To Tell The Truth

It’s not just a game show, it’s life. Sometimes people say that someone or something will be the death of them. Was it the money or the lie that became the death of Ananias and Saphira?

Read Acts 5:1-11, Psalm 51:1-12 here.

Listen here:

I’m going to tell you a story, but it has a colorful interjection that I’m not going to say. Instead I’m using  dagnabbit.  I think you’ll see why. Here’s the story:

A construction worker was hammering in a nail, and hit his hand. “Dagnabbit, I missed,” he yelled. A priest was walking by just then. Shocked by the worker’s language, the priest told the worker to not take the Lord’s name in vain. The next day the priest walked by the same construction worker again. This time the construction worker hit his other hand. Again, he shouted, “Dagnabbit, I missed.” The priest warned him he had one more strike before God would punish him for taking his name in vain. The third day, the construction worker swung his hammer at a nail and instead hit his soda bottle that was resting next to him. As the bottle broke, he yelled “Dagnabbit, I missed.” The priest was again walking by, and just then a lightning bolt came out of the sky and hit the priest, disintegrating him. A voice boomed from the heavens, “DAGNABBIT, I MISSED.”[1]

Happy Father’s Day!  That was a dad joke.

Have you ever been truly afraid that God would smite you?  I’ll confess it’s not something I have taken seriously.  But there was a lady who worked at the daycare at our church in Texas who wouldn’t ever come into the sanctuary just in case God really does smite sinners.  Reading our story from Acts 5 for today, we can see where she might have gotten that idea.  Ananias lies about the value of the land that he’s sold, telling the church that he’s giving the whole amount, when really he’s kept some of the money back for himself.  Somehow Peter knows and calls him out on it.  Suddenly Ananias drops dead.  And then when his wife Sapphira hears what happened, she drops dead, too.

This story leaves us with many questions, and maybe the biggest one is: Is this like a dad story?  Do you know what I mean?  Sometimes as parents we tell stories that are designed to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.  For example, my dad used to tell me that I needed to eat my vegetables so I’d grow hair on my chest.  He meant that I would grow strong and healthy, which is true, but of course I didn’t want hair on my chest, so his words didn’t achieve the desired effect.

Pinochio2_1940This story in Acts reminds me of the story of Pinocchio.[2] Do you remember this story?  What happens to Pinocchio when he tells a lie?  His nose grows.  How many of you have ever thought that this might happen to you if you told a lie? What if it could?  Who really nose?

It happened to this guy!  Man with long nose shocked surprised

No, it didn’t, of course.

If anybody tells you your nose will grow if you tell a lie, don’t listen to them.  They’re lion.DontListentohimHesLion

In our reading from Acts today, Ananias and Sapphira are lion.

Just before this story in Acts, we read that this growing new community of Jesus followers is meeting daily in the temple and sharing meals together.  They’re helping each other out, and if one person has more they’re sharing it with someone who has less.  One of them, Joseph, who is also called Barnabas, the encourager, even sells a piece of land and gives all the money to the disciples to distribute to those who need it. (Acts 4:32-37)  It’s a beautiful scene of people getting along and helping each other out.  We sometimes hold up these verses as the picture of the ideal church, and think about how wonderful it would be if we could all be like that.

But just when you think everything is perfect, here come Ananias and Sapphira.

Last week we started a daily reading plan through the book of Acts, and I encouraged us as we’re reading to ask God to help us see the Holy Spirit working in these stories. One of the ways is in the people showing the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness….  (Gal. 5:22-23) Barnabas is kind and generous, the work of the Holy Spirit.  But Ananias only pretends that he is being kind and generous, and in doing so he has lied to the Holy Spirit and to the church.  If Ananias had given the money and said, “Here’s some of the money I got from selling my property and I wanted to share it with you,” then we’d probably be saying that Ananias is also kind and generous like Barnabas. Instead, Ananias is pretending to be generous, trying to look like he’s living a transformed life, but he’s not.

I learned a big lesson about lying when I was very young, around three or four. My mom was a teacher, and she had the kids in her class make handprints in plaster, like this one that my daughter Tess made when she was a kid.  20190616_163323My mom had kept them to dry and she was delivering them to the families.  I remember the handprints were all across the back seats of our VW van on trays.  When we got to a house, she left me in the car while she went up to the door, and her parting words to me were, “Don’t touch any of those.”  So guess what I did?  I picked one up to look at it . . . and I dropped it, and it broke.  So I hurriedly put it back on the tray, and pushed the pieces together, hoping she wouldn’t notice.  Of course, she DID see right away that it was broken, and so she asked me, “How did that happen?”  Silly question.  There was nobody there except me.  But I think she was trying to give me the benefit of the doubt, giving me an opportunity to come clean.  Guess what I said?  “I dunno.”  Boy, did I get in trouble, not because I’d done what she told me not to do, not because I’d broken the handprint, but because I’d lied about it.  That was Ananias’ problem, too, that he’d lied about what he was giving.

Lying is a problem, and something we try to teach our kids not to do, and especially not to make a habit of doing, because the more we do something, the easier it gets.  Just like practicing the piano makes playing the piano easier, practicing lying makes it easier, too.  We’ve talked before about how practicing thankfulness changes our brains.  Lying also does.  We gradually feel less and less guilty each time, as our brains adapt to accommodate our dishonesty.  The more we lie, the more we dampen our ability to know when we’re lying.[3]  Small lies get us started, and the lies grow, just like Pinocchio’s nose.

