Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pushing Boundaries - The Authentic Life

Preached on Sunday, July 24, 2016

Scripture reading: Acts 4:32-5:11

South Coast Orange County California
June 2015 and June 2016
An Irishman proposed to his girlfriend on St. Patrick’s Day. He gave her a ring. It looked like a diamond ring, but the stone was a synthetic diamond. When the girl realized it was fake she was furious. How could the man she loved trick her like that? She told him what she thought of him, but he told her this. “It was in honor of St. Patrick’s Day! I gave you a sham-rock!”
Ananias and Sapphira wanted to shine like diamonds in the church, but they didn’t want to pay the price for that. They paid another price instead. They paid for what they wanted with a lie. They wanted to be thought of as something they were not. And then they paid another price for that.
It was all a sham. They wanted to base their life as followers of Jesus on a lie. They wanted to be loved and valued as God’s people based on a lie.
This is a deadly desire. It kills the soul.
The New Testament calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13 and the Spirit of Life (Romans 8:2). The Holy Spirit is God. Peter said it: “You have lied to the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 5:3) “You have lied to God.” (Acts 5:4)
To go outside of the truth is truly to go outside of life. In this case, someone has written, “There are some things you cannot do and live.” (Theodore P. Ferris, International Bible Commentary; vol. 9, p. 76)
Some people truly die of broken hearts and grief. Some people think that they will die of shame, although I’m not sure if that happens.
Ananias and Sapphira plotted a lie about themselves, and what they had done for God, and for God’s people, and it killed them. When they went outside the Spirit of Truth, they also went outside the Spirit of Life.
The old courtroom oath goes like this: “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.” Sometimes I don’t tell the whole truth. I hold some of the truth back. OK. Let me come right out and say it. I have lied. That’s the truth.
What can I say? I love the truth, but I don’t love it enough. I hate lies, but I don’t hate them enough. I know, to some extent what this means.
I am not surprised that lying killed Ananias and Sapphira. I am surprised that it doesn’t happen more often. Most of all, what surprises me is that it hasn’t killed me. I still live. Why?
I would say that this story tells us about the mercy of God just as much as it tells us about the holiness of God. It tells us that God gives us chance, after chance, after chance, to live into the truth and to live into the life of Christ.
It isn’t out of place to say that the sin behind the lie was hypocrisy. The story tells us that hypocrisy is deadly. It’s deadly to the soul. It’s deadly to the church. It’s deadly to the message of Jesus. It gives people much too good an excuse to reject both the church and the Lord whom the church represents.
It’s deadly, I say. We don’t feel this enough. We play the part of Ananias and Sapphira.
I also believe that it is possible to die of fear. I wonder if Ananias and Sapphira died because Peter, and the Holy Spirit speaking through him, caused them to see what they had done. They saw the face of evil in their hypocrisy. They saw the face of evil in their lie. Maybe this was too much for them, and the fear of what they had done killed them.
In terms of the lie, this wasn’t the first lie ever told. It was the first recorded lie told in the family circle of the church in the heart of being the church, where we are told: “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” (Acts 4:32)
It would be like a wife or husband hearing their spouse tell a lie and they had never heard them do it before. Has that ever happened? It would be like a foul word used by a child in such a way that you realized that they were perfectly accustomed to using that word. It would be like a cigarette dangling from the lips of a twelve-year-old. And yet it happens.
We know in our heart that such things (and even worse things) should not exist, and yet they do exist.
The story about Ananias and Sapphira is shocking partly because we are so used to things being the way they are and, suddenly, we see that we have failed to see ourselves. And then we are blind because God’s goodness is so powerful that it allows us to hide from the truth of ourselves. Even in a fallen world, where everything is out of line and misses its point, or goes too far, or falls short of its mark…even in such a world, even in us, there is still so much that shows God’s glory and God’s image.
Any wrongdoing, or wrong in the heart, is like a blot on the face of God. Whether it’s adultery, or impurity, or a thirty-year feud, or a life dedicated to the manipulation of others, or cruelty, or something stolen from you, or a simple lie, all such things are acts of vandalism, or self-mutilation, of the image of God in us, in others, and in the cause of God.
