Christ. That’s why we celebrate the resurrection each Easter and every Sunday; it is the way to NEW life!
Have you ever played that game with someone, the one that goes: “If you won the lottery what would you do?” I did that one time with my college roommate. First she said she’d buy a Corvette for herself. Then, she went on to say she would purchase a huge mansion for herself. This went on and on and on until my friend couldn’t think of anything else she could buy for herself. After a moment or two of being stumped, she finally looked up and said, “Oh, and I’d give some away.” I remember thinking that was hilarious, and also very insightful into the way we humans often think.
As most of you know, recently three winning tickets were sold nationally in the March 30th Mega-Millions Lottery drawing, which had a record $656 million dollar pre-tax payout. The country seemed to go crazy over this. Before the drawing, the news outlets carried stories and pictures of people standing in line for hours in order to buy tickets. Sometimes they would interview the hopefuls as to what they would do with the money. And although the answers varied greatly, one thing which came through loud and clear was the message that: “If I win this lottery it will change my life.” And no doubt it would.
A recent Boston Globe article asked this very question: “Does Money Change You?” The article reported, “As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better.” The article reported that the richer people are, the more difficult it is for them to connect with others. They show “less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo.” The article goes on, “If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.” The article noted that “if you win the lottery and you want to avoid becoming an insensitive lout, there is a simple solution: ‘Give at least half of it away.’”
Christ seemed to know how much money can change us. He easily recognized how it can keep us from being the people God created us to be. And so Christ talked about money and riches a lot, and most of what he said urged his listeners not to hold on to it; to give it away, to share, to take care of the poor, the needy, the ones who no one else was looking after. So now, early in the Book of Acts, Luke is telling us about the early church. This was a Church which had a number of members who had personally known Jesus Christ. They had been followers as he taught in the villages and towns. They had watched as he lived by example. Then, they had seen him die. And most impressive of all, many of them had seen him resurrected! And verse 33 informs us that because of this, “The apostles continued to bear witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” and one of the most powerful ways that they “bore witness” to Christ’s resurrection was that “None of them would say, ‘This is mine!’ about their possessions, but held everything in common.”
It’s as if “worldliness” had lost its luster this side of Easter! Who cares about money when you’ve got Jesus?!? By giving Jesus Christ lordship over their wealth and possessions, these early Christians were providing a mighty powerful “living sermon” to the world! Not only were they proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus with their lips, they were embodying Jesus’ redemptive and transformative truth by caring for one another in ways unheard of. And, as a result, the Christian faith was spreading like wildfire! Lives were being changed. The broken, the hurting, the thief, the liar, the hopeless were becoming new creations all together!
There is no question in Luke’s mind that the source of this extraordinary behavior is the resurrection of Jesus. He says, “The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all.” Does the whole thing sound a bit too idealistic? Perhaps. Is it really likely that there was complete accord among these first Christians? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The point of this passage is that the gospel changes lives, and Luke is telling us the story of how, from the very beginning, Christians were living new lives because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As we stand on this side of Easter, the question for us today is, “Are we going to live new lives because of the resurrection of Jesus?” We’ve all heard the statistics. Unlike the early church described in Acts, churches today are in rapid decline, everywhere. Could the fact that we live in a consumer culture have anything to do with this? As we listen to this passage from Acts, we have to consider that possibility. Because materialism is on the rise everywhere. It’s been noted that “One of the many results of the amazing growth of global economy has been a transformation of values.” And our transformation into a highly consumer culture stands in stark contrast to scripture. The Bible has a very balanced view of wealth. The problem with wealth is spiritual; it easily takes our minds off of God and weakens our faith. Money itself is not evil, but the Bible proclaims that the love of money is the root of all evil. And for this reason we are advised in Hebrews to “keep our lives free from the love of money.”
“Greed is good,” may go down well on Wall Street, but not in the pages of Scripture. Jesus tells us plainly that we cannot love both God and money. And so we have a choice right in front of us. We can continue to live the way we have always lived; we can reminisce about days gone by and how wonderful things “used to be.” Or we can start living new lives. We can acknowledge that Christ’s resurrection really does mean something to us and we can proclaim it not only with our words, but through the way we live. Sharing the blessings God has given us with others not only increases our faith, it also makes us happier and more at peace.
There is no greater gift bestowed upon humankind than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! There is no greater example of love in all the earth. And there is nothing more important; not money, not possessions, nothing! We should never be satisfied to live in a world where there are people who do not know the richness of God’s blessings in their lives, where the generous love of our savior Jesus Christ is not experienced by every single person.
Jesus said, “From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required.” In Acts, chapter 4, we are given a mode to imitate for a reason. The sign of God’s reign in Acts is the creation of a new community where life for everyone is sustained. We celebrate a risen Savior; we worship the Lord of Life! So this Easter, let’s not only say that, let’s live it! Resurrection is not just about praise, it is about a new way of life for all people!