Sharing is Caring | 7.12.20 | All Together Now Wk. 6
Chris Tweitmann   -  

Acts 4:32-37
Pastor Chris Tweitmann

We continue reflecting together on what it means to be the Church. To do this, we’ve been looking more closely at a quick snapshot found in Acts, chapter 2, of the early life and witness of the Church immediately after its birth by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The specific passage is Acts 2:42 – 47 and it reads:

They devoted themselves
to the apostles’ teaching
and to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread
and to prayer.

Everyone was
filled with awe
at the many wonders
and signs performed
by the apostles.

All the believers
were together
and had everything
in common.

They sold property
and possessions
to give to anyone
who had need.

Every day
they continued
to meet together
in the temple courts.

They broke bread
in their homes
and ate together
with glad and
sincere hearts,
praising God
and enjoying
the favor of
all the people.

And the Lord added
to their number daily
those who were
being saved.

Previously,
we’ve considered
what are known
as the four pillars
of being the Church.

#1. Maturing as
the Body of Christ
through being grounded
in the apostles’ teaching
or scripture.

#2. Being in fellowship
or koinonia together
– celebrating the
diversity within
the Body while
remaining united
in Jesus,

#3. Breaking bread together
– coming to the table
set by Christ
and then
proclaiming Christ
by practicing the
same kind of
inclusive hospitality
Jesus modeled for us
by inviting others
to sit and eat at
our tables,

#4, Cultivating both
an individual and
communal life
of prayer
– a regular,
ongoing conversation
with God through
the Word and
by the Holy Spirit.

Today we are
focusing on
something else
we see in this
picture from Acts 2.

Something we
cannot ignore
despite how
uncomfortable it
makes us and
despite how
sometimes controversial
it remains
within the Church.

In case you
don’t know
what I’m
talking about,
it’s this verse:

“Now all
the believers
were together
and held all things
in common.

They sold
their possessions
and property
and distributed
the proceeds to all,
as anyone had a need.”

This image of
communal living
and shared ownership
gave rise to
the emergence of
monasteries
and convents
both in the Middle Ages
and more recently in
the new millennium.

This description also
has sparked debate
as to whether socialism
and the mandatory redistribution
of possessions are Christian ideals.

And in case,
we tempted to
write off such a debate
by arguing
it’s just one verse,

it’s a single moment
in the life of the early Church,

it’s not a
normative pattern
for the Body of Christ,

surprise, surprise
we see this picture
pop up yet again
only two chapters
later in Acts 4.

Let’s listen to how
that passage echoes
and even expands on
what we’ve already seen…

Today, as we look at
this stunning passage
we are going to clarify
what exactly was
happening here
and what wasn’t.

At the same time,
we are going to
wrestle with a
model of stewardship
and of generosity
that is going to
challenges us
deeply about
what is ours,
what we really need,
how do we share,
and what is
our responsibility
to others in
the community
– within the church
or neighborhood.

So, let’s begin
with this.

What exactly is
going on here?

Followers of Jesus
who are
deeply united
with each other
– bound together
in heart and mind
by their submission to
and witness for Christ.

No one within
this community
of faith is
claiming anything
as belonging
to themselves.

Everything is
being held
in common.

They shared
everything
they had with
each other.

Notice, how
this posture of
generosity is
related to the
power of
their witness
for the Gospel
and the Kingdom.

It is recorded,
“God’s grace was
so powerfully at
work in them all”
that what resulted?

“There were
no needy persons
among them.”

And this
embodiment
of grace,

this posture
of generosity
extended beyond
the community itself
to the wider neighborhood.

We see this in
the mention of
church members
liquidating their assets
in order for the money
from those sales
to be used to help
anyone in need.

What is spoken of
in general terms is
wrapped up with a
very specific and
compelling example
as we hear about Joseph,
also known
as Barnabas
(“son of encouragement”).

Barnabas,
who will later
become a key leader
in the Church,

a missionary partner
with Paul,

sold property
he had and put
the proceeds at
the feet of
the community.

If we were
to keep reading,
going on to
chapter 5,

we’d see
this picture
rounded out by
Barnabas’ action
contrasted with
the wrong
and therefore,
cautionary example
of a couple named,
Ananias and Sapphira.

This husband and wife,
claimed to be offering
all they had but actually
were being deceitful

– giving only part of
their possessions and
keeping the rest
for themselves.

Once their duplicity
was revealed,
one after the other,
they both literally
dropped dead
on the spot.

So, in summary,
what we see here
is an expression of
a sense of communal ownership

as well as
the mutual
responsibility
of the community
to care not only
of its own

but also, those
in need within the
wider neighborhood.

And all this is
presented for us
as more than
just the expression
of a fanciful,
aspirational ideal.

It is documented
as a matter
of history,

as a very practical
description of
what it means
to be the Church.

We may view
this scene as
somehow radical
and outlandish.

But I have
a newsflash
for all of us.

