Sunday, May 24, 2009

an irresponsible church

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” – Acts 2:45

Definition 1: “answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management.” Definition 2: “rational thought or action.” Definition 3: “reliable, as in meeting debts.”

These are all definitions of the word responsible, at least according to And far too often, Christians think that “responsibility” is a Christian virtue, or perhaps a fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps we have Immanuel Kant to thank. Kant thought that the Christian moral life was about doing one’s societal duty, about always acting reasonably, about being responsible. But if we wish to take Luke’s account of the early church seriously, we kant assume that Jesus’ primary aim is to make us responsible citizens …

… in the kingdom of the world. After all, responsibility assumes we’re in control. We’re not. Responsibility delights in what’s reasonable. The Gospel shatters reason. Responsibility assumes we can meet our own debts. The power of the Gospel, quite simply, lies in the fact that we can’t.

I’m not saying that we should always act irresponsibly. All I’m trying to say is this - Jesus didn’t die to make us responsible citizens of the kingdom of the world. He died to make us faithful citizens of the kingdom of God. And to live faithfully in God’s world, at times, will make us look irresponsible. From a worldly perspective, it is irresponsible to sell all your possessions and to lay the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. It’s irresponsible to choose Judas’ replacement by casting lots (1:26). But if even half of the stories that Luke tells are true, then make no mistake – the early church was irresponsible.

But should we expect anything else? Was it responsible for Jesus to leave his family at the age of thirty and to wander about the Sea of Galilee as an itinerant preacher? Wouldn’t it be more responsible to listen to your mom and to go home (Mk 3:31)?

Was it responsible for James and John to drop their nets and leave their father to follow Jesus?
Was it responsible for the Sower to throw (waste) seed indiscriminately, with only a fraction falling in good soil?
Was it responsible for the father to put a ring on the finger of his rebellious, prodigal son?
Was it responsible for Mary to dump a gallon of expensive oil on Jesus’ feet when the proceeds could have been given to the poor?
Was it responsible for that poor widow to put all she had to live on into the temple treasury?
Was it responsible for Jesus to hang out with hookers?
Was it responsible for Peter to try and walk on water?
Is it responsible to “let the dead bury their own dead?” (Matt 8:22).

When the Levite, unlike the Samaritan, refused to help the half-dead, beaten man – was that not the responsible thing to do?
When the rich young man refused to sell his goods and accept Jesus’ invitation to discipleship – was that not the responsible thing to do?
When Pilate released Barabbas in order to avoid a riot – was that not the responsible thing to do?

Jesus didn’t come to teach us to be responsible. He came to start a revolution – to turn the old world upside down. And because of that, followers of Jesus will break the rules of the old world from time to time. And when viewed through the lens of that old world, we will appear irresponsible.

Luke tells us that the early church sold all they had and gave the proceeds to the needy. What an incredibly irresponsible thing to do.

May God give today’s church the grace to “go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37).

No comments: