Your love for us is amazing – You have forgiven our sins and we can stand before You completely clean. Open our hearts that we might hear from Your Word even as we heard from You through Your Worship. Meet our challenges – the hurts and difficulties – as we come to You. Open Your word and give us grace.
This past week – you saw the Inauguration of President Obama. This is not a political message. But in watching it – what struck me - The one thing you have to acknowledge – when you see millions of people of all races celebrating the inauguration – you have to admit there has been a lot of progress. If you grew up in the 60’s – you remember the segregation. With that in mind – this hour – these hours – from 9:30 to Noon – on Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hours of the week. The church is the most segregated institution in the country. In the church, it is still a significant issue. What we will do today – understand the church has issues. There are problems in the church and in the pulpit. The news has been filled with fallen pastors. There are problems in the pews. The statistics show that the general morality of those who go to church are not that much different from those who do not.
The church has had issues throughout history. There has never been a time when this was not true. Think about it – the church stood for slavery! I love reading and admire Martin Luther – but he wrote a book telling people to burn the houses of Jewish people – it is in his writing! What do we do about it? John Calvin – one of the other reformers was in Geneva. The city was transformed by Calvin. The Consistory – A group of 12 Elders and 12 pastors. They would bring people in and examine their lives! This group would question you …
The main concern was the systematic supervision of morals within the city…including the enforcement of moral laws. The Consistory had the power to excommunicate those who…adultery – those who went back to Catholicism – dancing – unseemly singing – absence from worship and catechism – it goes on. I would say that is not the solution to our problems. If you had to stand before all the pastors of Cuyahoga Falls – to see if you have been dancing or unseemly singing – or – we’ve all insulted French people – so we’d all be excommunicated!
Just a little levity – we are looking at the Book of Acts. The Bible has never been afraid to show the bad – from David to Moses – up to everyone except Jesus Christ. Even in the early church – But we will look at how broken people can experience the power of the Holy Spirit – how the church, with all its frailties, can do great things.
Acts 5 is somewhat of a strange passage – and if you are reading it for the first time, you can ask – Where did that come from?
Acts 5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back [some] of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back [some] of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained [unsold,] did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 9 Then Peter [said] to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out [as well]." 10 And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.
This does not seem to match my statement about how a church of sinners can be empowered by the Holy Spirit! It looks like He is just eliminating the sinners! How would you like to go to that church! You give money and God strikes you dead!
They gave a large sum of money! You might remember Barnabas – who took a large sum of money from selling land and setting it at the apostles’ feet. Ananias and Sapphira probably saw how Barnabas was honored and they wanted that honor as well. Look back at verse 2…
and kept back [some] of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge,
You might remember when Joshua took Jericho, the Lord told them not to take any of the spoils. They were to burn it all down as an offering to the Lord. But Achan kept back some for himself (those same words) – There is a precedent being set. This hearkens back to that Old Testament passage – and never again does something like this happen in the church – it is not God’s normal way of working…
"While it remained [unsold,] did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” = They didn’t have to give any of the money.
1) it sets a precedent
2) it was premeditated. They saw Barnabas’ recognition and they wanted people to honor them. It had nothing to do with the need of the church – but with their desire.
“Satan filled your heart” – it was the sin of Satan – wanting people to worship them. This is in contrast to this entire first section of Acts – they were all filled with the Spirit and they were filled with Satan. They are sinning against God – they have “lied to the Holy Spirit.” God is demonstrating the seriousness of coming against Him and filling Satan’s place in His community. It was a sin against God and against the community. That explains the unique and unusual situation.
Back to our statement – Being a church – even with issues – that can be used by God – that is the proposition for today.
Luke – who wrote the book of Acts – what you see in his writing – there are two kinds of sinners – we are all sinners and broken – but there are two different ways to be broken – to be broken and know that you are broken – understand that you are broken. The second is to be broken and believe that you are not – to believe that your religious practices and behavior are adequate before God. Luke talks all about it in the Gospel and now in the Book of Acts.
Luke 5: 29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other [people] who were reclining [at the table] with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes [began] grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?"
