Wouldn’t it be something if we could experience what Luke describes in Acts 4? Truth be told, I’m not sure the early Church ever really experienced it. I think Luke might be reporting an idealized version of their reality. But there we have it.
- The whole group is of one heart and one soul
- There’s no private ownership (sorry to the conservatives in the congregation, but that’s what’s reported)
- There’s no private ownership of any possessions, but everything is held in common
- The apostles are sharing the Jesus story (especially the resurrection part), and God’s grace is on them all
- Not a one of them is experiencing any need, because they’ve figured out that if they all sell everything they have, and then pool all the resources, there’s enough for everyone to have enough!
It’s a beautiful vision, but it’s not the whole story, sadly.
Our reading stops at the end of chapter 4, but there is a chapter 5 that follows. In it, Luke tells about a couple named Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife living in Jerusalem, members of the fledgling church. They sell their house, too, but rather than giving everything they earn by doing so to the apostles, they hold some back for themselves. Now, I don’t think that’s the problem in and of itself. I think they had the right to do so. The problem is that they bring the money to the apostles and tell them that it’s all they have, and when the Holy Spirit whispers the truth to Peter, and Peter asks them, they lie, and they pay the ultimate price for lying to God.
Now there’s a stewardship program, right? I mean, we have people who don’t want to fill in a pledge card, for crying out loud! What would we do if God started striking us dead for giving less than we ought, or for pretending like we’re giving as much as we can, when what most of us are doing is giving what we’re comfortable giving with as little accountability as possible. And, to be clear, I wouldn’t dare stand up here and pretend like that accusatory finger doesn’t point straight in my direction either, or that I’m always as generous as I ought to be, because I’m not. And there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. But, as God’s people, we need to trust one another, and be honest and open with one another, and to hold one another accountable before God about our generous sharing of God’s gifts so that everyone will have enough.
But again, I think what we read in Acts is an idealized portrayal of their reality. I don’t think Ananias and Sapphira were the only ones tempted to skim a bit off the top, just like I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who is not always as generous as maybe I could be. Still, Luke’s not the only one who pictures life in the assembly of God’s people as good and pleasant. The Psalmist is convinced of it as well. There is no better life than life lived in unity among God’s people, but I’ve got to tell you, it’s not always so easy to live into this as a reality.
People in this community, like in any group of humans ever assembled, do and say hurtful things to one another. And, again, I’m not immune. I can be as guilty as the next one, speaking before I think about what I’m saying and how it might hurt a brother or sister in Christ. Too often we’re stuck living too far outside of that idyllic vision of a community dwelling in unity or sharing all things in common so that there’s not a single one experiencing need…
And so, then, I’m so thankful that God doesn’t expect us to be anything other than what we are, but, instead, makes a way for us to continually strive toward the ideal.
We read those all so familiar lines from 1 John this morning, words we heard all through Lent as we prayed the rite of corporate confession and forgiveness:
8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And the words that followed:
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for
ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Oh, thanks be to God! It’s not about how good we are, or how bad we are. It’s not about how faithful we are, or how far from faithful our actions reveal us to be. Our salvation is found in how good God in Christ is in the face of how bad we are. Our salvation is found in how faithful God in Christ is to us in the face of how unfaithfully we live!
1 John says: but if anyone does sin, as if there’s some possibility that we won’t, but if we do, or when we do, Jesus is there with us, an advocate for us, an atoning sacrifice for us (in other words, his sacrificing of his life restores our relationship with God in some mysterious way that we can never fully explain or understand.) God in Christ does this because there is nothing more in all the universe that God in Christ wanted more than to save, redeem, heal, deliver, make peace, reconcile, restore – use whatever language you want, but there’s nothing more in all the world that God wanted than to make a way for our sins to be forgiven, and that’s exactly what God accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus !
And on the night of the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room where they were hiding, afraid that their enemies would come and get them next, Jesus greets them with the most astonishing greeting imaginable: Peace…
Wait a second. Isn’t this the bunch of jokers who just betrayed him, abandoned him, denied ever having known him?
I don’t know about you, but when someone does me wrong like that, peace isn’t the first word that comes to mind. But there it is. Peace be with you, he says. And then he breathes on them – well, the Greek actually says: he breathed into them, which is a much more evocative image. Just as God created Adam from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils, and he became a living being, so, too, here in the locked room, Jesus breathes the breath of life into his fearful friends, and speaks peace to them.
And in just the same way, Jesus continues to show up on the first day of the week, wherever and whenever God’s people are gathered together in the name of Christ, to greet us with peace, to grant us forgiveness, to fill us with the breath of life, and to send us out with the words of forgiveness that are for us and for the whole world…
As we receive the call to live in this way in the world as God’s people here and now, God meets us and empowers us to do so. And one of the most important ways God does this is by feeding us at the Lord’s Table where we receive Christ’s broken body and shed blood as real food and real drink. And with it, God strengthens us in faith toward God, and in love for the whole world, so much so that we’ll go out and share the best news of all – that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death once and for all and has opened the way to eternal life where all will be fed, and kept, and welcomed forever and ever in the presence of God!
Today, for the first time, we welcome four of our younger members to the Lord’s Table where the Risen Christ will meet them, greet them with peace, breathe new life into them, feed them with love and forgiveness, and send them out into the world to share the good news of life in the risen Christ, as God does for us all each time we gather around Word and Sacrament.
And in response, we lift our voices in shouts of joyous praise, saying: Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!