Christ is Risen; Everything Has Changed (April 11, 2021)
Acts 4: 32-35
Christ is Risen; Everything Has Changed
Christ is risen! Now what? This is the theme of the first part of Acts: Christ is raised from the dead, and what the church understands is that because Christ has been raised from the dead everything is changed. Nothing is the same anymore. But they’re still trying to figure out what that actually means, what is different, how is it different, and how are they supposed to live. And in the first part, they actually do some crazy stuff. John and Peter preach to the very people that crucified Jesus, James and John and Peter and Andrew all give up their fishing business, sell their business to go into the job of itinerant ministry. Things like that.
But nothing is more crazy then what we see in this section of Acts beginning in the middle of chapter 4 and ending in the middle of chapter 5. This was begun in the reading here today. Here we see the church dealing with material possessions, with all the things that they had prior to Christ being raised from the dead and everything changing. And what we see is that, for the most part, the Apostles are going out into the streets of Jerusalem and the preaching the resurrected Christ while the rest of the church is gathering themselves together and selling all their possessions, all that they have; taking all the money they get back from that, and they are laying it at the Apostles feet. They are allowing the Apostles to take that wealth and redistribute that wealth to the poor. Yes, the poor within the church, but also we see the poor outside the church as well.
There is a man, who takes the name Barnabas, who sells all of his possessions and gives it all to the Apostles. We see him do that. And he had land, really a lot of stuff, and he sells it all and gives it to the Apostles. He gives every last cent to the Apostles to do with as they choose. And then we flip the chapter and we see that there are some in the church who don’t quite do that. We see Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They sell all their possessions, sure, but then they set some of the money they get back aside. And Ananias goes first, he walks into the Apostles, and he lays the stuff at the Apostle’s feet, and he says “here’s what we got for all of the stuff we had.” And Peter, stirred by the Spirit, says “No it’s not.” Ananias doubles down, says “yes it is.” Then he is struck dead by the Spirit. Peter criticizes him for lying to the Spirit. Then he’s taken away, and his wife comes in later and goes to the same process, and she too is struck dead under the same charge.
And what tends to happen with passages like this is we tend to read them and we put our own values and understandings of what is right and what is wrong, what is good what is just stupid; and place it upon the people of the first century. And in particular, with a passage like this, we sometimes place our own values and ideologies onto them and try to use them as arguments for our own ideologies and values in the 21st-century. In particular we’ve seen this passage used on both sides of the socialist versus capitalist debate, since the way these people lived in these first few weeks after the resurrection, was so strikingly communal, with certain consequences.
And in reality of course, that’s not the case for either of those arguments. These people lived in the first century. They didn’t think in terms of socialism and capitalism, they didn’t think in terms of economic systems like that anyway, they were just simply trying to follow Christ. They knew everything had changed, and they were trying to figure out what that meant. And they knew earlier in Luke’s writing, in the Gospel of Luke, that Jesus told the rich young ruler to go and sell all he had, and give the money to the poor, and then follow Jesus. So that’s what they did. Did it make sense? Should we be emulating that? Should I be calling upon you to sell all of your possessions, and give all of that money to the church on pain of death? Well actually, this is stewardship Sunday, and I’d like to talk about giving...no I’m kidding. We know that that’s not what God calls us to do because very, very quickly in church history people started not doing that and they didn’t drop dead.
But that doesn’t mean that what these people, who were still trying to live out what it meant for Christ to raise from the dead, don’t have some things to teach us. And it even doesn’t mean they don’t have something to teach us about financial stewardship. One thing they teach us is that ultimately all that we have is not ours, it belongs to God. Even though we’re not called to immediately go and sell everything that we have, we are called to remember that, like the people in the parable of the talents, we may be investing the talents we’ve gotten but ultimately if God comes calling for them we’re supposed to give them back. And if there is some big major need that some charity or even the church comes calling for, and you have the ability to give to them without financially martyring yourself, you’re called to give. And, objectively, that doesn’t make any sense at all.
And what we see here in this passage, and quite a few others, is that they’re doing things that even in that time would’ve been considered to be highly illogical. We see that they’re not just giving the money to the Apostles, they’re giving the money to the Apostles knowing that the Apostles are going to give it to the poor: the people who can’t pull their own weight, the ones that are going to need to come back tomorrow for even more, the grifters, the beggars, the ones who are the least of these. That money is not going to return; there’s no return on the investment. And if anything, the poor of the city of Jerusalem are going to begin to take advantage of them, are going to be coming to the church in droves demanding that they get their slice of the pie.
