Read: Acts 4:31-37
In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton wrote that for every action, there is an equal and an opposite reaction.
That when something increases, something else must decrease.
We might know this better as Newton’s Third Law of Relativity.
But Newton’s law tends to fit all of the ordered world into a system of hierarchies.
However, today’s more emergent science — whether it be physical or social — now understands a more holistic system…
one in which all of those parts of the system not only affect one another, but are dependent on one another.
For instance, in 2010, the British author Stephen L. Talbot writes:
“The properties of the parts are not intrinsic properties but can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.”
That simply means that when we look at ourselves individually — you or me — we always see something greater…
…because of our connection to everyone and everything else in the world.
Thus the emergent thought argues that instead of thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe that revolves around us and affects all things to create our own outcomes, we now understand that when we do anything in the world — even to our social or physical world — it affects everything else, including our very selves.
Why do we care about any of this today?
Well, we’re in our third part of a four-week sermon series called “entrusted,” in which we are looking at the gifts God has given us and what our responsibilities with those gifts are.
We began two weeks ago with money, and saw that the gifts and talents that we have been entrusted with come from God and are to be used to widen the love of God’s kingdom.
We saw last week that the same charge applies when it comes to being good stewards of the planet.
We saw the Creation Account as a way to describe both the enormous and loving gift we’ve been given for our sustenance, but also the responsibility to be the planet’s caretakers.
Today, we have to look at something that doesn’t appear to have a physical body, name or face:
We are going to look at the power structures that are in place in our world and compare them to the original intent of the Scripture in living in community as the Book of Acts calls us to do.
We can say that when Jesus created the church — that is, the way we all should live together in God’s world — this was an emergent idea.
It was greater than the sum of its parts, as Aristotle had said.
Good things happen when we do good things together.
Creating God’s church here on earth is one of those amazingly good power structures:
a force of good in the world today.
And so we look at this little gem of wisdom in the book of Acts today.
Jesus establishes the church through the people.
The church is simply that: God’s people.
But does that mean we live independent of one another?
Am I the Church by itself? No.
We only are the Church together.
God’s people is much more than just individuals;
and it only positively affects the world when we act as the entire body, not just a part of it.
In Acts, we see the Apostle Luke summing up what was happening in the early church Christ had created.
Let’s look at it.
We pick up in Verse 31 to find that the people — that is, the Church — were all praying together.
Just like we did a moment ago and will do again.
When they did this, the ground shook, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence, Verse 31.
You see, together, the earth moved.
Together, the Holy Spirit came to them.
Together, they were filled with wisdom.
Together, they were confident.
We go on to find that they began living with one heart and one mind.
This community of believers.
They held everything in common.
They helped and supported each other.
And there were no hierarchies.
The church understood it was only as good as all of its parts,
and that as a holistic entity, every part was critical, because every part had affected the other.
The Hungarian writer Arthur Koestler proposed the idea of a holarchy rather than a hierarchy.
A hierarchy orders the parts by their significance and what they can contribute placing a value on something determined by one or more people.
That’s the way our world blindly operates today.
What do I mean by that?
Well, men must be more important that women, right?
I mean, for every dollar a man makes, a woman only makes about 85 percent of that for the same job.
Are men more able or smarter?
It’s why children don’t really have a say in the very institutions they are a part of.
Why they don’t have any sway, and why they’re often abused or harmed.
Are they any less worthy than adults?
It’s why the elderly in American society are hidden away, as we believe they really have nothing more to contribute to society.
Do they? Certainly!
We might even say that mandatory retirement is agism!
It’s why people who do not have white skin find themselves in the margins of not only our country, but the Western-dominated world.
Are they any less than white people?
Are any of these people any less of God’s children?
Still, we have ordered an entire world on these ideas.
A hierarchy based on power structures, and who gets to be in power and who doesn’t!
Going back to Koestler’s theory of holarchy vs. hierarchy, Koestler argues that we as a people are both whole and part at the same time.
We first function as the individuals we are, but we also function together greater than the individuals but without holding one individual more subordinate to another.
It’s not an individual’s power or position that determines their worth; it’s their ability to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.
And it’s downright biblical.
The Apostle Paul describes the Church as the body,
but we aren’t all the same parts of a body.
I may be an arm, and you a leg, and he an eye and she a heart…
Koestler posits, as does Paul, that the arm helps the eye, just as the heart helps the leg not for the eye’s or the arm’s or the heart’s or the leg’s sake;
but for the sake of the entire body.
Science and Scripture
Am I convoluting a basic concept of living in harmony by interjecting scientific systems as a way to look at Scripture?
See, what is happening is that we’re marrying science and faith here,
which isn’t and shouldn’t be a foreign concept that we shy away from or fear;
because we all have talents and gifts and ideas and influences and backgrounds and thoughts that are bigger than the individual parts.
Our text tells us that once the believers understand this, they bear witness to Christ.
Then they ensure that there are no needy persons among them, and everyone was cared for.
