Text: Acts 4:32-35; Philippians 2:12-15; 4:4-9; Matthew 6:25-34
What is the last experience you had in which time seemed to stand still?
The Beatles sang about “Yesterday” – a time in which troubles “seemed so far away.” But now, the “trouble” of loneliness, of love lost makes today seem like an empty forever. Do you remember the words of the song – those of you old enough to have heard it –
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday. It’s another way of saying: “I wish yesterday could last forever.” But the song goes on:
Yesterday love was such an easy game to play. Now I need a place to hide away. Oh, I believe in yesterday. Ah, the pull of the “good ole’ days”.
Tony and Maria wait for evenfall when they can be together. Their absence from each other makes the day seem endless. They long for the moon to shine bright with the hope that “endless day” will become “endless night” – in each other’s arms forever. The future, they believe, is their salvation.
“Today” has a way of casting either some yesterday or some tomorrow as better than now. “The Good Old Days” or “The Best Days Are Yet To Come” – these are the ways we put parentheses around the present, canonizing what was or inflating our hopes for what will be.
The book of Acts is often called the “history of the early Christian Movement”. St. Luke, the one who scholars believe is the “author”, moves back and forth between “they” – that is, telling the story from the standpoint of one who has heard about the events from another source – and “we” – that is, telling the story from the perspective of one who was present at the events being described. Acts 4 is a “they” event. But, there is contained in this text in a subtle way a kind of longing for what had been before to be again now.
While specifics are not known regarding exactly how long the shared life lasted or even how widespread it was among Christians, what becomes clear is one of the earliest, if not the earliest characteristics of those who were members of the “Way” was their life together in koinonia (κοινωνία). This Greek word is best translated communal form of life. In his commentary on the book of Acts Joseph Fitzmyer points out that before Christians were ἐκκλησία – that is, “church”, or “congregation” – we were κοινωνία – “fellowship”, “community”. This may be a gentle yearning for the “good ole’ days” on Luke’s part.
This leads me to think two things. First, why is it that throughout human history we keep finding various expressions of communal life? From the kibbutz in Israel to the communes of the 1960’s in this country; from the monastic movements of the Middle Ages to the madrassas of the 21st century, what is it about living in community that keeps tugging at us? Why, in spite of all our individualism, do we still hanker for commonality and unity of purpose?
And second, why is this yearning never fulfilled for more than a brief period of time? What is it about us that prevents us from experiencing the fulfillment of this yearning today?
Last Monday evening at our Bible Conversation someone suggested the main problem with communal life is corruption. We cannot depend on leadership to remain pure when it comes to motive and power. The truth be told, neither can we trust one another. Who we are here and now works against us.
Fitzmyer acknowledges in his commentary on Luke that the author may well have idealized the situation. That every need was met is reminiscent of a line right out of Deuteronomy: There will be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land the Lord is giving you…
This is an interesting concept – that the sign of God’s blessing is not that any particular individual has their needs met, but rather that all in the community have their needs met. And again, as was pointed out in our Monday Evening Bible Conversation, the “community” here doesn’t mean everyone in town. It refers to those who are members of the faith community.
But the text from Deuteronomy that may have inspired the early Christian κοινωνία has a catch to it. The needs will be met because of God’s blessing, and “If you will obey the Lord your God by diligently observing what is commanded of you today.
So, it’s not enough to say we were obedient yesterday, or we promise we will be obedient tomorrow. The question is: Where are we at today?
St. Paul acknowledges to the Philippian Christians that while he was there the community was faithful. Now, he writes, in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. In other words, my days of being with you are over. Now you’ve got to do the work. And later in his letter, Paul reminds us: The Lord is near. This is the trump card that Paul plays. Paul may not be there; but the risen Christ is. Initially it was understood to refer to the imminent return of Jesus. But soon, it had to be recast as the actual presence of Christ – here and now while awaiting the resurrection consummated in the Second Coming.
And what is it that witnesses to our faith in that divine presence? Simply this: that we think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise. It’s not enough that while Paul was with them they were faithful; this must be their future intent as well if their present is going to be a joyful, Christ-filled one. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say that such a transformation of the mind is something we aspire to, something we’ve not yet perfected in the present. And it is work. This is the work we do every day.
So, yes … Jesus is so absolutely right when he tells us with regard to tomorrow: Don’t worry. It’s not that there will be no challenges when the morrow comes; it’s that in worrying about them we might fail to take note of the ones facing us today.
The centerpiece in our Trinitarian theme for the Capital Campaign is: Live the Present. The “What if’s” we might worry about – What if we don’t raise enough money? What if we experience a major facilities melt-down? What if … What if … But all those “What if’s” are future possibilities, not present realities. Our present reality is the script we are writing today.
There is that wonderful story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus is at a wedding with members of his family, including his mother. When they ran out of wine and Mary brought this to Jesus’ attention, his initial response was: It’s not my time – my hour has not yet come. I picture Mary, sitting back, with hand to chin as she contemplated her son’s response. Perhaps she thought to herself … or even muttered loud enough for Jesus to hear: Your hour has not yet come? When do you expect your hour to get here?
When I was in high school at Rice and the end of the day would come, those of us with licenses and cars to drive would come down the hill to the traffic light at the bottom. And the car right at the light would wait when the light turned green. He would wait … and wait … and everyone was hitting their horn … and then, the light turned yellow, and he would wait another instant … and then just as the light turned red the car in front would peal out, leaving the rest of us to wait for the next cycle. If you were the fifth car back in the line you could do your homework while waiting to make that light.
Have you ever been stopped behind a car at a traffic light, and when the light turns green the car ahead of you doesn’t move? How long before you tap on your horn? Will you give the driver ahead of you ten seconds? Would you give them five seconds? I’ll bet we wouldn’t give them two seconds! The light is green. Now is the time to go. This is the instant you must move! God forbid that I might have to wait for the light to cycle around again!
What about living the glorious, mysterious truth of the resurrection? What about embracing the good news of the divine presence with you – in the pain of life, in the unemployment, the deteriorating health, the emotional strains, the exhaustion and the frustrations of life? What about seeing the beauty not only around you, but the mystery within you!
Jesus is right. Maybe he spoke those words on the mountain about not obsessing on tomorrows’ concerns while missing the challenges facing us today because early in his life, while attending a wedding, his mother pushed him beyond his comfort zone, and opened his eyes and his heart to the needs of people today. If we don’t live the present with full faith in the power of life over death, of hope over despair, of love over hate, what kinds of memories do our tomorrows hold out for us?
Right here, right now, Jesus invites us to wake up from watching past history or worrying about future history and make the history of his grace and justice and peace a present reality.
 “Us / We” appears in Acts for the first time in 16:10-17. Luke does not count himself to have been imprisoned with Paul and Silas and apparently was not present again until rejoining their company at Troas in Acts 20:6. See also Acts 21:1-18 and Acts 27:1-28:16.
 Joseph A. Firzmyer, The Anchor Bible – The Acts of the Apostles. Publisheed by DoubledaY, a division of Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. © 1998. Page 313.
 Acts 24:22.
 Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles – Page 313.
 Deuteronomy 15:4.
 Deuteronomy 15:5.
 Philippians 2:12.