"Becoming Easter People" - Acts 4:32 - 37 — Second Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia (2024)

A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor

Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Acts 4:32-37


April 11, 2021

We find ourselves today a week beyond the glorious celebration of Easter. But Easter, you recall, is not just a day; it is a season. Actually, as Brian Blount reminded us last week, Easter is a way of living - a certain perspective and a life toward God’s grand plans of justice and joy.

In the garden on that first Easter morning, Jesus, not recognized and perceived as the gardener, called Mary . . . by name. And Jesus calls all of us by name - to know the promises and power of Easter - for our lives and for our world. Our whole lives are intended to be lived in response to the Easter victory.

What does it look like to live all of our lives in response to Easter? What if we really lived with a sense of confidence that “nothing . . . not heights or depths, not principalities or powers, . . . nothing can separate us from God’s love?”

We get a glimpse of what that might look like - live our whole lives in the power and promises of Easter - in the wonderful stories from the Book of Acts. Acts gives us a picture of Easter people - Easter living - with boldness and extravagance and grace. Listen to this story from Acts 4:

32The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common.33The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all.34There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales,35and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.

36Joseph, whom the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (that is, “one who encourages”), was a Levite from Cyprus.37He owned a field, sold it, brought the money, and placed it in the care and under the authority of the apostles. (Common English Bible)

This is the Word of the Lord.Thanks be to God.

Many of you have heard me speak about the writings and influence of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks’ last book, published in 2020, the year he died, is entitled,Morality - Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. Sacks makes the case that the developed world - especially Britain, Europe, the United States - is “undergoing the cultural equivalent of climate change.” (That is a stark comment!) Our culture is suffocating, straining, at great risk. Here is what he says: “The market will be merciless. Politics will be deceiving, divisive, confrontational, and extreme. People will feel anxious, uncertain, fearful, aggressive, unstable, unrooted, and unloved. They will focus on promoting themselves instead of the one thing that will give them lasting happiness: making life better for others. People will be, by historic standards, financially rich but emotionally poor. Freedom itself will be at risk from the far right and the far left, the far right dreaming of a golden age that never was, the far left dreaming of a utopia that will never be.” (p. 1)

Sacks makes the case throughout the book: we are not machines, we are people; and people survive by caring for one another, not by competing with one another. We cannot ever just ask, “what is good for me?” We have to always ask, “what is good for us together?” It is never about the “I” and the “me.” Life is always about “Us,” about “we.” If we act on self-interest, without a commitment to the common good, if we lose our care for others, we will finally lose our lives.

A great teacher and Savior from the first century - the one who rose from the dead, on Easter morning - is also still trying to teach us that.

Frederick Buechner put it so succinctly: “you can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.” (see Marty,Christian Century, 3/24/21 p. 3) We are made for life together - in community - sharing, supporting, loving, caring. Thick community is critical to our life, our faith, our future.

Back to that passage - I just love those powerful phrases from Acts 4: “the community was one in heart and mind;” they were not fussing about what was “mine” and what was yours - common good, common sharing, common life - thick community. It is the way to life and happiness.

“An abundance of grace was at work among them;” that sounds so very revolutionary. It was not sin that was abundant. It was not selfishness that was abundant. It was not criticism or contempt that was abundant. It was “an abundance of grace” that was at work among them. Grace is never not abundant - it is just so easy to ignore, to miss it, to get caught up on our selfish intentions and alienating ways. But for those Easter people - they were living in the grace, living on the grace, living with grace in community.

“There were no needy persons among them;” we live with so many needy persons - people asking for help at almost every intersection around the city, people seeking a better job and life after this very difficult year, people struggling with real issues - financial, emotional, medical, including fears and frustrations.

Easter people recover the sense that “all of us are in this together.” When we live like that - as Easter people - our obsession with our needs falls away.

Willie James Jennings is an African-American theologian who teaches at Yale. Jennings has written a new commentary on the Book of Acts. One of the major themes of his commentary is about the importance of the narrative story of Acts. The unfolding drama of the apostles, seeking to find life and faith in the world following the resurrection of Jesus, show us how to live as Easter people. The day-in and day-out story of the apostles, seeking to live in response to the Easter promises - nothing can separate us from God’s love - absolutely intends to be a story that helps us, as disciples, imagine our own lives re-constructed, in light of Easter. Indeed, the narrative story of Acts seeks to help us re-construct our very lives as Easter people.

