“With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
– Acts 4:33-35
Jesus Followers of the First Century had it right. They didn’t idolize or unduly elevate any of their leaders, nor did they look to anyone but the Holy Spirit to teach them the ways of God. Jesus left them a very clear model – teaching them to learn from His Spirit, and minister to those around them who were in need.
And all the needs of the Early Church were satisfied, because no one claimed to be the Leader – the Ruler – over the others.
Where we’ve seemed to go off track for well over a thousand years is in the area of elevating men and heaping praise upon them until they become haughty and arrogant. As a result, men fall. This is a story retold tens of thousands of times – a story that mimics Adam instead of Jesus, and one that brings shame upon the Church of Jesus Christ.
When will we learn? What will it take for us to return to the humility of our spiritual forefathers? They loved God with all their hearts, and loved each other to the point where they sold all they had and shared with one another so that there was no lack amongst the brethren.
Can we say that today? In these incredibly tough times, can we say that there’s no lack in the Church?
What an amazing witness it would be if church leaders unselfishly adhered to the model Jesus left us, and sacrificed for the people under their care instead of ruling over them. Rather than pulling down salaries in the $100,000 range while many of the people who are paying those salaries have lost their jobs and maybe even their homes, how about sharing with those in need?
Are church leaders worried that they’ll be setting a dangerous precedent that people would take advantage of? What would that be – emulating the actions of the Apostles? Jesus Christ Himself appointed these men to carry His message to the world, and they did so with stunning success. How did they do it?
“With great power … and great grace was upon them all.”
Is it any wonder why there’s very little power in the Church today?
St. Francis, Pray for Us
by Shane Claiborne 10-03-2011 02:17 pm
Today (Oct. 4) Christians around the world celebrate the life of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the bright lights of the church and one of the most venerated religious figures in history.
The life and witness of Francis is as relevant to the world we live in today as it was 900 years ago. He was one of the first critics of capitalism, one of the earliest Christian environmentalists, a sassy reformer of the church, and one of the classic conscientious objectors to war.
Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant, born into a society where the gap between rich and the poor was increasingly unacceptable. It was an age of religious crusades, where Christians and Muslims were killing each other in the name of God. Sound familiar?
Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the gospel where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” “consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” “Love your enemies” — and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said.
Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world, and said yes to Jesus.
One of the quotes attributed to Francis is a simple and poignant critique of our world, just as it was to his: “The more stuff we have the more clubs we need to protect it.” It does make you wonder if he’d be on Wall Street protesting today.
With a childlike innocence, Francis literally stripped off his clothing and walked out of Assisi butt-naked to live like the lilies and the sparrows (and to become the patron saint for the flower children). He lived close to the earth, and like Jesus became a friend of the birds and creatures, whom he fondly called “brother” and “sister.” In light of that, many Christians brought their pets to church yesterday for a special all-pets-allowed service, an annual tribute to Francis. And many a bird-bath dons his iconic image.
But it’s easy to turn our best movements into monuments. His life was a powerful critique of the demons of his day, which are very similar to the demons of ours.
One of my favorite stories of Francis was when he decided to meet with the Muslim sultan during the Fifth Crusade. It was a tumultuous time. War had become a necessity and a habit, and was baptized by much of the church. Francis was sent off as a soldier, but he could not reconcile the violence of war with the grace of Christ. So he got off his warhorse, and put down the sword.
Francis pleaded with the military commander, Cardinal Pelagius, to end the fighting. Pelagius refused. Instead, Pelagius broke off all diplomatic relations with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. The sultan in turn decreed that anyone who brought him the head of a Christian would be rewarded with a Byzantine gold piece.
Francis, however, pursued his vision in steadfast faith, surmounting all dangers in a journey to see the sultan. He traveled through fierce fighting in Syria and inevitably was met by soldiers of the sultan’s army, who beat him savagely and put him in chains, dragging him before the sultan himself. Francis spoke to the sultan of God’s love and grace. The sultan listened intensely and was so moved that he offered Francis gifts and money. Our saint of course had no desire for the money, but he gladly accepted one gift — an ivory horn used in the Muslim call to prayer. He took it back with him and used it to summon his own community for prayer. Both Francis and the sultan were transformed by that encounter.
In an age of religious extremists, Francis offers us an alternative. We have seen religious extremists of all stripes — Jewish, Muslim, Christian — distort the best that our faiths have to offer and hijack the headlines with stories of hatred. We’ve seen Christian extremists burn the Quran, blow up abortion clinics, bless bombs, baptize Wall Street, and hold signs that say “God hates fags.” But Francis invites us to become extremists for grace, extremists for love.
Although the Church is prone to forget his witness or to make a monument of his movement, there is a whole world remembering his radical witness today. We celebrate his critique of an economy that left masses of people in poverty so that a handful of people can live as they wish. We rejoice in his love for the earth as we work to end the ravaging of our world. We remember his witness that there is a better way to bring peace than with a sword. And we remember the whisper he heard from God, “Repair the church, which is in ruins.”
Let us do a little something today as a tribute to old Francis. Maybe we can get rid of some of our stuff or spend some time with a homeless person. Maybe we can laugh at advertisements today that try to convince us that happiness can be purchased. Maybe we can hang out in the woods and spend some time with the lilies and sparrows. Maybe we can take an “enemy” out for dinner.
These are the words of the famous prayer of Francis. May they inspire us to become better people and to build a better world:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.