A sermon preached by Bob Keller on April 15, 2012 based on Acts 4: 32 – 35.

I’m certainly a layman, but I have this overwhelming desire to lend a hand when Pastor Jeff asks for some well-deserved time off.  So, before I realize what I’m getting into, again, I say “yes,” thinking that, since today is April 15th, the lectionary would be that passage about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

I had a look at the lectionary for today and found one of the passages was from John – the familiar story about Thomas and his doubts about the risen Lord.  “Nah,” I said.  I’ve done that a couple times before, although it was very tempting to do again.  Thomas really suits us.  He has an appeal to modern man.  His skepticism and “show me before I believe” attitude of 2,000 years ago is very much like we are today.  We’ve been fooled far too many times to buy in to another fantastic story.

So I read the passage from Acts that David just read and thought I could do something with that.  I later checked the commentaries.  There’s four lines, FOUR LINES!, written about that passage.  So you’ll be treated to a short message today!  Hey, I come for free so you get what you pay for.

If you paid attention to the children’s message this morning, you already heard the main point of today’s sermon.  Sharing is good because it’s God-inspired.

I read a story about a pastor in a rural church.

This pastor had a farmer friend in his congregation and they were talking over the fence one day. The pastor asked the farmer, “Abe, if you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?”

Abe said, “Certainly.”

The pastor asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?”

Abe said, “Of course, I would.” Then the pastor asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?”

Abe said, “Now cut that out, pastor; you know I have two pigs!”

Generosity sounds good in the abstract; many Christians picture themselves giving away half their lottery winnings. Far fewer, it seems, can part with one pig.

When I read today’s scripture, the first word that popped into my head was ‘socialism.’  That’s a dirty word today.  I’m sure Joe the Plumber would get ticked off at today’s scripture.  But what was Luke, the likely author of the Book of Acts really talking about?

For an answer to that let’s look to Lucien.  Lucian lived between 120 and 200 AD. He was a Greek satirist and opponent of anything religious.  He grouped all religions together as superstitions. Yet when he saw the generosity of the Christian church he wrote: “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator (Jesus) has put it in their heads that they are brothers.

The cause of the difference which Lucian observed among the Christians was the presence of the Holy Spirit producing power in their witness. Our God is generous; and when we devote ourselves to him, and he works among us, he makes us generous like himself. Then others can see the works of the Lord and they, too, want to know the Savior.

A 12-year old boy went to his first orthodontist visit.  He was filling out the required forms and, in an effort to impress the doctor, under “Hobbies,” he wrote ‘skateboarding and flossing.’  The doctor had a good laugh and was shown that we’re all prone to a little hypocrisy.

However, spiritual hypocrisy isn’t funny. The hypocrisy of professing Christians has served as an excuse for many to disregard the claims of Christ, saying, “The church is full of hypocrites.”
Half of the misery in the world comes from trying to look, instead of trying to be, what one is not.

Hypocrisy is deliberate deception, trying to make people think we are more spiritual than we really are.
It is said that, “A hypocrite is a person who is not himself on Sunday.” Hypocrisy is the hiding of the things you do, not because you were not supposed to do them, but because you would be ashamed to have them known by people who know you.

Do we act like the early Christians by taking care of our brothers, or are we hypocrites?  Please don’t misunderstand!  I’m NOT trying to lay a stewardship “guilt trip” on you.  Guilt-induced offerings deny the gospel of grace and really interfere with generous giving from the heart. Instead, let’s look for the causes of the amazing generosity we saw in today’s reading.

First, God’s grace produces unity in the Church.  Note the first line of today’s scripture: “All the believers were one in heart and mind.”

The Bible includes this sentence to help our unbelief.  Would we really think it possible that thousands of Christians could agree on something?  These were men and women of different ages, backgrounds and personalities, people who were opponents of one another a few months earlier.  They came from a wide variety of sects and religions.But that was now all forgotten, and they are unanimous in their love for Jesus. And because they were united to the Lord, they were joined to one another in holy love. Recall the dying command of Christ to his disciples: “Love one another,” and one of his final prayers to the Father: “That they may be one, even as we are one.”

