Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Does Money Get in the Way?

Sunday's first lesson is pretty short (Acts 4:32-35). I'll copy the whole thing here so that you can read it:
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.
It's a lesson about the early church and how all Christians held everything in common. No one owned anything--or at least "no one claimed private ownership of any possessions." You know what that sounds like? Communism. And, as long as the human condition stays away, things will indeed go smoothly: "there was not a needy person among them." Of course, 20th-century experiments with communism didn't turn out so well. Perhaps that's because they were/are a godless variety--a version that denied the inevitability of greed.

But my favorite part about the lesson is that sentence right in the middle: "With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all." Does that sound out of place to you? Is that a non sequitur? Did Luke suddenly drift off onto a different subject all together? Or is it on purpose? And, if it is, what could sharing everything in common have to do with the great power and great grace that permeated that community?

No, it's not out of place. Yes, Luke did see a connection, and the connection is everything! They were of one heart and soul. Imagine that--all being so closely tied together that they could describe themselves as having one heart and soul! And how does that kind of connection happen? I think it is partly the product (i.e. not the cause) of sharing all things in common.

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Money gets in the way. Go read James. Go read 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was a problem for the church, and it's still a problem for the church. If we want to be of one mind like that--if we want to give powerful testimony to the world about the good news of Jesus Christ and his resurrection--maybe we should start by letting go of our possessions.

No, I don't mean that we should sell everything and live on a commune--though some of us should. That's a particular call for those drawn to a religious life. But I do think that our financial life should be so closely tied to one another that our collective hopes and dreams are able to quash our individual fears and anxieties. What does that look like? I don't know.

It probably starts by taking stewardship more seriously--giving not just the first ten percent to God's work in the world but maybe thirty percent, maybe forty percent, maybe more. That's scary. That's risky. That's vulnerability. And if we can be that vulnerable to one another maybe we can learn to take care of each other. Maybe we can learn to trust that God will provide for us through the people we call our brothers and sisters in the church. The bottom line is that we have to begin sharing with each other at the level that is required for us to trust one another with all we've got. If the bottom falls out, we know where to turn. If things go great, we know with whom we will share it.

Common purse leads to common life leads to common hopes leads to common hearts leads to God's Spirit doing amazing things in and through the church.

Who's willing to pony up?

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