It is so insightful to consider the early beginnings of the church. As we journey from the resurrection to our celebration of Pentecost or the coming of the Holy Spirit, this is a time for us, the modern church, to consider what it means for us to be sent. We are sent in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Having wrapped up our worship series on Communion last week the next logical step for us to take is to explore, more in-depth, our task of embodying that table. Essentially, how does the resurrection of Jesus change us?
As we continue on in the season of Easter we are going to explore what it means to first claim the name of Jesus through testimony, faith, and salvation, and then what it means to be sent by the power of the Spirit to the ministry of the Kingdom of God. As we journey towards Pentecost, the birthday of the church, I hope this will give us an understanding of our task as a Christian community to reach out to the world as disciples of Christ. To do this we will explore various stories in the Book of Acts and essentially, learn from the early church. These first few weeks we are in the midst of one narrative that shapes the events of each of our scriptures. That is the story of Peter and John healing the crippled beggar. This story has many twists and turns and is told in chapters 3-5 in the Book of Acts. It encompasses a couple sermons from Peter and a trial of some of the apostles. However, in the middle of it, where we find ourselves today, we get a description of the early Christian community. In the midst of trial and tribulations Luke, the writer of Acts, believed it important to show how the community conducted themselves and how that role was lived in the midst of this story.
Today’s passage is just a part of this larger narrative, as following this passage at the end of chapter 4 and beginning of chapter 5 we have stories that show the spirit of this testimony to the community. In verse 33 we read, “With great power, the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33 NRSV) This is our lesson today…the testimony to the resurrection. That is what they are seeking to do in this passage and the surrounding ones. They want to show how they have been changed into this new life in Christ.
How do we testify to the work that Jesus did through his resurrection?
It is a question asked by Christians throughout the ages, and it is a question that appears to be answered very plainly in our scripture passage today. It is a message I have even shared with you before. The manner in which we testify to what Jesus did is to live the life Jesus calls us to live. This is played out in the dichotomy of selfishness and what I, and other theologians, call resurrection living.
New Testament professor, Dr. Mitzi Smith tells us, “The statement about how the apostles declared the power of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection is connected both grammatically and causatively to the showering of God’s great grace upon the crowd. All the believers were having access to God’s grace. But the presence of God’s resurrection grace (God raised Jesus) is expressed when the community provides for the needy among them with their own resources. At a time when some Christians and politicians demonize a social justice gospel, the scriptures still call us to it. The scene may be somewhat romanticized, but it is a worthy ideal, nonetheless.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1234)
Here it is a bold statement of action in our faith. It is not the first time in scripture we have seen this kind of statement, nor will it be the last. However, this one provides tangible actions on what Christ taught us in his ministry in the Gospels. If we are to truly believe that Acts is a book in which we read of how the disciples take what Christ taught them and put it into action then we must pay attention to their actions. Their actions tell us a lot, and in this passage it gives us some insight on how we can be better Christians today.
There are two themes that are played out by this early church. The first of which is unity in the midst of diversity.
We know from previous passages in Acts exactly the type of community that makes up the early church h in Jerusalem. These people number in the thousands, and as we know from Acts 2, are made up of different nationalities, genders, and social constructs. Yet they come together and we read in verse 32, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32 NRSV)
This may seem like a lofty goal and ideal. It may seem difficult because we are all so different. However, it is the goal we must seek to achieve. It stems from recognizing the humanity in each person and the manner in which no matter who we are or what we believe that we are all creations of God. It means laying down our differences and allowing the voices of those who are marginalized to speak, be heard, and to contribute to the life of the church…basically it means in the church there are no marginalized.
Unfortunately as I look at our church we do not look very diverse, and I am not specifically talking here at Wood’s (although our congregation paints a fairly accurate picture sometimes. We often shun those who don’t look like us, don’t act like us, don’t think like us, and any time there is dissension in our community we think it easier to cut out the difficulty. Unity in diversity does not mean we all look, act, or think a like. It means we idealize the scripture that we be “of one heart and soul.” Yes we will have differences, but we cannot lets those differences come between what God has intended for us, and that is to be a community that lifts up love as an ideal. This is why forgiveness is such a key point in the church. Even though we disagree we can still lift up the ideal of the church, and when we do that we open ourselves more to finding the middle ground of grace that we can exist together rather than bickering and arguing about every little thing.
The second theme in this passage is centered around generosity in the midst of poverty, and yes this centers mostly around money. “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.” (Acts 4:34-35 NRSV) Again this passage may seem somewhat romanticized and over-exaggerated, but again it gives us the ideal that we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by our possessions. This is a theme that Luke writes about in both his Gospel and in the Book of Acts. They understood that everyone deserved the basics of human life.
I think this gets lost in our society today. We live so much into “The American Dream” that you must work hard and you get what you deserve. However, something we fail to realize as a society is we have created pockets where the American dream cannot exist. We have outcast cultures of society and when they try and raise up we push them back down, and sometimes call them lazy or criminals or mislabel them all the time. We have created a society driven by “what can my money do for me?”, but we fail to realize the manner in which this is just plain selfish and completely counter to the Kingdom that Jesus sought to bring on earth. Therefore, it is up to us to give to those who are in need and to advocate for our society to do the same. Not only do we support through monetary donations and physical service, but we also seek to strength those who are poor by being a voice to help them.
When we do these things we testify to the resurrection. Why? Because we are embodying the ideals that Jesus taught us. We are not setting barriers by creating laws to help only a few, but we are lifting up every member in the Kingdom of God and showing them that they truly have a place at the table. We give people the resources needed to just exist on this earth. We hear people when they are speaking. We listen to them, and most of all we don’t judge them no matter how stupid an act we feel they have engaged in.
This is how a Christian Society works, a society driven by the works of Christ, not driven by the evils of selfishness, conceitedness, or greed.
I want you to consider how you testify to the resurrection on a daily basis. In that how do you live as if each day, your works and words, are a testimony to the life, death, and resurrection Christ experienced.