Do I Mean It?

Sermon Text – 02.18.2018
[Acts 5:1-11]        
   Today is part three of our sermon series called the “Gentler” sex, and of course I put the quotation marks around gentler because for the month of October we are exploring the stories of some of the deadliest women in the bible. Some are heroes, some are villains – but there’s something to learn from all of them. Couple weeks ago we started with Jezebel and we talked about influence and the things in our lives that affect us. Then last week we looked at the basically unknown story of Jael and we saw that just because the world says someone is weak – does not mean that she is weak. We realized that where the world sees less, God sees more – and that can push us to accomplish great things together with God. But today’s story… well, honestly it’s just a very strange story – but there’s some really good stuff in there. Today we are going to talk about integrity.  
          So we open up in Acts chapter five, now we need a little back story because this story comes from a VERY different place than last week. Today’s scripture actually comes from the New Testament. The book of Acts takes place AFTER Jesus’ resurrection. He came, lived, crucified, rose from the dead, went back into heaven and then the church was born in the book of Acts. Basically the book of Acts is “the stuff the disciples did after Jesus left.” So there’s this baby church in Jerusalem. Living under persecution, spreading the good news of Jesus, and Peter is the head of the church, and they are just getting started. But one of the first things they start doing is taking care of the poor people in their community – because that’s what the body of Christ does. At the end of chapter four we get a picture in verse 34, where it says, [read 34-35]. In the early church, they were so concerned with helping the poor and taking care of people who were needy – they were selling their homes and giving the money to the Apostle’s who were then giving it to those in need. It’s kind of this amazing picture of community, and taking care of one another. But then our scripture lesson starts with chapter 5.
          [read v.1-2]. So we introduce Sapphira, and her husband Ananias, they’re kind of in this together. They sell some property, and give the money to the church – claiming that’s 100% of the profits, but really they kept some of the money. Peter responds in verse 3. [read v.3-4]. Here’s what I want to point out, Peter says, “the property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished.” Basically, Peter is saying, “I didn’t tell you, you have to sell your land.” And then he says, “and after selling it, the money was also yours to give away.” Even after selling the land, you didn’t have to give the money to the church. Peter is saying – this was an optional gift, you didn’t have to give the money to the poor – so why did you claim that it was the full amount? Peter finishes it up, [v.4b-5]. So Ananias lies about how much he gives to the church, and then he drops dead, and everyone around him is terrified.
          So… now, I’d like to take a second and talk about your giving habits. Now I’m not saying you’ll be struck dead if you don’t give everything to the church, but I’m not NOT saying that. [pause]. I’m kidding. Can you imagine if that was the story that we read in connection to giving in the church? Some people really believe that – if I don’t give to God, God will be angry with me and I’ll be struck dead. Or some people think about God as sort of a heavenly vending machine, right? You put enough money in the plate, and God will start listening to your prayers. You know what, maybe we DO need to talk about this. Peter was very clear – it’s not about the amount. That was your land, do with it what you want. And after you sold it, do with the money what you want. Give none, give some, give all – it’s your call, but don’t lie to us about what you give! So then, why do we give? If the amount is not the focus, and God’s not going to get mad at us, and God’s not a vending machine – why do we do that? Why do we pass a plate every single week? The practice of giving in church is something we call Stewardship. And stewardship is a part of growing closer to God. It’s just as important as reading your bible, talking with God everyday, coming to church and serving others. Giving to the church is not about the church. God doesn’t need your money. I can feel my finance people clenching, what are you even saying? But it’s true – God is so much bigger than that. Giving to the church is really important, but not because God needs it. It’s because YOU need it! Giving to the church is designed to help you grow. The practice of giving, the exercise is a habit God gave to us to help shape us into godly people. 

          Now the bible teaches us about something called a tithe, the first-fruits of our labors. We believe that everything we have comes from God, and so we set aside the first 10% to give back to God in thanks. Do you notice how it’s not an amount? It’s a percentage, that’s important. From the very beginning of the bible, Genesis 14, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy – the practice is repeated over and over throughout the bible. Then in the New Testament Jesus talked about money, like a LOT. Did you know that Jesus taught about money more than any other topic? More than forgiveness, love, the kingdom of God – Jesus taught about money over and over. We believe in giving 10% to God, to show that money doesn’t control us and that God comes first in our lives. 10% is a starting point, and everything above that is what we call extravagant, and we want to all become extravagant givers. But I want to be careful here – I don’t want you to feel bad. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, if you’re not there with your giving yet. Remember, this is not about God – it’s about your growth. If you’re not there yet, it means you have room to grow. God’s not gonna be mad at you, like Peter said – it’s your money to do with as you wish. God’s not a vending machine, God’s not going to strike you down. We teach the tithe, not out of pressure or fear, but because we know that when you practice giving you will be blessed, you will grow as a person, as a follower of Jesus when you live and give putting God first.

   So, Ananias dies, and then Sapphira comes in. Verse 8, [read it]. Now, here’s a question – why does Peter ask Sapphira? He knows the answer, so why does he bother? He’s giving her a chance to change her answer. He’s still hoping she’ll be honest and come clean. Because this is about integrity. It’s never been about the money – it’s because they lied. They lied to the poor, they lied to the church, they lied to God. He’s offering her an olive branch, a chance of redemption. But she doesn’t take it. Verse 9, [read v.9-11]. Hmmm, let’s play a little game. How many of you had heard this story before? Why do you think so many people have never heard this story before? It’s okay to say it… because it’s weird! If you can’t call the bible weird every now and then, you’re not reading it right. It’s so strange! Does anybody else feel like this is a really extreme response? I mean, it was just money they kept to themselves, just a little lie about amounts – did they really deserve to die? Doesn’t it seem extreme? I mean, it’s not that big a deal – right? But I was thinking and praying about it this past week, and I remembered that bit about Jesus’ teaching. Jesus taught about money more than anything else. I started to wonder – maybe it’s extreme on purpose. Maybe there’s an extreme response because it IS a big deal. Maybe Jesus taught about money so much because he knew the power it has on our lives and our hearts. He knew how dangerous it is and how easy it is to fall in love with money. Yes, it’s very extreme – but I think that’s on purpose.


