Today’s reading from the book of Acts is the third consecutive reading from Acts 2. The last two weeks included portions of Peter’s sermon from the day of Pentecost, but not the Pentecost event itself. Luke interrupts the narrative with a short aside about the community of believers and their life together. While some consider Luke’s description of these believers to be too idealistic, I am not persuaded. In his book, The Rise of Christianity, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire so rapidly because Christians did the kinds of things described here—they cared for each other and for those they encountered in need.
The description of the New Testament church in these short verses presents some challenges for congregations whose life together as a community of faith looks far different than what Luke describes in this passage.
Preachers are wise to consider how this particular glimpse of the early church will be received in their local context. For example, if you read this passage aloud in your church and asked your congregation what they thought about it, what responses would you hear?
Here are three possible reactions and how a sermon might address them:
1. “Imagine if we could be like this here.” For those who have tasted this kind of radical hospitality, sharing of resources, rejection of consumerism, simplicity in worship, or intentional community, the reminder of how the early church expressed their faith liberates and energizes. The preacher with a congregation ripe for this description will jump on the opportunity to cast vision, allowing the early church and their life together to shape a new reality for your local church. You might consider meeting with several members as part of your sermon preparation and ask,
How could we do this here?
What would this look like for us?
How are we already doing life like this and what needs to change?
Perhaps you’ll spend the rest of the Easter season exploring how it is that God is going to breathe resurrection into your church by taking seriously the practices described in these verses. You may find yourself surprised at ideas church members already have. All they’ve been waiting for is a yes from a sermon, a yes from their pastors, or a yes from the Biblical witness.
2. “Good for them, not for me. No one would actually live that way today. That was just cultural.” This is both the most challenging attitude to deal with and the most common (in US/Canadian contexts). Truthfully, the descriptions of these early Christians are so counter-cultural, it’s hard to imagine they could have any influence on our churches, which often look and function no differently than the neighborhood association or a business trying to keep the doors open.
If you anticipate this is how your congregation would respond to this text, Acts 2 gives you an opportunity to tell some stories and preach a prophetic word. Today, there are Christian communities all over the world attempting to order themselves around a way of life modeling this description of the early church. The New Monastic movement, CCDA communities (Christian Community Development Association), intentional Christian communities, monasteries and convents, and L’Arche Communities all encompass different pieces of this vision. (The Simple Way and Koinonia Farm are two specific examples, though there are countless others). If you have a community or church in your local context that is living out some portion of this vision from Acts 2, invite someone to come share about what that looks like or ask to sit down with someone this week, so you can tell part of their story in your sermon.
In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann says about the Biblical prophets, “The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and imagine almost nothing.” Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous sermon isn’t remembered for the refrain, “I have a plan,” but “I have a dream.” Break open the imagination of your congregation, visit https://galarson.com/, not by giving them a plan for how to transform into a New Testament church or how to implement weekly shared meals or simplicity, but with by hearing the stories of other communities who are already living into the way of the church in Acts 2. Imagination must come before the plan of implementation.
3. “While this picture of the early church is compelling, it’s just too much, just too different. Where would we even start?” Be leering of the tendency to over-spiritualize the description in Acts 2 as a way to get off the hook. “Our church doesn’t have dinner together every night, but we share our burdens by praying for each other.” That’s good, but it’s time to do something else, time to take the next step. How often do churches do nothing because we don’t know where to start?
The charge for this sermon is not breaking open the imagination if the imagination is already there. The task is instead offering concrete steps to take, practices and opportunities for participation in the types of communal life Acts 2 describes. Perhaps it’s finally time to open the church for daily prayer at 7:30am or to get that team organized to coordinate the weekly meal before Wednesday night services. Use this sermon as an opportunity to take seriously this vision of church and life together. Refer back to it in the weeks that follow. You might need to reevaluate ministries and practices the church already has in place—both to see where the church is being faithful to the early church of Acts 2 and also where the church has drifted away from these practices. Start somewhere. Do something. Be concrete.  Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination. Second Edition. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 40.