Acts 4:32-35. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles’ continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, bought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
In 1989 the wall fell down. What wall? The Berlin wall which had divided the city of Berlin in two since 1961. The wall epitomised the division in the world at the time- the East from the West, Communism from Democracy, Russia and the USA. It was the time of the Cold War and many of you who are older than me will remember the tension and fear at that time. Would there be a nuclear war? And if so would anyone survive? But in 1989 the wall came down. And as it came down so did Communism. There was great rejoicing all over the world. It signalled a huge change, it signalled a new optimism. Even in the church. Christians all over the world rejoiced in the opportunities that now lay before it- where it was once persecuted now the church could proclaim the wonderful message of Christ crucified and raised to millions upon millions of people who had never heard of it.
There was also great rejoicing and an air of victory. Now it seemed that democracy and the capitalist system was proved to be the best. And end to communism and a victory to capitalism!
As I heard all of this I had a sense of unease. The victorious cries of those who upheld western values seemed a little too strident to me. It seemed that the many problems in our society were completely put aside; to live well in this world it seemed that capitalism was the way- the only way.
But statistics tell us a different story. The USA is the third most populous country after China and India. But it has the highest percentage rate of prisoners in the world. For every 100,000 people there are 715 in prison. Our rate is 116 prisoners per 100,000 Australians. Our total population is about 23 million and that is about the number of prisoners in US prisons! Right now it is estimated that there are about 50 million people living in poverty in the USA. Here is another statistic. The USA has the greatest number of billionaires in the world- 34%.
And this is the best economic system in the world?
It is a worthy point to consider the beginning of communism in our modern time. It can be said to have began by Karl Marx in 1845. He believed in a free society with no division or alienation whatsoever. A society that was free from oppression and scarcity. He wrote at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Traditional societies were in upheaval all over Europe. Thousands of people had left the life of peasant farmers to work in factories. Alcoholism, domestic violence, child labour were the side effects of the few who were becoming richer and richer. At the same time, the kings, the Czars and other such ruling families in need ate cake while their citizens starved. It was a time of great advances and huge increase in wealth but also a time of much pain and suffering. This was capitalism in full swing. The communist ideal has much to be said for it but of course human sin always plays its part. So often good and wonderful deals crash against the harsh reality of human sin and Satan’s lies. Most of us have grown up believing that communism was and is a terrible evil – and what we have seen in the last hundred years has proven this to be true but we must always remember that it grew out of a desire for a better society.
The falling of the Berlin wall also was celebrated as a victory for the Democratic form of government. Which brings to mind a quote by Winston Churchill: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." We are so used to deciding all manner of things by voting that we forget that whenever there is a majority there is also a minority. All too often it is the minority that is often neglected and ultimately forgotten.
Why all this just a week after the key celebration of the Christian Church. Only seven days ago we cried out with great joy: The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! Why all this talk of communism, capitalism, poverty and wealth?
So soon after his death, resurrection and then ascension the followers of Jesus Christ, lead by his disciples began to gather together in anticipation of his return. As they waited, they heard his words, heard of his life story, prayed to him, sang hymns of praise and shared a meal together. And that is not all they shared: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles’ continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them. There were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, bought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
It sounds a little like communism doesn’t it? But that was then, what about now? There is nothing wrong with wealth. It is out attitude to it that makes it good or evil. Are we honest in all our dealings? Do we give thanks to our Father in heaven for the blessings he gives to us? Do we share a portion of our income to further the work of the church and for the benefit of those who have less? How many hours do we devote to work and how many hours – or maybe minutes- do we devote to God? But there is more to sharing than simply sharing our wealth.
A wonderful Christian, John Scott has written that the early church was a learning church, a loving church, a worshipping church and an evangelistic church.
There is much to be said here but I want to briefly touch upon two aspects of what it is to be church.
To be a loving church. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. How do we love one another?
1 Cor 12. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Mark 10:45. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
1 John 3:17. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
We have all been given various gifts of the Spirit and they are all to be used for the building up of the Church. We are called to serve one another by respecting one another and not condemning each other- rather we are called to encourage each other. We don’t necessarily have to like each other and there will certainly be times when we will disagree but if we truly have the love of Christ in us then we will seek to overcome our differences and go forward with Christ to wherever he is leading us.
We want to grow. It was only a few short years that many of our Lutheran congregations had twice as many worshipping members as we do now. How do we grow? Only by being a learning church, a worshipping church and a loving church. If we are not then we will die.
We, you, I and our Risen Lord Jesus Christ can turn things around but it will take all of us. It will take hard work. It will take tears. It will take forgiveness. It will take humility. But there will also be great joy in this undertaking. The joy of knowing that our personal salvation is not dependent upon our success but always and only and ever on Christ. And there will be joy in trusting in the promise: 1 Cor 15: Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that you labour in the Lord is not in vain. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!