Acts: Developing Communities of Generosity

Sermon Series: Acts: The Disruptive Presence of the Holy Spirit

By: Donnell Wyche – June 2, 2019

Preamble

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives.  We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Introduction

The Book of Acts invites us on a journey of how we have faith in the Empire. It also invites us to ask whether we are open to the disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

In our opening sermon of this series, we discovered that when the disciples and early followers of Jesus asked for power to defeat the Empire and to realize their nationalist dream. God answers, not with power to defeat their enemies, but with power to become witnesses to the resurrection. Because the resurrection invites a reordering.

The apostles and early disciples wanted power over people, but they got power to become witnesses instead.

7He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

God is going to great lengths to expand how the resurrection changes everything. Empire, poverty, hunger, despair and death aren’t the only options. The resurrection says: It doesn’t have to be this way. The resurrection signals that the kingdom is coming–that the kingdom is breaking into their present reality with forgiveness, mercy, grace, and new life.

As the early disciples and apostles bear witness to the resurrection, more and more people join the community of believers. Luke puts it this way in Acts 2:42-47,

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)

As people fled the death and scarcity of Empire, they found a community (of life) that was being formed by the resurrection and its witnesses, changing the way people belonged, behaved, and believed.

This witnessing community was in stark contrast with the culture of the Greco-Roman where only the strong survived. “The Greeks and Romans were, at their best, fighters. Hatred and revenge were not marginal or shameful for the ancient Greeks and Romans, but matters of routine and pride. A person who simply forgave an injury was held to be feeble and a coward. How could should a person protect their family and friends?”

Materialism was deified in the form of idolatry, and they deified violence and exploitation through their belief that these were the ways the gods operated. The gods that were worshipped, they were ruthless, and they expected their devotees to emulate them. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to live in a dog-eat-dog world, where you have to be on your guard all of the time, where there was no rest or peace only strife, hostility, and violence.

But this community being shaped and formed by the resurrection was embracing what had been present from the beginning that in God’s economy there is always enough. They were demonstrating this as they sold their property, as they sold their possessions to give those who had need. It’s almost like the resurrection proved that Jesus was right all along.

32“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

Luke 12:32-34 no longer feels like a burden, it seems that it is a privilege now. Little by little, the community was becoming the people of God, and in God’s economy, there was enough or as Luke says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Because this community had no rival, the community grew.

Building Social Capital

This witnessing community demonstrates what Sociologists have been defining, researching, tracking, and reporting on the need for us to pay attention to and nurture our social capital: the fabric of our connections and interactions with each other. Across all fields of study, social capital (or its absence) has an undeniable impact on the well-being of individuals, organizations, and communities. 

  • Economic research teaches us that social capital makes workers more productive, companies are more competitive, and nations and economies more prosperous.
  • Psychological studies demonstrate that social capital reduces depression in individuals and increases individual willingness to help others.
  • Health research reveals that social capital decreases rates of hearts attacks, suicides, colds, strokes, and cancer. Social capital also has a direct affect on an individual’s ability to recover from or fight illness.
  • Sociology experiments suggest that social capital increases test scores and graduation rates. It also reduces crime, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, welfare dependency, and drug abuse.
  • From political science, we know that extensive social capital makes government agencies more responsive, efficient, and innovative.

These scientists, researchers, and demographers have discovered what Jesus already knew and what this witnessing community in Acts is demonstrating – that life is better lived together. We need social capital to live. 

The Empire tells us that we if don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will. Jesus calls this a lie. And he offers us a gift–an invitation to live life in community with him and his Father. Our instinct is to be selfish and possessive. But Jesus knows there is a better way to life, so he resists the Empire’s invitation to go it alone.

Before we can follow where Jesus is leading, we have surrender.

40With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-42)

We have surrender our agendas, our ways of living life, we have to refuse the Empire’s invitation to go it alone, living life with self-interest, our hands clenched tightly around what we think will give us life. In order to receive the gift of community that Jesus has for us, we have to open our hands. We have to trust that Jesus knows better than us what it means to be human.

I’m struck by the response of this community. It’s generosity instead of scarcity.

Luke puts it this way,

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32)

Their response to the Empire to ensure that all are welcomed and that there’s enough for everyone.

I’m reminded of what the writer of Hebrews says

16Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)

I am here today because of the generosity of others. My entire life is a testimony to the generosity of others. So learning how to live with my hands open and how to be generous in times of plenty and in times of distress have transformed my life.

When we are struggling everyday to make ends meet, when we are living paycheck to paycheck, when we are one crisis away from being evicted, when we aren’t experiencing the peace that a rich network brings, one of the harshest thing someone can demand of you is to care for someone else, to shift the focus off of yourself and to consider the needs of another. The old haunts: scarcity, fear, and anxiety show up all at once to convince you to take care of #1 first.

With one voice they remind us of the first law of nature: self-preservation. When we are uncertain and afraid, it feels good to listen to them, and rehearse our response, “I would like to help you, but…”

What if when we are in situations like this, we suspended whatever we needed to in order to test whether God was giving us an invitation to surrender our fears and anxiety in order to trust more deeply.

Risky Response

Consider the last time that you were put upon and you chose not to open your hands in generosity. Looking back, how were you feeling?

Were you in touch with your fear and anxiety?

Looking forward, how might you invite God in your fear and anxiety to help you open your hands in generosity? How would choosing to open your hands in trust to God feel?

Prayer Senses

  • Forgiveness. The Lord wants to help those who are struggling with a willingness to forgive. He wants to walk with you each step of the way. 
  • Lost. Direction for those who feel lost. 
  • Hope for those who feel forgotten. The Lord remembers you. 
  • Healing for broken relationships with siblings. 
  • Rest for those who have been under a lot of strain. 
  • Courage. To welcome and invite the disruptive presence of the Holy Spirit in your everyday.