The After Party (Message for April 12th)

Scripture:  Acts 4:32-37

Several years ago, my wife discovered a website that gave away free magazine subscriptions.  Magazines can charge advertisers based on how many subscriptions they have, so to reach certain thresholds magazines would give away subscriptions.   To this day, she swears she does not know how it happened.  Somehow, we ended up with a subscription (a two year subscription!) to Us, a weekly celebrity gossip magazine.  Now in the rankings of things I care about, it really does not get much lower than celebrity gossip.   Despite myself though I would find myself thumbing through that silly thing each week when it came.   There are two things I can say I learned from regularly glancing over Us magazine.  First, I am unable to care enough to form an opinion about who were the dress the best.    Second, the after party is always more exciting than the party.   An after party is the party that occurs after the regular party Perhaps the most well-known examples of after parties, are the Oscar after parties.  However, from two years of a celebrity gossip magazine I learned that seemingly every celebrity get together from award shows to movie premiers to charity events has an after party.  The after parties are less official, harder to get into, and often go later into the night.    The after party is the REAL party. 

            On the flip side, is what I am more likely to think about when I hear the words after party, and that is anything but a good time.   My wife loves to throw birthday parties for our kids.   She starts planning months in advance.    She scours pinterest for the best of the best ideas.   While we only have five years of experience thus far, she has gone all out on these things.   When I think of an after party, the first thing that comes to my mind is what is happening after one of those parties.   The kitchen is a mess, there is trash everywhere to throw away, there is an entire house to undecorated, there are balloons that are already starting to fall down, and there is a cranky kid or two who is overdue for a nap.    This version of an after party is a bit deflated.   The excitement of the party is gone, everyone is tired, and the realities and drudgeries of the real world are flooding back in.    

            In the Christian calendar Easter, last Sunday, was a party.   It was a celebration.   If you were unable to be here with us last week, then you really did miss a great celebration.   This week though, the party is over.  It is time for the after party.   The question, is what kind of after party are we going to have?   Is our after party going to be the real party that dwarves the actual party or is it going to be a bit of a letdown because the party is over?  

            What kind of after party did the early church have?   I think we can find the answer in this morning’s scripture. This morning’s scripture describes what the early believers did after: After the excitement that followed the days after the resurrection, after the accession, and after Pentecost.    They were of one heart and mind and they shared everything.   They proclaimed the gospel of the resurrection.   The question this immediately brings to mind, is why did they do this?   Of all of the things that the early believers could have done, why did they put such an emphasis on sharing and meeting the needs that arose in the group? 

            The answer is almost too obvious, that it can be overlooked.   They were doing what Jesus said to do!  In Luke 22:26 the disciples were once again arguing over who is greater, and Jesus tells them “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”  Another time when they were arguing about the same thing Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”   Then at the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them “I have set you an example that you should as I have done for you.”   By ensuring that no one among them had any need, the early believers were practicing what Jesus preached.   They were radically serving one another.    Jesus also prayed for these believers (and for us) in John 17:20.  Jesus prayed, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.”    This morning’s scripture starts off by saying they were of one heart and mind.    Finally, Jesus came proclaiming the good news “that the kingdom of God is near”, and the early picked up this message by proclaiming the good news of the resurrection that brought God’s kingdom at hand.   They daily fulfilled the great commission to make disciples of all the nations, by boldly testifying to their faith.   The choice the early believers made after the party of the resurrection was to actually live out what Jesus said, and they chose to do it in community.  

            Essentially the early believers chose to keep the good news of the resurrection and the reality of a new life in Christ going.  They chose to keep the party going and not stop celebrating, which they did daily.   They came to let the fact that salvation had come, that death had been defeated, define everything about them.    In the same way for us, on Easter we celebrate that we are new creations in Christ.  On the Sunday after, we have to start living it.   How comfortable are we with the idea of living radically different like the first believers did?    What would it mean for us to do that today? 

