Don't Hold Back... It Could Kill You
Here it is.. The money you could be tithing...
This week I am finishing up the sermon series that I have been preaching on money. I know that some of the people in my church are probably glad that it's going to come to an end.
Funny thing, though. I've been going at it pretty hard. It's not been easy, to be honest. But there's nothing faithful about pulling punches when it comes to stuff like this, I've come to learn.
By the way, I just thought the picture above was funny. Plus it reminds me that I waste a lot of money on stuff that I don't need and that wasted money could be put to good use.
And I like the song that plays on the commercials ("I always feel like, somebody's watching me..."). That dude Rockwell who performed that one-hit wonder back in they 80's is laughing all the way to the bank about now. It finally paid off. Kudos.
When I thought about this sermon series one of the stories that I knew I would have to explore is the story of Annanias and Sapphira from Acts 5. Here's the story, in case you've never heard it or read it:
1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With 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.
Here's the thing...3Then 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? 4Didn'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."
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9Peter 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."
10At 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. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
I don't know of any pastor who wouldn't want to preach a sermon from this story--even though hardly any of us do. Seriously, any story about someone who holds back on giving and is struck dead seems at first blush like a no-brainer kind of sermon to preach--once, and maybe twice a year.
But it's an uncomfortable story. And discomfort is not something that is really welcomed in most churches. Anyway. I felt compelled to preach from this story. I'm glad I did.
First things first. Annanias name means "The Lord is Gracious." Sapphira's name means "Fair & Beautiful." The air is thick with irony about now. The dude with the name that means "The Lord is Gracious" gets struck dead for lying to his church and trying to deceive God. His wife who is the perfect wife with the perfect name and the perfect manners follows suit for forsaking her relationship with God for the ugliness of greed.
Annanias forgot the first rule of tithing: "It's Not About The Money!" He wasn't coerced into laying money at the disciples feet, he did it for the accolades. A bit earlier in the Acts narrative we discover that a man named Barnabas sold property and gave the whole profit to the Church. Annanias wanted people to hold him in the same high esteem that they held Barnabas, but he wasn't willing to pony up the kind of dough that Barnabas did. He figured that if he could look like a hero, and make a tidy profit on the side---what the heck?
Annanias and Sapphira had the right names. They had the right position in society. They were the right class, the right kind of people and in the right community. Unfortunately, God didn't give two figs for any of that.
Something tells me their problems began long before this story about their ill-fated real estate sale.
There is this great quote that I saw from Will Willimon - "Possessions and what they do to us are a matter of life and death." This is a truth that is dramatically demonstrated in this short, troubling story.
I think that there is more to this, however. At the heart of this story is a contrast between people who are "all in" when it comes to following Jesus, and people who are not. Funny how money looms large in that, too, right?
In Luke chapter 12 Jesus busts out with some seriously hard stuff to hear. He talks about how his arrival is going to divide people, and there is fire involved along with baptism and death and a whole bunch of difficult other things. It's not easy to read, and it's very troubling to hear from Jesus. Listen,
49"I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."Cheery, right? But then there is this:
57"Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right? 58As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.This is one of those Jedi Knight moments for Jesus. The saying seems to be a complete non sequitur. But when you think about it you start realizing something pretty profound. Jesus seems to be saying, "Listen, you can't be halfway about this. It's going to cost you to follow me. It's not going to be easy, and it's going to cause some controversy. And if you are weighing this whole thing and trying to figure it out, you better do it quick--because the judgment is coming.
There is another place in the Gospel accounts where Jesus talks about what that "judgment" is. He tells his followers that he didn't come into the world to condemn, but to save. But that his words were going to condemn people--based on whether or not they believed them.
Christian culture is absolutely grounded in the kind of religiosity that enables people who go through the motions when it comes to following Christ. Because following Jesus is tough. It costs us something. We are called to live differently, to be differently, to act differently than the culture around us. And I am sorry... but the Christians who cheer words like that and then buy into the American Dream as God's Dream or who blur the lines between "patriotism" and Christianity are not living differently. So many Christians believe that it is their God-given right to be first, to prosper, to barely get their hands dirty doing kingdom work and to pass judgment on everyone who doesn't believe that their interpretations of Scripture are correct and true.
I went through the motions for most of my life. I was "saved" when I was six---as if I could possibly understand what it meant. When I was thirty years old, I realized that God's fingerprints had been all over my life and it brought me to my knees. At that point, I was three years in as a youth director and church leader. But I wasn't all in. I was holding back.
When things changed for me, and I gave in to God's irrestible grace, people noticed. People always notice when your authentic and when you're not.
One of my parishoners saw two women going through our church dumpster the other day. Naturally, because she has been rocked by Jesus, she asked if she could help.
This is one of those moments when as a pastor you feel like weeping for joy man.
Anyway, she dug through the dumpster with the women and then offered to load the treasures they'd uncovered in her car (a nice one, by the way) and drive them back to their house. As she was telling me this story, she started to tear up. One of the ladies told her that she was grateful for the help because she didn't want to be late to her church that afternoon. It seems that she had scrounged up ten dollars that she needed to give to the church--ten dollars that was part of her commitment, the promise she had made to God.
She was digging through the dumpster. And she had ten dollars. And it belonged to God.
That's all in, man.
That's someone who knows that they are being called to give everything...
And they are not holding back.