SJF • Easter 2b • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
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.
I’m going to ask a question that may seem strange to some of you, to others perhaps not so strange. Do you believe in a stingy God? My guess — and my hope — is that none of you do. I know that I don’t. I believe that God is overwhelmingly generous and not at all stingy.
To look at how they act, however, it seems that not all who do profess and call themselves Christian are of the same mind. To look at how they act you would think that the God they worship was stingy, sparing of grace, reluctant to bless and hard to please. I think that in the long run they worship a God who is made in their own image, reflecting a narrow attitude towards life, a parsimonious attitude towards grace and generosity — in short, a theology of scarcity, in a church of famine and drought.
But thanks be to God that we do not follow such a God or worship in such a church. Thanks be to God that the examples of those first Christians of whom we heard this morning are still before us, and among us. For those early Christians put their entire trust in a God who showered them with overwhelming blessings. After all, they were living in the vivid memory of the resurrection itself, the raising of their Lord and ours from the dead — and what better work of generous grace had ever been done on God’s good earth than the grace shown when he pried open the tomb, rolling the stone away, and raised his own dear Son to life again. Those early Christians lived in the glow of that Easter dawn, and it had a profound effect on their lives.
The reason there was not a needy person among them is spelled out in our reading today — it is because those who had shared with those who had not. There was no 99 percent and one percent, and no one even claimed private ownership of anything, but all went into the common pool, the common purse, for the common good of all. It is a great irony that many who call themselves Christians express opposition to the government redistributing wealth, when a government acting in such a way is simply acting like the early church!
But let’s not get into politics — governments come and governments go, the political parties pretend they all want the best but then fight like the worst. Rather let us look to ourselves and ask ourselves how well we stand up in comparison to the graceful freedom and open-handed generosity of those early Christians. Do I give in return for the blessings and abundance which God has provided me? Or do I count out the offering I bring to our common life with sweat and tears? The scriptural saying is that where my treasure is my heart will be also; but it is also true that the manner of my giving reflects the nature of the God I worship. Is how I give reflective of a testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, a testimony and a witness to the power and grace of God? Or is it a grudging gift, a penny squeezed so hard it makes Abe Lincoln weep, a gift given not in faith but in doubt and fear?
I wrestle with myself to answer these questions for myself. But only you can answer these questions for yourself. And to be fair to us all, we have a somewhat harder task than did the disciples. And even some of them, like Thomas, did not believe the good news at first — but needed the hands on touch of the physical presence of Jesus to reassure them. But it is harder for us, for we do not live in a time when that is even possible, in the immediate glow of the resurrection, but in its reflection down the corridors of time from two thousand years ago. I know that in this day and age we are unlikely to forego private ownership and hold everything in common, or sell our homes or lands and bring the whole proceeds to the church to share with all and sundry. We live among the shadows of doubt and fear, and the glow of the resurrection can seem very dim at times, particularly in these days of economic and political uncertainty.
But it seems to me that one of the secrets of living a Christian life is living “as if” we lived in those early days. We may not be able to do exactly as they did, but we can make it a goal to act as if we could. And perhaps if we acted as if we were better than we are, we might soon become in fact better than we are. If we apply our hearts to being as much like we really ought to be, we may find ourselves moving from an “as if” world into a fully faithful and faith-filled world; a world of complete trust in God’s grace, and hope for his glory.
This is a good exercise for Eastertide, the season when we celebrate the raising of Jesus from the dead. C.S. Lewis once wrote that before his conversion to Christ, he had studied all of the world religions in which mythological characters die and then are raised to life again. And part of his early glimmerings of faith took precisely that form: “It looks as if it once might actually have happened.” The “as if” was enough to get him started in the right direction.
It took Thomas the Apostle a personal encounter with the Risen Lord to bring him to faith in him. That is unlikely to happen to any of us, though I will not rule it out — as I have known members of this congregation who in their dying days felt sure that they were visited by Jesus, seeing him standing in their bedroom or hospital room, holding our a hand and calling them home. But for most of us, like Lewis, it will be the conscious practice of living as if we were better than we are, knowing we are far from perfect — reminded as we are by John this morning that if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We are far from perfect, not always as generous and open-handed as we could or should be. But we worship a generous and open-handed God, and the more we think of ourselves as if we were his children, children by adoption and by grace, the more we actually become what we hope and pray to be. And perhaps some day it will be said of us as well that there was not a needy person among them, nor a stingy nor an angry person, but an abundance of grace and blessing, shared and shared alike in a fair distribution of all of God’s gifts. This is the Eastertide way of life, my friends, to live as if the world were better than it seems, and by doing so, to make it so. So let us resolve to do so, and give thanks to God, our generous, grace-giving ever-loving God, to whom all might, majesty, power and dominion we here ascribe, henceforth and for evermore.