There once was a wise man revered by everyone. People went to him for advice because he was so wise. There was also a bully who was jealous of the wise man because so many people went to see him and he was getting a large following. One day the bully decides to challenge the wise man. He approaches him and behind his back he is holding a chicken by the neck. He says to the wise man, is the chicken dead or alive? The wise man knew it was a trick. If he said the chicken was alive the man would quickly snap its neck and say it was dead. If he said it was dead, the man would show him that the chicken was still alive. So, the bully issued the challenge, “Well, what’s your answer, alive or dead?”
The Christians in the first lesson from the fourth chapter of Acts seem to be motivated by the answer to that same question, ”He is risen, Jesus is alive!” At first, one might wonder if the community being described is a Christian community or a communist one. The lesson tells us that ‘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’. This was typical of the early Christian community. One heart and one soul, obviously not Lutheran!
One of the reasons that this Utopian society existed probably had to do with the fact that just a couple chapters earlier in Acts, on the day of Pentecost, while all the disciples were gathered together, the Holy Spirit descended upon them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and they preached their message boldly, even ‘in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’. The disciples spoke from the heart because they knew of what they were teaching. The disciples witnessed to the people as if Jesus were alive. The believers were grateful for this first-hand account of the message they received and they were freed to share the message with others. This utopia did not last for long however because in the very next chapter of Acts it tells of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold what they had but held back some of the proceeds. They did not give all that they had. This withholding caused a fracture in the community.
Our world has become a place of entitlement. There is little sense of gratefulness for the things God has given us. Western culture seems to have taught us that we deserve what’s coming to us. Here in the 21st Century many believe that is a right to accumulate as much stuff as possible. Therefore all this stuff is “mine” I’m entitled to it. This makes it very difficult to share since the belief is that one is entitled rather than gifted with resources. But it is really not complicated. It all comes down to duty versus delight.
There was a young boy who took his allowance to the florist and asked what kind of arrangement he could get with the money he had. The woman put together a bud vase with a beautiful flower and a matching bow and ribbon. She asks the young man what the occasion was and in a bit of a disgruntled voice, the boy answers, it is for my Mom for Mother’s Day. Many years later, the smiling young man all grown up goes to the same florist and asked for a beautiful arrangement of a dozen roses. As the florist puts the order together she ask the man what the occasion was and he tells of the woman he met who agreed to marry him and he wanted to give her the most beautiful flowers. The first story is duty. It was Mother’s Day and he felt he had to do something but did so begrudgingly. The second story tells of delight. He was so grateful his girl was willing to share her life with him.
Gratefulness is our response in knowing that we have been died for. When we are grateful, it makes all the difference in the world. What kind of witness are we to our community? One way is we are still here. All these churches have developed around us, and we are still here. Even when we refused the buyout offer, we are still here. And since that offer, we have expanded and improved our facility. With the additional space, more community groups are able to meet here, and more events can happen at the same time because there is enough space. We are still here because Jesus is still here. Even though we don’t have a firsthand account as the early believers did, we know that the Holy Spirit is alive in each of us and we take delight in that and share it boldly, being of one heart and soul.
Back to the wise man from earlier. He replies to the bully, dead or alive…it’s up to you. Do we believe or not? Duty or delight? It’s up to you! Amen.