By Chris Roseland
Over the past year amid a pandemic, protests and politics, I often heard many pastors, elders and mid council staff say that they are having a particularly hard time making ends meet. People aren’t giving the way they used to give. These churches and presbyteries are struggling to do more with less, and it’s the same way at the place where I currently serve, the Presbyterian Mission Agency — which has had a 40% reduction of our workforce over the past 10 years. In the end, the need is becoming greater and greater.
And then I read Luke’s account of the early church in Acts 2:44–45: “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.” I read this text and I think about how the way we give today is so different than the way it was for the early church. I think about how when things were so bad for them, far worse than they are for those of us today, these early Christians reached in their pockets a little deeper and gave to one another — even to the ones they didn’t even know.
And do you know what happened? They didn’t go into the red. They didn’t lose everything. They didn’t close their doors. They didn’t die.
Instead, they thrived. Luke tells us: “And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
They grew — not only in numbers, but also in faith — in their discipleship to Jesus Christ.
There’s an old story about a person of faith who had an audience with God. One day, this follower said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”
In a vision, God showed this disciple two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the person’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin, emaciated and sickly. They appeared to be starving. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, it was impossible to get the spoons back into their mouths. Even if they set their spoons down on the table to pull it closer, everything spilled out.
This startled disciple shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering, and God said, “You have just seen Hell.”
Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of delicious stew. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished, healthy and plump, laughing, singing and talking — enjoying themselves.
The follower said, “I don’t understand.”
“It is simple,” God smiled and said, “Love only requires one skill. These people learned to feed one another. Those who are greedy think only of themselves.”
And Luke wrote: “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. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day, the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44–47).
May it be so for us.
Chris Roseland is the Lead Mission Engagement Advisor for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, serving the Northern region of the United States.