Now, I will mention that these people thought Jesus was coming back soon. And not just “well, probably within the next thousand years” kind of soon, but like “within the next couple of months” soon. So they probably thought that they didn’t need to make sound investments. But the reality is that they’re not checking who’s getting this money. There’s no application to determine whether these people qualify or not, there’s nothing where they’re going to say “Now, how are you spending that money?” There’s none of that. Just giving it because it’s the right thing to do, and every single person in the city of Jerusalem is a child of God that deserves to eat. And since it wasn’t theirs in the first place, they give.
And we see the church doing this from when Jesus was still around and incarnate. The church set out 2 x 2 with nothing but the clothes on their back in the sandals on their feet! That’s Illogical! But Christ was here, God was here amongst them, and that changed everything, so they were acting in a level of faith. And they survived. God was faithful to them.
Now that Christ has been resurrected, they’re doing things that don’t make sense like speaking truth to power with Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. When Saul is knocked down on the road to Damascus, a Christian in Damascus is called by the Spirit to go into the presence of the one whose job it was to drag Christians off to jail, and preach the good news to him, to identify himself as Christian to the one who was persecuting Christians. That doesn’t make much sense, but they did it. They were trying to live out Christ’s teaching to love enemies, to turn the other cheek, to pray for those who persecute you.
And none of that makes any sense. If you keep turning the other cheek, people are going to keep hitting you. We know this to be true. If you pray for those who persecute you, they will keep persecuting you. We know that to be true. If you love your enemy, your enemy is not going to love you back. We know this to be true, it's not smart. Except, Stephen prays as he is being stoned for those that are stoning him, including the little boy named Saul who’s watching over the cloaks of those doing the stoning. And Saul becomes Paul, arguably the most influential apostle in the entire church. Jesus while he is hanging on the cross prays for those who are persecuting him, and the centurion by the end of it says “surely this must be God’s son.” The Roman is converted. And we’ve seen with things like the independence movement in India, with things like the civil rights movement here, we’ve seen what loving your enemy and praying for those who persecute you, even to this day, the power it has to change hearts and minds. It can change persecutors into supporters. Christ is risen; and that changes everything. Write that down, take it home and put it on the the mirror in the bathroom so you can look at it every morning: Christ is risen; and that changes everything. It even changes what makes sense to do. And if there’s anything that Christ has called us to it is treating everyone, regardless of how they are treating you, like they are a child of God worthy of honor. Because they are.
I want to end today with a story I heard of another pastor. He was pastor of a church in a relatively small town, maybe the size of Spring Hill or a little less, and within the church was the town outcast. This was the one person that everyone in town despised, he was a jerk, he never did anything for anyone. He was just the one that the town could live without. And he died, and the pastor was supposed to do his funeral. The pastor gets up there, he was going to do a nice funeral to try and comfort the grieving family and stuff, but he heads into the building a little before service. And he looks out and he sees that the front row of the church is occupied by the man’s family, only the front row, and no one from the town has come. There’s no friends from outside of town, there’s no one. And the pastor is almost heartbroken for the man. But then, about two minutes before service the door of the church opens, and in walks a member of the church, and then another, and then another, and then another, and soon the church is half full of members of the church who have come to this man’s funeral. And they sit through, and they pay respects to him.
And after the service the pastor found a member of the church leadership out in the group, and he walked up and said “what are you guys doing here? I thought you didn’t like this guy. What are you doing here?” And she said “Oh yeah, I despised him. I didn’t like him at all. But pastor, weren’t you the one who told us that even the most vile person on earth is still a child of God and a person for whom Christ died? And shouldn’t this man for whom Christ died receive the same treatment as my best friend?” That doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t make since to take vacation time to come to a funeral of a person you despise. But Christ has risen, and everything has changed.
My hope, my prayer, is that at some point in this message of messages, the Spirit has moved within you. Maybe something I said, maybe even just a single word, but something I said sparked within you, something stirring it in your heart, maybe the Spirit is calling for you to go out and do something that doesn’t necessarily make sense to the world, but makes sense to God‘s kingdom now that Christ is risen and everything is changed. And I’m calling on you today to listen to that: listen to that voice of the Spirit within you. And go and act like you’re citizens of the kingdom of heaven this week. And let’s see what God can do through us. Amen.