Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter Economics, by Chris Shade.

I have to start this sermon with a confession. I love P.W.P. television shows. Anyone know what these are? Well I will fill you in. P.W.P. stands for people with problems. You may have seen these kinds of shows before. They usually follow some person around for a given period of time and showcase their particular issue. It can be anything from drugs to hoarding food or junk to eating laundry detergent. But what is most fascinating about these shows to me is not the actual problem.  What’s fascinating is the revelatory moment. This is the moment when the main person discovers that he or she is in need of help. In that moment their perspective shifts and a new life becomes possible. When it works they are able to put their old ways behind them and move into a new future of change and happiness.
In a revelatory moment, one’s eyes are flown wide open. People become like the blind man that Jesus healed. The scales that were once there blocking the vision of the truth fall away. There are many stories like this in the Bible. Though they might not have a strange addiction or crazy obsession, they do have revelatory moments that change their lives forever. Think of how Moses must have felt when God appeared to him in the burning bush. He could not just walk away from that and pretend it did not happen. From then on his life was forever changed.
Yes there are many of these stories of revelatory moments in the Bible and I would venture to guess that we could each come up with one in our own lives. However, historically there is none that is so powerful and formative for us as Christians as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And as powerful as it is for us, imagine how it must have been to those who walked and talked with Jesus. Their simple lives became overwhelmed with the formative power of this man and his teachings. Talk about a revelatory moment. Nothing after would ever be the same. They were living in a new time. A new consciousness. They were living in rapid change with a message to help steer it. Starting to sound familiar yet? Are we not also in a rapidly changing environment with a message to help shape it?
So they have their revelatory moment. They have witnessed the love that could not be buried, and they have been tasked to spread it out into the world. The question that remains before them is “How?” This brings us to our scripture today. Acts 4:32-35...
         But...Before we delve into this, it is important to see the context. Previous to this passage, Peter and John had been arrested by the chief priests and the elders for performing a healing. And you know it was miraculous because the text is clear to point out the man was over 40 years old! When they were questioned they made it clear that the healing was done in the name of Jesus. The authorities wanted to punish them, but they couldn’t because all of the people were so overjoyed at the miracle done on this impossibly sick man. So they released Peter and John warning them not to speak to anyone in the name of Jesus. Peter and John returned to their community and prayed for boldness to continue speaking and healing in Jesus name.
I mention this context because I want to make clear that the stakes were very high. They had been arrested. They were being threatened. And perhaps worst of all, they did not know what the future was going to hold for them. Loyalty, togetherness, and faith were all they had. That and a few possessions. 
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. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There 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. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 
At first this might sound like a simple lesson on sharing. After all sharing is great. Isn’t sharing something that we try to instill in all of our kids? Whether you are a parent, a teacher or a youth (or Logos) leader, sharing is one of the fundamental lessons that we try to teach our children. After all, nobody wants to raise spoiled selfish brats. Unfortunately, sometimes, we do a better job of teaching it than we do acting it out.
Now, I am a big proponent of sharing. I love sharing. When Renee and I go out to eat, we make sure to get something that the other person wants too so that we can share. What’s more, I live in a community house, a house that was so inspired by this passage that we try to live it day to day by sharing our food, our living space, our personal lives, and our feelings. Yes even our feelings. Once a week we get together and go around the room sharing what is going on with us personally. We provide support for each other and togetherness. Living in community is not always equal and it is not always fair, but it is always shared.
So yes, I love sharing. But this passage is about more than just sharing a sushi roll over dinner or talking about feelings. Remember lives are at stake here. I think taking this story and trying to tell it as a tale of economic morality takes away the deeper lessons that are implicit. By stopping at money we are only hitting the surface level. It would be like stating that Aesop’s Fables are just a bunch of nice stories about animals.
To find the real heart of this story, I think that we need to go back to the revelatory experience of the apostles. Remember that they are in this new time period. The old has passed away and they are living in the new. What was important in the old life, freedom from occupation, gaining wealth and power, being religiously obedient to the chief priests and elders has all become secondary. In its place are the teachings of Jesus. The power of the resurrection. Gaining equality. Healing the sick.  Giving hope to the hopeless. Spreading a message of love and forgiveness.
It certainly was not easy for these early believers. They realize early on that if they are going to do this they are going to have to rely on two very important things: faith in God and unity with each other. And I am talking about a kind of grand encompassing unity. The kind of unity that the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 133. This psalm has such a beautiful message. In it the psalmist describes unity as something that is as precious as sacred oil.  It is a unity that spreads like a flood going all the way from Mount Hermon to Zion, which, for those of you not up on your Biblical geography is a really, really long way. This unity is blessed, it is abundant and it is sacred. This is what the apostles were trying to achieve.
And to do that they had to give up a piece of themselves.  Sure we can cite land and possessions as what they gave up, but that is just a small indication of how the Spirit moves them in this new life. They have seen the sacrifice that Jesus made and seen what it takes to be committed to this new way of being. It takes giving up a piece of themselves in order to make the greater whole strong.
It is like links in a chain. If you have a bunch of separate links unconnected then the chain is not going to be very effective. It is only by the links giving up a bit of themselves and creating space, that they can be connected to one another, and once together, the chain becomes strong.
And this is where we enter the story. This is where we can see our place in the tale. For we too are seeking a greater unity. What are you holding onto today that is keeping you from achieving this great unity in your life? Unity with your spouse, family, loved ones, or church? What is the space that you are refusing to yield so that you can be a part of the chain?
Perhaps you are holding onto the need to be right. This can be a very difficult one to let go. Being right is so great. But it is also alienating. If you are right, and you know the kind of right I am talking about, then that means that someone else is wrong, or at fault, or to blame. There is a marriage therapy quote that says that you can be right or happy. Often you cannot be both. How much could be achieved if you gave up the need to come out on top? What kind of connection could you make if you did not have to be insistent on being right.
Perhaps you are holding onto worry. Anyone ever worry, concern yourself about something that has not even happened yet. Here’s a little poem for you...
A bit of worry I suppose,
Will keep you up on your toes.
But too much and you will find,
You will almost lose your mind.
Worries isolate us. They put us in our head and keep us from trusting those around us to support us. They can also get in the way of our relationship with God who we believe loves and cares for us. For those of you who cannot let your worries go, I invite you to do this little task. Carry a little book with you and any time you are worried about something, write it in the book. At the end of the week, look in the book and see how many of those things actually happened. I predict that you will find that it is a very small percentage. What would happen if you gave up some of these worries and united with those around you in trust and support?
         Perhaps you are holding onto grudges. Anyone have one of these? It is a great word that sounds like what it is: a big muddy thing that is hard to move. It can also be a great hindrance to unity. Marriages, families, friendships and even churches break up because people hold onto resentments that they can never get past. After all, anger is easy. Retribution is easy. But it is not fulfilling. In retribution there is no closure, no peace. Any reader of Batman can tell you that. Peace can only come through forgiveness. And this may be the hardest thing on the list. Forgiveness is difficult. But it is also liberating and not just for the one being forgiven, but for the one doing the forgiving as well. If the whole human race could live with the practice of forgiveness, think of how united we could be.
         So today I ask you, do you feel the kind of unity that the psalmist was speaking about all those years ago? If not, what’s holding you back? When the first century believers posed this question, the most obvious answer was their possessions. And we can choose to stop there. Or we can delve deeper and try to understand what was really going on with them in this story. They were not just giving up their stuff. They were giving up a piece of their lives. They gave of themselves for love, for equality, and for unity. Those are the true economics of Easter.