In today’s reading from the fourth chapter of Acts, verses thirty-two to thirty-five we have a very specific statement of how the resurrection community organized itself to be a witness to the resurrection of the “Lord Jesus”.
“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.’
If this is what it looks like to be resurrected, then why don't we look more resurrected?
William H. Willimon writes: “The most eloquent testimony to the reality of the resurrection is not an empty tomb or a well-orchestrated pageant on Easter Sunday but rather a group of people whose life together is so radically different, completely changed from the way the world builds a community, that there can be no explanation other than that something decisive has happened in history. “
The truth is that our life does not look radically different from the life of any one else living in this culture. Each of us drove or rode to church this morning in a vehicle privately owned, having spent the evening resting in our privately owned homes. We ate and clothed ourselves according to our privately held means. All of this we derived from our personal capacity to generate debt and wealth in the money economy and not from the sharing of common goods. Each of us in various degrees of success and failure participates in the money economy of our culture, an economy and culture that thrives on the corruption of our passions and desires.
You and I participate in, and are invested in a culture that is controlled by a kind of economic determinism. In the life of our culture it is Money that makes the world go round. And in order to ensure that this economic determinism is sustainable and all encompassing the culture has moved from a culture of need to a culture of wants.
In our culture people are valued and classed according to their ability to gain and control personal and private wealth. Our culture is filled with symbols that make it easy for individuals and institutions to make value judgments based on the size and quality of an individual’s private property, whether it be a business, an investment portfolio, a house, an automobile, or the clothes hanging in a closet.
In this country we have moved from an agrarian culture to a manufacturing culture and from a manufacturing culture to a consumer culture. People making choices that are driven by wants rather than needs is the engine that drives our whole economic system and the culture that is built around it. If people were to suddenly buy only what they needed rather than what they wanted the whole economy and the cultural base feeding it would collapse. The companies that control this system spend millions of dollars to bombard you every way they can think of with the propaganda necessary to keep this system running. If you watch TV, go online, drive down the road, listen to the radio, and walk into any retail shop anywhere in this country you will be confronted with testimony after testimony about what you need.
Of course this is a deception! When corporate America speaks to your needs they are really speaking to your wants, your desires, your passions, and your addictions. The American consumer economy is not fueled by meeting your needs but by fueling your wants. Calling our wants needs is just another way our culture controls our lives and the profit margin of corporate America and its shareholders. Sadly, you and I are by virtue of living in this culture deeply implicated in this process.
The tragedy of this is while those with the means buy and throw away tons of things purchased to feed their addiction of want, a growing number of people are forced into poverty where their basic needs go unmet. And at the same time, in our grief over something lost, we turn our attention away from our neighbor's needs to licking our wounds through more and more consumption of those things that feed our passions and desires. It is this ever-growing reality that the passage from Acts challenges today.
But I am not arguing for some Marxist form of redistribution of wealth. I am not suggesting you sell everything you own and lay the money at the feet of your pastor or even the church finance committee.
I believe there is something much deeper and much more radical than the redistribution of wealth taking place in this passage from Acts.
What Acts is teaching, in the words of Willimon, is that “The church is called to be an alternative community, a sign, a signal to the world that Christ had made possible a way of life together unlike anything the world had seen.” Or in the words of Paul:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
"The resurrection life makes possible true generosity and bold living." (Willimon) It is a life that in its very living is a powerful testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The resurrected life is a witness to an alternative life that values needs met.
So again I ask: “Why don't we look more resurrected?”
I am not talking about some supernatural or heroic act of martyrdom. I am not even talking about sacrificial giving. What I am talking about is a radical return to the way creation works, an economy as old as creation itself. As Christians we are called to return to a culture, an economy, that creates life, both individually, and in community--that in its very essence is a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What I am suggesting here is not something new to this land. When the Pilgrims first landed on Plymouth Rock it was for the purpose of building a resurrection community that would be a “beacon on a hill”, a community that in the way it lived its life together would be a witness to those ensnared in the Anglo/European culture back home.
