Acts 2:42 – How Do I Let Him Change Me?

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) – April 16, 2023

St. Paul — Lyons, KS

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

The Octave of Easter

Does anyone remember the ultra-profound point of my Easter homily? Two words: “Let it.” I was asking the question of why we are here, we show up to this. If aliens landed, and we had to tell them why we are here, why we come to this—is our only answer, “Because Jesus wants us to be nice to each other”? And no! Like I focused on, “Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!” That’s the greeting of the early Christians because it was a constant reminder that everything had changed! Not just that things could change, or they might change, no. Everything had changed. The world, the universe, life, my life, your life—everything is changed by this one event.

But what was the point? “Let it.” We have to let it change everything in our life.

Think real quick: What is it that shapes everything in a person’s life, typically? For example, on a Thursday morning, what determines when you wake up? Your job, school, kids, your dog, or maybe you don’t really have a reason. Think, real practical: What determines what you wear? Your job, or what you feel you need to wear to fit in, or something that makes you feel good about yourself, something that doesn’t make you feel fat. What determines how you spend your time? Your job, school, the current sport season for your kids, the current hunting season, whether Netflix dropped a new series everyone is talking about that you “need” to watch, stuff around the house, a fear of missing out. What do you worry about on a daily basis? Money, bills, food, cleaning, what other people are doing, whether other people are having more fun, what other people think about us. On and on! This is not a comprehensive list. But we get it! This is the stuff of daily life! BUT…was any of that affected by one simple phrase, “Christ is risen”?

Or think of it this way. If someone grew-up on a desert island but they were able to read the Bible and the writings of the early Church—and then they came to visit our parish here, now in 2023—would that person recognize us as the same people that they encountered in Scripture and the writings of the early Church? Obviously things look a little different. But essentially, are we the same people whose lives have been completely changed because the Lord is risen? The answer should be “yes.” The person from the desert Island, aliens from a different world—everyone should be able to look at us and realize that, just like in those first days, we too are living with the awareness and the conviction that Jesus Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.

But, have we have allowed this fact, this event to completely transform our lives: transform the way we see the world around us, transform the way we understand our relationships with others, transform the way we make decisions—and can people see that? In other words, am I truly following Christ, or do I just show up to church? So today I just want to touch briefly on three questions: What did the early followers of Christ look like? Why did they live this way? And What does this look like for me in Kansas in 2023?

The Early Church DNA

Do you remember back at the beginning of “Rerouting…” when we were talking about DNA? We were talking about the ways that our DNA as Christians, as Catholics can become mutated. How even the smallest mutations can have disastrous effects. This is why I think it is so important to look at the early Church, to look at the DNA of it: How did they live? What were the practicals of their day-to-day life? And nowhere is that found more clearly than in the Acts of the Apostles; this book is the narrative of the first few decades of the Church. Our first reading today, taken from Acts—it gives the very first account of their day-to-day life. And what did we hear? “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

So the people practiced four things, dedicated themselves to four things. First, they dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles: they would seek to learn more and more from the Apostles; they couldn’t just hear “Jesus is raised” and that’s all they needed, no. They needed to hear Jesus’ teaching, handed on by the Apostles. There were no Bibles, no Catechism, no books about any of this, no such thing as Google. So they listened to the Apostles—that is how the faith was first passed on. Ok, first, the teaching of the Apostles, second, they dedicated themselves to the communal life. This is massively important. This, the faith, following Christ was something they knew could not be done alone. There was no “lone ranger” method of being a follower of Christ! It was lived in community. And within the community, people were cared for, loved. The community was different. Everything was different. Third thing: they dedicated themselves to the breaking of the bread (that’s Bible language for the Eucharist, the Mass). We talked about the Mass a lot during “Rerouting…”, how the Mass isn’t just Jesus story time, but it is the event made present; the paschal mystery made present. Early documents we have found talk about Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as “the day they cannot live without.” And from the beginning, the people dedicated themselves to this. So teachings of the Apostles, the community, the Eucharist, and finally, to the prayers. The prayers would have been those set times of prayer for the Jews, three times a day: morning, evening, and night. And so these people maintained that practice of regular prayer, but it would’ve had a dramatic new intensity.

But it doesn’t stop there. The reading continues, “they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (Acts 2:45). I think one of the clearest evidences for the truth of the Resurrection is that men were willing to give all of their money away. They go to the Apostles and say, “Here, we don’t need this anymore. Because this isn’t it. I need this to take care of my family, but the rest? Take it. Someone is in trouble, someone needs help? Here, take it.” And you better believe people noticed that.

So this is Acts chapter 2. Go read a few chapters later, Acts chapter 5. Peter and the apostles are put on trial. All because they keep saying that this Jesus is risen. And they are severely beaten for it. But even after they are beaten and commanded to shut up about all of this—they keep going! 

