Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
Now 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. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There 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. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
So what was that all about?
Easter was a grand celebration, in many respects the biggest day of the year for church folk. It’s preceded by Holy Week, with lots of liturgies, lots of time, talent and treasure, lots of holy effort. That’s preceded by 40 days of Lent. People in church give something up, and take on spiritual disciplines in anticipation of the day of resurrection. Again, spiritual crunch time for many.
So what difference does it all make? Does it have lasting impact? Or do we just look at it all in the rear-view mirror and say “Well, that was nice. Done with that for another year.”
This time of year reminds me of the start of my decades-old hobby: collecting photos of church signs. There are many interesting signs out there, especially in this part of the world which Flannery O’Connor described as Christ-haunted. Many of you have been gracious enough to send me such photos which you’ve run across in travels. Keep ’em coming.
The sign that triggered this hobby was perched on a small trailer, in front of a country church. It read: “The Lord is Risen. No Bingo.” As a preacher who unceasingly grazes for sermon material, I used this sign to make the homiletic point that the news of Easter brings transformation. It’s meant to change things. It’s meant to change us.
That may or may not ring true in our culture, or in our churches. That may or may not ring true in your life. Apparently it was definitely the case for the first Christians, which we can discover as we read our way through the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles (see Good Book Club readings for this week below.)
The news of the resurrection transformed the first Christians. Thomas went from doubter to worshipper. Peter went from denial to leadership. Paul met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and went from persecutor to preacher. And as we read in the passage above, assigned for this week, and as many of us heard in church yesterday, the early church had one of the most dramatic transformations. The news of the resurrection made them think differently about their money, about their possessions. Now that is change.
As Luke tells it, the church became a community which has been widely admired and rarely imitated throughout church history. Based on the preaching of the resurrection, equipped with “great grace upon them all”, the early Christians became of one heart and one mind. Outsiders looked at people inside the church and said “See how they love one another.” (Would folks say that today?) These Christians knew each other’s needs and provided for each other’s needs, with reckless generosity. If someone had a lot of stuff, they shared with someone who had a little. It was Easter faith in action.
This is one of those wonderful passages which safeguards us all against biblical literalism. No worry that a whole lot of folks will actually take the early church as a model. I confess I won’t. But if implementation is unlikely to follow, perhaps just a bit of inspiration might.
Maybe in light of this witness of the early church, we can look around and consider what we have to share with those in need, nearby or on the other side of the globe, even if it’s only a small offering. It’s not simply about a way to help other folks. It’s not simply a way to be charitable or benevolent or a nice person. It’s not a way to assuage the guilt of affluenza.
It’s a way to say we believe in the resurrection. It’s a way to be Easter people. It’s a way to say that Easter changes us. It’s a way to say that Easter matters. All year long.
Good Book Club readings this week:
- MONDAY, April 9:Acts 4:32-37.
- TUESDAY, April 10:Acts 5:1-11.
- WEDNESDAY, April 11:Acts 5:12-26.
- THURSDAY, April 12:Acts 5:27-42.
- FRIDAY, April 13:Acts 6:1-7.
- SATURDAY, April 14:Acts 6:8-15.
- SUNDAY, April 15:Acts 7:1-60.
(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each week.)
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