April 17, 2016 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Worship Theme: Living the Resurrection through God’s Economics
Sermon: God’s Economics
Scripture: Acts 4:32-5:11
Some passages of the Bible are perfectly written for sermons and preaching. This passage about Ananias and Sapphira is NOT one of those. This story can be difficult for us to interpret.
The stories in Acts of Apostolic People tell us a history of those early followers of the Way of Jesus. They were learning how to live the resurrection life. They were interpreting Jesus’ teachings and figuring out how to be a community of living witness; households and individuals sharing a life common commitment to continue the ministry of Jesus by living the way Jesus lived. Here, in Acts 4 & 5, we glimpse into their understanding of God’s economics. Communal property was normal in the ancient world. Jesus and his disciples kept a common purse; Judas was their treasurer. The early followers of The Way of Jesus also brought all of their monies, goods and possessions into a common fund in the Jerusalem church.
To our twenty-first century scientific minds this story about Ananias and Sapphira and how they died for lying sounds a bit more like fiction than history. Of course, we do not expect anyone to be carried out today as our deacons collect tithes and offerings. This story causes us to ask one of the most important questions when it comes to interpreting the Bible, listening to our own lives or thinking about money and the church: ‘What is really going on here?’
This story is not about lying and dying. This story asks us to consider how we view our possessions. This story encourages us to look at honesty, dishonesty, commitment, hypocrisy, trust, mistrust & distrust. This story is not a proof text for communal economics. It does not condemn our free market system or our legitimate privacy when it comes to possessions or personal financial accounts. This story is about the essence of financial stewardship and is apropos for us on this day as we begin our Second Century Legacy Campaign. So, in this story about Ananias and Sapphira, “What is really going on here?”
Notice three parts of this story about the Jerusalem church:
The first part of this story is in Acts 4:32 teaching, ‘Unity is expressed in tangible ways.’
- “They were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
As your senior minister, it is a blessing to be able to affirm you for your faithfulness in stewardship and financial generosity. First, I affirm those of you who have faithfully provided financial support to St. John’s for several decades. Second, I affirm those of you who are being faithful and generous financial stewards during this current chapter of St. John’s life and ministry. And, third, I affirm those of you who are committed to assuring and sustaining the strength of St. John’s life and ministry in the future. This morning, I bring you good news and better news. The good news is God has given to St. John’s all of the financial resources we need to accomplish our ministry vision. The better news is these financial resources have been entrusted to you and are in your pockets and I know you to be a people of unity.” ‘Unity is expressed in tangible ways.’
The second part of this story is in Acts 4:34-35 teaching, ‘Our possessions have a purpose.’
2. “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold…and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
We are stewards today of God’s gifts to us. We cannot merely view our possessions as personal belongings clinging to them for self-centered reasons. Our possessions are to be invested in the purposes and visions of our daily prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” You and I are committed to financially support the annual ministry plan of St. John’s. Over and above this commitment to regular and annual giving, we make sustaining financial commitments and we write St. John’s into our estate plans to strengthen St. John’s as a Servant Church into the future. Our possessions have a purpose.
The third part of this story is in Acts 4:36-37 and 5:1-2 teaching, ‘Everyone leaves a legacy.’
At the end of chapter four, Barnabas voluntarily sells a field belonging to him and gives the money to the church for ministry. Barnabas gains the reputation of being, ‘The Encourager.’ He is contrasted with Ananias and Sapphira who sell property and evidently want the same reputation; yet, they keep back some of the money. When people begin thinking of themselves first, yet they want a reputation of being fully committed to the life and ministry of the church, they have become like Ananias and Sapphira. People begin to die from the inside-out when they begin living a lie, pretending to be fully committed to the Way of Jesus and the community of saints. Ananias and Sapphira are not remembered as encouragers; they are remembered as the patron saints for half-hearted commitment and hypocrisy. Everyone leaves a legacy.
Friends, when it comes to our possessions, our properties and our financial capacities and the health and vitality and life and ministry of Christ’s Church, we should always ask, “What is really going on here?” The answer, of course, is this: what was going on in the first century church of Jerusalem is still going on the twenty-first century church all across the globe.
- Unity is expressed in tangible ways;
- Our possessions have a purpose; and
- Everyone leaves a legacy.
Bill Turner retired as CEO of The W.C. Bradley Company and has served on the boards of Coca Cola, Emory University, The University of Georgia and Synovus Financial Corporation. He has taught youth in Sunday School for more than 50 years and founded The Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia and The Center for Servant Leadership. He tells the story of a day when all of the children in the child care facilities of their company came around Trick-or-Treating dressed in their costumes. He had a large plastic bucket filled with candy and thought he was ready for them. However, he had forgotten that the child care facility had expanded almost doubling the number of children. So, he teased with the preschoolers. As they reached in to get their fist-full of candy, he would say, “Leave some for the others.” He realized, though, that he was in trouble. He did not have enough candy to sustain the number of children still to come. And, then, a little girl dressed like a fairy princess reached into Bill Turner’s bucket and saw how little candy was left and how many children were in line. So, without word or hesitation, she reached into her own candy sack and started making fist-full deposits into his bucket for those who were coming behind her.
She understood God’s economics. Amen and AMEN!