Why did they live this way?

And so the simple question is why? This is what it looked like. This is the what of the early Church. But why? Why did they live this way? And the simple answer is that the resurrection had changed everything, and they believed it. Not just, “They knew that the tomb was empty.” Or, “They believed that Jesus was alive,” no. They believed it, they placed their faith in that, they entrusted their lives to this fact. And so they began to live their lives based on that fact. But also, they lived their lives in such a way to sustain their attention and memory of that fact. But also, to bear witness to others the truth of this fact.

1) They lived their lives based on this fact. Again, think about those things I mentioned at the beginning. What is it that typically shapes our life? On a Thursday, what shapes your life? Well, the “facts of life”: job, kids, our hobbies, household tasks, when our favorite team is playing. But these early Christians—their lives were shaped by a different fact, and they lived their lives based on this fact. They didn’t dedicate themselves to the talking heads of cable news and political pundits, or to the talking heads of ESPN and sports radio—but to the teachings of the Apostles. They dedicated themselves to the community, to the Eucharist, to prayer. They gave their money away. They endured beatings and martyrdom. Why? “Because Jesus wanted them to be nice people”? No! Because Christ had risen. And everything was different.

2) And the way they lived their lives wasn’t just some moral obligation. They lived their lives this way because it helped them to sustain their attention, it helped them remember this fact, to place their faith in him again—daily. I once asked my spiritual director while I was in Seminary, this very old, very holy man, “Father, when did you decide to be a priest?” And he responded, “Today.” Over sixty years a priest. But what was his point? Every day he had to decide to be a priest. Same for you in marriage. And same for everyone of us as Christians. Every day we have to decide to follow. If you are enduring beatings, you have to make that decision each day. If you are constantly giving all of this money away, you have to make the decision each day. And so they lived in a way which helped to sustain and remind them of that life-changing, world-changing fact. They dedicated themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, the community, the Eucharist, and prayer. Why? To sustain their memory and attention to this fact.

3) But one final thing, one final “why” for living this way: it bore witness. Again, just take the simple example of giving money away: if we were doing that—other people might not believe, but you can be sure that they would believe that we believe. If we were uncompromising about going to Mass every Sunday, if we said “no” to other events and activities because Sunday Mass and the Sunday Eucharist was the most important—people might not believe, but they would believe that we believe. If we prayed before meals while sitting at the lunch table at work, and everyone is staring at us—they might not believe, but they would begin to believe that we actually believe. And (God forbid)—but if we got beaten, physically beaten for our faith, and continued to follow Christ even after that—other people might not believe, but they would definitely begin to believe that we actually believe. Why did they live this way? Because they believed, completely believed that Christ had risen—and everything was different.

What does this look like for me?

And so the simple question is this: What does this look like for me? “Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!” “Alright, I’m going to let this change everything in my life! But what do I do?” Well, go back to the early Church and follow their example. Here at the parish, we are taking this passage—the whole book of Acts, but especially this passage—and building everything around it: the teaching of the Apostles, but also the teaching of our local apostle, Bishop Kemme; the community and the health of our community, the health of our smaller communities called families; the Eucharist and Sundays; a life of prayer; our use of money—these are all the key building blocks for the direction the parish is going.

But like I said at the end of “Rerouting…”—the question isn’t so much, “Oh, what is Fr. Michael going to do next?” The question is, “What am I (are you) going to do now?” And a great place to begin thinking and praying and trying a few things is right here in Acts. Ask yourself:

  • Am I filling my mind with the teachings of the Apostles, from scripture and the tradition of the Church? OR do I fill my mind with talking heads?
  • Am I dedicating myself to this community of believers, building up and sustaining and accompanying these people who, along with me, have given their lives to Christ? OR do I just come on Sundays and then do my own thing that has nothing to do with Christ the rest of the week?
  • Am I dedicated to the Sunday Eucharist, to the Mass? Am I uncompromising about Mass, saying “no” to other things because Sunday and the Mass is the “day I cannot live without”? OR are other things more important to me?
  • Do I dedicate myself to regular prayer each and every day? Do I take time to pray in the morning, evening, and at night? OR do I spend my time with other things? Do I spend three hours watching YouTube or Tik-Tok, but say I don’t have time to pray?
  • Am I generous with my money, generously tithing to the Church and helping others? Do I see my money as a gift from God so that I can care for my family and others? OR is my money just about me and serving my own interests?

As we begin this new step in our journey as a parish, these are some of the big questions. Because the great joy of Easter, the journey we made through “Rerouting…”, the life of discipleship we committed to following—the new life, the fullness of life that Jesus is trying to give to us—this doesn’t happen by magic. It happens when we…LET IT. And that means we need to take practical steps to do that. In these days of Easter joy, let’s do just that.

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