Jennings asserts that the Book of Acts is all about the disrupting presence of the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit essentially brings a revolution. God is always at work in the world! Jennings even compares Acts to the book of Genesis. In a similar way that God moved over the chaos and the waters and brought order and life, God, the Spirit, moves into everyday life - people, plans, programs, possibilities - and brings about God’s important intentions - order and life! What does it look like? Well, in this passage, the community was of one heart and mind, and abundant grace covered them, and there were no needy persons. See, God has invaded human life, community, making it thick and beautiful and life-giving! And Easter people are intended to be re-constructed in this way - toward compassion and care, wholeness and sharing, happiness and life.

So, . . .think about that - the Holy Spirit is seeking always to be re-constructing us as Easter people. Our calling is to be open to that re-construction. Are we open to being changed, to becoming the people God calls us to be - in thick community, with extravagant generosity, living in God’s abundant grace such that there is no needy person among us? That is a serious and sincere calling - to be re-constructed by God’s Spirt as Easter people.

This is how Jennings puts it:the prevailing fantasy of people is to have power over others, to claim the power of self-determination, and to make a world bow to its will. This is the fantasy of nations and clans, peoples and corporations. But the Spirit offers us God’s own fantasy of desire for people, of joining and life together and of shared stories bound to a new destiny in God. This desire for people is not for their utility but for their glory, to draw them into the divine pleasure and joy . . .(p.11)

See, the disrupting Spirit of God is always at work. We seek always to participate with the Spirit of God in bringing about these ends - fellowship and faith, commitment and compassion, thick community. This is how Easter people live. God has called our name. God has defeated evil and death. We seek to align our lives with the extravagant love and purposes and grace of God - in how we relate to each other, how we share, how we supplant the “me” with the “we.” This is what we are all becoming - re-constructed in the grand, glorious thick community of God - Easter people. (see. W. J. Jennings,Acts, p.1-12) And that would mean for us - working against racism, working for justice, working for a society that cared for the less fortunate, working for wholeness and hope for everyone.

This little passage ends with an interesting appearance of a man named Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus. You might know that Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean - so a distant land and culture. But this is not just Joseph from Cyprus, this is one called “Barnabas,” which means, “one who encourages.” Joseph from Cyprus has been given a new name and a new destiny.

You know, the longer I live, the more I value people who encourage others. We can do lots of things - help or not help, serve or not serve, spread kindness or spread contempt, show love or withhold love, support others or shame others.

To be called, “one who encourages” is a high calling. To be an encourager, clearly, is to spread kindness, care, support, and love toward God’s full reign.

We take note of what Barnabas is remembered for:He owned a field, sold it, brought the money, and placed it . . . under the authority of the apostles.

Jennings says that in this single verse, in this person - Barnabas - we see the intersection of God’s blessings and what God asks of us as we seek to become Easter people. When we know about God’s blessings, when we know ourselves to be Easter people, that Jesus has called us by name, we also need to know that God is watching and waiting to see how our faith connects resources to needs. It is always tempting to receive God’s boundless love and do nothing. It is so alluring even to receive God’s abundant gifts, and just hold tight to them. It is always tempting to corrupt the connection of being showered with love and never pass it along to those in need, or ignore need altogether.

Jennings says, “God never withholds, not even a beloved Son.” The church always and only lives at the site of the connection of resources to needs. And God waits and watches how much we are becoming, how deeply, how sincerely we are all being re-constructed as Easter people.

Joseph, the Levite from Cyprus, gets a new name and a new destiny: Barnabas - the one who encourages - who shows all of us what it looks like to become Easter people.

We are always BECOMING. Can we more and more become the kind of loyal and loving, gracious and kind encouragers of God’s coming reign in the world - a reign of joy and justice - where life is shared, where grace abounds?

Can we? May it be so. Amen

Prayer of Commitment: O Lord, to turn from you is to fall; to turn to you is to rise; to open our hearts, to seek to become Easter people, that is to abide forever. Show us that way following Jesus.

Alex W. Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on April 11, 2021. This is a rough manuscript.

"Becoming Easter People" - Acts 4:32 - 37 — Second Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia (2024)


What does it mean to be Easter people? ›

To live as Easter people is to believe in resurrection, to believe that there is life after every death – large and small.

