Who’s Next?!


Closing Worship of ASC, MCL and GACOR: October 11, 2015

Psalm 130 and Acts 5: 1-11

“Who’s Next?!”

We all have at least one Annias or Sapphira in our lives, don’t we?

Those people who come to the microphone during a presbytery meeting and there’s a collective eye roll. Commissioners sit back in their pews, arms crossed, getting comfortable for the flood of words that is about to come from the sound system. It’s the mixture of anger, frustration, criticism, and Robert’s Rules that rolls off their tongues so easily…the finger that points to a problem but hands that are rarely a part of doing the repair work.

Or what about those churches who give just enough? Those congregations that have decided to withhold their per capita in defiance of the denomination but still hold the blue and red seal on their signs and “Presbyterian” in their names. Communities that rarely send teaching or ruling elders, but when you start to see their faces regularly, you wonder what they might want from the presbytery.

And it goes without saying as we near the season of overtures and preparations for General Assembly, those who plan conspire and plan together. The masters of strategy who lay out the ways that support can be garnered for their position…because of course, we don’t mean that it’s bad for those who agree with us to strategize! How else would we be sure to approve the measures that matter to us?!

I’m going to give you a moment to just imagine your own Ananias and Sapphira. Now imagine them pop, out of the picture!

What a breath of fresh air! New space created from what one of my good friends calls, “Energy vampires.”

In February I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have gone through round after round of chemo in the spring and surgery this past summer. Recently I went to see my oncologist who placed me on a medication saying, “Most women experience hot flashes. There is also an increased risk of cervical cancer, cataracts and liver cancer.”

I laughed. I let our giggles that could not be stopped. It just all seemed funny to me that one drug that could both prevent reoccurrence of my cancer, but also put me at risk of others.

I just happened to have an eye doctor’s appointment the same week and when I told the doctor what medicine I was on he said, “Did your oncologist tell you about the side effects.”

“Why yes, she said cataracts.”

“Oh, cataracts are the least of your worries!” he responded. “It can also effect the blood vessels in your eyes and increase your chances of other damage.”

Innocently, I asked, “So if my vision becomes blurry or I see spots, should I come in.”

“If you see any of those things…it’s too late.”

Everything about cancer treatment is all about measured risk, putting chemicals at just enough of our concentration into our bodies to kill the exact cells that give other people life. It includes obsessive hand washing, tapped energy levels, and losing hair for a new style that many of us would have not tried otherwise.

You see, for me, the hardest part about facing cancer wasn’t taking the drugs that could kill me, either now or in the future. It’s all about learning how to live into hope when I know what could be on the horizon, even if it is years or decades away.

You see, no one told me that I would have to navigate what it meant for me to live without cancer. In my head, I was sure that I should be celebrating that the surgeons were able to get clean margins around the tumor and that my lymph nodes showed that the cancer hadn’t spread. I should have been living as though I have gotten a second chance at life! The people around me were certainly celebrating. But inside, I just couldn’t jump up and cheer.

For the first time since my diagnosis, I felt unsettled.

Here was the problem: No one told me that I would have to figure out how to live while I was afraid of dying. No one told me that I would have to make memories that, years from now, I could possibly look back on with a smile that I had done that because I needed something to sustain me through the next crisis. I didn’t know how to live again.

All of Acts before our passage for this morning is about the radical movement of the Holy Spirit. This is a community that is literally on fire! We have the Spirit moving on Pentecost that sends those of unified mind out into the surrounding neighborhood to evangelize in tongues once unfamiliar to them. Leaders are confidently defending their trust in the teachings of Jesus and baptisms are happening like crazy.

The community has fully committed to this movement, living with everything in common. Only a few verses before this morning’s passage we are told that no one lacked. People were selling all of their property and giving everything that they earned to the community. Even a Levite man named Barnabas sold his land and placed all of the money at the apostles’ feet.

Most commentaries on this passage focus on the honest stewardship of Barnabas and the emptiness of Ananias and Sapphira. Not only did they lie to the apostles about their gift, but they conspired together to do it. They created their own partnership, trusting in what they could provide to one another over the community that was attempting to live with full reliance on one another.

But here’s the thing about Ananias and Sapphira: I think the community failed them, too. The apostles were sending the signal to the ever growing and changing community that they were to share everything in common. Maybe they were even encouraging people to sell their land and everything they possessed to lay the money at their feet. They were giving the big stewardship message that we are all told today NOT to give.

But what was missing in the message that Ananias and Sapphira couldn’t fully trust the community? I wonder if they thought…

This all sounds like a great deal, but what happens when the furvor is gone? What happens when the crowds leave, the conversions decrease, and we’re hungry for more than promises?

Do you think that they looked around at the society and culture around them, one that was full of deities and excess, and wondered if the ideals of this faith could be sustained? Where would their cushion be if it wasn’t? How could they return back to their status if they needed to?

What if they looked around and saw their neighbor’s slaves, the widow, those physically disabled, individuals facing illness…the marginalized… and wondered…what were they going to give? Why were they to give everything they owned to share with people who wouldn’t have to give anything near what they were asked to sacrifice? (I’d love to preach a sermon about the power and privilege steeped in these comments, but that’s for another time.)

No one told them how to live for their faith when they were asked to let everything that they had once valued.

No matter what led to their decision, Ananias and Sapphira die on the spot. The passage concludes, “Trepidation and dread seized the whole church and all who heard what had happened.”

The community became cautious and worried. I imagine they were asking, “Who’s next?” or even, “What did I sign up for?”

Here’s the thing: This is the first time that the community is actually called “church,” ekklesia in the Greek. In the midst of sadness and fear, they are gathered together as the people of God.

We’ve been talking over and over again about the necessity to have this conversation about what it means to be the Church today.

  • Heath’s call to the Church, Next Church, COGA’s invitation to talk about identity, the Fellowship’s exploration of the call to be together in difference…I could go on.
  • But I want to remind us that we are called to explore this together and I find my own call at this unique time and place to be sure that we are lifting up the voices of the full body of our denomination.
    • We have to have a conversation about the processes that many of us love, that some of us feel make us uniquely Presbyterian, and the ways that they favor those who possess power and privilege.
    • Puerto Rico à Who gets to decide what is an essential document for their community?
    • We need to explore who we are…that advocacy and justice work isn’t just a response to our call as people of faith, but a reflection of what it means to be the full body of Christ.
    • It’s the reason I have worked with Valerie Small to adjust her workshop for tomorrow morning to reflect on the conversation about what it means to be the Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), inclusive of the voices that are so often marginalized.

If you want to know what it means to face death, to give up everything for what you believe and the community that you love, you need to go no further than look at this table. This was the last meal of a death row inmate. And each time that we partake of this bread and this cup, we proclaim that it is our meal. We shout throughout all of Creation that his last meal is the same food that will feed us in our call to ministry.

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