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We read a difficult story last week (Acts 5) which tells of a husband and wife who sell their field, pretend to have generously donated 100% of those profits to the church and then die, seemingly in a direct result of punishment for that lie.
As a few of us have mentioned in our discussions this week “huh?!…this messes with my head….it’s doesn’t seem like a very kind thing to do, and Jesus is meant to be kind!”
So, here are a few things to throw into your thinking.
This story has been abused by some preachers in the past to suggest “you need to be putting more money in the collection at church” and, while I am not wholly against that in practise – this is not at all what the story is about! Don’t feel bad if you don’t give 100% of your wages to church!
This story messes with our heads…AND THAT’S OK! It might not be comfortable, but it is ok. It messed with the heads of the early church too – if it did not strike them as remarkable, then they wouldn’t have bothered putting it down on paper!
In many of us, this story exposes two misbeliefs, which are easy to become trapped by, but don’t help us in either direction.
The first misbelief is to think that the God described in the Old Testament is a mean angry man with a big beard and a large lightening bolt with which he enjoys killing people.
The second misbelief is that Jesus is a soft cuddly guy made of cotton wool who would not even brush away a cobweb incase he hurt a spider.
These lead to the third and most dangerous misbelief..this is one that we don’t usually say out loud, but is a natural result of the first two misbeliefs, and actually has been taught in the church for many years…
“Nice Jesus came to save me from angry God”.
The truth is different from these beliefs. God is holy. You can’t mess with him. He can not be mocked. He is higher than me. He is love…so much so that he wrote laws which contain radical love and freedom. He is light…so much so that darkness can not exist in his presence. If you are looking for justice and peace, you will find it in his arms. If you are a disrupter of justice and peace, you are not going to be able to stand in his presence.
As the fist church community gets underway, it is marked by joy, by care for each other, by freedom from the constraints of the religious laws and rituals, by love. It would be easy to assume that this community (and the God it worshipped) no longer had justice and holiness at its core. It would be easy to assume that this new Jesus-God would be happy with a nice pleasant, polite, socially respectable offering of worship which was not all that costly but which did buy the giver some respect in the community.
Turns out God didn’t (and never has) enjoyed those kinds of offerings.
The consequences for Ananias and Sahppira seem to be particularly strong, but maybe to try and tie the story up into a nice neat bundle which we could easily erase or explain would be to miss the point. We are meant to wrestle with this stuff. We are meant to ask of every passage:
“What does this illuminate about God? What does this illuminate about myself? What does this illuminate about the world?”
We are meant to be challenged by it. You are meant to hug your Bible sometimes cos you just read a verse of poetry which spoke to your soul with a beauty you could not have imagined. You are meant to throw it out the window some other times cos it just upset and provoked and challenged you so deeply that your reaction is full-body.
It was not ever. EVER, meant to be a nice, respectable, inoffensive library book that you sat on the coffee table gathering dust. Allow it to challenge you, prod you, frustrate you, inspire you. Argue about it over coffee and figure out if somewhere in the story there is the whisper of the Holy Spirit saying anything to you?…