In the church (whether it is the church of the time of Ananias and Sapphira, or the church here and now) the love of Jesus wraps around each person like a restored innocence. Sin is still there, but the innocence of Jesus is also there, because he died for each person, and for all of us together. He died and rose to give us a new life through which we are called to live into this new, offered innocence. Jesus died and rose from the dead to give us the power to make that goodness real and authentic.
We have been given a new life where our face, our words, and our actions become more and more like Jesus. Every day Jesus is to become more real in us. The cross of Jesus is meant to become who we are. The resurrection of Jesus is meant to become who we are: in real authentic life.
The gift of the Holy Spirit can enable you to see this new, real life becoming more and more real. Look around you. Look into the faces of others. Let’s start with these faces around us, as practice, and see Jesus. The people who have not learned see Jesus are meant, in the purpose of God, to be able to look at you, and see the Jesus they don’t know yet: and see the Jesus they could grow to love and grow into him.
Authenticity means being the real thing. Authenticity means you being who you really are and not pretending to be what you are not. I’ve known some people who have done this and the result was horrible. Christian authenticity has to go further.
For the Christian the boundary for being authentic has been pushed much farther out. Authenticity means really being Jesus, for a change. When Jesus is in you, to be anything else is to become a lie. It’s like lying to God, lying to Jesus, lying to the Holy Spirit.
Sin in us (sin in the church) is like another point of a thorn in a band-new crown of thorns. It’s like the point of a nail, or a spear, all over again on a new cross, or just on the old one. It’s like drawing a swastika on a portrait of Jesus or burning down a church.
And yet the lie and the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira is so common it’s a fact of life.
Like so many things, once it was done, it became so easy to repeat. We don’t like it but we almost expect it. The world expects it of us, and sees it in us, even when it’s not there. Even Christians accept it as a fact of life. Yet it’s a destructive fact of life. It’s deadly.
Everything we do, everything we say, everything we think and feel, is done, and said, and thought, and felt in the presence of God. God hears. God sees.
The good news of Jesus is the news of a God who hears and sees this shocking world of ours, and even the shallowness and the hollowness of the supposedly holy people that we pretend to be. God hears and sees it all, along with all the vast centuries of this shocking world going on and on. God hears and sees it all, and comes and dies for this world, and for us. Then he rises from our death and gives us life.
Ananias and Sapphira were surrounded by people who knew this God, in Jesus, but they seem not to have authentically known him. Ananias and Sapphira didn’t know that God came in Jesus to buy them from their sins into a new life.
They were surrounded by the people who authentically met the love of the God who hears, and sees, and dies. They were surrounded by the people who couldn’t help doing anything but giving everything in return. They were surrounded by people who gave everything; not to buy Jesus, not to buy love and admiration, but in order to have nothing that could compete with being bought by Jesus.
Ananias and Sapphira wanted a new life among such people, but they didn’t want to give everything in return for that authentic life. What Jesus had done was not authentic for them. They had to construct a life in Christ out of lies.
They had not been bought by the cross and set free. The gospel, the good news of Jesus comes to take off the blinders, and break down the lies. The Christian life is very shallow and shaky until we get this freedom from what we pretend to be. Then we will have more than a sham to give to each other, and to God.
The gospel means good news because it is designed to make us free. We will only be free when we can accept God’s gifts the only way they can be given and received. God’s love is only given as a gracious, undeserved, cleansing love for sinners.

Only the people who know they need such a love can receive it. Christ can live in a person who is authentic enough to be thankful that a new life is offered to them at the price of a cross.

1 comment:

  1. To be FREE! I just did a post, "Rescue and Release" and I wrote a bit about freedom connected to the post, but ended up editing it out because I couldn't make sense of what I had written!
    Also, on the Monastery Facebook, they showed a poster that said,
    For some people, you are the only Jesus they will see.
    I am paraphrasing since I can't remember it exactly, but get the idea! Both of these things come to mind when I read this sermon.