          But there’s one more piece of the story that doesn’t make sense. Why did they lie? Why did they tell everyone it was the full amount? You sell a piece of land, and say you give 50% to the church – that’s still very generous, so why lie? Why tell them, this is the full amount? The answer is in there. Chapter 4, right before our scripture lesson, remember that piece I read? Here’s the rest of the story, [read v.34-37]. In the next verse Ananias and Sapphira sell their land. And what we see when we read it like that is that what Sapphira and her husband do is a direct response to this other guy Joseph. They sell their land, they do this generous thing – not because they care about the poor, but because they are competing with this other generous guy. You can almost feel the resentment. [mocking tone] “For instance, there was Joseph, the one the Apostles nicknamed Barnabas which means son of Encouragement.” I can hear Sapphira complaining over breakfast, “Did you hear that the apostles’ gave that stupid Joseph a nickname? Ugh, they’re so encouraged by him. We should do something big like that” They gave not out of love for the poor, but in competition, in comparison with someone else. That’s not giving that will help you grow… obviously.


          Here’s the thing, the whole point behind all this stewardship and integrity talk is that God wants you to grow. God has great plans to do good works in the world through his children, and he wants you to develop and grow – so you can go and do great things out there in the world. God wants to fill your heart, fill your heart and overfill so that it flows into the people around you. God fills your heart. But think about what happened with Sapphira. She and her husband let something else fill their heart – the love of money, and the prestige of looking better than the folks around you. Verse 3 says, [read it]. God wants to fill your heart and help you grow, but he can’t if there’s something else that’s already filling up your heart. In this story it’s the love of money, or maybe the love of public image – but in our lives it can be all sorts of things. Is there something already living in your heart? Do you need to make room for God to fill your heart?
          So God wants to fill your heart, but the best part about that is what happens next. When God fills you up, when God blesses your life – we find out that it’s not about us. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. When God gives us something awesome, it’s so that we can use it to help others. Can you imagine a community where there are no needy people? Because the blessed don’t care what they look like – because they are so busy taking their blessings and using them to make the world a better place? God doesn’t just fill you up to the top and stop. God’s blessings overfill us. God’s blessings spill over from our lives into the lives of the people around us. That’s part of what God is trying to teach us with the habit of giving. It switches our mindset and teaches us to set aside blessings to bless others and not just ourselves. Our value does not come from our money, or the things we keep for ourselves. Our value does not come from the portion we keep for ourselves, our value comes from the portion we give to others. It comes from letting our blessings flow into the people around us. We are blessed to be a blessing.


          Proverbs 31, the text we’ve been using that describes a godly woman says, [read v.20-21]. That verse 21 feels pretty relevant lately, hey? She extends a helping hand to the poor, and opens her arms to the needy. You know what it doesn’t say? She had big piles of money. She was super wealthy. She gave giant donations. It’s not about amounts, it’s not about image, it’s about helping others. A virtuous woman, and this is true of men too, a virtuous person is valuable because of how they use their blessings to help others. I want to show you something that bothers me. Take a look at this picture. For those who can’t see it, it’s a graph with two lines on it. Women without kids, and women with kids. It shows that women with kids earn less money in their life. It even has a little thing in the corner that says, “Long-Run Child Penalty” and gives a number. Essentially it says that women who don’t have kids usually make more money and so they are more valuable to society. This is how the world understands the value of a woman. I can’t quite express how upset this makes me on like three levels. Number 1. Having kids hurts women’s earnings but not men’s – which is a whole other issue. I could go on and on about wage gap issues in this country – but that’s for another day. But can we talk about how messed up it is that they are valuing women by how much money they make? Is this how much we have bowed down to the idol of money that we are literally measuring people’s worth in how much money they make in a lifetime? The long-run child penalty – excuse me? Yes, if you choose to have children you have less money, kids are expensive, but there’s not a parent in the room that would call that a penalty. Have they forgotten that the highest level of being a human is helping others, not making more money? To quote Kimberly Ross, who showed me this graph, “Motherhood is seen as a detriment to one’s earning potential…” Maybe Jesus was onto something when he made a big deal about money. If it’s going to be how we value ourselves, wondering if we have the most – comparing ourselves to others, instead of listening to Proverbs, and realizing that our value comes from a God who pushes us to help others [read v.20].
And this is not about having kids. Kids are just a really handy example of taking care of others. I just want to point out that the world cares a LOT about your money – they consider that the highest point of your value. But they are wrong. The world cares about your money, God cares about your heart. God wants to fill your heart, and he can’t do that if it’s full of love of money – like Sapphira’s was. God teaches us to give, to help others, so that there’s room in our heart for God to fill us up. You are blessed to be a blessing. So here’s the take-away. God doesn’t care what the world says about your value. Because your value doesn’t come from the world. So live with integrity, letting God fill and overfill your heart. Take your blessings and increase your value by helping the people around you with your blessings. Blessed to be a blessing

            Sapphira was motivated by image, by comparison, by money – and it was the end of her. But Proverbs teaches us a better way – to increase our value by helping others. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you empty your heart of the broken values of the world. May you invite God to come in and fill and overfill your heart. May you be blessed to be a blessing to others. Amen.

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