“One Heart and Soul” A Sermon for Easter 2

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year B

Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

April 11, 2021

One Heart and Soul

I think we should pay attention that the texts appointed for this day, the Second Sunday of Easter, focus our attention on the importance of sharing, something that many struggle with as young children–as well as into adulthood.

Last Sunday, on Easter Day, we celebrated the Resurrection and what that means for our lives, with the hope promised in this life we share in the Spirit of Christ.  Remember, of course, that the brilliance of our liturgical cycle is that we continue to focus on what it means to live into this promised and realized hope.  Easter isn’t just a day, it is a reality, a way of living, a perspective or lens through which we see the world.  What does it mean to practice being Easter people? 

Today we focus intently on the truth that practicing our faith has a great deal to do with sharing–but perhaps not just in ways that are most obvious to us.  

Remember that the same person wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, and this writer challenges us head on today with this question of what it looks like to share.  

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. . . . for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This text is a nightmare for anyone who holds to a strictly literal approach to Biblical texts.  Even the staunchest supporter of such a literal approach suddenly becomes a lover of metaphor and wants to highlight the importance of the historical and cultural context of this description of what the early Christian community was like.  It’s funny how we want to find a loophole when the Gospel says something that challenges some position we hold dear.

While I always want to appreciate the richness of metaphor and the symbolic dimension, I don’t want to take the pressure off too quickly with this text.  I think it is important that we do some self-examination and ask ourselves what it means that the earliest Christian community understood their common life this way, while we, over twenty centuries later, live our lives the way we do when it comes to material possessions.  

Of course an enormous piece of their life was the reality of being persecuted and killed for your faith.  Supporting one another enabled survival as a community.  What is the biggest struggle any of us have faced in practicing our faith?  How have we had to actually readjust the structure of our lives based on the faith we profess?  What has being a follower of Jesus Christ actually cost you?

In first century Palestine, with the enormous presence of the decadence, greed, and competition of the Roman culture saturating the culture, Christians stood out for their regard for one another over material possessions.  They were an awkward group who were noted by ancient historians for their love for one another.  They stood out for their care of the most vulnerable.  How do we stand out?  I guess you could say that the early Christians were good sharers.  This is a struggle for our culture, I think.  

I remember even as a kid being constantly reminded to share my toys with my sister and cousins.  Luckily I loved books, and most of them didn’t have much interest in that, so I had it easier than others.  But the Christian emphasis on sharing extends far beyond material possessions; indeed, we are challenged to ask ourselves what it means to share our very lives.  

This past year has challenged us all to examine our behaviors and assumptions regarding what it means to share life on this one planet we all inhabit.  This reality of our shared life within creation has the focus of my heart.  What does it mean to co-exist as fellow human beings in a culture that is so steeped in a zero-sum consumerist model that we don’t even notice how antithetical it is to the Gospel itself?  The degree to which folks push back when someone criticizes the greed apparent in the American economic system actually shines a light on where our devotion is truly directed.  Everyone worships something, and we seem to most forcefully protect the things we are most devoted to.  Think about it.  

Most toddlers don’t like to share, and this a trait that persists into adulthood for many people.  I will fight for what I want, and you can fight for what you want.  And all will be well–unless, of course, we want the same thing.  

I was thinking this last week that it might be possible to summarize all of Christian ethics into one short description: what does it mean to move from focusing on what I want to focusing on what we need?  

There are two pieces of this statement, of course.  First, the movement from insisting on wants to identifying needs is essential in understanding how our practice of faith cultivates virtue in our lives and challenges us to recognize our tendency to grasp for power and control.  The second piece of this is the movement from seeing ourselves as strictly separate individuals to seeing ourselves as persons in community.  What does it mean to move from focusing on what I want to focusing on what we need?  

Here is where it is helpful to look at this exchange between Jesus and Thomas in today’s Gospel text.  There are so many challenging angles to this story, aren’t there?  Thomas misses the first encounter with Jesus, and he hears about it from the disciples who were there.  Who knows where he is.  He is there for the second encounter a week later, and he and Jesus share a moment that is so visceral it almost makes you cringe.  “Put your finger here.  Put your hand here in my side.” 

The focus in the story is on Jesus and Thomas, but this year my heart shifted to wonder what this second moment was like between Thomas and the other disciples.  This is what is fascinating to me:  in that second encounter when Jesus spoke with Thomas, the other disciples were present in the room. 

That is fascinating to me, because I can imagine so many things.  What were the looks on their faces?  How did they stand around the edge of the room and watch what happened?  Did they whisper to one another?  Were they relieved that Thomas was now seeing the risen Lord?  We don’t know, and our imaginations can enter into that story in interesting ways.

While the text is silent, as we say, about the details, we can say that they held a space together in which Thomas could have this encounter with Jesus that transformed his faith and set him on a course for further discipleship.  They shared their presence there in the room while Thomas’s heart swelled with the wisdom Jesus offered them all, and then they all shared a common life of discipleship after these encounters with the Risen Jesus had passed.  

They shared their lives with one another, and that is vitally important for us to pay attention to.  Peter didn’t monopolize Jesus’ attention in that instant.  Thomas had room to question and wrestle.  The writer of the Gospel of John took the time to share space on the page so that Thomas’s story could be included, and that has made all the difference to so many (me included) who have doubts and questions about what it means to trust in the Risen Christ.  

They shared a meal, they shared this encounter, and they shared their lives as disciples of the Risen Lord whose presence reoriented their lives–and the lives of countless others through the centuries.  The disciples were, as the text describes in Acts, of one heart and one soul.  Their sharing in that moment enabled the story of the risen Christ to take root in the early Christian community.  It led to us being gathered here today.  

So, we are invited into this space today to ask ourselves how we are sharing our lives with one another.  How are we being called to give of ourselves to those who are struggling or doubting?  Perhaps we are the doubting one, and we see others sharing themselves with us so that we feel supported and cared for.  We may not be able to share hugs as easily, or even a handshake, but we have learned that paying attention and sharing our lives isn’t confined to any set patterns.  

I go back to that challenging text from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:

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. . . . for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

I am challenged, as always, with the deep intention in this act.  To take what we have been gifted with and offer it, to share what we can with those who are in need.  We do not just focus on material possessions, although it is important to see the call we have to recognize these possessions for what they truly are, not to grasp onto them, but to share our resources.  

Perhaps today I am thinking about hope: how it is needed in this world, in our lives, and how we can share it, and receive it in times of struggle.  

But what about you?  What are you called to share?  What do you need shared with you?  It is particular to each one of us, and it shared among us all.  What is the Spirit calling you to share?  What is being identified in your life?  This is the call we all share as disciples of Jesus.

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