Note: Due to the stress all y’all parish preachers are under, we’re producing our commentaries right now in house. Y’all have enough to do.
By Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
WOOOOOOHHHOOOOOOO!!!! SOCIALISM IS BIBLICAL!!!
SAY IT AGAIN!!!
The earliest followers of Jesus, led by Jesus’ disciples (the people who knew him when he was live) lived in a way where they shared what they had communally *and* sold what they had in excess and then gave the money to any who had need. NO ONE HAD PERSONAL POSESSIONS.
This is revolutionary and runs counter to so much of what modern Christianity tells us about how to follow Jesus and how to live in this world.
I am fascinated by how many commentaries I read try to explain this description away as an ideal or short lived or didn’t really happen in ways I very much do not hear with other stories. Like, I’m not seeing these same denials for the very wild story of Pentecost that comes at the beginning of this very chapter. People not having possessions held in common trust instead of privately makes us more uncomfortable than the Holy Spirit descending on a crowd, inspiring a cacophony of languages to erupt from people who did not know them. That is WILD, friends. I’m not sure if that says more about how private property has perverted our lives or our lack of faith in humanity. Not just humanity, but the Holy Spirit. After all, that’s what enabled these people to live like this, right?
One can draw a direct line between this Acts story of, well, socialism (communitarianism maybe?) and Jesus’ statement as recorded in this weeks’ gospel lesson, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” What does abundant life in God’s kingdom look like? It means a home, a community, medical care, enough to eat, clean water, clean air for all God’s children. We would be a whole lot closer to abundant life for all creation were were to release the idea that we individually own things, that we, individually, earn things. But we all know that’s a real hard sell in the US, particularly in the more privileged communities in which many of us work and live.
This week we get to *explicitly* talk about how the disciples lived and draw comparisons to how we live as Christians and as Americans. This is an excellent opportunity to dig into the economics of what is happening right now and how things might be different if we were more willing to go half as far as the disciples and their followers and share. This community in Acts is going beyond sharing – they relinquish the idea of owning. That’s what is at the heart of this. It’s not sharing. It’s not owning, not possessing, not having the ability to claim a thing as “mine.”
Can we ask our people do take a moment and dream of a world in which we all held possessions in common?
What would it look like if a farming community struggling right now with distribution because of the way the food chain has become both concentrated and globalized had a communal way of processing the food they raise and grow instead of having to send it away? What if the whole community bore the responsibilities for the crops and livestock? How might things have been different if the community owned the coal mine or the steel mill or the fancy hotel chains? What if we started to let go of owning and possessing and started to hold things in common?
We cannot have conversations about abundant life or sharing (much less collective ownership) without talking about racism. Racism is why Black and Indigenous people are being infected with and dying from the Corona Virus and disproportionate rates. Racism is why we don’t have a robust public healthcare system. Racism is why government benefits can be so hard to access (which many people may be learning for the first time, and of which Florida is a prime example). According to study after study, white people don’t mind it so much if they think other white people are getting benefits, but they will be damned if Black people, Latinos, or Native Americans get benefits. White supremacy has convinced White people that People of Color are lazy, shiftless, unintelligent, and completely undeserving of public support & that to lift up People of Color is to demote White people. These beliefs have disastrous effects on Black & Brown communities including lower life expectancy and poor health outcomes. These disparities are being brought into the spotlight due to the mush higher infection & death rates seen in communities of color, particularly in Black & Indigenous communities. Not only does racism have disastrous effects on Black and Brown communities, it has disastrous effects for all of us, particularly poor white folk. In order to keep public benefits, public goods, and economic development from People of Color, white people have kept it from themselves.
The people of the first Christian community, according to this story, held all things in common. This is the Christian ideal; a model for who we should live together in the Holy Spirit. We can’t get there unless we dismantle white supremacy which has taught us that everything can be owned, even other human beings. But this world in which we hold things in common and sell our excess to benefit those in need is a dream worth aiming towards. The kingdom always is, especially in difficult times.
Links with facts to back up these words:
Heather McGee's Ted Talk Racism has a Cost for Everyone
Heather McGee on WTH Pod w Christ Hayes
Demos, a think tank on economics, and justice
USA Today Article on disparities in COVID cases
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