Sunday, December 26, 2010 – Saturday, January 1, 2011
Jerry A. Taylor, Guest Lectionary Commentator
Associate Professor of Bible and Ministry, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX
Lection – Acts 2:44-46 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v. 44) All who believed were together and had all things in common; (v. 45) they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. (v. 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.
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
In order to subjugate a people, their spirit must be deprived of its organic cultural context. The African spirit was violently uprooted and transplanted against its nature onto the deadly soil of America’s slave plantations. America’s forced implantation of black slaves into the hostile environment of the new world has made it historically painful and almost impossible for the authentic African spirit to survive. White America’s historic cultural abuse of African Americans has caused serious soul erosion among many people of color. White America’s commonwealth was violently established on the broken back of the African spirit and the Native American spirit.
Observing the scarred cultural landscape among African Americans in 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga decided to initiate a revival of the African spirit. He started Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African cultural values. The seven cultural values are stated as seven specific principles that should govern the collective and private life of African Americans. Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith are all principles of Kwanzaa. The principle of “cooperative economics” is identical to the biblical economic principle that serves as the foundation of Israel’s “commonwealth.” The principle of “cooperative economics” can also empower African Americans in their communal formation of a “commonwealth.” The principle of “cooperative economics” is the focus of today’s lection.
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: Acts 2:44-46
Part One: The Contemporary Contexts of the Interpreter
As I write there are angry protests against government bailouts of banking, insurance, and auto industries. A son of Kenya, an African American, presently sits atop the American political and economic pyramid. Racist critics blatantly blame the first African American president in the history of the United States of America for sick economic conditions that were recklessly created by previous presidents and administrations. My sense is that President Barak Obama’s presidency has ignited a strong push back from those who assumed the African spirit in America had been successfully exterminated.
Today, angry voices heard on conservative talk radio are asked to give key note addresses at National Tea Party conventions and related events. A renewed southern rebel mentality has spread from the south to every region of America. The rebel mentality is seen in Governor Rick Perry of Texas who hinted at the idea of his state seceding from the United States. Perry and others on the political right are prepared to militantly defend themselves against what they perceive to be a socialist agenda to redistribute wealth. The present economic climate yields evidence that our nation is possibly sliding in the dangerous direction of overt violent conflict. Cooperative economics should be seen as an issue of national security for African Americans.
Part Two: Biblical Commentary
Cooperative Economics in the Early Church
Acts 2:44-45 says, “All who believed were together and had all things in common, selling their possessions and distributing them to all according to his needs.” This type of selfless behavior among the believers originates in the upper room in Acts 2:1-2. The gathered community embodies the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in turn produces koinonia amidst the community. “Koinonia” in Greek means fellowship or network. The words communion, community, and commune are at their roots related to koinonia. In Acts 2:44-46, koinonia is expressed in the formation of a commonwealth that consists of free flowing resources made available to each person in need within the Christian community.
Some scholars describe the commonwealth aspect of the Christian community as being the communistic nature of the church. During the Cold War, Marxists accused the Christian Church of failing to live up to its communistic nature. It is no surprise that an element in this country accused Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. of being a Communist. King’s prophetic voice forced the Christian Church during the Civil Rights Movement to decide between its communistic nature and the American economic system of capitalism. It is clear that the Christian Church chose capitalism over communal sharing of goods and possessions. Today the greatest opposition to universal health care and the sharing of other economic resources comes from robber barons and certain Christians. Christians form the group that cries “socialism” the loudest whenever there is a political decision to share economic goods and material possessions with the poor. Many of these same Christian voices practiced total silence when 87 billion dollars in tax cuts were given to the richest segment of the American society during George W. Bush’s term in office.
In Acts 2:46, in addition to practicing cooperative economics, the Christian community broke bread together. It is not clear to scholars whether this “Breaking of Bread” has reference to the Lord’s Supper or whether it refers to the sharing of a common non-sacramental meal.
In the first century, the church did not make the sharp distinction we make today between communion and a common meal shared together as the community. According to Jewish custom, when the blessing is said at the table, the table becomes a holy place and eating together becomes a sacred activity. Coming together at the table is another outward demonstration of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the new community. In the Gospel of Luke, the theme of Jesus being at the table with his disciples and with outcasts is very obvious.
