“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too”
This accusation is leveled against Jason and his companions in Acts 17, but this verse is one that could summarize the trajectory of the book of Acts. This is, at least, what C. Kavin Rowe believes. He told his exegesis class that is why he named his book on Acts, “World Upside Down.” The Acts of the Apostles is, of course, the sequel to Luke’s gospel. To read this book well, we must also be well versed in Luke. In the gospel Luke describes Jesus’ teachings and actions, in Acts we see how the apostles apply this teaching.
Today’s passage is probably one that gives Western Christians great concerns for it deals with one of the greatest idols we face, money. While Christians know that we cannot serve both God and money we get anxious, and perhaps a bit angry when we talk about money.
Luke’s gospel is particularly poignant when it comes to speaking on money. It starts with Mary’s Magnificat where she says, “ he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This is the beginning of the bad news for the rich.
Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount has Jesus saying “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” Luke’s Sermon on the Plain simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” We might want to add “in spirit” but a proper reading of Luke points us a few verses later when Jesus pronounces “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Clearly showing that Luke is not spiritualizing “the poor.” Jesus actually means poor people.
In chapter 8 Jesus tells the famous parable of the sower whose seeds fall on the path, the rocks, in the thorns, and then on good soil. When Jesus explains this parable to his disciples, he says, “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Once again wealth is cast in a bad light.
There is also the terrifying parable of the “foolish” landowner in Luke 12 whose bank account was full so he went an opened a 401k and a 503b to store up for later in life. Well he actually just tore down his barns, but the saving of the harvest was not, according to the world, an unwise thing. The reason that the rich man kept the harvest was so that he could say to himself. “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Clearly Jesus warns his disciples against “all kinds of greed.” He knows that human beings easily place their trust in money. They can rely on it more than they rely on God.
From the book of Acts, we see that the apostles take Jesus’ teachings on money quite seriously. In Acts 2 Luke writes: “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.” This is important because as Kavin Rowe said in class, if Luke repeats something, expect it to be the pattern throughout Acts. Acts chapter 4 mirrors Acts chapter 2, and therefore must be taken into consideration when discussing Acts 4.
In Chapter 2 we see a chiastic pattern of
v. 41 — evangelization
v. 42— common life
v. 43— signs and wonders
v. 44-47a — common life
v. 47b — evangelization
Chapter 4 repeats this pattern.
v31 —evangelization in the “speaking the word of God boldly”
v. 32 —common life “one in heart and mind”
v. 33 — signs and wonders in the “great power”
v. 34 — common life “no needy persons among them”
v. 36-37—evangelization through the mention of Barnabas
This sharing of possessions in a common life is a part of the early church’s evangelization. It is one of the ways that they are turning the world upside down. They treated money differently than the world around them. “The Christian community ‘bursts the conceptual frame’ of Graeco- Roman ‘altruism’ by engaging in radical economic redistribution, they did not attempt to erect their own mint and strike ‘Christian’ coins for use in the network of house churches.” The early church became a counter culture. It became a community unto itself with its own assumptions and practices. But it in so doing, it did not separate itself so much as to form their own country. They show how to live “in the world but not of it.” If we wanted to use Scott Daniel’s language. Acts shows what life in exile looks like for a Christian.
So what does all this mean for a preacher on the second Sunday of Easter? Preaching on money is dangerous. In a world where people have poor ecclesiology, where denominational leaders describe evangelism as a strategy to “depopulate hell” this passage forces us to break our conceptions of the Christian life. We are not called to be individual Christians with our own isolated, personal relationships with Jesus. We are called to be a community.
We may be tempted to preach this passage as simple economic strategy. Some Christians take this and get in a debate between capitalism and socialism, as Rowe reminds us,
The book of Acts avoids facile cultural caricatures and instead portrays the expansion of Christianity into the Mediterranean world in a complex and nuanced manner, one in which certain constitutive aspects of pagan culture are criticized as idolatry and others seen as relatives goods- indeed, good to be put in service of a more adequate, or even corrective description of what it means to be disciples of Jesus.”
What is important for us on the second Sunday of Easter is that the resurrection makes possible the “New Creation.” The resurrection is what enabled the early church to live out Jesus’ commands with regards to money. We see they gave “expecting nothing in return.” We too should follow a similar pattern. We are called into newness of life, and that new life is found in the community of the crucified, the peculiar people, the aliens and strangers in this world. It is a radical vision of resurrection, but one that the world may find much more compelling than an alter call. When the church lives as the church ought, she truly is the hope for the world, for then she becomes the word incarnate.
May your world be turned upside down as you seek to embody the reign of God, a foretaste of eternity.