Several years ago, as a fun experiment, my wife and I started a website where people could post the stuff they no longer needed, and others, who needed those things, could simply claim them. Pretty simple. The idea caught on in our church and people started giving each other lamps and toasters and other random items. That alone was amazing to me. For years I’d been fascinated with Acts 2:44-45:
“The believers had everything in common and gave to each other as they had need.”
Really? Everything in common?
As a fired-up young Christian that bit about “everything in common” clobbered me. That’s not how we live, I often thought. Our church was full of people who acquired as much as possible, while others barely scraped-by. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that the folks who built wealth and lived comfortably usually ended up in the seats of power at church.
Worse still, I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted the absolute freedom of self-sufficiency that wealth seemed to promise.
But Acts 2, and 2 Cor 8, and especially Exodus 16 kept bludgeoning my conscience. There was something at work in these bits of scripture, something altogether different than naked capitalism. When the Spirit of God was in charge, the outcome looked more like abundance for everyone, rather than obscene luxury for a few. And when conspicuous wealth was depicted in scripture, it always came with the heavy prophetic warning to responsibly use that wealth liberally for obtaining the abundance of all.
It seemed, as far as God was concerned, that being rich purchased you the smallest possible measure of freedom.
Again, this is not what I observed in church. Why didn’t the Bible literally revolutionize our lives? As a young Christian, I asked pastors and elders point-blank, but was generally met with condescending smiles and tousles of the hair.
Then, one day, I stumbled across Luke 3:
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
There it was again. Sharing. Giving. Prophetic warning. Was it really that simple? An odd thought began to creep into my mind. Maybe the solution to poverty isn’t about making everyone on the planet more self-sufficient, maybe it’s found by inviting everyone into community-sufficiency.
So, we did what everyone in a globalized world does when they think they have a cool idea: we started a website. We encouraged people in our church to post their extra things so others could freely take what they needed. The idea being, this was a small expression of Luke 3.
The next thing I knew people were showing up at church carrying lamps and toasters and giving them away to each other in the lobby. That alone was pretty cool. Mission accomplished, I thought. But then people outside the church started joining and that’s when everything went pear-shaped. We started bumping into non-Christians and poor people and rich people and witches and buddhists and Methodists. You know, the sort of people we normally would have avoided at all costs.
In the process, something new was birthed between us, something which hadn’t previously existed for the most part: genuine gratitude. And that gratitude came pretty naturally and sincerely, because even though we all had something to give, we also all had needs. So our equality came not merely just from any kind of material equality, but from the realization that, in essence, we were all empty. Out empty, outstretched hands were, simultaneously, hands that give and receive.
That gratitude usually sprouted kindness and kindness sometimes blossomed into friendship and somewhere in the midst of it all the Kingdom of God showed up. And within that rooted-and-connected Kingdom, we discovered all the sufficiency any of us needed.