One Heart and Soul
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We’re having our annual meeting today after church. The non-budget meeting. The “fun” meeting we used to call it, though I don’t know if we should have been doing that. Finances play a part of our life, they play a part of our life together, and the play a role in our spirituality too. It’s not a matter of temporal matters and spiritual matters in the church. I’ve never believed this to be the case. When God is involved and Jesus walks among us and the Holy Spirit lives inside us they are all Kingdom matters. Maybe that’s a better way to think about it rather than trying to set up and easy dualism. It’s all about the Kingdom in the Kingdom community.
It’s all about the Kingdom. Even money. Maybe especially money. Maybe we’re glad it’s not the budget meeting considering we’re looking at the story of Ananias and Sapphira today. This harsh story of lies and death. We don’t see another case like this in the early church as it’s described in the Bible, so that’s something. Considering some people’s view of God that he’s a being that is looking for us to put a foot wrong so he can strike us down with a lightning bolt, this is a good thing.
But let us hold fast to this truth. Everything matters in the Kingdom. Each part of our lives.
I was talking about our annual meeting. Our annual report. The funny thing about annual reports (and I’m a part of this as I’ve submitted something to the annual report myself) is that they rarely talk about the bad things that happen within a community of faith. I think that this would be the same for pretty much every church. We will talk about all the good things that happening here, some of the ways we are seeing God at work and how we are being encouraged. We will no doubt mention and talk about some of the challenges that are facing us.
What we don’t tend to talk about is the kind of thing that Luke talks about in Acts 5. Internal threats to the family. People who weren’t talking to one another. People who were going around telling lies about other people. People who were very good at showing an outward veneer of Christianity and piety and are actually more like whitewashed tombs – very clean and pristine on the outside and on the inside only death.
This is harsh. It’s a harsh story. This thing that we’re involved in is serious though. It’s serious. It’s also beautiful.
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and one soul… The church was living in the power of the resurrected Christ. New life. Life in the Holy Spirit of God. The prophet Jeremiah had described it like this “I will give them one heart and one way…” (Jer 32:39). One heart. One love. You don’t have to be in church to hear this message or to get this message – to get its inherent rightness. Luke’s audience would have been familiar with lines like these from Aristotle – “Among friends ‘everything is common’ is quite correct, for friendship consists of sharing.” Or this – “A friend is one soul dwelling in two bodies.” We learn this ideal from a very young age. It’s a lesson that we need to learn. Someone has said that some of the first words we learn as babies are “mine” and “more”. “Caring Means Sharing” was the title of the 9th episode in the first season of Barney.
Everyone can get behind this idea right?
The thing was, in this community, it was happening. Everything was shared, including their possessions. It’s a description of how the church was operating in Jerusalem at the time. A whole new way of living was being enacted. This is what the Holy Spirit was enabling in this community. A whole new social order. People continued to own things. The church continued to meet in houses. They shared. This worked itself out in every aspect of life. We have become sharers in the life of the risen Christ. We are sharers in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them. Again, looking back to the OT, the commands are being fulfilled through the power of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit filling this community of faith. Deut 15:7-11.
It wasn’t a requirement to enter this community. It was how God’s grace was being worked out in tangible ways. Being of one heart and one soul does not simply mean all agree on everything – we most certainly don’t. Rather, being of one heart and one soul works out in tangible ways, including what we do with our time and what we do with our money. In the early days this community was signalling that theirs was the true covenant community. This community was to be/is to be a reflection of how we were created to live, how we were created to do life together and how we are enabled to live and to do life together. In our day we stand in direct opposition to a world where your number one concern is yourself and the accumulation of money and stuff because that, after all, is where we find our security. We say things like “Why should I pay for your health insurance?” or “Why don’t they just get a job?” or “Why can’t they just get over it?” or “No one helped me when I was young or new to the country or whatever” because life, after all, is primarily about us. We’re all the stars of our own show.
