Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35
Soon after we moved to California, Bob and I joined with others from the Graduate Theological Union here to form a Christian community and share a home in South Berkeley. We shared meals, cooking, and chores. Once a month we invited others in to eat and worship together. I tried to describe our new living situation to my parents who live in Texas. They didn’t understand why we would want to live with so many others. With all they had heard about California, my mother said, “So… you live… in a commune.” I said no, we just live, eat and worship together. She said, “Sounds like a commune to me!” My parents never really got what we were doing.
It’s a bit hard for us to truly get what the early Christians in Jerusalem were doing, as described in the reading from Acts today. They sold their property and gave the proceeds to the community to hold in common. Have you ever heard your mother’s words coming out of your own mouth? Because, I have to say, that sounds like a commune to me! We may have trouble fully grasping what the early church was doing, but in fact, sharing is natural, profitable, vital and even practical.
Anthropologist Wulf Schiefenhövel says sharing is natural. Drawing on recent primatological and anthropological research he states that “The joy of sharing… is typical for our species.” We are wired to share. (Wulf Schiefenhövel; Anthropological Review. Volume 77, Issue 3, Pages 355–370, ISSN [Online] 2083-4594, DOI: 10.2478/anre-2014-0026, December 2014) In fact, research has shown that people get an increase in the happiness neurotransmitter oxytocin when they are given a gift or when someone entrusts them with something. The Science of Generosity Intiative at Notre Dame tracked 2000 people over 5 years and found that generosity made them happier (The Paradox of Generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson). Acts backs this up where it says “Great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33) What’s grace? Love given without condition. So, as they shared they experienced love given unconditionally.
Sharing is natural. It’s also profitable. We are sharing more and more with advances in technology. These days many people are saving the cost of buying a car by sharing a ride or car through Zipcar, Uber, Lyft and other options. The number of “zero-car families” has been increasing over the past eight years. (Zipcar, Uber and the Beginning of Trouble for the Auto Industry, Forbes.com, Tech 2/08/2014) Through the greater reach of the internet we are swapping and sharing all kind of items, from clothes, to tools, to places to stay on vacation. Many new startups are benefitting by finding new ways to share.
This sharing is profitable in another way. We gain something unexpected when we share. Professor R. Botsman says this “collaborative consumption” is enabling trust between strangers. (Rachel Botsman, co-author of What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption) We gain a sense of connection when we share. So, sharing creates community. Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired magazine says, “Now as our possessions dematerialize into the cloud, a blurry line is appearing between what's mine, what's yours, and what's ours.” Sounds a lot like the scripture reading today!
Sharing isn’t just natural and profitable. Sharing is vital; our life depends on it. We’re here because someone shared with us. As incredibly vulnerable infants and children, the sharing and caring of others gave us life. Think through your life with me. First, who shared food and shelter with you? Who shared fun and laughter with you? Who graciously and lovingly shared their wisdom and experience with you? We are standing here (or sitting here) with our experience, our education, our careers or avocations because someone shared with us. Our son who had cancer is alive today because a very kind doctor and many researchers over years shared their time and expertise with us. Think of what you have and who you are today because someone shared with you. Sharing is vital to life, to each of our lives. Our life depends on it. Our world depends on it.
Earth day is this Wednesday. I am always stunned by our impact on the planet. 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean every year. The amount of wood and paper we throw away is enough to heat 50 million homes for 20 years. The more we share, the less we consume, the less we waste and the less we impact the planet. Sharing is vital -- to our life and to all of life.
When we hear about the sharing of the early church maybe we wonder how practical is sharing, really? Sharing is very practical to Nerline Valéry’s four children. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti they had been living in a leaking tent with 11 other people. Through the sharing and caring of others in her community and through Church World Service, Nerline’s family now lives in a three bedroom home. She says, "We moved in two weeks ago. Yesterday evening was the first time it rained since we left the tent. The children were praying and giving thanks, because they are not getting wet anymore." For Nerline’s children, sharing is very practical.
Sharing is also very practical to Lochum’s children and grandchildren. The diet of the people of his Kenyan village consisted of milk, meat and maize. During droughts many cattle died and there was very little milk. Most children became sick and some died. That was before people shared through Church World Service, which helped build a sand dam and trained people in small-scale agriculture. Now, the villagers’ livelihoods are more diverse, their diets include vegetables, and the children don’t die from the drought. (www.cwsglobal.org/stories)
Sharing is very practical. In a very practical way it has transformed the future of Lochum’s grandchildren. We are connected to Nerline’s children and Lochum’s grandchildren just by walking and giving this afternoon. The CropWalk raises funds that support Church World Service’s grassroots, hunger-fighting, development efforts around the world, and efforts to alleviate hunger right in our community. That’s why people walk and why people share.
Why would the early Christians share so much? For the same reason. John Holbert says verse 34 makes it clear. “They were primarily concerned that there be no one needy among them.” ("Holding All Things in Common," John C. Holbert, Patheos, 2012) We have so many in need among us in this community and in this world. Matthew 10:8 says, "The gift you have received, give as a gift."
Jim Vorsas bought a new TV, back in the days when everyone had an antenna on the roof. His neighbors came to help put up the antenna, but they weren’t making much progress with their basic tools, until a new neighbor appeared. He had an elaborate tool box with every tool they needed. They got the antenna up in record time and stood around admiring their accomplishment. They turned to the new neighbor and asked what he made with such fancy tools. He smiled and said, “Friends, mostly.” (Parables, Etc. 8-82)
We have even more ways to share and make friends today. On a typical day Neal Gorenflo, a 47-year-old in Silicon Valley, shares in a multitude of ways. He shares a nanny with a neighbor, has coffee as he logs into his lending club where he shares small loans to those in need, then goes to work on a train he shares with others headed to San Francisco, where he picks up his City CarShare, which he drives to his office. Gorenflo says that sharing is fun. “What typically happens is when people try one sharing behavior, then they start to think, 'What can I do next?’” (Fast Company magazine, April 18, 2011)
What can we do next? We can pass on the fun. That’s what one mother was trying to do as she cooked pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys started to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw this as a teaching opportunity. "If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, "Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait." Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus."
What can we do next? Let’s be Jesus! Let’s share so generously with others, that they start to get what those early Christians where up to, and come to see the love of Christ in you and me. Amen.