Levi(Matthew) was a tax-gatherer – hated among the Jews. Jesus marks the two kinds of people – There were the Pharisees – who believed that their moral behavior made them acceptable to God. Contrast that with the tax-gatherers and sinners – who knew they needed to be made right with God.
Tim Keller – two groups – speaking of the prodigal son – the sinners were like the prodigal son. They left respectable society. The second group – the Pharisees and teachers of the Law – with great economy – Luke describes this contrast. Those who believed that they were good enough in and of themselves rejected Jesus.
Luke 5: 31 And Jesus answered and said to them, "[It is] not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
He is saying – the people that Christ brings in the community are those who are sick and know it. But there are those who are sick who believe they are healthy and that is the most dangerous situation to be in, isn’t it.
It is easy to fall into that pattern – to believe we are healthy when we are not.
Luke 7: 34 "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking; and you say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!'
Very rarely does the Bible use the word FRIEND – He was known for being a friend to tax-gatherers and sinners – He drew these people to Himself. When people looked at Jesus’ church – they saw tax-collectors and sinners. That was His reputation.
The master sent out invitations to a feast – and there were those who believed they did not need the master’s mercy – they thought they could do it on their own.
Luke 14: 21 "And the slave came [back] and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'
Because His feast would be filled with broken people. So, not only is the church filled with broken people – but the kingdom is filled with broken people.
We often look at the story of the Prodigal Son – but it is not titled the Story of the Prodigal Son – it is the story of Two Sons. One goes off in wild ways and returns. The older was not doing it for his father – “I’ve never left – you’ve never given me anything – why are you giving him what is rightfully mine?!” Both sons shamed the father – but one received forgiveness and the other believed that he didn’t need it.
NEWSFLASH: You did not come to Christ because of your greatness! If you did – look out – Ananias might come back to haunt you…All of us realized we were failures – we knew we couldn’t make it – we are sinners – in need of grace.
Now we think we come to Christ that way – but we live our lives as if we are Pharisees – reading our Bibles and being a good spouse – in order to gain God’s favor – but God is a God of Grace – and you are still a broken person. We need to maintain that perspective.
Luke 18: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. 11 "The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself
(I love that phrase here),
'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.'
(we need people like him in this church! JUST KIDDING!)
13 "But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' 14 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
“Only broken people truly worship. Others thank God like a shopper thanks a clerk.” – Larry Crabb
Anne Lamott tells the story in her book – Traveling Mercies – in the church, there was a man dying of AIDS – who had come to Christ and fell in love with Christ and this church. Toward the end, they were worshiping – all rose, except him – because he could not stand. There was an African American woman – who saw this man as an abomination – but as she worshiped – she looked at him – “rather skeptically for a moment – then her face began to melt and contort like his – and she went to his side and lifted him up and held him so that he could stand.”
That is what God asks of the church – broken people holding people – lifting them up to worship.
Now, if we wish to become this type of community – we need to
1) recognize and acknowledge that we are broken people
Recognize that we are a community of broken people
We need to be okay with God filling our church with broken people
Those who were invited did not come – they had too much going on thinking they did not need the master’s love and mercy and grace. The desperate ones come. We need to be willing to receive and accept that.
2) There is no room for ambition and pride and pursuit of recognition. The church is not a place to become famous, popular, or powerful. It is a place to serve and lift up others.
3) Acts 6:1 – this is the next story of issues
6:1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing [in number,] a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic [Jews] against the [native] Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving [of food.]
Hellenistic Jews – scattered throughout the Roman world who would make the trip back to Jerusalem to die. They were Greek speaking – and they were viewed by the other Jews as outsiders – they were lower-status, lower-class folks. This is an issue of prejudice and racial tension – this goes back to the beginning of this sermon – God is trying to bring everyone into unity – and the church is trying to reject it – but the apostles recognized that the outsiders had just as much right to have the blessings of this community. Later, we will look at the Jew and Gentile problem – this theme runs through the end of the book of Acts. The church needs to be a place where race, class, and socio-economic status have no bearing. As a church – we need – because not only is the church the most racially divided place in America, it is also divided socio-economically
Gal. 3: 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Neither Democrat nor Republican, Rich or Poor – Professional or Blue-collar – for you are all one in Christ.
The church will never experience the power of God if it is divided. The book of Acts is about bringing all the groups together.