Guest commentary by Lee Hinson-Hasty
Resources for Eastertide starting with Acts 4:32-35
It’s true that Christians have traditionally taken on Lenten practices in preparation for baptism and remembrance of baptism on Easter. Some of those disciplines continue after Easter for many of us — like New Year’s resolutions that stick (if we’re lucky!).
What if we also had 50 days of Eastertide practices and disciplines in preparation for Pentecost, the birth of the movement we call the church? My first nominee would be sharing as any have need.
As I was finishing college, one of my mentors and former director of Christian education, Joan Miles, gave me Robert Fulghum’s blockbuster 1989 book, “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The message was clear, as I started adult life on my own, not to forget what mattered. That started with learning to share.
Readings from the Acts of the Apostles regularly show up in the Revised Common Lectionary in the Sundays after Easter, including every Sunday of Year B. However, Acts 4:32-35 appears only once, and that is the second Sunday of Year B which falls on April 8 of this year. If you were to ask me, “Why should I preach Acts this week?” that would be my first reason, but not the primary one.
Walter Brueggemann, retired professor of Hebrew Bible at Columbia Theological Seminary, makes a more powerful case for preaching Acts because of the context in which we are living. In his book “Money and Possessions: Interpretation Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church,” he writes: “We live in a society that would like to bracket out money and possessions (politics and economics) from ultimate questions. The Bible insists otherwise. … The gift-giving God intends an abundant life for all creatures (John 10:10).”
God’s abundance to all of creation stands in stark contrast to a human tendency to think small and in a limited sphere of influence. Acts describes the early church as a “community of solidarity,” according to Brueggemann. New Testament scholar and professor at Baylor University, Beverly Roberts Gaventa, describes this as “The unity of the community.”
The Common English Bible translates this as a “community of believers (who were) one in heart and mind. None of them would say, ‘This is mine!’ about any of their possessions, but held everything in common” (Acts 4:32).
Love and care for community
What does it mean to hold everything in common, to be a community of solidarity and unity? Theologian and church historian, Justo González, answers in his book “Acts: The Gospel of the Spirit:”
“[This] is not a regime in which all go at once and sell what they have, put in in a common coffer, and then live off it. Rather it describes a community in which mutual love is such that if someone has need others go and sell their real estate in order to respond to those in need. …[This] is not an ephemeral moment in the life of the life of the Church nor an idyllic dream of how things ought to have been in the early days of the life of the Church, but a fundamental aspect of the life of the Church both in its origins and in Luke’s own time.”
John Calvin, magisterial Reformed leader, preacher, and theologian, describes a parallel ethic of love and care for the community in his June 1, 1550, sermon on Acts 4:32-35 in Geneva. Note that this sermon is part of a series on Acts that Calvin preached in a difficult year for him after the death of his wife, Idelette de Bure. You can find it in the book “Early Protestant Spirituality,” which was edited and translated by Scott H. Hendrix:
“Each of us should be less concerned with our private affairs and more with mutually extending ourselves toward our neighbors. That is charity. … We should not be devoted to ourselves but instead procure the well-being and advantage of our neighbors insofar as we are able, as indeed our Lord commands us through his law. … “You shall love your neighbors as yourselves.” (Matthew 22:39)
A parable for our times
What would it take for Christians in our time to cultivate an ethic and adopt practices that care for our neighbors and the common good? One way is sharing stories and parables, both scriptural and acts of generosity we know. Theological ethicist, Presbyterian minister and author of “The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence,” Elizabeth L. Hinson-Hasty, concludes her book with a section called “The parables of the commons.” Her aim is to raise questions for people of faith who seek to integrate the use of money and possessions theologically. One of Hinson-Hasty’s parables speaks directly to Acts 4:32-35 that I share here with permission of the author.
The parable of the lost assets
An Owner of a family business sat down one day with an Accountant and Financial Planner to review their growing assets. The business made coatings that prevented metals from rusting. Together, the three counted how much product they made, the Employees and the Owner’s growing Assets — property, stocks, and a 401(k).
Over time, Owner had amassed a great deal of wealth. The Planner advised the Owner to keep the wealth in one place to help the business during lean times because surely some assets would be lost and the Owner should consider his children’s inheritance. The Owner counted again. Counting all of the assets he could, the Owner determined just what he and his family needed to live a simple yet comfortable life and invested the rest in the Commons.
Hinson-Hasty notes that this parable was inspired by Amy Jill Levine’s interpretation of the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son as well as the story of industrialist and philanthropist Charles Grawemeyer. In the case of Grawemeyer, I have confirmed with retired Bible professor at Austin and Louisville seminaries, a friend of Grawemeyer, and the first director of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Religion, Eugene March, that the parable above is the way H. Charles Grawemeyer thought about money. Grawemeyer paid for each of his three children to go to college as well as his 13 grandchildren, but he did not want to deprive them of earning their own money. Sharing for the common good mattered to Grawemeyer as much or more than keeping for his own good or the good of his family.
During this Eastertide, I invite you to join me in reviewing your own ethic of sharing. The readings from Acts we are giving in the lectionary in Eastertide will likely help. For as Beverly Gaventa observes, “For [the writer of Luke and Acts] faithfulness to the gospel involves the wise and generous use of possessions.”
Acts 4:32-35 is a great place to start and answer questions like these: What are your possessions? How much of them do you need to live? How do you share them with the world and church that has need?
LEE HINSON-HASTY is senior director for Theological Education Funds Development for the Presbyterian Foundation, in support of future ministers and our PC(USA) seminaries. Lee has served the PC(USA) for over a decade in theological education as well as a campus minister, pastor and college administrator in Virginia and North Carolina. Lee is a member of Coastal Carolina Presbytery. He blogs at Theological Education Matters and is married to Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, and they are the parents of Garrison (18) and Emmeline (12).