Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 24, 2019
St. Luke relates to us in his record of the Acts of the Apostles that, “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). It sounds a little like communism doesn’t it? A system where nobody hoards for himself and readily shares what he has to anybody that has need. Jesus seems to support such a system in His teaching today from Luke’s gospel account. In addition to not holding grudges and keeping a record of offenses, He states that His disciples are to give to everyone who begs, and give more than what is asked for, and do not expect anything in return.
We have a number of politicians in our country today that are openly promoting a form of socialism that, in theory, brings about an equality, or near equality of government and non-government services, as well as incomes. In a sense, we have such a society, on a small scale, presented to us in the Scriptures. But was that early Church truly communist? Is this what Jesus was really teaching? Is socialism or communism really the way that Jesus wanted His disciples to live? The answer is a bit mixed. I think, communism or socialism would not exist without Christianity, but Christianity does not mean that we must be communist or socialist. The systems devolve from a Christian ethic, but being a Christian and following these teachings of Jesus, does not mean that we will, by necessity, become also socialists or communists.
For instance, the idea that everybody has a right to health care, or, better yet, equal health care, and that everybody has a right to equal housing or equal incomes, flows from a Christian ethic that teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it gets it all wrong in that it is a Law approach instead of a Gospel approach.
Somebody can demand, all day long, that each of us give up half our income to care for somebody else’s needs. That demand and enforced ethic, dose not produce love. Instead, it produces bitterness and a despising for those that took half of our income and those that received half of our income. It creates envy because we are sinners and we don’t like either being told what to do or working hard for somebody else’s benefit, especially if we don’t like that person. Still, Jesus lays it out there for us. We are to do these things. Loving our neighbor, means precisely, that we will freely give away our earnings to somebody in need and we will gladly give up what we have to take care of others.
The reason it is not socialism or communism is that what the Christian does, she does freely out of love not because a government, or even God, makes her do it. The Christian does these things because he has already been given more than he could ever hope for, more than he could ever ask for, more even than he could ever imagine. The Christian has been given the forgiveness of sins, freedom from the obligations of the Law in order to earn God’s favor, and freedom from the consequences of failing to do such things. The Christian does not do these things of love out of coercion under the Law, but the Christian does these things out of true love that has been infused by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
You see, these things become the way of the Christian because the Christian is baptized into the One who has done these things and continues to provide in this way for the humanity that absolutely does not deserve it nor can possibly earn it. Jesus is the One that has loved the enemies of God – you and me and every other person of this creation that has been born as a sworn enemy of the Creator (Romans 5:10). He is the One that has done good to us who, in Adam, have hated God since the beginning. While we have blasphemed and cursed God in our anger and insubordination, He has blessed us with every lash of the whip and every blow of the hammer. While we have been quick to deprive others or to hoard for ourselves, Jesus has prayed for us and continues to intercede on our behalf. We are quick to retaliate but He has accepted blows from every side. We fill our closets with unworn clothing while He forfeited every thread to the soldier’s game of chance. We judge a beggar’s worthiness to receive our charity but Jesus did not send anybody away in want. If anybody did unto others as He wanted to be done unto, it was the Lord Himself that loved to the end – the end of His own life in this world.
Jesus is not promoting socialism. He is teaching us to love as we have been loved – unconditionally. In one sense it is extremely liberating because the responsibility of judging is lifted from us. We don’t have to decide if somebody deserves our love or kindness. We simply show that kindness because it is overflowing within us. We love because the hatred and despising of the old Adam has been displaced by the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We have seen that socialism and communism do not work in reality. Wherever it has been set up, there are the few fat cats in charge that benefit greatly and the many at the bottom of the social system that share their poverty equally. It quickly becomes the haves and have nots. A system that can maybe find its origin in Christian thought and practice quickly turns into another means of oppression because of the greed and sinful nature of man. When Jesus is stripped from the equation, and the government replaces God as the benefactor, there is no motivation to be generous and caring. When these imperatives of Jesus are taught only as rules for life and the Gospel is ignored, they simply become rules to be ignored or bypassed, something to get around in order to feed one’s own desires. No government or social system is going to make us measure out love in heaping scoops. Neither does the command from Jesus to do them make us want to do them. It is only as a result of the unmeasurable love of the heavenly Father that has poured out upon us in Jesus Christ that we are given both the desire and will to carry them out.
Our love for the enemy and charity for the poor are intrinsically tied to forgiving as we have been forgiven. Just as we pray in the Fifth Petition that God would forgive us as we also forgive. We pray in accord with these commands of Jesus that we would love even as God has loved us. That as it has been measured out to us that we would so freely measure it out to others.
On Tuesday, a group from the congregation will again head down to Preble Street to feed the homeless and the hungry. It is a simple act. We don’t gather the food, we don’t do very much to prepare it. We just show up and place portions onto trays. What we see is a number of people broken by life in this world and many of them appreciative for what is provided. They look at us as being people of great love and care even though we have done really very little. The see us as messengers of love sent by God. Of course, we would humbly so no, not me. Really though, we are messengers of God’s love, for as it has been done unto us, so we shall do unto others. We are to be more than like Christ, we are to be Christ, bearing God’s love in word and deed.