It was at the table that Jesus shared great wisdom and revelation. In Luke 15:2, Jesus was criticized for the company he kept at the table: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
In the ancient world, inviting people to sit with you at the table was an indication of your full acceptance of them. It is at the table that social barriers are most strictly observed. Eating together with others is an indication that the Holy Spirit has produced deep spiritual connections among people and has torn down the social barriers and walls that once segregated people from one another. When was the last time you shared a meal with a stranger? When was the last time you intentionally broke down a barrier over a meal?
Cooperative Economics Needed Now
Even though the Holy Spirit is in the midst of the Christian community not everyone is willing to work in harmony with the Holy Spirit. In order for many to begin to climb out of economic graves, cooperative economics is required. Our neighbors will fare better if they are helped by the neighborhood. Instead of buying in bulk for ourselves, why not buy in bulk with others? Instead of a few living in over-sized houses, why not open our doors to those who are making their first attempt to find housing? Instead of fussing about the economic conditions of our states, why not work cooperatively to economically strengthen our neighborhoods? No. Not everyone is a movement leader but everyone can carry a sign, write a letter, make a call, send up a prayer, and do something to strengthen the economic plight of others. Pastors and Church leaders should not hesitate to confront the spirit of rugged individualism as it grows in the African American Church. The church has the opportunity to once again be a relevant institution that serves as a catalyst to create economic cooperation among African Americans. It can begin by just teaching members and the community how to help one another economically.
I could not agree with Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove more when he says, “We can’t ignore how advanced advertising and advanced capitalism have shaped us all to desire the next new thing and expect instant gratification.”1 In many instances, the African American church has become more accommodating to the spirit of capitalism. African American Christians are slowly yielding to the temptation of American greed as they bow down in worship to the god of mammon at the altar of materialism. African American churches must begin to recall their congregants to the principle of cooperative economics as a means of developing financial security in the midst of a hostile economic environment. Churches can begin by pooling their resources as they buy their goods together – their church vans from the same auto dealer, their church supplies from the same supplier, operating employment programs together, operating financial literacy programs together, banking together at banks that help churches and the poor, supporting together politicians who have records for economically helping the poor. And the list can go on and on and make a major difference if we would come together for our economic health.
This text celebrates the power of a community that is on one accord. A community that is connected through the sharing of its spiritual and material resources has the strength to stand as an unbreakable force. Cooperative economics serves as the life blood that circulates through the financial veins of the community and prevents the people from having a monetary stroke. What a wonderful opportunity stands before us to help make ourselves financially whole and our neighbors and the least of these whole too.
The descriptive details of this passage include:
Sounds: The sounds of the people’s voices as they gathered together in community (v. 44);
Sights: The appearance and condition of the countless possessions and goods that came from various homes and people (v. 45); and
Smells: The smell of baked bread and the unique scent of the homes in which they ate (v. 46).
III. Other Material That Preachers and Others Can Use
1. A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said,
‘Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.’
The Lord led the holy man to two doors.
He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man’s mouth water.
The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful. But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.
The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.
The Lord said, ‘You have seen Hell.’
They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.
The holy man said, ‘I don’t understand.’
‘It is simple,’ said the Lord. ‘It requires but one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves.2
2. Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
3. Employment, wages, inflation, international sales, jobs that shift from one country to another—these are economic forces so often driven by multinational corporations, large-scale investment, the international banking industry or government deals. Decisions are made, deals are cut, production is outsourced, and the poorest laborers are at the mercy of others. Combined sales for the top two hundred corporations are more than the combined economies of all but ten countries on earth. That’s a lot of money jumping across oceans at the command of precious few decision makers. While twenty-seven percent of the world’s sales go into the coffers of those top two hundred corporations, less than 1 percent of the world’s workforce is employed by them.3
1. Hartgrove, Jonathan Wilson. New Monasticism. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008. p. 27.
2. “The Difference Between Heaven and Hell.” The Ugly Truth. Online location: http://theuglytruth.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/the-difference-between-heaven-and-hell/ accessed 1 January 2010
3. Bessenecker, Scott A. The New Friars: The Emerging Movement Serving the World's Poor. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. p. 32.