When I preach through this Easter Season I want to draw my thoughts for you from the selections in the Lectionary from the Acts of the Apostles. We don’t often take the time to explore these texts so I thought there might be some good material there for us. So if you were hoping for a sermon about Doubting Thomas today, I am sorry to disappoint you.
So, what do we make of this story today?
The first two chapters of Acts prepare for and then tell the story of the Day of Pentecost. What then follows are various snapshots of life in this community of the very first Christians.
These stories seem to give us a clear message – the resurrection of Jesus empowers people to live their lives differently. In Acts we see many stories of signs and wonders happening – evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit. But there is another striking feature in these stories – it is mentioned in the very first sentence we read today:
“The group of believers was one in mind and heart.”
Now that must rank as something higher than a minor miracle. Indeed, it could rank as the supreme miracle.
I was thinking about this in relation to the churches I have belonged to. I think I have been an active participant or member in 15 congregations of the church. That is probably a few more than most of you. I remember an Elder in the first church I was a minister in. He was about 80 years old and had come to that church as a 2 year old. He had never been a member of any other congregation. Wow!!!!
As I think about all those congregations I have been a part of – with the exception of this congregation, that is – I don’t think I would be able to apply these words to any of them. Petty rivalries or ancient upsets fester away, usually just under the surface of a veneer of formal niceties. There is no way I could say that the whole community of believers in each place was “one in mind and heart.”
You only have to read the letters of Paul and some of the later episodes in this book of the Acts to realise that this ideal was a lot harder to achieve than these words suggest. And it seems to be an unavoidable part of human nature to be unable really to be “one in mind and heart” with the whole group we belong to. Indeed the only real examples we can think of these days are the totalitarian societies ruled by despots – like North Korea.
So, why do you think this became part of the story? Luke didn’t have to put it there.
I guess like all ideals it stands out there in front of us encouraging us always to strive towards that kind of unity. If that is the case, what would our community here at Holy Cross look like if we were getting closer to that ideal?
The stories immediately preceding this finish with the words, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.” This business of the whole community of believers being “one in mind and heart” is something that is empowered by that same Holy Spirit. So they begin to share with one another and care for those in need with a new boldness that was not much different from the boldness of their speech.
In our modern minds we can’t think of this experiment in communal living without conjuring up images of modern social and political movements that tried to do the same. But the rationale for this activity on the part of the early Christians was not political, but theological and humanitarian. It arose out of their conviction that in Jesus they were now one people – each stood alongside the other in the face of God as equals; none had precedence over any other.
The Kingdom of God was at hand; indeed it was already among them. The resurrection stories were the greatest sign of that. So these people committed themselves to living as if that Kingdom was a present reality.
The clearest sign of this, they were convinced, was their sense of unity with each other. But there was more – just like those ads on television where the man says “But wait, there’s more.” This sense of unity underpinned an idea that none in their community should live in need and so we read “there was no one in the group who was in need.”
I think it is interesting to consider our reaction to this as modern people living in a complex cash economy. We feel strangely uncomfortable when we are faced with the practice of Aboriginal people whose cultural value-system is much closer to this than ours – especially when it so often means their homes are over-crowded and such things.
And perhaps we feel similarly when we see our Nuba community right here at Holy Cross gathering funds together to help one of the community pay for something, or to send cash home to Sudan.
This is as much a social thing as it is an economic thing. A legacy of the Greek and Roman empires among the Hebrew people and many others was a cosmopolitan life-style in cities in which family groups and the support systems of family were inevitably being broken down. We can see the same thing in our day – especially when people like the Nuba come among us, because they are still caught up in a social system in which family is a fundamental factor.
In Jesus Christ, however, there is now a new family of which we are a part: the Church. It was into this fellowship of other Christians that the men and women of the risen Lord Jesus submitted their goods for the well-being of all, and it was into this fellowship that they all looked for support in times of need.
And in case you are wondering why they did this, it seems clear that they saw this as proclamation itself. “With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord, and God poured rich blessings on them all.”
Not only in word, but also in deed, these early Christians lived out their witness to the renewing power of Jesus. And lives were touched and transformed.
I wonder how closely we could come to this ideal in the way we live together at Holy Cross.