There’s actually
nothing new
going on here.

This repeated
picture from
the book of Acts
is a throwback
to the past
rather than
some innovation
of the moment.

No, beloved,
what we see here
goes WAY BACK.

Sadly, throughout
most of history,
much like today,
poverty has defined
the human experience.

Most people
have lived at
or below a
subsistence level.

They barely
have enough
to feed and
clothe themselves
and their families.

But from
the very beginning,
God recognized
this as being wrong

– not the way
things were
supposed to be,

not how
the Lord
created life
to work,

and so
the Lord
in creating
a nation
called Israel,

gave the Israelites
specific instructions
to address
this problem.

God’s instructions
to Israel were
recorded in
what is known
as the Torah
– the first five
books of the Bible,
authored by Moses.

Its most
basic principle,
later quoted
by Jesus,
that was to
guide Israel
in this way,
was love for
one’s neighbor.

This expression
of love was to be
demonstrated
through one’s
willingness to
give generously
to those in need.

God explicitly
told Israel,
“I command you,
Open your hand
to the poor
and needy neighbor
in your land.”

The Lord outlined
very practical
and tangible ways
for the Israelites
to share with
those in need.

Being a culture
built around farming,
the Israelites
were instructed
to be generous
in always leaving
something behind
from the harvest
of their fields,
grapevines, and
olive trees, for
those who
were poor and
hungry.
The practice of
gleaning was
a provision for
those who were
in need.

Another example
of God fostering
a posture of
generosity among
the Israelites was
giving everyone
permission to
pluck grapes
or heads of wheat
and to eat them
as they walked
through their
neighbors’ vineyards
and fields.

An important caveat
of this provision,
however, was that
while a person
could eat from
their neighbor’s
vineyard or field
while passing through,

they were
not allowed to
carry out a stockpile
of produce
– to take any
grapes or wheat
with them
as they left.

The point is,
from the start,
God’s plan was
for Israel
to become
a community
based on values
radically different
than the way
the rest of
the world lived.

For the rest
of the world,
poverty and lack
were simply
a way of life.

But God wanted
Israel to be
a nation
in which
there was
no poverty,

where no one
was lacking what
he or she needed.

God generously
blessed Israel with
an abundance of
resources for Israel
to go and do likewise.

In Israel,
love for neighbors
expressed
by generosity
and a willingness
to share from one’s
personal resources
would provide a
remedy for lack.

If Israel lived
this way together,
then Israel would
become a light to
all nations – both
modeling and
providing a way
of living through
which all were
provided for
and taken care of,
in which there
would be no one
left in need.

In the birth
of the Church
by the Holy Spirit,
what we witness
here in Acts is
nothing more than
the renewal of a
longstanding,
divine vision
for humanity.

The first Christians,
let us remember,
were Jews
– Jews who came
to believe the Gospel.

As people of
the Book,
of the Torah,

who confessed
Christ as the
Word made flesh,

they recognized
that to follow Jesus
was to live
according to
God’s character
and priorities
– including helping
and serving
those in need.

Having identified
this foundation,
let’s be clear
what we don’t
see in the picture.

What we
don’t see here
is any coercion.

Those who gave
– did so freely,
willingly.

The apostles did
not demand or
require them to give.

These men
and women
did not sell
their possessions
in order to
meet the needs
of others due to
the threat of
some penalty
or enforced
mandate
or taxation
by the government.

They did so
because they were
“of one heart and mind.”

Together, they
were single-minded
in their heart’s desire,
out of the grace
they had received
first from God,

to share all they
had been given for
the sake of spreading
that grace into the
lives of others
– especially those
who lacked basic
necessities of life.

Their generosity
was freely chosen
and therefore,
joyful expressed.

And this is to be
the defining
characteristic
of all our giving
and sharing
with others.

The apostle Paul,
famously summarized
it this way in
his second letter
to the Corinthians,

Each of you
should give
what you
have decided
in your heart
to give,
not reluctantly
or under compulsion,
for God loves
a cheerful giver.”

Generosity is
not intended
to be a chore
but a delight.

Something else
we don’t see
here is the
eradication of
the ownership
of property.

Going all the
way back
to Israel,
God’s instructions
never call for the
surrender of
each person’s
ownership of
their God-given
resources.

The Israelites
truly owned
their land
and homes,
their fields,
vineyards
and olive groves.

We see the
same pattern
in the book
of Acts and
throughout
the NT.

Whenever
Christian homes
are mentioned,
they are
always
private homes.

Where it is,
Simon
the Tanner
who lived
in Jaffa,

or Philipp in
Caesarea Maritima,

or Lydia
in Philippi,

they all owned their own homes
which they openly freely to others.

If we look
carefully
at what
I referenced
earlier,
the tragic
example
of Ananias
and Sapphira,

that couple who
pretended publicly
to sell their home
and to give all
the proceeds to
those in need

but who
actually held
something back
for themselves,

notice what
they are
rebuked for:

Peter says
about the
property,

“While it
remained
unsold,
did it
not remain
your own?