And they almost starved to death! If it had not been for the community of native peoples already living on this continent they never would have survived. The Anglo-European people built their homes in neat rows, and planted their gardens in singular monocultures of plants, building a life in the same way as they had known in their native home. Without even realizing it they were putting in place old habits that were systematically flawed. They were using old tools in an attempt to build something new.
I am reminded of “Audre Lorde’s well-known declaration that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” What the New England colonist ended up doing, in spite of their best intentions, was to continue to use the tools of the life they knew from the old world. The consequence was that the City on a Hill, that was to be a Beacon of Hope to the old world, ended up looking in to many ways just like the world they had left behind. And in this way they ultimately failed.
But fortunately for them, the community of native peoples came to their rescue with food and knowledge of how to farm this new land that brought salvation to the colony and what we have come to know as the iconic Thanksgiving Feast which we celebrate each November.
One lesson they learned is known as the Three Sisters which is a radically different approach to farming than what the colonist had known in the old world. The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of various Native American groups in North America: squash, maize, and climbing beans. In what today we call companion planting the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each community of crops. Each mound is about 12 inches high and 20 inches wide, and several maize seeds are planted together in the center of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is 6 inches tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds.
The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants utilize, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a living mulch, creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Nutritionists now know that the combination of corn, beans, and squash create a complete protein and thereby have a superior nutrition component when eaten together providing the human body with what is needed to live. How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. (Psalms 133:1)
The Three Sisters is more than a metaphor for the life as described in the passage from Acts 4. It is a witness to the way God‘s creation works interdependently, how in nature nothing is wasted in life or death. And, how the needs of each member of creation is met, not independent from one another, but in an interdependent relationship with one another. In other words, we as a resurrection community are called to meet one another’s needs.
So how do we start to look resurrected? How do we go about reordering the way we live that we might be in Willemon’s words “a group of people whose life together is so radically different, completely changed from the way the world builds a community, ….”
It is a task that is daunting, if not impossible. It is a task that requires that we become one people, heart and soul, which is of course a big reason this task seems daunting and impossible. Consequently, it will require great power, and great grace. And while it may seem daunting, even impossible, we can find confidence in our faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us, along with his ever-present Spirit that promises to nurture, guide, and sustain us.
So how do we start? How do we extricate ourselves from this culture in which we live? How do we get off the grid-to borrow a popular phrase. And once we are off the grid, partially or completely, how do we order our life together so that we become a living testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the answer must come from you, but let me suggest some possible starting points.
1. Turn off the TV. Box it up. Get rid of it, so that it is not a temptation. The television is the number one tool in this culture working to corrupt our passions and desires. Remember, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
2. Grow your own food. Do so in community whenever possible, but also at home that you might be a witness to your neighbors and neighborhood. In growing your own food become a producer and not just a consumer. Give your excess to the needy. In all this tend the soil with the intention to increase the health of the soil and all the life that makes their living from the soil. These creatures too are your neighbors.
3. Do a personal inventory of how you spend your money. Divide this inventory into two categories making a distinction between wants and needs. Work to make every choice one of need and not of want. Do not beat yourself up when you fail, but do not give up. This is a life process that takes a lifetime to accomplish. Be constant in your endeavors to live a life of need and not want, working constantly to reduce the purchase of those things that only feed your addictions, passions and desires. Give everything you can of what is left over to tend to the needs of others.
4. Participate in your neighborhood and community. This will be easier without having the TV. Especially tend to those organizations and gatherings that work to meet the needs of your neighbors and the larger community. Beyond that, find ways to share your life with others. Pull a chair onto the porch so you can observe and converse with your neighbors. If you do not know your neighbors, how will you know their need? And, if you do not know your neighbor’s needs, how will you be available to them in their need?
5. Finally, as a member of the resurrected community, remember to pass the peace with such words as “The peace of Christ be with you”, and to sing the doxology.
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God; all creatures here below;
Praise God for all that love has done;
Creator, Christ, and Spirit, One.
So are you ready to start looking more resurrected?
With God’s help, may it be so!