Acts 4: 32-35
Do you recognize these words from a musical?
A law was made a distant moon ago here:
July and August cannot be too hot.
And there’s a legal limit to the snow here
The winter is forbidden till December
And exits March the second on the dot.
By order, summer lingers through September
I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
“Camelot is a musical by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe ( music). It is based on the King Arthur legend as adapted from the T. H. White novel The Once and Future King.” [Wikopedia] As much as it describes the way we might like things to be, it is a fairytale; a legend. It is dreamy but not real. Or is it? Camelot sells. People describe the years when Kennedy was President as “Camelot.” But they were not. Wedding photographers try to make the wedding day look carefree and joyful! But hundreds of weddings I have witnessed were filled with anxiety and often tears instead. Our daughter posted a picture of our grandson in a text to us. He looked like angel! One time Jenny posted how many pictures she had to take to get a good one: it was 23! 23 pictures to get one that looked like Camelot! I remember old ads for cars in the 60s where a man floated down from the sky and landed in the driver’s seat of a brand new Chevy convertible! Camelot! Camelot sells. Who has bought a timeshare thinking that it would make for Camelot vacations? That’s sometimes not the case. Camelot is what we hope; what we dream; they way people think things should be. Thomas Kinkade was a Camelot painter of idyllic scenes.
Even the Bible has some idyllic, Camelot scenes. Genesis chapter 1 is an example. God was creating and naming everything good! All was well! But perhaps the best Thomas Kinkade-like painter in the Bible was Luke. Luke “painted” the endearing picture of Mary and Joseph and shepherds and animals in a Bethlehem stable when Jesus was born. Luke “painted” the compassionate picture of a Good Samaritan helping a man who was beaten. It was just a story, but one found only in Luke. And almost all scholars agree that Luke wrote the book of Acts too. So we come to on another picture with a Thomas Kinkade touch: a picture of Camelot Christianity. Acts 4:32-35:
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. 36 There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). 37 He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Wonderful pastor, teacher, Bishop, and preacher William Willimon says this about those words:
We are not surprised to hear Luke claim that “the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (4:32) because we are accustomed to hearing such pious, often unrealistic claims made by Christian congregations, even within our own day. Preachers sometimes tend toward rosey [sic] exaggerations. But when Luke claims that “no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but that they had everything in common” (4:32), our ears perk up. [Acts, Interpretation: A Bible Study for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, p.
So should this description that Luke writes in Acts chapter 4 be accompanied by lilting “Camelot” music; or be seen with the light paintbrush of Kinkade; or is it possible that it’s really happened in those early years of Christianity?
I went through the websites of 7 current major congregations this week. Reading their costly and visually stunning websites made me think I was about to enter the Land of Oz! Everything was puffed up and enhanced! When it comes to advertising and promotion and sales, I think we are all guilty, to some degree, of painting the pictures of our products in generously optimistic ways. On occasion I have read the ad for a car that included a picture. Then I’ve gone to see the car in person. Sometimes there’s quite a difference! Churches all compete on social media and in newsprint as well. Our well-placed ads for Easter cost money; churches spent so much promoting Easter services in hopes that a portion of the people might come on Easter or consider joining. But we put try to put our best foot forward every week, not just on Easter. Still, last Sunday almost 600 worshippers heard our Easter message and music and had an invitation to follow Jesus.
Could it be that Luke, who tends to wrap his message in light and in love, described the early church in an accurate but also in a generous way? Can you imagine in our day of capitalism and real estate, no one holding any property of their own? That’s what’s described in Acts chapter 4. In a way we have it; just this week we caught the first of at least three distributions of an estate while loving people are sharing the proceeds of possessions, a cabin, and a house with the church. But Acts is not in 21st Century America. It was a different place when people were filled with the highest hopes for being a Christian community. Do you recall how radical Jesus was? There is no record of Jesus owning anything except the tunic on his body. No record of him owning an animal, or a piece of land, or a home. He leaned on others and welcomed their hospitality. Indeed it could be that at the beginning of Christianity, and at the beginning of the world in Genesis, there was a kind of Camelot; a kind of innocence and wonder and gladness? Perhaps all new groups of Christians, fresh out of the waters of their baptisms, view their new life through Camelot eyes. The question is, can we keep our hopeful attitudes from souring over a short period of time? Things soured in Genesis 3 when the serpent was introduced. Things soured in Luke chapter 2, just after baby Jesus was dedicated at the temple: a man douses that lovely day with these dark words: “this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel … [and then he turns to the proud mother Mary and says to her] and a sword will pierce your own heart too.” [34,35.] Come on, man! Couldn’t you wait a day or two before sharing such darkness?
Today I confess there’s a little bit of Camelot hope with everything I do at Westminster. When you come to a service, I always hope it is the best we can offer. When people as far away as Virginia and Georgia choose join this congregation, I think they find a little bit of Camelot Christianity here; that they have found nothing in all the miles between their house and their church that is better! We work to offer the best music, best teaching, and the best attention to details. So, do I hope to hold onto a little Camelot in my life? Yes! And I’d imagine you love those times too! What a Camelot time the apostles had in Acts chapter 4! A little Camelot Christianity can be an oasis for visitors at Westminster (and churches like ours,) and it can lift up the hearts of church members! I know people who have told me they had to take antacid tablets before they went to their own church services because of tension and dysfunction. Acts says it need not be like that! To paraphrase the Broadway show, “in short there’s simply not a more congenial spot for living like a Christian, than here, and in other congregations, in Camelot Christianity! We still strive for a church that is like the one described in Acts chapter 2; and Acts chapter 4! Welcome to a little slice of Camelot.
Jeffrey A. Sumner April 8, 2018