Second Sunday of Easter
April 11, 2021
There are many surprising things that we come across in the bible. Think of them. Moses sees a burning bush that isn’t consumed. Jonah is swallowed alive by a great fish. Jesus is crucified and raised again. These are miracles, unexplained by natural phenomenon. They transcend space and time, and yes, they surprise us.
Now not every surprise needs to be a big or showy. Read again the beginning of our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. This is taking place not long after that first Easter. It says, “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” (Acts 4:32). I know this makes our market economy sensibilities go on high alert. Who are these weirdos? Is this some sort of commune? It’s surprising, unsettling that these early Christians sold everything they owned and gave it to each other.
But I don’t even think that’s the most surprising thing going on here. “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Think about that for a second. It should come as no surprise that congregations, parishes, denominations nowadays are not all of one heart and soul. The very fact that we vote on things at church meetings proves that we’re not of one heart and soul. And I bet that if we were to take a straw poll right now on any manner of touchy issues, we would be all over the ideological map. This, of course, says nothing of the polarized secular environment. We are segmented by the cable news channels we watch and by our political parties. It is so painfully obvious that we are not of one heart and soul.
So how in the world did those disciples of Jesus live together? Did they really have no differences of opinion? Were there just so few of them that they could figure out their differences? Or is the bible just making it sound better than it actually was? How in the world could any group of humans live with one heart and soul?
So often when we hear calls for “unity” today, it’s really code for, “you should just believe what I believe” or “you should join my side.” Or, we get to “unity” by kicking everybody else out. Sure, you get to be one of heart and soul, but you don’t have any heart and soul if your community is that fragile.
Well, I do think there is a way to live in perfect unity. The solution is simple, but it’s not easy. The first disciples lived with one and heart soul because they are utterly committed to each other and to the Lord Jesus. They have given everything, absolutely everything to and for each other. They trust in each other, they trust in the Lord God. They live in love with the kind of love that God loves them. In other words, they have skin in the game. And because they all have skin in the game, because they’re all committed, they can live with that unity that seems so elusive for us today.
So while unity, living with heart and soul seems to be so wonderful, it also means complete sacrifice. It means surrendering all that you have and all that you are. Judging from the experience of those first disciples, it is possible to live with unity. But, it means that you can keep nothing back for yourself.
Just as the Lord Jesus kept nothing back for himself. This is what makes the gospel so surprising. The Lord God Almighty, the creator and sustainer of the universe, gives everything away. Jesus opens wide his arms upon the cross. He sacrifices his body and his will. It’s his utter and absolute commitment to us that makes our unity with God possible. The Lord God holds nothing back. Jesus has skin in the game.
This is simply who God is. God can give everything away and yet it costs God nothing (Systematic Theology, Volume 2: The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: Processions and Persons, Kate Sonderegger). In this way, God is inexhaustible. You and I do the calculus, the math of how much we can give and how much we keep back. But with God there is no end to the gifts of love, of grace, of mercy. God gives the Israelites have food and water everyday for forty years in the wilderness. When the wedding banquet runs out of wine, Jesus makes sure there is yet even more. At the end of the bible there is a vision in which there is a great multitude that no one can count standing around God’s throne. With God there is always more, always enough.
That is the spirit that those first disciples are living into. They have been inspired by the Lord God who gives everything away. And somehow, some way, by giving everything away they find that every need has been met. And beyond that, they get even more than what they physically need, they receive the ultimate blessing. They live in a community with one heart and soul. To live in unity, we have to surrender ourselves to one another. Whatever we hold back diminishes our capacity to live at peace with one another.
As one of my favorite musicians puts it – “some people are so poor, all they have is their money” (Wookiefoot, “Just Visiting”). Some people are so poor, all that they have is their money. That is precisely what I am calling you to consider today. Jesus is calling us to live richly; to consider not your financial wealth, but to consider the treasure of what it would be to live with one heart and soul. Of course, it costs us everything. But what we get back is even more. Complete and absolute unity with the Lord God.
Take this for the good news that it is. The polarization we’re experiencing, the strident accusations, the bickering – it doesn’t have to be this way. But the only way, the only way we’re going to move past this is if and when we give each other our very best. We cannot hold back, we cannot hedge our bets, we cannot put just a little skin in the game. If we want to live with one heart and soul, then we have to give our whole hearts and souls.
This is a high calling, and not for the faint of heart. This is a high calling because it means living as the Lord God lives. It means giving ourselves away just as the Almighty gave everything away for us by becoming flesh and through the crucifixion. If you are ready for something new, if you are ready to put all this behind us, if you are ready to live with one heart and soul, there is but one solution. Give everything you have to each other and to the Lord God.