Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 8 April 2018, Easter 2

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, Sunday 8 April 2018, Easter 2

There is a man called John. You may have spoken to him – you may have passed by him. He stands outside the Tesco near Holland Park Tube station. He is a Big Issue seller. The other day it was pouring with rain –that’s not unusual. It was about midday. My sister once said to me I must never pass a Big Issue seller without purchaser. So in accordance with the rule of obedience to sisters, I bought a copy from him and I asked him how his day had been. He said:

“I’ve been here since 6.30 this morning and yours is only the second copy I have sold.”

If I am honest with you, I was shocked. I know it can be argued that there is a surfeit of Big Issue sellers – people might say they have already bought this week’s issue – three times over.

But it just somehow seemed wrong to me that so many people had ignored him. Perhaps those who pass by are so removed from the circumstances of John that they cannot identify with him, that he becomes invisible and they blot him out.

I was reminded of my conversation with John by this morning’s reading from Acts that we have just read – this story of how in the infant Church, property was held in common. It is a pretty alien concept to us today – and yet it is perhaps a glimpse of heaven –for as we know we cannot take our worldly goods with us.

What Luke is describing in Acts was not a new concept. The Book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 15) sets out how the wilderness community was to live:

“Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’”

Luke echoes Deuteronomy with his words “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 old and laid it at the apostles’ feet and this was distributed to each as any had need.”

Surely, you might say, you are not advocating that we should go and sell our properties and give all the money to the poor? A commandment that sounds hauntingly familiar. And of course I am not advocating that this. What I am doing, is grappling with how we as Christians should respond to such people in need. And I also very aware of the large commitments that we as a church make to charitable causes and those of you who also support many causes of need outside the church community.

And you might continue, if you want to live like that, Fr. Peter, perhaps we should all go and live in a monastery?

Actually not all the early Christians did go and sell their houses, as is made very clear when St. Peter is led from prison by an angel and is taken to the house of Mary.

But mention of monastic living is very apposite, because the monastic community is a community where everything is held in common. Indeed tying ourselves to worldly goods in a small community will always be a differentiator and a barrier to community life since there is little interdependency.

Possibly the most celebrated monastic is St. Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict stresses prayer, work, community and adherence to the rule. Benedict makes specific mention of this morning’s verses from Acts. Chapter 33 of the Rule is titled Monastics and Private Ownership, and specifically quotes Acts 4:32 “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything was held in common.”

A Benedictine abbess has written this about possessions:

“We take things and hoard things and give things to control our little worlds and the things wind up controlling us. They clutter our space and crimp our hearts; they sour our souls.”

In response to the Abbess you might quite reasonably say, many monastic communities depend on donations and gifts from outside the community, that endowed institutions and not just monasteries, are the product of donations from successful entrepreneurs, that it is wealth generation that pays the majority of our taxes. And I would not disagree.

But thinking about John, the Big Issue vendors’ plight, I’m uncomfortable and perhaps you are too. What should be the Christian response?

These weeks after Easter, the reminders of the risen Christ, the rehabilitation of Peter after his denials of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of remission of sins, the growth of the infant church, and the message from St. John that through believing in Christ we have life in his name – all this gives us strength and encouragement.

Which brings me back to John, not the Evangelist, but John the Big Issue vendor. And this reading from Acts.

Jesus said:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

I suggest this reading from Acts is asking us consider how we can use our gifts- by which I mean both our material possessions and the gifts of our character, those gifts within our hearts,

How can we best show the love of Christ to our neighbours and those in need, to help build the kingdom and above all to provide encouragement and share a friendly word?

Every Christian has the responsibility to bring others to Christ and to encourage.

How will we respond?

The next time I meet John, I hope he will tell me he has had a really good day.

Fr Peter Wolton