This time, I am here, having survived the madness of Holy Week and Easter with my St. Philip’s family. We made it! It has been such a joy for me to walk the pilgrim path of Lent and Holy Week with you, and to sing my Alleluias in this grand choir of saints.
And today I’m preaching on Acts. Haha.
So here we are – ears still ringing from all those bells, lily dust hopelessly smeared on our best white blouse or jacket, hair mussed from the old Easter bonnet, but all worth it. We walked prayerfully through Lent, and came through the dramatic highs and lows of Holy Week. We earned our bells and lilies and the crumpled bits of coloured foil scattered all over the house. After forty days of careful preparation, we’re ready for fifty days of celebrating!
And we come to this passage.
At first glance, it’s inspiring but innocuous. It’s familiar, even if the main player is missing and his back-up crew is filling in. In Chapter 3 just before this passage, Peter heals a crippled beggar and everyone makes a big scene about it, and Peter dishes out the snark: “Why are you all so surprised? We told you that Jesus was the real deal and you didn’t believe, and now we’re healing in his name!” and the Apostles are thrown in jail. Yet they still manage to flummox their detractors, as Jesus did. They are stirring up trouble just the way they were taught, and they’re so good at it that they are released. The truth of Easter breaks open every cell door.
Now it starts to get really good: they pray for boldness and the place they were in “was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.”
Yeah! Message received! Peter’s got a holy bug and it’s catching! Everybody’s being slain in the spirit! Easter season is really getting ramped up! Oh man, what could possibly be next?
“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.”
Man, this was going so well! Maybe just this once we can…you know, skip ahead? I do it all the time, don’t worry! Let’s go to verse 33 – “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
Aw yeah, Mama Church, that’s it. But…“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.”
Aw, fricassee, as an old friend used to say.
It sounds so reckless to give everything. It’s all well and good to be an idealist up until a certain age, but most of us learn quickly that things aren’t so simple as all that. A generation living off of pensions and savings while making plans to not bankrupt those they will one day leave behind knows that. A generation planning for retirement while holding investments above the water of worldwide financial collapse knows that. A generation raising families as the gaps between the super-rich and the not super-rich grow wider knows that. My generation, shackled to hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt for an education that has managed to become a requirement for every job from doctor to barista knows that.
No sensitive person makes light of the responsibilities we have to ourselves, our families and loved ones, and the system. No sensitive person berates the faithful for not being faithful enough when the faithful are still here every Sunday despite all things.
Comparing what we have with the less and the more fortunate is a game we’re usually going to lose. It makes us defensive and separates us from each other’s hearts and true needs. We may be called to outdo each other in generosity, but aren’t we also called by the Gospel to recognize that if the wisdom of our world is a vicious form of physical, mental, and spiritual competition, with winners venerated as gods and losers cast out on the dung pile, then the wisdom of the church might be to put an end to that kind of thinking among the faithful, because wasn’t Jesus himself one of the ones tossed out onto the dung pile specifically because he called that thinking into question?
This is not to set such sharing and generosity aside as something foolish that should never be considered. We should be thinking about the things we have that stand between us and God, because those things do exist. We should be laying our treasures and self-imposed burdens at the foot of the cross. We should consider what in our lives is worth living and dying for, and it’s probably not the latest iPhone.
But we’re not idiots. We know that. Despite all the panicked and technophobic newscasts and the “Kids these days” doom prophecies and the best attempts of wild-eyed advertisers, I actually do believe that most people know that.
So for now, let’s try looking at this differently. Instead of using a political lens to examine a spiritual truth, why don’t we use a spiritual lens to examine a cosmic truth – which, if we do it right, does indeed have political implications?
Imagine, if you will, a kind of poverty, stripped of all political implications, positive or negative; a poverty neither idealistically pursued nor fearfully avoided; an all-encompassing poverty not imposed by another but willingly embraced, not to make a point but to make room; a mystical inner poverty that is material, psychic, and spiritual, embraced gladly after receiving, growing, and giving birth to a great revelation.
A kenosis poverty.
The kind of poverty that comes back from the dead still bearing the scars of one sacred, dreadful, exquisite encounter with human brokenness and longing.
The kind of poverty that falls to his knees, having let go of every doubt and fear and assumption about the laws of the universe he ever had, crying, “My Lord and my God!”
Now imagine breathing in that poverty, offered by a crucified one who returns, physically scorched from the fire of love for us.
Imagine breathing in the sweet flames of that love, shouldering the joyful, joyful weight of that love – paradoxically the easiest yoke and the heaviest burden.
Imagine the sting of that poverty, because if we, gathered here, are the Body of Christ, then the wounds belong to us – if we’re doing it right.
Remember that both Luke and John go out of their way in their Gospels not to make a lick of sense to anyone who sees life as a simple and predictable series of events. They’re kind of obnoxious that way. But they’re giving us a very powerful teaching.
Christianity is about paradox. Our greatest wealth is our poverty. Our greatest strength is our vulnerability. Our greatest armour is the wound in our side.
Christianity is about going all-in, whatever that looks like. You’re the only expert on your own life. You know already what going all-in looks like for you. If it scares you and you don’t really want to do it, think seriously about why.
Lent gives us time to contemplate the cost of what we are about to do – and the cost of not doing it.
Easter is about recklessness. It’s about going all in, because the alternative is to say that nothing has really changed.
So be warned: If you pray for boldness, you will have it – and we will all be of one heart and soul, and will give testimony with great power.
If you pray to walk in the light and to be filled with the Holy Spirit this Easter, God help you.
You will be.