A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Acts 4:32-37 which tells how the early believers lived life together. They participated in a kind of “Christian communism,” in which everything was held in common, and everyone’s needs were met.
Some of you rightly pointed out afterwards that there is a very problematic story right after this passage. Acts 5:1-11 tells a disturbing tale of a husband and wife, named Ananias and Sapphira, who are part of this community. They sell a piece of their land, keep some of the profit for themselves, and give the rest to the apostles. However, they don’t tell the apostles that they kept some of the money; they claim to have given the entire profit to the community.
The Holy Spirit tells Peter that they are lying about this fact, and the two of them die — right in the middle of the church gathering!
I’ll admit that if I could remove any text from the New Testament, it would be this one. I refuse to believe that God struck two people dead because they lied to their pastors — God doesn’t work that way! I don’t want to speculate on how this story ended up here, who wrote it or why, but I don’t believe it actually happened like this. I can only imagine that Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) wrote it because he’d heard from a friend who heard from a friend that Ananias and Sapphire were struck dead in the church and — gasp, they had some secrets!! You know how gossip works …
Regardless of how this story ended up in our Bible, I want to point out that the emphasis in the story is on the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira. They did not die in the story because they didn’t give all their money up, but because they lied about it.
The “lesson” of the story, as disagreeable as it might be, is that lies destroy community. The early Christians must have been aware that, in order for their fellowship to prosper and grow in spite of constant opposition and persecution, they must be entirely open, honest, and transparent with each other. There was no room for deception, dissembling, and secrets.
Lies tear communities apart, because they destroy the fabric of trust that hold us together. If we can’t trust each other to tell the truth about our life together, then we will not be able to stay together.
That’s why I fear what our current White House is doing. Almost every day, the Administration sends a press secretary to a podium and asks him/her to lie publicly. It began on day one with Sean Spicer insisting that the crowds for Trump’s inauguration were “the biggest ever,” plainly a lie if there ever was one. Now it’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ job to fib. Her press conferences are a constant stream of false facts, misleading statements, and untruths. (Seriously — how many different words can we use as synonyms for “lies”?)
As a result, our national sense of unity is eroding. We don’t trust each other, beginning with the people elected to the highest offices. It trickles right down to our local communities and neighborhoods.
The same thing will happen at Kessler Park UMC if we don’t tell the truth to each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And that’s what I’m most concerned about.
I know that sometimes it’s easier to just lie; we don’t like admitting our shortcomings or confessing our faults. We tell untruths to make ourselves look better, or to “protect” somebody’s feelings. But it always backfires. Lies have a way of circling around and hurting us.
In last Sunday’s sermon, I argued that a New Reformation would be centered around community, and that we needed to rebuild trust within our faith communities. There can be no trust in communities and organizations if the truth is not paramount.
It’s not just a matter of not telling whoppers; we must learn how to be transparent, to stop holding tightly onto secrets, and to be honest with each other.
Join me in praying daily that we become a community of trust, truth, and transparency. And I promise not to preach about Ananias and Sapphira any time soon!