Acts 2: 42-47
42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I read San Jose Mercury News’ columnist Scott Herhold’s column with regularity and I was immediately drawn into his recent piece entitled, The Worst Local Decisions of the Last 50 years. On the list was the decision of the City of Santa Clara to tear down it’s eight-block downtown in the 1960’s. It wasn’t just that the lot sat sad and vacant for years later or that the old City Hall, five and dime, grocery story and movie theater were gone, it was that now, it had no charm and it had no center. I think we human beings thrive with a variety of public gathering places- spaces that belong to all of us.
The best cities have strong centers like this, in many cities; this area is called “the Commons.” Etymology of the word tells us it’s meaning is “belonging to all” and “shared by all or many.”
It seems that this idea is globally unfashionable- this idea that being committed to “the Commons” matters in any significant sense. The trend is to say with boldness that it is better to forge a path alone and to vote to divest from common life, to pull back from things like shared treaties and strategic military collaboration.
This feels like a tragic outcome of a hyper-individualized western culture. It is a priority to do what’s best for us, as individual nation states or individual leaders or individual political parties.
And yet I am convinced of the truth to which the stories of early Christian communities point: life is better “in common,” which means that Beloved Community is known and created and felt when we are invested in one another.
In the writings we find in what is called the Book of Acts, we get what a glimpse of what some of the earliest followers of Jesus of Nazareth were up to.
They share their stuff, they eat together, they pray together, they were generous with one another and damn it even people outside the community liked them! And things were so great that they were growing. Some commentators argue that this was their utopian vision for what might be possible, while others say that this was a sort of formula for the ideal manifestation of Jesus’ teachings in communal life. I think that what we are meant to take away from this, is that they were invested of the livelihood of one another and they were invested in the livelihood of those outside their orbit.
The point of their existence was to share the spiritual journey “in the commons” to belong to one another and to the community, to find ways to be invested in the thriving of others, those that shared their religious practices and those that didn’t.
It is dramatic and inspiring, a first century depiction of going all in on the idea of being “in it together.” It’s poetry of trust that results in the group having what was needed and then giving the rest to those who had nothing. How’s that for Jesus economics? Sounds too radical right? It does to me. I live in a big house with just three people… Our survival is not really held in common like that. That idea seems so far from where a lot of us are…
So let us all at the very least, hear this point loud and clear: living out Jesus’ teachings in Acts means they didn’t just exist for themselves. It wasn’t about their prosperity as individuals; it was about the fruits of truly belonging to one another, individually and communally.
Dr. Matt Skinner writes, “The community of faith in Jerusalem lives a multifaceted witness, one not restricted to a single place or mode. This witness manifests itself in houses and in the Jerusalem temple. It benefits its members and earns the admiration of outsiders. The community exists not for its own sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be a means by which God extends salvation to others (v. 47).”
I think it’s always good to start with questions: Let us ask: How are we invested in the livelihood of those gathered here? Of those who pass by this building every day? Of those on the sidewalk who struggle? And also, how can we invest more heavily in a just world for all by putting our treasure and gifts and resources to build up the things we all share in common?
As Congress debated a healthcare bill that basically makes being a woman a preexisting condition, and casts lots of lots of people out of a network of accessible care. We must say out loud that this is the opposite of investing in healthcare that belongs to all. I want us all to be clear what religious values tell us: our thriving depends upon our investment in “the commons,” in building up that which we all share. It is a Christian value to be invested in the livelihood of not just my family, but yours and all of us in the human family.
And also believe this text from Acts is telling us that living out Jesus’ ethic of radical love in community right now means that we can count on wholeness and fun and thriving, when we put some of our resources, our stories, our time, our prayers into this Beloved Community right here.
What fruits might we feel if we allowed a First Century sort of belonging to one another- an investment in life held in common?….