Anyone who needed something was taken care of. Verse 35.
Then we get an example in Barnabas, of how to live together.
An example that we’re expected to easily follow.
Why don’t we follow?
So let’s tear that apart a bit at a very basic level:
God sends Jesus to the world to reconnect us to God by freeing us from our sins through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross;
Jesus is resurrected and lifted back to God to show us that we, too, will be resurrected and eternally lifted back to God when our time here on earth is done;
Yet Jesus is very much needed here on earth still among us, but because he has ascended he tells us we will be him, and in order for that to happen, he gives us God’s Spirit to dwell in us and is our advocate (paraclete).
All of these actions are good, they are positive and together compose the Body: Father, Son, Spirit.
And now we are that body here on earth.
The individual parts are so good;
But the sum of the parts is awesome!
Now the final step with the body is to … do something with ALL of it.
Not just some of it.
And in the larger scope of what we’ve been talking about these last few weeks in this series, that very thing has been held in trust in us!
We have been entrusted!
So we understand how the parts work together, and we understand the goodness of God.
We understand the gift that we’ve been entrusted with — just like the early disciples — and we’ve even been given an example in Barnabas, Verse 37.
So if we all know and all agree on all of this stuff…
How is it that we have children starving to death both around the world and in our own country today?
How is it that some children will receive critical vaccinations while others won’t today?
How is it that immigrant children separated from their parents at the borders more than a month ago have not only not been reunited with them, but abused in the time that they have been apart —
actions that the United Methodist Church and other major denominations all have condemned!
And how is it that people are and will continue to face abuses — both physical and mental — because of their gender, the color of their skin, their origin, their religion, their orientation, their social status, or even their age?
Well, the answer is simple.
But the solution may seem complex.
The answer is power structures.
Power structures: the systems that are in place to protect one group at the expense of another.
That’s relativity: One benefits at another’s expense.
And that the only way to help those who suffer is for those in power to act.
Simply put, those suffering do not have any power or influence or means to rise above their conditions!
This is how we’ve constructed our world!
When will we say “No more!”?
Think about it:
The power structures and hierarchies of the way the world is composed allow for:
Situations such as in Flint, Michigan, where an entire population was knowingly given public water that had dangerously high levels of lead in them;
It’s why in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where everyone born there is an American citizen, a year after one of the worst natural disasters in recent history, there are still thousands of people living without electricity.
And it’s why the people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota have the highest mortality rates in the Western world, second only to Haiti.
And there are so many more examples, around the world, in our own back yards, and, quite honestly, even in our own churches, that are too overwhelming to name.
By living our good, Christian lives as we do today, we don’t think that we are continually empowering those power structures that have been set in place long, long ago.
But we are.
The powerless are vulnerable not because of who they are, but because of who we are.
And more specifically, how we fail to act.
Remember: Those in power always decide who is helped and who is left behind.
Those in power positions even passively foster the systems that are in place to decide others’ fates.
We can throw money at those who have no power, but until we start loving them as we love ourselves — just as Jesus commands us to — those power structures will never change.
People will have shorter lifespans,
they will be impoverished and abused,
and people will be treated as less, they will be persecuted, they will suffer and they will die.
In Jesus’s day, those who held power were first the Romans who occupied the entire Mediterranean and all of the Middle East.
In Israel, it was the Jews over the Christ-following Jews, too.
And you had better believe that those power structures were maintained so that those in power remained in power, and those without could never attain that power.
In response, Jesus disbanded any notion of hierarchy and, instead, promoted a holarchy — if we can steal that term.
Luke gives us a great example in our reading in Acts today with Barnabas, which we only touched on in our reading today.
The last verse.
Barnabas owned a field, sold it, brought the money and placed it in the care of the apostles.
And he was taken care of, as were all the others.
They were empowered. They were encouraged.
They were happy.
When one lifted another up, they both were elevated.
They were doing exactly what God entrusted them to do:
They were living into the kingdom, and bringing as many people as they could with them.
Without that early church, we wouldn’t be here today.
It’s amazing that they had the courage and the strength to overcome their own self-focused ways,
and actually take care of us thousands of years later.
They actually entrust us to carry on.
I’m thankful today that we’re able to finally see our connection to one another.
Surely the advent of the Internet has helped us understand who we all are all around the world.
All Created by God.
All entrusted to expand into the kingdom as caretakers of one another…
…and maybe this is what emergence is really about—
a way to better understand the relationality among us all.
And to embrace the diversity of what Paul calls the Body — a hand here, a foot here, and eye there, a heart there…
And begin to truly understand that we were created by a loving God to be relational.
The Triune God — three-in-one, and completely relational.
The Creator God who wanted to create us in the image of God — like God — to enjoy our company eternally.
And to give us the charge of a world that can be so much more good than the condition that it’s in this morning.
With the help of the Holy Spirit who still is just waiting for us to take the steps of faith so we can be empowered with love, light, courage, peace, and strength.
That we may say — and truly mean — your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.