About the Journey 5 - from Kerry

About the Journey - Acts 4:32-5:11 - from Kerry Flemington

READING:
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
 
For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.
 
But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest.
 
Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”
 
As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died. Everyone who heard about it was terrified. Then some young men got up, wrapped him in a sheet, and took him out and buried him.
 
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”
 
“Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”
 
And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”
 
Instantly, she fell to the floor and died. When the young men came in and saw that she was dead, they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened.
Acts 4:32-5:11

REFLECTION:
The story of Ananias and Sapphira was one that filled me with terror when I was a child. In my mind, if I didn’t give everything to God - including the full fifteen cents in my hand rather than the ten I was willing to part with, there was a strong possibility that I might fall down dead right then and there.  I’m not sure that understanding context would have helped matters much - everyone else was willingly, gleefully, happily giving away everything they owned.  That seemed like a really unrealistic alternative.
 
There is not much background info on this couple; my assumption is that they are more recent converts simply because this is our first introduction to them. Perhaps they are two of the many thousands that converted since the disciples took on Christ’s ministry.  Regardless, they were obviously willing converts, excited to be involved in this new movement that offered a profoundly different Jewish experience than the one they were probably most familiar with.  People were caring for one another, living in community, folks were being healed, and there must have been a profound relief from the rigid Jewish laws that came with the mantle of grace.  Immersed in this context of church, it becomes easier to understand the giving freely of whatever one owned to serve the needs of the group and those around them.  
 
Here comes Barnabas now; having left his home in Cyprus at some point and who’s decided to remain with this growing community of Christ followers.  I imagine that as he sees his future unfold before him, he realizes that piece of property that he’s been hanging on to will no longer be needed.  And so he sells it and brings the proceeds of the sale to the apostles for them to use for the care and growth of the ministry and the followers.
 
Ananias and Sapphira are also people of means - they too own some land that they’ve invested in.  But as those around them part with their investments and savings, they feel compelled to do the same.  So, they put it on the market, a buyer comes along, and low and behold, they have a wonderful bundle of money in their hands.  To be certain, it is their money - they haven’t won it or been gifted it.  They somehow had the money to buy the land in the first place and so they absolutely are entitled to the money that has now come from the sale of that land.
 
Now what?  This couple had every right to keep the money.  They also had every right to keep a portion of the money, large or small, and give away whatever amount they felt like giving.  But they wanted something more: they wanted the appearance of being generous and self-giving without being willing to do the hard thing of letting go.  The issue isn’t the difficulty of letting go - even Jesus asked for some other alternative to dying on the cross.  It’s the dishonesty - with themselves and therefore ultimately with God - that is the problem.
 
Lots of us wrestle with lots of things including what we feel like we should be doing and what we actually have the energy and/or the desire to do.  That is the human condition.  But when we deny we’re even wrestling, we no longer have any need for God.  On the outside, we can continue to engage in all the things of the Christian life, just like Ananias and Sapphira.  But if we go through all the motions, while trying to cover-up our struggle to trust God as we come up with yet another contingency plan, we are holding back some cash while insisting we’ve given it all.  That is dangerous.
 
At its core, this belies an error in our thinking about who God is and what he wants from us.  We think he’s interested in the money - how efficient we are, how productive we are, how helpful we are, how good we are, how sorted out we are.  We can’t imagine entering into the holy of holies as our messed up, wrestling with confusion and self-absorption, tired of trying to figure it out, faith less than a mustard seed, selves.  Ananias and Sapphira’s fatal error wasn’t that they didn’t trust God; it was that they dishonest about who they actually were before God.
 
I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again for the people in the back (and the keeners in the front) - God is really just interested in YOU.  He is not interested in the cleaned up version of you.  He can see the interior landscape of your life anyway.  But he doesn’t force his way in.  He waits for an invitation.  And when you ask him to come in, he’ll be okay to sit with you in your cleaned up living room.  But as you get to know him and trust him, he will make his way into all the other rooms with you, to see where you’ve hidden all that other crap that you’re so very ashamed or afraid of.  Slowly but surely, you and him will sort through it all, getting rid of all the things that keep you from fully engaging in a relationship with him. For some of us, we’d rather just give the money and stay in the tidy living room for the rest of our lives - the cost of opening all those doors is too great.  Tea and small talk will do.  But that’s the baby food that Paul later refers to - why settle there?  We are made for full engagement with our God.  Go scared into those rooms, but at the very least go. That’s where we come to know God and come understand that we are already fully known by God - and we are fully accepted and loved anyway.  And his goodness will cover you as you do all that painful sorting.  But you will emerge more yourself than you’ve ever been - willing, able, and desiring to do all that God has called you to do.



you can connect directly with Kerry at kerry@arnuthill.com


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