During the season of Easter you may have noticed that the Old Testament reading isn’t actually from the Old Testament. It is instead a reading from the Book of Acts. This has been the Easter practice of the church for many centuries. The first reading in Easter is given to the early days of the Church in Christ as this so dramatically shows the effects of Easter in our world. The Church moves quickly from fearful beginnings to become just as alive, vibrant, and active to save this lost world as is her head, the risen Lord Jesus.
At least it did back then. But it doesn’t always seem that way for us today, does it? What if this section of Acts had been written NOT about the church there in Jerusalem in the days of the Apostles, but about the church in our day and age? What might it have read like then? Lets take a stab at it …
Those who accepted God’s message were baptized and about one or two were added almost every year. And the odd few of them devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching – once in a while, and to an occasional fellowship pot-luck, to Holy Communion at least a handful of times a year (whether they felt they needed it or not), and to regular worship when their schedules weren’t too busy, or when the weather wasn’t too bad or too nice. And nobody was ever really filled with awe, and not one wonderful or miraculous sign ever seemed to happen. Life never really changed at all. Very few of the people had anything in common with one another, and each did their best to build up their possessions and provide for their own security, hoping that there might be some little gift they could then give when their own needs had been met. And their hearts were burdened and hardened, and they continually questioned if God cared anymore, or if He even existed. And they only found the favour of the people by never being seen or heard.
It strikes an uncomfortable nerve doesn’t it? Cuts a little too close to home. Puts it all in a very unflattering perspective. The same same gifts of Word and Sacraments, the same Gospel, the same calling, the same Lord and Saviour, but yet we seem to have little in common with our brothers and sisters in the early church … well maybe we have more in common than we think.
For the members of that church understand the piercing sword of the Spirit, and the hammer blows of God’s law, much like we do even now, having heard the litany of our failures. (36-37,40) Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” … And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
Failing God is not new to us, nor will we be the last to find ourselves so confronted and asking “We have failed. What shall we do?” “How do we make it better?” Peter’s answer to the early church still stands even today. Step number one is to distance ourselves from this crooked generation. This doesn’t mean taking ourselves out of it – withdrawing or hiding ourselves from it, but it simply means to have less in common with it than we once did. Selfish and self-serving attitudes must be left behind. God must continually be put to the fore. Faith and hope and love must come to guide our decisions and our actions, not fear or doubt or envy.
But it is not enough to have less in common with the sinful world around us. Indeed, we couldn’t possibly do it even if we wanted to. It is just too much a part of who we are as sinners. Therefore we must go a different route and have all things in common with God! But this is something we can’t do on our own either, God must do it for us. (38-39) And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
In Baptism God removes us from the domination of the world and opens a whole new world of grace and forgiveness to us. In Baptism, God joins us to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He takes our sin and we receive His grace. He dies our death and we are given His life. (42) And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. The common life with Christ we are given in Baptism must be nurtured and nourished by the continual hearing of God’s Holy Word and the regular eating and drinking of His body and blood. These new believers saturated their lives with the means of grace. Is it any wonder their lives overflowed with the fruits of faith?
Once we have all things in common with our Lord through His gifts of Word and Sacraments, then (and only then) we can have all things in common with one another. (44-47) And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God.
By giving up their own belongings they showed a profound trust that the Lord would provide. Their hearts were not attached to the things of this world, but to their brothers and sisters in the faith. People, not possessions. Possessions have their value only when they can be used to help others. Money and property are blessings from God, not to be hoarded, but to be used, to be shared, to bring glory to God. To see all the stuff of this world in such light truly makes the heart glad and the soul generous – as glad and generous as God who has so richly blessed us in Christ!
And so first having all things in common with God, and then all things in common with one another, so too will we one day begin to have all things in common with the world once again. (41,43,47) So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls … And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles … and having favor with all the people …the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
It may not always seem like it to us, but the effects of Easter are still very real and very powerful in our world. We still have the same same gifts of Word and Sacraments, the same Gospel, the same calling, the same Lord and Saviour. And if we want it, we can also have so much else in common with the early church. Through Christ and we too can move from tarnished beginnings to become just as alive, vibrant, and active to save this lost world as is her head, the risen Lord Jesus. And just see what He has in store for us then!