Do Presbyterians believe in Easter? ›

Pascha [or Easter] is the central event, the time of transformation, of becoming a resurrected people, God's new people. On this Sunday of all Sundays, Pascha, we celebrate our transformation as a new people.

What happens at an Easter church service? ›

The service will contain a number of readings from the Bible, and also an opportunity for all the participants to renew the promises made at their baptism. The Easter Vigil is generally a quiet and thoughtful service, but one full of joy.

Why do so many people go to church on Easter? ›

“Food is always a draw,” McConnell said. But so are more serious considerations, like a desire to celebrate the miracle of Easter alongside other Christians. “People want to make the effort to be together for the celebration,” McConnell said.

How to live as Easter people? ›

Raise your voice against injustice, inequality, oppression, and the prejudices that abound. Grow a garden, adopt a rescue animal, make soup for a sick friend, donate to a good cause, plant a tree, read to a child, hold the hand of someone who is dying. These are all actions of Easter People.

Who said we are Easter people? ›

If you're Catholic, you've likely heard the famous Easter quote from Pope St. John Paul II — “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!” Did you know that he said this not at Eastertime, but in November — almost 40 years ago? He proclaimed these encouraging words during his Sunday Angelus on Nov.

What religion is Presbyterian closest to? ›

Presbyterianism is a Reformed (Calvinist) Protestant tradition named for its form of church government by representative assemblies of elders.

What do Presbyterians not believe? ›

Presbyterians believe that scripture does not teach reincarnation; it points us toward eternal life in the presence of God. We do not believe in an endless cycle of death and rebirth so that we continually get another chance to attain a certain level of goodness.

What are the Presbyterian Easter colors? ›

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EpiscopalPresbyterian USA
Easter VigilWhite or GoldWhite
EasterWhite or GoldWhite
Easter SeasonWhite or GoldWhite
20 more rows

What not to do on Easter Sunday? ›

However, there are some things you must not do on Easter. Sunday is a holy day that we should dedicate to God and use for rest. You should not then clean, wash, work or do other things. Especially on such a special Sunday as Easter, you should refrain from such activities.

What church does not celebrate Easter? ›

Members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), as part of their historic testimony against times and seasons, do not celebrate or observe Easter or any traditional feast days of the established Church, believing instead that "every day is the Lord's Day", and that elevation of one day above others suggests that ...

What food do Christians eat on Easter? ›

Lamb, eggs, rabbits, bells: What food portrays. The Easter meal, which follows the religious ceremony, is often eaten at midday, bringing the long fast of Lent to an end with a series of rich and sweet dishes. Lamb, which commemorates Jesus' sacrifice, is often served as the main course, as a leg, roast or stew.

What religion celebrates Easter the most? ›

Easter is one of the principal holidays, or feasts, of Christianity. It marks the Resurrection of Jesus three days after his death by crucifixion. For many Christian churches, Easter is the joyful end to the Lenten season of fasting and penitence.

What are people called that only go to church on Easter and Christmas? ›

Sometimes, such attendees are called CEO Christians: Christmas/Easter-only, and CMOs, Christmas- and Mother's Day-only.

Why is Easter on Monday? ›

Easter Monday is the second day of Eastertide and a public holiday in some countries. In Western Christianity it marks the second day of the Octave of Easter; in Eastern Christianity it marks the second day of Bright Week.

Why are Catholics called Easter people? ›

Christians believe they are Easter people because the resurrection of Jesus shows that suffering, disappointment and death can be transformed into new life. Christians believe that they live this pattern now and that it will continue after death. Easter gives us hope – a hope that promises fullness of life.

What is the personal meaning of Easter? ›

In commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus, Easter also celebrates the defeat of death and the hope of salvation. Christian tradition holds that the sins of humanity were paid for by the death of Jesus and that his Resurrection represents the anticipation believers can have in their own resurrection.

What does Easter mean to its followers? ›

Easter is a celebration of the death and resurrection (rising again) of Jesus Christ. Many scholars believe Jesus was crucified (died on a cross) on a Friday and rose again on the Sunday in AD33.

What is the deeper meaning of Easter? ›

It is a day of immense joy and hope, as Christians celebrate the victory of light over darkness, life over death, and the triumph of God's love for humanity. Easter Sunday serves as a profound reminder of the transformative power of faith and the enduring message of hope that resonates throughout the ages.


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