Sometimes it’s easy to hear and give a sermon; sometimes it’s not. Often, the difference depends upon the scripture as much as the preacher and the hearer.
It’s easy to preach from scripture like Luke 6.36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. ” Or like 1 John 4.8: “God is love.” And we all know some preachers who only preach from easy, feel good, “there’s lots of milk and cookies for everybody” scriptures.
But if the preacher only takes a scripture of love or mercy or grace every Sunday, we hearers are missing part of the challenge of scripture. And we are missing the way that scripture deals with the terrible tragedies and horrible injustices of life.
Below is a scripture that is as hard to hear and preach from, for me, as any in the Holy Bible. I am taking us through Acts of the Apostles, as you know. And I have come across this, a scripture I have never heard used as the basis of a sermon by anyone, ever, anywhere.
I am sending this out on Tuesday, five days before the sermon on Sunday, for two reasons. One is so my foot will be nailed to the floor, so to speak, and I will be committed to preach from this….challenging story. The second reason is to invite you to email me back between now and Sunday about what of value you see in this. DiscipleChurch is becoming, and already is, a collaborative community. So…collaborate! Help a preacher out here. What of value do you see? (And I can tell you now that I am going to come out between two poles—the pole on the left side being, “tear that terrible, horrible story out of my Bible,” and, the pole on the right side, “it happened just like that—be afraid, be very afraid.”)
The scripture is from chapter 5 of the Acts of the Apostles:
“But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3“Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” 5Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. 7After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.”
Remember, the author of Acts was also the author of The Gospel According to Luke, which includes some of the most beautiful,grace-filled parts of the New Testament—the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, the birth stories of Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus about love and mercy and forgiveness. Yet, this author chose to include this story about Ananias and Sapphira in his second work, Acts of the Apostles. Surely there were many stories and remembrances about the early church that Luke chose not to include in this second volume. So why not leave out this one?
Before you tear this story out of your Bible, consider:
What would the human community would be like if God really did punish certain wrongdoing immediately and drastically? Is there any conduct that you wish God would prevent and deter immediately? And consider what consequences you believe God brings about for our disobedience of his teachings brought to us by Jesus? Are there ever any consequences? I mean, is heaven overcrowded (metaphorically speaking) because everyone gets in? And if so, where is the justice for disobedience? Is there so much divine mercy that there is no divine justice? So why follow any of the teachings?
All of Jesus’ miracles recounted in the gospels, with the exception of the withering of the fig tree, were saving miracles, not destroying miracles. Luke knew that. His gospel is full of them. So, again, why include this story?
Why would people join a community that had this threat within it—immediate death for breaking some rules and trying to deceive the community about it.
Or did God not kill these people? Was it just their natural and emotional reaction to the shame and the exposure? But is that what this story says?
Help a preacher out here, community! Collaborate!!