Sermon for the Second Sunday in Easter
Trinity Church, Mt. Airy, NC
April 8, 2018 10:30 AM
Τοῦ δὲ πλήθους τῶν πιστευσάντων ἦν καρδία καὶ ψυχὴ μία, καὶ οὐδὲ εἷς τι τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῷ ἔλεγεν ἴδιον εἶναι ἀλλʼ ἦν αὐτοῖς ἅπαντα κοινά.καὶ δυνάμει μεγάλῃ ἀπεδίδουν τὸ μαρτύριον οἱ ἀπόστολοι τῆς ἀναστάσεως τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ, χάρις τε μεγάλη ἦν ἐπὶ πάντας αὐτούς. οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνδεής τις ⸀ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς·ὅσοι γὰρ κτήτορες χωρίων ἢ οἰκιῶν ὑπῆρχον, πωλοῦντες ἔφερον τὰς τιμὰς τῶν πιπρασκομένων καὶ ἐτίθουν παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τῶν ἀποστόλων, διεδίδετο δὲ ἑκάστῳ καθότι ἄν τις χρείαν εἶχεν.
Now the multitude of believers were [of] one heart and one soul; and none of them claimed any possessions as their own but held all things in common. And the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and enormous grace rested upon them all. Indeed, nobody needed anything, for those who owned real estate or possessed houses sold them and brought the proceeds of those sales and laid them at the feet of the apostles; and [the proceeds] were given to each as [each] one needed. (Acts 4:32-35)
Acts doesn’t tell us how or why the Jerusalem Christians went commie. We don’t read about a vote of the congregation to pool their resources nor do any of the apostles stand up to command the new Christians to renounce their earthly fortunes for the sake of the poor among them. If anything, we get the impression that the believers in Zion just did it, just did it without prompting, just sold their houses, just sold their fields, just sold what they had to sell to supply the needs of their poor coreligionists and did all this selfless selling harmoniously. All the author will tell us is that this redistribution of wealth came about from a common heart and soul, without supplying any details.
Stuck into the middle of this unlikely story of common life, we hear what sounds like an afterthought, something about the great witness of the apostles in Jerusalem to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the equanimity that settled on the Jesus people in the holy city. But then just as quickly, we’re back to the details of Christian economic life in Jerusalem.
Does that sound like a jumble to you? What does income redistribution have to do with the apostles’ powerful witness to the resurrection, and just how pie-in-the-sky do you find the words about the one heart and soul those normally contentious first Christians enjoyed over their newfound communal arrangements?
Not that the economics of the passage lack interest for us in today’s world of rising income inequality and increasing part-time employment without health insurance or other benefits. Economic matters afflict peoples’ minds as never before, but what do they have to do with witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus? We who so easily put religious matters into one neat compartment and our finances in another have convinced ourselves that the two have nothing to do with one another. But the author of Acts thought differently and was sure they belonged together. Somehow, witness to the resurrection and the new society in Jesus had everything to do with each other. And our writer challenges us to find the place where the joy of the resurrection intersects with our pocketbooks.
Which brings me, naturally enough, to the story of my beautiful new Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice football that I took with me one Thanksgiving long ago on a trip to Marshville, NC to visit my grandparents and an army of my cousins. That ball was a glorious thing—my first regulation sized football that I had inflated to the point of bursting with my bicycle pump. It even had real, cloth lacings, not the cheap plastic strings or even worse, simulated lumpy laces. It looked, felt and even smelled like a real football, and I was anxious to toss it around the farmhouse yard with my cousins to incite their envy at my prize.
“Look, ‘Fred’—I don’t intend to tell you the awful nickname my cousins called me, so just live with it—brought us a football!” my cousin Buddy exclaimed as the car doors swung open, and I hadn’t even gotten out of the car completely before the cousins had confiscated my treasure and were tossing it around the yard. By the time I had gotten my suitcase into the house and embraced my grandparents, the cousins had already chosen up sides and proclaimed the driveway one end zone and the pecan trees on the other end of the yard as the other. Being the fair-minded person that I am, I quickly joined the team with the oldest and largest cousins. And we played football. We played football until we couldn’t see each other that night. Then the next morning, we raced back from morning milking to play football on Thanksgiving until night had fallen again, and so we played every day for the rest of the long weekend until time to leave on Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday afternoon, I no longer had a Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice football. At least, you couldn’t read the name any longer; and the pigskin was so limp that you could squeeze it together with one hand. The football still smelled, but the odor was now that of Union County dirt mixed with who knew what else. The cloth laces had come untied and flopped in the air when anyone tried to throw the ball. As a football, it was a disgrace.
And that long weekend was one of the happiest of my life. I don’t know what happened to the Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice football after that, and I don’t care. It did its job, providing the focus for a bone-crunching, kid-screaming, glorious holiday of love and joy that remains with me still after all these many years.
Acts tries to help us put the football back into the resurrection story. Acts tries to help us see that what we call “ours” and “yours,” what we think of as “fair” and “right” all take on vastly new meanings in the resurrected household of God, where the theme is joy instead of property.
The saints in Jerusalem didn’t learn a new religious doctrine from their risen Lord any more than they received an education in economics. They received each other as a new family created by their surprising discovery that sin and shame, fear and death no longer tied them up in knots because they knew their living and loving Lord. Joined together as new sisters and brothers in Jesus, their unexpected pleasure in one another would not allow for one to remain rich while another in the family suffered in poverty. Acts does not tell us about any apostle demanding that the wealthy Christians give up their possessions. Peter did not espouse some new Marxism before Marx. Rather, in the new life of this family of Jesus, how could anyone abide the poverty of another? How could the new Christians tolerate social or political or economic stigmas among themselves? They were of one heart and soul, one joyful heart and one resurrected soul.
The Jesus revolution has to do with love, not the Fed, with joy, not commerce. What if on Mt. Airy’s N. Main Street we were to find a new community of Jesus people, so overwhelmed with the pleasure of their faith that they could not imagine any child of God without food, clothing, and education? What would happen in Surrey County if those same Jesus people could not imagine warehousing their elderly sisters and brothers, or letting their siblings of color continue to suffer segregation and poverty? The dream of one heart and one soul would make the new-found racial and ethnic bigotry of our postmodern age unthinkable. The joy of Christ’s resurrection has no room for white privilege, for school massacres, or for religious hatred. It just has room for each other.
The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus because they belonged to the new family of that Lord Jesus; and the friends and acquaintances, the relatives, and even the enemies they had known previously were now their beloved cousins and aunts, brothers and uncles, sisters and elders, in a resurrected family that looked as mottled as my deflated Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice football. They hadn’t gotten religion, converted to free-market neo-liberalism, or transformed themselves into Roman-era Leninists. They had met the Lord. They had tasted the freedom of belonging to Christ and of belonging to one another. Further, they couldn’t wait to tell someone else—everyone else, anyone who would listen—about this living, resurrected Jesus, who had called them into new life, real life.
Our task as Christ’s new family is to learn again how to enjoy playing football again, enjoying our freedom fully, learning how to love again, learning how to shout joyfully about the truth of our liberation from sin and death. Nobody stands outside this freedom, nobody of any color, of any religion, of any background—all are welcome. Families don’t have entrance exams, no purity requirements, no initiation fees. In this family, we belong one to another. In this family, we belong to the risen Christ.