For freedom Christ has set us free. And if we live in true freedom, then we will also seek freedom for those around us, and will not profit from their subjugation. As followers of Jesus, our pursuit of Justice and Righteousness for others is a primary witness to our faith in Him.
What does freedom mean to you? What scenes are conjured in your imagination? The mountains? The beach? A flowered meadow? Flying? Floating? Laughter? Family? Health?
What freedom do you seek? Is it freedom from addiction? Freedom from financial worry? Freedom from anxiety and fear? Freedom from relationship problems? Freedom from violence and oppression? Freedom from judgement and hate – either self-imposed or from others?
Jesus’ ministry echoes and fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). We hear proclaimed and see demonstrated the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) when God instructed the people to release their neighbors from the bonds of oppression imposed by generational poverty – regardless of what caused that poverty. Jesus set people free from disease and disorder – regardless of what caused these problems. Jesus set people free from guilt and shame – regardless of the circumstances or complicity of their sin and brokenness.
As kids, when playing ball, there would occasionally be some interference, and we would all call out, “DO OVER!” – a type of forgiveness of the last play made. In business we have several types of debt forgiveness, often under some form of bankruptcy. There is a process, and there are consequences, but there is also freedom.
Followers of Jesus Christ long to claim our freedom from sin and from the Law, yet we are also often the first to hold others to strict standards of action and reaction, behavior and consequences. Consequences matter, and certainly God does not sweep away all the consequences of our choices.
What if we as Christians were the first and most consistent to declare freedom for people, and then organize our lives and our work in ways that help people live into the full freedom that God offers us in Christ Jesus? What if we sought the freedom of others before we claimed our own freedom (Philippians 2). What if we lived like freedom in Christ was for all people?
God dreams of doing a new thing. How does our fear cause resistance? Where is God sending us? To whom is God sending us? How might we think we are being faithful when we are actually resisting and putting up obstacles to the new things God is doing? (Acts 9:1-16)
In this story of Saul and Ananias we see that they have several things in common. They are both devout Jews. They both take very seriously their faith and commitment to serve God. And both hold an understanding of God that is too narrow, regardless of how devoted they are.
Ananias had already become a follower of Jesus. He was “a disciple of the Lord” committed to growing the Church. He was significantly connected to the Spirit that he was able to experience and be open to a vision in which Jesus gave him instruction. He was also significantly connected to push back against a path that did not square with his idea of “Church.” Surely there must be something wrong in this communication. Surely God is not really wanting him to go and meet with a known persecutor of Christians – someone who was actively working against God’s purposes.
Saul likewise was sure of his faith and his devotion to God. He was sure of what God wanted for the world, and from him specifically. He was sure that this Jesus movement, these people who called themselves “followers of The Way”, was anathema to God. It was a danger to the true faith and must be resisted. And he too was open to experiencing a vision from Jesus.
And yet God was doing something new that neither of them understood. Jesus had to intervene directly because they were working against his purposes. What new thing is he desiring to do among us today? Are we ready and able to see, hear and follow?
God’s Dream for creation is illustrated in the verdant garden of Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Abundance is God’s intention and desire. In Acts 2 & 4 we see how the Holy Spirit’s presence in the community results in an outpouring of abundance overflowing with generosity and mutual trust and care. How might we experience and demonstrate God’s power to the world in similar ways through our own mutual sharing in love?
When people encounter the holy, they are moved to the center of God’s will as described in Micah 6:8 – “Do justice, Love kindness, Walk humbly – all with God”. When Abraham encountered God (Genesis 18) he and Sarah were moved with hospitality to prepare a feast for them. They weren’t giving because they had lots left over, but because the Spirit prompted them too.
Likewise in Acts 2 and 4, the people are not giving and sharing in this way because they are overflowing with abundant resources. They are not giving from their excess. And they’re not giving just to meet the needs of the suffering. They are converted to a new way of thinking. Their minds are renewed – metanoia – “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). And with this renewed mind they see and respond to the world in new ways.
No where in this story, in Acts or Paul’s writings or even in the gospels is there a broad instruction or teaching for everyone to adopt a lifestyle of poverty and communal sharing. The people are not told to do this – it simply emerges, even bursts for the, from their experience of grace from God’s Holy Spirit. Wealth is not demonized by either Jesus or the Apostles, though it clearly has its dangers (Mt 6:24; 19:24). And in Acts 5 we read the story of one family who in this same community chooses deceit instead of honest dialogue when they choose not to give all of their possessions over to the community. The consequences come not for their withholding but for their faithlessness as shown in the dishonest betrayal. And this demonstrates how difficult following the Spirit can be.
This sharing also was not with the wider world (that comes elsewhere). It was specifically with the other believers, as a demonstration of their “love for one another” (John 13:35). The sharing was simple their honest and humble response – a desire to live in trust of God’s provision and abundance. So what if the church lived this way today? Perhaps not selling everyting and sharing all in common (though maybe that). What if we were open to a radical reordering of our relationships with one another and with our possessions and our wealth?
And what if we remember that as church we are not just a congregation here or there, but the scattered and gathered Body of Christ around the community and around the world? What if we practice this new stewardship of resources with other congregations in our community – say those situated within the same middle or high school district? How would we rediscover the meaning of church, and thus of our faith, if we were one with these other folks as the 3000 souls who became believers on Pentecost were one? How might that transform our witness and testimony to the power of God to work miracles in our day and time and heal our land?