            There are two things the early believers did that perhaps we should still be doing today.  First, they were one in heart and mind.    In our current culture and climate, this seems all but impossible.  There is always so much focus on the things that divide us.  Collectively, we seemed to have bought into this false idea that if someone does not agree with us on every detail then they are somehow opposed to us.   Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback church in California put it like this: “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”   To be of one heart and one mind, we simply need to elevate compassion and love above all of the noise.  We need to put our focus on the one thing that brings us all together in the first place.  This is one of the reasons why I love to play board games so much.   I can sit down with a complete group of strangers, and the experience of the game creates a magic circle.  Within the confines of that game we are both friends and opponents.  We have a shared experience, we share laughter, and we share the stories the game generates.   Anything that might separate me from the people I am playing with is left outside of the circle the game generates, it for a brief time becomes a unifying force.  In the same but much greater way, our shared belief that Jesus is risen should create a magic circle that unifies and brings us together.  It does not matter what divides us, how different we are, we share the common fact that we are saved by the same blood.  We share the same savior.   Knowing that we are loved by the same God should make us of one heart and mind.  

            The way the early church demonstrated that they were of the same heart and mind is the second practice we should be doing today, and that is they shared everything.    More than that they were so unified, that the scripture says no one claimed their possessions as their own.   Can you imagine if we had that kind of radical sharing?   If you treated everything you owned as common property that any other member of the church could use?    How long do you think that would last before we were up to our necks in interpersonal conflict?    We may not be ready for that kind of level of sharing, but I think we should consider the idea behind it.   The early believers were united by the common belief that Jesus is the resurrected Lord.   This belief was so central that they viewed the others who shared that view as connected to them, like family.   By sharing to the degree that they did, they radically demonstrated the idea of serving each other.    They literally put their money and their stuff with their mouth was, and submitted their stuff to all.   They served one another with their possessions.   In sharing with each other to that degree they demonstrated what it was like to live differently.   Instead of being controlled by an acquisition mindset and default hoarder mentality, the early believers demonstrated what it was like to have a life that was controlled by love.   The love of God that controlled their lives, led them to value people over stuff, and to serve one another as a testament a life changed by God’s unrelenting love.  

            Now I know for a fact, that there are many of you here today that would serve one another in a second without thought.   I know there are several of you here today, who would gladly live out the commands of Jesus and serve one another as he has served us.    I know that if I had a specific need, I could call anyone of you and you would drop whatever you were doing to come help me.   The question is why do we not do that?    Why do we no longer stick out in our culture as different because of how we radically love each other?   The answer is simple, we do not let ourselves do that.   We do not let ourselves be served.   Many of us are very quick to jump up and help others, but we are far, far less likely to let others help us.     In our American culture, we have emphasized to us from a very young age the importance of self-reliance.   We are taught that when we get knocked down, we pick ourselves up by our own boot straps.  We are essentially taught that accepting help is a sign of weakness.   We need to call this attitude what it is:  It is ugly pride, plain and simple.    Our attitudes convey that we believe that we are the only one who has it all together and above needing help.   When said that way it sounds ridiculous because it is.  We are not perfect, we all fall short, and all we cannot do it on our own.  Acknowledging this fact in our life, is what drove each and every one us to the cross in the first place.  We are Christians because we know that we cannot save ourselves, and need a savior.   When we do not allow others to love us.   We are like Peter refusing to allow Christ to serve him when he washed the disciples feet.   As a church, as family of believers, we need to trust one another enough to seek help from each other.   When we ask for help we are being vulnerable and admitting that we are less than perfect.   We have to be willing to trust that when we seek help within the confines of the church we will not find judgement, just love.   When we help each other, we strengthen one another, the gifts of one person cover the weaknesses of another.    We also, like the early believers, become a testimony to the power of God’s love because we display that love daily in how we care for one another. 

             When we do this, we only have to look at the early believers to see what will happen.  Acts 3:47 records “And the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.”  We claim that salvation by Christ has given us new, eternal life.   When we follow the example of the early believers, we actually live a new life-different from all of those around us.    It was this new life that attracted people daily, and it is this new life that will still attract people.  We need to live like no one else.   We need to be united above all else in our belief that God is love and he proved this love through Jesus his Son.  We need to demonstrate this love is true by how we love each other, and we need to be willing to allow our brothers and sisters in Christ to love us.     That should be our after party, this is how we celebrate Easter after the main celebration.   We do it daily in how we live and care for one another.    May we choose to do that.   May we be willing to be vulnerable to one another and trust each other.   May we live like no one else, because I promise if we do, then people from a broken and hurting world are going to want to come and join our party.