In the midst of this we stand and declare that is it by the grace of God and absolutely no merit of our own that we are sharers in the life of the crucified and risen Christ Jesus and that this truth is for every aspect of our lives.
“As many as owned houses or land sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as they had need.” There was no requirement. The distribution was made on an as needed basis, and they didn’t always get this right as we’ll hear about next week. It was a community that reflected the ways of God. No one had too much, no one had too little. It was a principle that would encompass not only individuals, but churches. It became a thing to such an extent that Paul had to warn the church in Thessalonica about people in the church taking advantage of generosity and freeloading (2 Thess 3:10). The early church writing the Didache talked of welcoming people coming in the Lord’s name. They must not stay except two or three days, the Didache outlined. If they wish to settle among you, let them not be idle. If they don’t cooperate they are Christ-peddlers. Beware of such! The point here is that the concept of sharing was such a thing that the church had be to warned about the potential dangers.
And then Luke provides us with an example. Isn’t it wonderful to have had/to have examples from people about the truths of God? We thank God for such people don’t we? Joseph from Cyprus. Cypriot Joe. He’ll reappear in our story later. The apostles gave him a new name. He found a new identity in Christ! Barnabas. Son of encouragement. Lord help us to live up to such a name! Daughter of encouragement. Son of encouragement. He sold a field that belonged to him. We don’t know where the field was. Could have been back in Cyprus. Cyprus will come back into the story a little later on too. The point though is that he sold a field then brought the money and laid it at the disciples’ feet.
Distribute it as needed. This was the kind of thing that the Spirit of God was doing among this group of people.
Then we have the story that would not have necessarily made it into the annual report. Luke includes it nonetheless. It’s not just about threats or indifference or challenges from without. They exist within as well. The Spirit of God is moving and working and at the same time Satan is going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We can deny it or say that kind of talk belongs to a less enlightened age if we like, but it doesn’t make it any less dangerous. The liar. The tempter. The deceiver. The same one who said to Jesus “If you are the Son of God then….” The opposite of the voice of truth. The voice that says “This is yours, you worked hard for it.” The voice that says “I’m just barely getting by myself, what can I be expected to do?”
It’s not about a program of giving to the church or to anyone else for that matter. I’ve said before I’ll never stand up here and make an appeal for cash. We all need to work that out with God. There was no requirement of selling everything and laying it at the apostle’s feet in this community of faith. There wouldn’t have been a problem for Ananias and Sapphira to say “Hey we sold this property for $40,000 and want to give the church half!” Great! It was the lying about it. It was the misrepresentation. It was the religious hypocrisy. Look at what we did.
They both die and this seems harsh. It’s hard for us to deal with maybe. Let us look at the rest of that verse we looked at earlier from Jeremiah. “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them.” This is not to see that we need to be walking around fearfully thinking “Holy Spirit please don’t kill me.” We’re talking about fear of our holy God. Awe. Reverence of a God who is a friend who is closer than a brother or sister while at the same time wholly other. God who has promised to one day make everything right and this making right project is already underway. We’re called to be a part of it and lying to one another completely antithetical to this project. It meant death for Ananias and Sapphira. There are consequences to actions. It is the opposite of life together, life the way it was meant to be lived. It is the death of life together. Moses laid out the choice long ago to the people of Israel. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…” Choose life. Choose blessings. The new covenant community has the same choice before us. You can think of examples from church life where we’ve chosen curses and death – love of power, love of ourselves and our desires and wills – and how this brings about the opposite of life together.
Thankfully we can think of examples of life too. Thank God for people like Barnabas. We are people who learn by example after all, from when we’re infants. I often talk about learning how to worship together from my mother. Watching her as I sat beside her as a child. Emulating her. May we learn encouragement from one another. May God surround us with sons and daughters of encouragement as we ask God to help us to be a community that chooses life and blessings. May this be true for us all.