42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
Let’s start off with a question: What are a three-year-old’s two most favorite and often-used words?
“No” and “Mine.”
It goes without question that when we are born, we are perhaps at our most selfish. Nothing exists in the world for any purpose other than our needs, our satisfaction. Our parents take care of us. Everything in life is a toy—no matter if they belong to someone else, or if they are extremely breakable. We are focused entirely on ourselves, and our desires. If we want something, we cry. If we can’t get something we want, we cry louder. We throw a tantrum. We want and want more and more, and we won’t stop crying until we get what we want or it’s made clear to us that we aren’t going to get it. And then we still might pout, until our minds wander onto the next thing we want, and the whole thing starts over again.
This is why one of the first lessons we are taught as children, be it in preschool, kindergarten, or earlier, is how to share.
And for some, it’s easier than others. For some it’s like pulling teeth. You can frame it as a game of sharing, or make a cooperative activity involving more than one child, positively reinforce sharing, create an environment that promotes it, you can do all of that, and it might help. Eventually, if we don’t come to the conclusion that sharing is a good thing, we are forced to share in the end. The problem is… if you force someone to share something, you don’t foster generosity. You foster an attitude of resentment. This resentment can follow us throughout our lives, if we aren’t careful.
Being able to share is not something many people are innately born with. It’s also something that is incredibly important to being able to live out the Gospel. You may think that it’s silly that I want to talk about sharing in church to a group of (mostly) adults. Personally, I think it’s probably one of the most important things we can talk about, considering it’s prominent place in scripture as the basis for Christian action. The thing is, we usually cloak the idea of sharing in its grown-up clothes: generosity.
We’ve been talking about the various aftershocks and after-effects of the Resurrection, of Easter, of the fact that a man (who wasn’t just a man) was killed, buried, and came back to life. An event of this kind is followed by all kinds of aftershocks. We’ve already talked about doubt, and then surprise, and today I want to talk about a much simpler but significant act. I want to talk about sharing.
Much has been said about the church in Acts 2, and I can predict that much more will be said about it in the future. It’s the church as if it was completely perfect, a direct result of Pentecost, a church that grows, does good, and makes an impact. It’s important to talk about the church when members shared everything with one another, when they all worshipped together, ate together all the time, praised God every day, a church with enthusiasm and passion for its mission.
It’s important to talk about that church because if you keep reading in the bible, we realize that this church existed for about 5 minutes. After that, everything started going haywire.
Reality set in. In fact, for the rest of the New Testament, we read stories, letters, and revelations desperate to get back to this time when the church was doing it right.
What happened? The way I see it, what happened was that getting rid of sin and living with a changed heart is a lot harder that it sounds like it should be. Everyone had a different opinion on how to do things. Sin has this habit of sneaking into even the most well-intentioned of places and communities. Not only that, when we try to implement and encourage people to do the right thing and be kind, generous, loving, giving, serving, praying, and witnessing, we realize how right Jesus was when he said that broad is the path that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to the reign of God.
However, that’s the mystery and the power of the resurrection. Despite the difficulty of living in the path of discipleship, in the light of the Risen Christ, we need to realize that being generous, sharing what we have, is not the cause of righteousness, but a symptom of righteousness. To put it bluntly, to be able to share is to be willing to say that it wasn’t yours in the first place. To share is to say that everything that we have belongs to God. To live generously is to admit that what we have, what we see and touch and feel and eat and breath is not all there is, is to admit that there is something better, that there is someone better, than all of it, and that because God is, we are.
Generosity is a result of awe of God. God being God is both eminently present, relational, and intimate, but at the same time mysterious and very different from us, and when we are confronted with the reality of God, awe and reverence is what is generated. Awe is not something we often talk about in our church, partly because it’s not all that reflected in our worship spaces—which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is just a reflection of the community and it’s ideas about how we should do worship. While our sanctuary is certainly a beautifully built, it does not impose on us any feelings of smallness or mystery; our focus in our worship spaces is to focus on communion, community, and beauty of God. If one goes to a grand cathedral with high ceilings and ornate statues and the like, it reflects the idea of mystery and wonder. I think what we have is excellent. I think a cathedral is excellent also. But When we talk about generosity coming out of awe, at the front of our minds we need to have the immense power and mystery of God. We need to remember that it is God who created all things. It is God who came to earth and in the flesh of Jesus Christ showed us how to be holy, righteous, loving, and self-sacrificing. And it is because of this aspect of God, we revere, worship, and honor God.
This awe then should overpower us. It should surround us. It should bathe us, penetrate us, surround us and define us, and in that overpowering we respond by acting more like God—we give. God is a giving God, and so we give and share with others in response. When we share with one another in worship, we begin to see the community as it is, and the needs of the community as they are. When we share in worship, we share our hearts with one another and offer them to one another in honesty and holiness. It’s a small step in logic to go to the idea that we should share more than just our hearts, but also our resources. Then again, logic isn’t always real life, and the idea of sharing resources is in the minds of many a completely different thing than what is expected of you in church.
Of course, there’s a good reason why we turn sour at the idea of generosity. It’s because there are so many things out there that we devote our money to, and there is a constant pressure to give more of our money to more and more people. It’s easy to get caught up in it, and be suspicious of who we give money to, even if we know it’s for a good cause. It all goes back to the one day when we were punished for not sharing instead of encouraged to share what we have. We resent it. We get selfish. And in turn, as that selfishness grows, so does our measure of awe and reverence for the transformative power of God in the resurrection diminish.
So how do we get around that? How do we circumvent this natural bent to selfishness? We do so by maintaining our sense of awe, by devoting ourselves to God. That’s one of the first words in the whole bible lesson: the believers devoted themselves to the movement. To devote means to give all of one’s self to something. That’s what it means to be devoted. You can’t be devoted without giving something. We need to devote, or give, or share, our very selves with God. We do that in worship. We do it in sharing communion. We do it in sharing our food with one another, by praising God, by praying daily, by demonstrating goodness to the community. We learn to share by tapping into our sense of awe. We have to maintain it. And sometimes… it’s hard to do.
It’s hard to maintain something. It’s like exercise.
I used to lift weights on a regular basis, and saying this now kind of makes me want to get back into it. I started lifting in a class in college, and the first day we did circuit training and for about three days afterwards I was in a TREMENDOUS amount of pain. I walked around like an old man. I had worked out muscles that I didn’t even know I had. For about a month, I was miserable, because lifting weights was so exhausting for me. There were many days I really just wanted to cut class and stay home, just to avoid pain. But I stuck with it. I started to see improvement, little by little each week. After a while, lifting became something I enjoyed. It just took work.
It’s the same with generosity. It takes practice, and it hurts to begin with. It’s like working out a muscle you didn’t know you had. And there are days you want to quit, because it’s too hard, too painful, and it’s easier to just live without it. However, it’s good for you. Not only that, it’s good for the church. It’s good for your soul, and when you share, you expand the boundaries of the kingdom of God. So share. Share because you love God. Share because you are in awe of what God has done in the resurrection. Share because that’s what people who love God do; they act like God. God is the giver of life. Give to others in return. Amen.