Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pretend Faith

Don't be pretending about how you feel. 

 Check out the music video before we jump into the message.

Acts 5:1-10

New International Version (NIV)

Ananias and Sapphira

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

So, last week we noted what happened when John and Peter came back after being detained following Peter's little speech in front of the crowd at the temple, which included some of the religious leaders who did not find his impassioned words all that incredible.

When they returned what they did was to ask God for help. They did not take matters into their own hands. They prayed and asked for help, for direction, for God to lead them. 

And, God answered. 

The disciples asked for some very specific things in their prayer.
One of those items of asking was for signs and wonders to be performed.
Well, here comes quite a sign. And, everyone would be paying attention for this one. 

The moment centers around a married couple known as Ananias and Sapphira.
His name should sound familiar. There was a high priest later in the book of Acts by the same name who would question Paul and his missionary work at a trial. There is also a disciple in the city of Damascus, just a few chapters ahead, that would pray over the Pharisee named Saul so that he would regain his eyesight. This is a familiar name. Just there are many Johns, and Toms, and Freds in our culture, the amounts of Josephs, Benjamins and Ananiases are equally numerous in Hebrew. 

It seems these two were following the crowd as the popular thing to do was to sell some land and give the money to the apostles so that the new and growing church could meet the needs of those who were poor. The thing to do was to give all the money from the sale of land to the apostles. These two kept a bit of the money back for themselves instead of giving it all. It seems the idea of saying one had faith was to show that they were "all in". Give everything. Leave nothing for one's self. Doing something less than that might look like the person in question is pretending about what they believe in. To say we believe in one thing but to do something contrary to that belief opens the door to scrutiny and judgment. And, that's where our couple find themselves. 

Faith is something we must be absolute about. When we say we believe in something, when we put our heart and soul into a matter, such as salvation, it requires of us an entire and absolute commitment. The apostles prayed and asked for signs and wonders to be done in their midst. They prayed with an unadulterated faith and truly believed that God would do these things. Our scriptural account shows us that God is serious about answering those prayers. 

What troubles many of us about passages like this is properly interpreting the actions of God. Does God truly punish people for their lack of faith, for pretending about what they believe? That is what troubles us. We live in a world where people feel as if they can do whatever they want to do and act however they want to act without truly having to deal with any consequences for their words and actions. Do Ananias and Sapphira really think they are going to get away with this and nobody will know what they have done? That's exactly what they seem to be thinking. That conclusion can be clearly seen in the execution of this act by both of them doing it together. 

Sin is a punishable exploit. When looking at this account in the 5th chapter of Acts I can't help but be drawn back to the first two humans who found themselves in the awkward place of having their sin called out. Adam and Eve wound up neck deep in a sinful position. The temptation began with one which led to an immoral decision. Then the sinful state spread to the other person involved. I wonder with our couple in Acts if it started like that? Did it start with one or did they come up with the notion together? Does it matter? Do we have to understand the inner working of how we got to the awful place we have wound up in our sinful state? One of the questions we face when interpreting scripture is why we don't have information to go on. Why don't we get all the data? Why don't we have all the facts? In response I would ask, do we need all the particulars? Look at what wanting all the knowledge and information did to the first two humans who were sucked into that temptation. It didn't end well. Ananias and Sapphira are sucked into a different kind of sin. The sin of thinking they could keep knowledge from others. That much they do have in common with Adam & Eve. 

Genesis 3:8

New International Version (NIV)
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

The mistake we make in our pretending is that we think we can hide things. Putting on a face around others that tries to show that everything is ok is a fallacy that is melted down in the face of truth. We cannot hide.  God comes and we have no place to conceal ourselves. We think we can.We think we have the means to bury away our trouble. Maybe it's with a sly smile or meager attempt at showing civility. When I worked third shift at an IGA grocery store in my hometown a loooooong time ago there was guy named Mike. Mike was a rough sounding fella with a shaved head who played guitar in a heavy metal band. He had been raised Baptist but very loosely kept that affiliation. With Mike, there was no hiding anything, or so he let on. I could tel he was covering up stuff. There was a softer side to him if you caught him in the right moment. There was a special item of discussion that Mike would bring up from time to time. He hated falseness. He hated that pretend smile or that counterfeit niceness he noted in a person's voice. He would talk about that older ladies at church who, when asked how they were doing, would say "Oh fine, just fine." He would note their lack of sincerity. They didn't really sound "fine". They sounded like they were putting you on. In response to an inquiry they might say "Oh that's nice. It's that nice?" As we would talk, Mike would call them out for their disingenuous nature. He would say, "If your sad, just say your sad. Be honest. Don't put on some fake face and fake smile. Just be honest about how you feel." His words stick with me to this day. There's nothing more freeing than an honest disclosure one's self.

There are numerous other troubling questions to face. If God punishes those who do wrong, how come the punishment is not the same across the board? Why were Adam and Eve spared? Why didn't God just dump them and start over again? Why did Ananias and Sapphira die here? Why didn't he spare them? I don't have all the information. And, maybe I don't need it. Maybe I don't need all my questions answered. It's not up to me to judge here. That's God job. It might be better if we leave it that way. 

The truth of the matter is that we need to be as honest as we possibly can.
Billy Joel's words ring hard to me here. 

Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

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