T(Based on Acts 2:41-47)
Today’s lesson from Acts concerns the community gathered around James the Just in Jerusalem, the patron saint of our neighbours in Fergus but not the Saint James in Guelph.
This community was Jewish and continued to see themselves as faithful to their roots for a very long time. For them, the switch to change the practices of the faith were as gut wrenching as some of the changes that we have experienced in our era. As well, it was this community that was decimated in 70 when the Romans razed Jerusalem, destroying everything of meaning.
Many commentators puzzle over the common sharing of property and the communal way of life of this group. It is important to remember context. If this was written or remembered as the time when Jerusalem had been free of Roman occupation, 66-70, then we would expect that it would be very much a pro tem or “for the time being” kind of situation in which people were living under siege restraints, with rationing of food and other supplies. Even if the occupation preceded that time, we can be reasonably certain that it would have been the poor or the highly committed who would have participated in this community.
A common observation is that it is only those who have things who are unwilling to share. Generally speaking, the less one has, the easier it is to be generous. As well, in a time of difficult circumstances, one must depend on one’s neighbours to survive. In any case, I think the motivation of those people is not really the interesting part of this narrative.
Why were they a growing community? What was the attraction? A free meal will only carry a group so far after all. Could it have been not just the generosity but the joy, even in the face of other anxieties or difficulties? Was it perhaps the hope, the engagement in the mission, despite the problems, that made them so attractive?
Research into why some churches are thriving in our time would indicate that many people appreciate the Way and the message of Jesus and they want to learn how to be faithful so that they can experience that same joy and hope of a community, especially one living in dangerous times.
We have come through a time of winnowing in the church when we have wondered if our message, our friendship, our mission would survive. Really that is not our concern. Our concern must be to be clear about where God is calling us at this time, to be free so that we can be joyful. Of course, we have to work hard, we have to talk together, we have to plan, we have to dream, and we have to eat and pray, and tell stories together. And we have to trust in the angels who come when we need them, usually disguised as other human beings but carrying what we need.
And so I say to you it is time to rejoice, to open our hearts and hands, to cast worry away, and to look to the horizon of the Holy Spirit, who is shaking us loose and shaking us up. As it says in the Song of Solomon, “Now is the time of singing”.