They loved one another, and that love enabled them to count others of greater value than themselves; love caused them to overlook any number of faults.

How many in here are parents?  And how many have, or had, parents.  That’s everybody!  That means that all of you know the extent of personal sacrifice a parent would endure to make sure his or her children do not suffer hunger and want. I dare say that many (maybe all of you) would sell your house, car, land and property, if it were necessary to provide for your children. You love them. They are yours and you are theirs. Problems and disagreements do not prevent outrageous acts of generosity, for they are your beloved family.

Second, God’s grace makes our giving generous.

John Stott, a noted Anglican cleric who passed last year, wrote in his book, “The Spirit, The Church and the World,” that “Luke…is concerned to show that the fullness of the Spirit is manifest in deed as well as word, service as well as witness, love for the family [of believers] as well as testimony to the world” Elevating the word without acts of extravagant mercy is frankly unbiblical. But take note of both characteristics of these believers.

1)      First, sense their radical attitude. This is not communism, for no one took from them what was theirs. It was “common-ism,” so deep was the love that they felt every possession (must be made) available to help their brothers and sisters in the Lord.

2)      Second, see their sacrificial action. They refused to speak of a love that is not visible through generosity. Faith without works is dead; love without generosity is empty.

Listen to this quote:   “Surely we ought to observe the same order, first loving one another with a sincere heart, and thereafter our love showing itself in its application to others. For even external beneficence, if it comes not from the heart, is of no value in the sight of God. We boast in vain of proper affections, unless the evidence of them is seen in outward performance…. In those days the believers gave abundantly of what was their own; we in our day are content jealously to retain what we possess…. They set forth their own possessions with simplicity and faithfulness; we devise a thousand cunning devices whereby we may acquire everything for ourselves by hook or by crook. They laid down at the apostles’ feet; we do not fear, with sacrilegious boldness, to convert to our own use what was offered to God.

They sold their own possessions in those days; in our day it is the lust to purchase that reigns supreme. At that time love made each man’s own possessions common property for those in need; in our day such is the inhumanity of many, that they begrudge to the poor a common dwelling on earth, the common use of water, air and sky. These things then are written for our shame and reproach.”

Do you know who said that?  John Calvin in the 1500’s!  Things haven’t changed much, have they?

Third, God’s grace makes our witness more powerful.  Bible scholars disagree over whether the “grace [that] was upon them” refers to God’s grace or the people’s favor. The word “God” is not in this verse, and the Greek word for grace can refer either to a blessing from God or the acceptance of people.
Whichever meaning is intended, both are clearly true. God’s favor was on the early church.  They witnessed with power, they preached with boldness, they prayed with visible demonstrations of the presence of the Spirit, and they cared passionately for their fellow believers.

Earlier in Acts 4 you’ll read about the boldness of Peter and John as they appeared on charges before the high priests and basically told them to ‘buzz off!”  As a result, they enjoyed the favor of many, and, as we read in Acts 5, “more than ever, believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of men and women.”

We don’t have to validate the cross.  The cross is empty.  The tomb is empty.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus validates itself.  Our love demonstrates it!

I would like to leave you with a Native American proverb:

The creator gathered all of creation and said,
“I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it. It is the realization that they create their own reality”.

The Eagle said, “Give it to me, I will take it to the moon”.
The creator said, “No, one day they will go there and find it”.
The salmon said, “I will bury it at the bottom of the ocean”.
The creator said, “No they will go there too”.
The buffalo said, “I will bury it on the great plains”.
The creator said, “No, they will cut the skin of the Earth and find it even there”.

Grandmother mole, who lives in the breast of Mother Earth, and who has no physical eyes but sees with spiritual eyes said, “Put it inside of them”.

And the creator said, “It is done!”

It has been said that the most difficult journey is the one we make into ourselves.

Do we make that journey?  Do we talk the talk, but fake the walk?  Do we love one another, and therefore give to one another, as Jesus wanted us to do?  Do we witness with power and boldness?

Do we justify the sacrifice made on the cross?  God’s love says, “Yes!”, but it’s up to us to accept it and to live the life that Jesus wants us to.