2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day 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, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
It’s only fair that I level with you right from the start, and let you know that this has text has been engrained in my being for several years. It’s a dream-text for an idealist like me—with all that extreme language. The word “all” is thrown around like crazy. “All who believed were together and had all things in common.” They had “the goodwill of all the people.” You get the idea, it’s extreme. An ideal picture of a devoted, intentional, intimate community of believers, and I love it.
And I should also tell you that living in intentional Christian community is one of the core values of my life. When I was in college, my campus fellowship tried to live this out. We even called it “Acts 2 Community”—linking it to this very passage. We were intentional about doing things the believers in this text did. We were in one another’s lives on a daily basis, we prayed and ate together all the time, and we held our possessions in common (from cars, to cameras, to kitchen supplies, to CDs).
So I wasn’t going to preach on it, since I’ve already spent so much time with it. But for some reason I felt God bringing me back to it. [pause] Emily reminded me that we had to “other” the text. So as I was walking through the quad, I saw Magda (the international student from the Czech Republic) and I thought, “She’s really a kind, insightful person, I’m gonna ask her to ‘other’ the text with me.” I mentioned to her what text it was, about the ideal community, and about their sharing of possessions. And her immediate response was, “Oh yeah, well, that doesn’t work.”
So the next day she and I had a long talk about the text. She told me about the poverty, theft, and violence that resulted from the time in her country when all property was communal property. But I kept trying to convince her that maybe it could work—if only the people really cared about each other, and broke bread together, and prayed together like this Acts 2 community. Maybe then it could work. But she wasn’t persuaded. And that made me remember that even in college, it didn’t work all the time. Some people were not the best drivers, and they borrowed cars and returned them with scrapes and dents in them; and they never got fixed. Other people scratched or lost people's CDs and movies. And it was frustrating. Even though we truly tried to live this text, there were lots of times when our hearts were anything but “glad and generous.”
So I began to concede that a community like this one could never exist, because we’re just too messed up. And it was extremely disappointing to me. I had built my whole life on the idea that this is what Christian community was meant to be, and now, I was getting painful dose of reality. The text began to seem foolish to me. I felt naïve and ignorantly idealistic. How could I be so short-sighted as to ignore human sinfulness, to ignore European history, and even the history of my own communities, and to hope that a community like the one in Acts 2 could ever really exist in a sinful world? How utterly foolish.
But the next day, as I was telling someone about all this foolishness, she said…“Well, isn’t that the Gospel?” And then it clicked. I realized that is what our faith is based on, something so utterly unreasonable and impossible that to believe it really does seem like total madness. And I remembered this Acts 2 community is the same one that just a few verses before was accused of being drunk at 9 AM because the Holy Spirit was doing something totally unreasonable in their midst. Apparently God is not confined by what we deem reasonable.
So I started thinking: I wonder how often we put a limit on what we hope God can do, because certain things seem foolish and unreasonable to hope for. It is
foolish to think God can create communities of generosity, prayer, and mutuality from broken, selfish communities. It is
foolish to think God can move within a 5 minute sermon we prepare for a class. It is
foolish to think the Holy Spirit can give us tongues to speak to people very different from us, in this room and out, in a way that brings new life.
foolish, and so is the Gospel.