How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
life for evermore.
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.
How very good and pleasant it is indeed, when kindred live together in unity! It is like an extravagant pouring out of expensive oil in anointment, it is like the dew in the morning. No one is needy. Everyone is of one heart and soul. It is God’s Kingdom, come on earth as it is in heaven. When we are all working and caring together it is as if we have all the material gifts we could possibly want, because we are without fear for the present or the future or for our own personal wellbeing. In a world where God truly ruled, there would be no needy persons, because any who had more than enough would always share with those who had nothing. No one would be left out of the good things of life, no one would be treated as less than in any way. Just like it was in the early church.
If only the church today could be like that early church, where everyone was of one heart and soul, and everyone was willing to share everything they had with everybody else, and everyone trusted the leaders to share out everything fairly with no one being shown preference! That perfect state of affairs lasted for . . . about 5 minutes, I think.
For when we read just a few lines further we find that one man, Annanias, did not share all the proceeds from the sale of his land but lied about how much he received, and that he fell down dead after being caught in the lie. And then his wife, Sapphira also lied and also fell down dead. Struck down by Greed and Dishonesty.
And a little beyond that, the Greek speaking Christians complained that their widows were being neglected, and that the Hebrew speaking Christian widows were getting more than their fair share of the food being distributed by the apostles. And the apostles decided that they had more important things to do than the distribution of food and had seven others elected by the people to make sure food was distributed fairly.
How sad. People were people in the early church, too. With the same prejudices and failings and character defects as people have today. “Our folks aren’t getting as much of the good stuff as your folks are.” “I don’t want to share everything! I worked hard for what I have and I want to keep some of it.” “I am too important to do this work so we need someone else to do it.”
I suspect it wasn’t long before the apostles realized that, if everyone sold their houses and property there would be no where for the members to meet and eat and sleep. At any rate, from here on in the Acts of the Apostles and all through Paul’s letters we don’t hear any more about everyone sharing everything. Instead we hear about people, mostly women, who opened their homes to the church, housing the other widows and holding worship at their homes. We hear about congregations and individuals being asked to share generously of what they have, but no more about giving everything away.
Even Jesus only asked that when a man’s money was more important to him than his faith – he certainly accepted the hospitality and help of his followers who were well off, like Joseph of Arimethea. He said it was difficult for a rich man to enter heaven, not impossible.
We begin to see that the church leaders came to understand that people were imperfect, and that simply being baptized and deciding to change their lives didn’t mean that everything about them would change magically and immediately. That it would take hard work and dedication and deep faith to become the kind of people God intended for them to be.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Being a Christian is much more than just showing up for worship and reading the Bible and singing Christian songs, just as being in recovery is much more than just not using and showing up at meetings. It requires a change of life-style and attitude. It requires a desire to become a better person every day in every way, not because the world says we should, but because we want to please God. To cast off character defects and embrace virtues, not perfectly, but to the best of our ability on any given day. To search our souls daily to see where we did well and where we could do better. So far, there’s not much difference between being a Christian and being in recovery, huh?
But being a Christian goes further than personal spirituality. Being a Christian means being part of a community and working through that community to change the world into the kingdom of God. The early church worked to change the world around them by sharing their funds so that they might care for the poor and the sick – and not just their own Christian poor and sick, but everyone who lived nearby no matter what their religion was. They worked to change the world by welcoming into the church all who came regardless of gender or class or economic status – and that indiscriminate welcome was unheard of in their world; it was against every cultural and religious norm. These things attracted many to them, for everyone could see that these were people who loved so extravagantly that their love was like expensive oil pouring down over the beard and collar, like dew on the mountains. Even though they couldn’t keep the church perfect for more than a few minutes, still, the example of what they strove toward is there for us to follow, so that we too might be people who love extravagantly.
People who love extravagantly will share generously and joyfully with those who have less than we do. Generously. Not just giving the things we don’t want for ourselves anymore, or a couple of dollars that we don’t have earmarked for something else, but the best of what we have. Joyfully, knowing that our gifts will help change the world in some small way. Here we become frustrated because the hungry keep showing up at our door, and we keep running out of food and money to buy food. Or we need to repair the building, or replace something that wore out, broke or disappeared, and we just don’t have enough money coming in to do what’s needed so we can keep serving the neighborhood. Or we see that more money and medical supplies are needed someplace because of a natural disaster or something, and our General Church is sending out the money as quickly as it comes in, but there simply isn’t enough coming in to care for everyone who needs our help. And it’s funny, but it often seems that those who can afford the least are the ones who give the most. In our extravagant love, we will share the best we have so that our neighbors will be loved and cared for as God would have it.
People who love extravagantly will reach out in love to everyone who suffers injustice. We will be dedicated to seeking equality for the outcaste and the rejected, as Jesus did. To making sure the poor and helpless are cared for. And each of us will find injustice in different places and find our own way to combat it. Some will fight racism, some will fight sexism or heterosexism. Some will fight for equality in education or health care. Some will fight for peace in a world filled with war. Some will fight for the improvement of our environment. Christians cannot say “you can’t fight city hall,” because Jesus and the apostles and all the early Christians opposed the established way of life with everything they did. As part of the World Council of Churches, and the National Council of Churches, and the California Council of Churches, we have access to many ways to help bring God’s justice into the world. In our extravagant love, we reach out to bring God’s justice and mercy into the world so that all persons may know God’s love.
As people who love extravagantly, we welcome all who come to this place to worship, to share in community, to find hope, to be healed of spiritual and emotional pain. We place no conditions on this welcome, just as there are no conditions placed on the love God pours out on us. We open our arms to all who come, to pour out extravagant love upon them, which we receive from God in such great quantities that we cannot possibly keep it to ourselves. This love is the one thing that we cannot keep for ourselves, for there is enough and more to share with all the world. Let us go out from this place today prepared to love extravagantly, to share God’s love with everyone we meet.