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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Common Ground

Acts 4:32-35

New Revised Standard Version

32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

You probably remember Valentines Day in elementary school. You had to have a Valentine for everyone in the class whether we liked them or not. The perforated Valentines were torn apart, and you signed each one with your name. No personal message or name of the person it was going to. The recipient’s name went on the envelope from the list the teacher provided. On Valentines Day, you brought the cards and dropped one in the mailbox or bag or whatever for each student. The cards were generic. Other than the name on the envelope, no thought was given to whether or the card inside fit the person who received it. There was no emotional connection between the student who made out the cards and the student who received it.

Christmas cards were similar. Most people on your list received the same card sometimes with a pre-printed “signature.” You may have added the name of the recipient inside or not and, possibly, a short personal note in some cards. The Christmas letter was sent to everyone. Still generic.

Now consider choosing a birthday card or other greeting card. You comb the card rack at the store looking for the right card for the person you are sending it to. The selection is thoughtful and mindful of the recipient. Often, you would add a personal note in the card.

I learned many years ago how meaningful it is to add a personal message to a card. Even if the same card is sent to several people, the message helps make a connection between you and the person you are sending it to. A heartfelt connection.

Connections with others build relationships. Taking time to see each person as unique and to get to know them strengthens those relationships. Some will become life-long friends. The kind that even when you haven’t seen each other for years or talk infrequently on the phone, when you get together you pick up right where you left off. You may be separated by distance or time, but the heart connection is still there.

Think about the heart for a moment. It is a muscle that regulates the blood flow to other parts of the body. A blockage in an artery or some other medical problem with the heart impacts its ability to do its job. The result could be life-threatening.

We also think of the heart as our emotional center. The place where our feelings for others are stored. Phrases such as, “I love you with all my heart” and “You are always in my heart” represent emotional connections between two people. We may think of these as heart-to-heart connections. The kind relationships are built on.

What about our connection with God’s heart? We know that God loves us. We sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” We believe that God shows God’s love in creation, actions, and our experiences. God lives in our hearts we are told.

Easter is God’s greatest expression of love. The gift of God’s Son, Jesus, for our forgiveness and our salvation is beyond any other gift we could ever receive. But even this amazing gift doesn’t have the same emotional connection with us as we have with another person. One we can see. Whose picture we hold in our hearts. We have a real, tangible picture of the one we love.

Jesus tells us when he gives what we know as the two greatest commandments that we are to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are more comfortable with the second part because we have an idea of what loving our neighbor looks like. It is tangible. We know things we can do, and we see what happens when we do them.

The first part, though, is more problematic. How do we love God? We can’t send a greeting card with a personal message – God doesn’t have a street address! Acts of devotion like worship, singing, and prayer are ways we express our love to God. We love others as our expression as an expression of God’s love for us. But loving God doesn’t feel the same as loving a person. God is “out there.” We can’t see God. God is “in here (our heart),” but we can’t see that either. There isn’t a picture of God to hold in our hearts.

In Acts, Luke describes the believers as a group with “one heart and soul.” They work together. They share a common belief. More importantly, the have learned not only to love others but how to be loved by others. This mutual love is fueled by the testimony to the resurrection of Jesus that they hear on a regular basis from the apostles. They lived the truth of the resurrection together. These believers developed an emotional connection with one another and with God. A connection they experienced and felt.

Describing a group with one soul is trickier. It is much harder to describe what this is like. It is even harder to understand. The soul is deep inside of us. We think of it as a spiritual place. However, there isn’t a visual representation of the soul – you can’t draw a picture of it.

As I sought to understand more about the soul – what it is and what it isn’t, I turned to several authors for guidance.

Evelyn Underhill describes the soul as “a transmitting instrument that recognizes the fundamental relationship between itself and the divine. She quotes from one of the early church Fathers, Ignatius, who wrote, “What matters most to the soul is the full realization that: We come from God. We belong to God. We are destined for God.”

Susan Beaumont writes, “The work of the soul, then, is the challenge of discerning. To what or to whom do we belong? Where have we come from? where are we destined to go next?

Cynthia Bourgeault describes the soul “the deepest source of our true and authentic self, the agent of divine guidance…the voice of the soul has an intuitive sense of integrity, coherence, and elegance. It responds to beauty and wonder.”

Each of us has a soul that is unique to us. One that God put there when we were created. No one else has a soul just like ours. Yet describing the soul inside of us is difficult at best. We want to figure it out, to describe it, but finding the words to do so seems impossible.

We can understand what the soul is at one level. A basic intellectual level. Possibly as one of the authors I quoted describes it. We may resonate with those words. But that doesn’t mean we “get it.” Understanding what our own soul, the one unique to us, looks like or feels like – that’s another story all together.

Beaumont says, “the soul is not the same as Holy Spirit movement.” The soul isn’t a receptacle for God to live in. The soul is more than that. Our soul is part of us regardless of if we even believe in God. We might describe the soul as the real place of connection with God. Where the divine connects with us.

I like the idea of the soul being a transmitting instrument that wants someone to answer. Think of something like a ham radio. The radio operator turns the dial searching the channels for someone else who is also on the radio. They aren’t usually looking to pass on information. Rather, they want to hear someone else’s voice, to connect with another person. It is sort of what our soul is like. We send out from our soul our very self. We want to connect with God and have God connect with us.

The image of the soul being the deepest source of our true, authentic self also resonates with me. The soul is the self we are not the self we think we are. It is the self-created exclusively by God uninhibited by our “stuff.” The things we pile on ourselves that we need to define who we are. If we were able to get to that true, authentic self we would find it in the soul.

A lot to think about, pray about, and ponder.

We see in this group in Acts these people who are of one mind in “heart and soul.” There is a level of individual understanding of how God might be working within them, connecting with them as a person.

As a group there is a community understanding that recognizes that there is a true and authentic self of the group not just a collection of individuals working together. There is something that defines them because they connect with one another. There is a coalescence of the group. Maybe it is like the expression that 1+1=3. Here it might be 1+1=5. It’s more than one person and one person. They are all together creating something that doesn’t exist on its own.

It’s much more than being on the same page. And it is together, meeting together, that the people are able to get rid of their “stuff.” I don’t think the stuff that Luke is talking about are the things that they are selling and giving up so that all they have is in common. I think it is the connection they have that allows them to let go of all the stuff inside. The stuff that is in our hearts, that is around our souls that prevents us from getting to the one that we really are. The one that God created us to be so that God truly connects with us in Jesus Christ. Finding the soul is getting rid of those things that block our relationships with one another and with God.

I wonder if the question we get to here in Acts, as we read through this section and see that these people are connected in a way that most of us would love to be connected with others and with God, is “What does the resurrection make possible?” What we see here is that the resurrection makes everything possible.

We see that the resurrection creates a space that allows us to connect with trueness and authenticity with one another and with God. Jesus Christ has broken down all the walls so that the connection is able to happen.

I want to invite you to think about what the “stuff” is that you might have that is blocking your soul. The stuff that is getting in the way of your relationship with God and others. To begin to say, “God show me how our relationship is a two-way street not just one from deep inside.” It is then that we can truly know what it means love others with our heart and soul.


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