Sunday, April 12, 2015

They Lied, They Died, and They Fried - Acts 4:31-5:11

 Acts 4:31-5:11
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.  All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?" "Yes," she said, "that is the price."  Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

        Hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm!

        There are few things better in life than a slice of Cousin Sylvia’s German Chocolate Cake.

        Cousin Mac gave me the recipe years ago.  He said his sister, my cousin Sylvia, used to make it for him from time to time. 

        Cousin Sylvia’s recipe was a closely guarded family secret.  She had shared it with no one at all.  She told people that she had developed that recipe after years of trial and error.

        When Cousin Sylvia died, we thought her recipe had gone to the grave as well.  All those years of trial and error that Cousin Sylvia put into her secret recipe – gone.

        But shortly after the funeral, her daughter found a small index card with the title, “Sylvia’s Secret German Chocolate Cake Recipe.”  Someone cooked it up and Cousin Mac declared that this was indeed the secret recipe.  YES!  All those years of trial and error that Cousin Sylvia put into developing her recipe were salvaged!

        So not long ago when a friend was looking for a recipe for a German Chocolate Cake, I came to the rescue with the beloved recipe from Cousin Sylvia.  After all, Cousin Sylvia had spent years of trial and error developing the perfect recipe.

        The church member then went out to buy all of the ingredients, including bars of baker’s chocolate.

        On the label of that bar of baker’s chocolate was another recipe for German Chocolate Cake.

        Wait, not just another recipe.  It was THE recipe.  Word for word the same recipe as Cousin Sylvia’s secret German Chocolate Cake recipe.

        I couldn’t believe it! 

        The chocolate company had stolen Cousin Sylvia’s recipe!

        Well, maybe Cousin Sylvia stole it from the chocolate company.

        I suppose I can forgive Cousin Sylvia for telling us a lie about how she had put in years of trial and error searching for the perfect recipe for German Chocolate Cake.

        Lies – truth – honesty – dishonesty.

        Not long ago the anchor of the NBC Nightly News got into hot water for exaggerating things that happened to him as a reporter – and in some cases they were not just exaggerations, but some say out right lies.

        Next thing you know, someone might tell me that politicians lie! 

        Lies – truth – honesty – dishonesty.

        “Excuse me police officer, but I definitely was not speeding.  Your radar must be broken!”

        “Yes dear, that dress looks lovely and no dear, it does not make you look fat.”

        “This brocolli tastes wonderful.”

        “Yes Mom, I’ve already done my homework.”

        Ok, we lie. 

        And we know that lying is wrong.

        In Colossians 3:7-9  we are told, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other.”

        In Leviticus 19:11, “'Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.”

        In Ephesians 4:25,  “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to one’s neighbor.”

        Then we come to the book of Acts.  What a strange passage. 

        This fellow named Barnabas owns a field, sells it, and gives all of the money to the church.

        Then another church member, Ananias, comes in, sells his field, and gives money to the church, and claims to be giving all of the money to the church.  It’s not all the money.  He’s holding some of it back.  But he tells everyone that it is all the money.  Then the preacher, St. Peter, fusses at this man and the man drops dead.

        To make matters worse, the preacher calls on the wife of Ananias and she also lies and dies.

        Now it was their money.  Peter says they had every right to do what they wanted to with it.  But they lied. And because they lied, they died.

        And one might imagine that together they went to Hell – so they fried.

        They lied, died and fried.

        What is it that is so bad about the fact that these two people lied?  I mean really.  What’s so bad about this?

        Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that what they did was not immoral.  Yes, Lying is wrong.

        But in the Bible people murdered others, they raped women, they abused children, they did all sorts of evil, but THEY didn’t suddenly hit the floor, die and fry.

        I am troubled by this passage.  It really bothers me.  This is a horrible text in the Bible.  It’s uncomfortable.  And let’s face it – we all lie.  None of us are without this sin. Are we also going to die and fry?

        I love the way this passage ends.

        “Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

        Oh yeah!  That’s the kind of thing that can send chills down someone’s spine.

        But what makes this lie so dangerously unique is that it is an attempt to deceive – not Peter, not the church, not their friends – but God.

        Peter says to these folks in the seconds prior to their deaths, “You have not lied to people but to God."

        It is not the only time in the Bible that people lie to God.

        In the Book of Genesis, Cain killed his brother Able.  God speaks to Cain and asks, “Where is your brother,” to which Able lies, “I don’t know.”

        And it is so foolish for us to lie to God. 

        I mean it is bad enough that we would lie to each other – but to lie to God?

        We might get away with lying about whether or not the broccoli casserole is good, and we might even be able to fool the traffic officer who has caught us speeding. 

        But to lie to God is absurd.

        Psalm 139 says, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”

        And yet, like Ananias, we lie to God.

        We refuse to confess to God that we have sinned.  We refuse to admit our racism.  Our anger and hatred.  Our selfishness.  And when we refuse to confess, we lie to God.

        We refuse to admit to God that we need His help – we can do it on our own.  But we can’t.  And when we refuse to seek God’s help, we lie to God.    

        And to lie to God is a dangerous thing.

        It is, in fact, a deadly thing.

        You see, when we are not honest to God, then we build a wall between us and the very One who can help us.

        When we are not honest to God about our failures, we essentially bar Him from helping guide us.

        When we are not honest to God about the struggles we have in our family or marriage, we essentially keep God from healing our torn relationships.

        When we are not honest to God about our fears, our anxieties, our anger, our sadness, our shortcomings, our sins, our hopes, our lives – then even though He already knows exactly what we are going through, we have built a wall to keep God away from healing us.

        Some lies really are worse than others. 

        And the lies we tell to God are the worst ones of all – and the most useless, and the most deadly.

        Not that we are going to suddenly drop dead – but when we lie to God, we find that our lives are not healed.
        God loves us, and wants to see us improve our lives, which we cannot do if we are not honets to God.

        But when we open up to God, when we are honest to God, that is when we open our lives and let God in, and the healing of our lives begins.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.