It’s not quite so simple, though.  Sometimes we lie for good reasons.  When someone has made something for us, and they’ve put a lot of love and effort into making it, we don’t tell them it’s ugly or it tastes bad, even if those are true, because we don’t want to hurt their feelings.  During WWII when Hitler was trying to eliminate everyone of Jewish descent, people lied to the soldiers about the people they were hiding.  So it’s not just as simple as whether to lie.  The intent behind the lie also matters.  Our motivations matter.[4]  Ananias is pretending he’s doing something to help the poor, when his real motivation was to make some money for himself.

Peter is also displaying another gift of the Spirit that we read about in 1 Corinthians 12 – IMG_20190615_064837_760discernment.[5]  Peter is able to discern that Ananias is blocking the work of the Holy Spirit and instead listening to another spirit, Satan, who is also called the Father of lies.

When Peter confronts Ananias, Peter’s words have a dramatic effect!  We don’t know exactly what happens to Ananias here. I imagine Ananias was mortified when he heard that Peter knew his secret.  He was shocked, and maybe so ashamed that he wanted to die.[6] Maybe Ananias was so shocked that he had a heart attack.The Greek word here is rather interesting: Ekpsuko.  It literally means that the life went out of him.  Some versions say he expired, or breathed his last.  Last week when we were talking about the valley of the dry bones from the vision seen by the prophet Ezekiel (Ez. 37), we saw how Ezekiel asked the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into the bodies and they came to life.  Now the opposite happens to Ananias.  The breath goes out.  In the King James version, it says he “gave up the ghost.”  That’s actually where we get that saying.

Some commentators[7] say that an example was made of Ananias and Sapphira so that everyone would know how dangerous hypocrisy is for the church.[8]  It’s dangerous because when we lie, we are blocking the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead of growing in our faith, we get stuck in shallow faith.  We might think that’s making too much of a small thing, but researchers have found that hypocrisy is often given as a reason that people don’t want to go to church or to hear about God or Jesus.[9]  People are looking for authenticity and a real connection with God.  We all need God’s love and grace.   Evidence of this need is the fact that depression and suicide rates are continuing to rise.[10]  At the simplest level, it means that too many people are giving up the ghost.  They’re seeing life as hopeless.  One of the reasons is that we’re connecting more through social media because we long for connections and we aren’t able to make them with the people around us.  We’ve been hurt by lies, and those hurt even more when they come from people who are supposed to be loving us.

We profess that our hope is found in Jesus Christ and that following Jesus has changed, even saved our lives.  We profess that God’s love fills our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit living and working in us. But all too often, we also give up.  We aren’t perfect at following Jesus, and too often we’re afraid to be honest about that.

Telling the truth is hard, and God knows that about us, because God made us.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  But Jesus told us the Holy Spirit would help us.  He said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

We need to trust the Spirit to guide us. Proverbs 3:5-6 in the Message version helps us with this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
Run to God! Run from evil!

We can’t hide anything from God. God knows our hearts. In our daily prayers, we can ask God to help us live with integrity.  The Psalms give us some great prayers for confessing this.  Psalm 139:23-24 says:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

David wrote words of confession into lots of his psalms.  The one we read today was written after David messed up and asked God for forgiveness.  David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and she got pregnant.  David tried to hide his sin by having her husband killed.  He worked hard to hide, but he realized he couldn’t hide from God.  So he confesses to God, pleading for God’s mercy in the words of Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:10 is our memory verse for this week says:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Ananias and Sapphira lied to God. They held back their hearts from God and when Peter confronted them, they gave up the ghost.  That same word is used in another place in the Bible.  In the gospel of Mark 15:37 when Jesus dies on the cross. Mark says, “…Jesus Mark 15cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.”

Building authentic relationships with God and with one another is hard work.  It means being vulnerable and admitting to our struggles and our faults.  Because it’s hard, we give up and hide and hold back from one another and from God.  Jesus held nothing back, so that nothing could keep us from God.   Jesus gave everything so that we all could know God’s amazing love and grace. Because of Jesus, God sees us with eyes of grace. He calls us to trust him with all that he has given us – our money, our gifts and talents, our fears and failures, and our very lives.

Let us hold nothing back from Jesus who loves us more than life, so that we can live authentic lives of faith.

 

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/Jokes/comments/2yk7tn/smiting/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinocchio_(1940_film)

[3] https://steemit.com/philosophy/@joelgonz1982/because-the-brain-of-a-fake-person-works-differently This article summarizes some of the findings from research published here: https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4426.epdf?referrer_access_token=EQ0M92aJ6799txbilgE4hNRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PB5NSmVpFfhwCDyZeXsazdImP0M7r7irlfnJ9nEjsdflGggS1W9r-AVomPHk2aiwvYW0OWFCY5-lGqKQY6DsIQ1xBheg_dbx0XVNjlVZLrgBuYXXtyjezUJ6ZCrDeH3v-Gy33-2kp4nZP1q3gLsgHV7u0ugY1A0YKCccPKGQS4FsN0xKIg41bjuwLJeVWoV-U%3D&tracking_referrer=edition.cnn.com

[4] https://www.fastcompany.com/3035863/when-lying-is-good

[5] Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Acts (Waco, Word Publishing: 1983), p119.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Including Calvin: https://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/acts/5.htm

[8] “The church in the person of Peter confronts the lies of Ananias and Sapphira, because deceit of ones self or ones brothers and sisters in the church is a way that leads to death.” Willimon, William H.. Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 54). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Discussed by David Kinnamen and Gabe Lyons at length in the report of their research: UnChristian (Grand Rapids, Baker Books: 2007) p. 41ff.

[10] Studies are finding that one of the biggest increases is in girls ages 10-14.https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/05/17/724299570/suicide-rate-among-girls-rising-faster-than-for-boys-study-finds

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