Summary: As we emerge "this side of Easter," Luke's description of the early church community in Acts makes us think deeply about the effects Jesus' resurrection might actually have on our lives.
“Ahhhhhh. Those were the days!” So begins one of our favorite pastimes, recalling the pastimes. But it never seems to take too long before eyes start glazing over or heads start shaking. Because there’s nothing like a good dose of nostalgia to make life seem pretty awful. And for whatever reason, playing the nostalgia game, longing for “the good old days,” is often a part of church life. Especially in well-established churches with storied histories intimately connected with the growth of the community, one often hears the story of how things were “back in the day,” which often means the 1950s. Churches were full to bursting! Pews were packed, Sunday School programs overflowed with adults as well as kids, there were choirs for every age group, and everyone happily contributed to the “unified mission.”
Of course, anyone with a good sense of reality knows that such descriptions represent a case of highly selective memory. There have been problems at every point in history, just like there are problems now. If you had asked a church-goer in the 1950s if his church could be better or bigger, I feel certain he would have answered with a resounding, “YES!” just as any of us would today. Anyone who has hummed, “Those were the days” knows the trap that such nostalgia represents. For one thing, it draws us away from the reality of the present into an imagined past. And for another, it causes cynicism – we all know the past had its problems too. But we have a tendency to see the past through rose-colored glasses.
And so we come to this morning’s passage. Here on the other side of Easter, we encounter the early church as it begins to find its way in the world. And the whole thing sounds like nothing more than “those were the days” nostalgia, doesn’t it? Luke paints this beautiful, almost utopian picture: “The whole group of those who believed” (which number well over 5,000 at this point) “were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions…There was not a needy person among them.” Now, I don’t know about you, but this certainly doesn’t sound like any church group I’ve ever experienced. Even excluding the remarkable willingness to give up private ownership and share with others in need, the vision of a faith community being “of one heart and mind” hardly seems realistic. We just do not know a human community – much less a church – like this!
The natural thing to do with such a passage would be to simply dismiss it as a romantic notion of a bygone era. It’s much easier to just read through this part of the Book of Acts than to consider the implications it has for our lives. But the gospel does have implications for our lives, BIG ones. And as we stand here on “this side” of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have to consider what that means for our lives. This passage forces us to do just that; it makes us think deeply about the effects Jesus’ resurrection might actually have on our lives. And here’s the thing: there’s a lot in this world that can change our lives, but there’s only one way that we can be changed for the better, and that is through Christ. That’s why we celebrate the resurrection each Easter and every Sunday; it is the way to NEW life!
Have you ever played that game with someone, the one that goes: “If you won the lottery what would you do?” I did that one time with my college roommate. First she said she’d buy a Corvette for herself. Then, she went on to say she would purchase a huge mansion for herself. This went on and on and on until my friend couldn’t think of anything else she could buy for herself. After a moment or two of being stumped, she finally looked up and said, “Oh, and I’d give some away.” I remember thinking that was hilarious, and also very insightful into the way we humans often think.
As most of you know, recently three winning tickets were sold nationally in the March 30th Mega-Millions Lottery drawing, which had a record $656 million dollar pre-tax payout. The country seemed to go crazy over this. Before the drawing, the news outlets carried stories and pictures of people standing in line for hours in order to buy tickets. Sometimes they would interview the hopefuls as to what they would do with the money. And although the answers varied greatly, one thing which came through loud and clear was the message that: “If I win this lottery it will change my life.” And no doubt it would.
A recent Boston Globe article asked this very question: “Does Money Change You?” The article reported, “As a mounting body of research is showing, wealth can actually change how we think and behave—and not for the better.” The article reported that the richer people are, the more difficult it is for them to connect with others. They show “less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them. They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble. And they are more likely to defend an unfair status quo.” The article goes on, “If you think you’d behave differently in their place, meanwhile, you’re probably wrong: These aren’t just inherited traits, but developed ones. Money, in other words, changes who you are.” The article noted that “if you win the lottery and you want to avoid becoming an insensitive lout, there is a simple solution: ‘Give at least half of it away.’”