And after it
was sold,
was it not
under your
control?

Why is it
that you have
conceived
this deed in
your heart?

You have
not lied to
men but
to God.”

The issue here
is not Ananias
and Sapphira
owning a house
or even keeping
some money
from the sale
for themselves.

The problem is
their deceitfulness
– of trying to
look more generous
than they were
actually willing to be.

Here in Acts,
what we see
is not a lack
of possessions
but a difference
in attitude
towards possessions.

These first followers
of Jesus had possessions,
they just didn’t
regard them
as their own.

They did not view
their possessions as
resources to be used
solely for their own good.

Instead,
they saw
everything
they possessed
as having been
given to them
by God not
just to take of
their own
needs but also
to help meet
the needs
of others.

“What I have
is not mine
alone
– just to
support me
and my family.

Nothing is mine,
all is grace
and therefore
what I have
is mine
to share

– to extend
God’s grace
to others
– especially
those who
need it.”

Do we,
as followers
of Jesus,
view our
possessions
in this same way?

Because while
what we see
here is NOT
a socialist
or communist
state – where
the distribution
of resources is
compelled,
at times
by force,

what we
DO see here
is part of
what it means
to be the Church.

There is no
getting around
the reality that
these verses are
part of a
consistent
biblical picture
that calls us
in following Jesus
to radical generosity,
self-sacrifice,
and concern
for the well-being
of others and not
just ourselves.

What we
see here
challenges
us to wrestle
with very
practical questions.

Do I believe
whatever
I have
is mine
– I earned it,
I deserve it,

therefore,
I can just keep it,
spend it, consume
all of it, most of it,
on myself?

Or do I
understand
that whatever
I have
has been
given to me
by God?

Do I recognize
this is the
whole reason
why God
gives us
anything
at all?

Not because
we deserve it

Not because
we earn it

But because
we are loved
by a God
who is generous,

who gives
everything
we need,

everything we need
not just to take care
of ourselves,

everything we need,
more than enough,
so we can share
and spread the love
His love, His grace,
His provision to
others.

This decisive shift
in our perspective,
in our attitude,
in our posture,
in how we exercise
our resources,
is not something
we can will
on our own

– for ourselves
or for others.

No government,
no law,
no political
or economic
policy,
can change
the human heart
and mind.

For the gift,
the resource,
the transformative
power of grace
is the exclusive
work of God
– of the Gospel
of Jesus Christ.

It is the
Lord alone
who gives us
everything
we need to
become who
together
we were
meant to be

– and that
includes
becoming
generous,

sharing
as caring,

and caring for
each other
so that there
would be none
in need among us.

Oh, many,
even in
the Church
will persist in
arguing this is
idealistic
rather than
a realistic
probability
even as
they forget
that with God
nothing is
impossible.

Many, even in
the Church,
will still
push back,
insisting
there is
not enough
to go around,

even as
they forget
or choose not
to believe Jesus
when He assures us,

He promises that
our Father can
and will provide
all that we need

– not all that
we want out of
our sense of
individualism,
materialism,
and affluence
– but everything
we need.

We already
have everything
we need.

We have
our Father’s
most precious
possession,

His own Son,
given to free us
from guilt
and shame,

fear and
failure,

even death
itself.

We have
the Spirit
of the Lord
within us

– the presence
and power of
our Creator
working
to change
our hearts
and minds

– to bring us
together,

to deepen
our faith,

to enable us
to love,

and yes,
to become
radically
generous
in how we
serve each other.

In the midst of
a global pandemic
where many are
isolated and cut off,

where some
are exhausted
and afraid,

where others
have lost their
means of income
and maybe even
a place to live,

where is
the Lord
calling us
– you and me
— to be generous
– to share from
what we have
been given?

As our brothers
and sisters of color
continue to
cry out
for justice
and reform

and as
those cries
speak of needs
related to
equal access
to healthcare
and education
as well as
equal treatment
before the law,

where is
the Lord
calling us
– you and me
– to be generous

– not to argue
and debate
– but to share
from our privilege,

to be generous
in our willingness
not only to listen
but to provide
resources
for change?

One of
the signs
that we
are being
the Church,

that we
are living
by grace,

by the Spirit,

out of everything
God provides to us,

is that not
just our love
but our
generosity
towards
one another
increases.

Let us then,
by the grace
of God
become
a people
who own things
but who live together
as though we didn’t.

Let us, through
the leading of
the Holy Spirit,
instead of
focusing on
how to hold on
to what
we have,
we become
more compelled
to see
how much
we can
give away.

Let us,
follow Jesus,
in being willing
to sacrifice
not just out
of our surplus
–but out of
whatever we
have been given,
even our very lives
for the sake of
another’s need

– to manifest grace
in an otherwise
graceless world.

This is what it means to be the Church.
Let’s be the Church. Amen.