Radical Spirituality sermon series
(This sermon was preached during our Agape Meal service.)
The first-century Jewish Christians were certainly a marginal people in the Roman Empire. Almost none were afforded citizenship, which would have provided them protection from sporadic yet widespread state-imposed terror.
Like all other peasants and urban poor, they were subject to heavy taxation by the state and exploitation by government officials such as tax collectors. They suffered under crushing poverty.
And apart from sporadic persecution and economic exploitation, participants in these new Christian communities also found themselves to be a concern for Rome, particularly in that they had deified a Roman political prisoner who was hanged on a Roman cross, a mode of execution reserved exclusively for insurrectionists.
Their Savior was executed as a criminal, and thus those who modeled their lives on his teachings caused genuine concern among the authorities.
So, how did participants in this new movement negotiate their social location in the midst of empire?
How did these radicals who were stripping away the pretenses of their tradition and worshiping a Revolutionary Savior operate in a world suspicious of their motives?
These communities had little or no influence in the Roman Empire, and yet these groups of people who gathered in homes and public spaces to worship this Risen Christ were taking initial steps toward a revolutionary movement rooted in reimagining the social order.
Jesus taught avidly at meals. The holy sacrament of communion was an Agape meal, a love feast.
The meal was the common place for participants in this new movement to exercise new language (or reimagined language), shared values, and a reimagining of the social order.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” It was often during meals that the letters of the apostles were read, hymns were sung, and prophesies were proclaimed.
But we should not romanticize first-century believers. Because, just like twenty-first century Christians, they discovered the challenge of setting a truly inclusive and equitable table.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?”
There was a preferential option for the poor even in the first century.
And it was in community and during these meals that early Christians experimented with a new social understanding of themselves.
All were included, men and women, poor and rich, young and elderly. And it was at these communal meals where Christians experimented with radical expressions of living out this Agape faith.