Honesty and Integrity (14 May 2017)

Reading: Acts 4:32 – 5:11.

This is a contentious story from the Bible.  Lots of churches won’t tell the story.  That is, they might tell the story of how the believers shared everything in common, but they will skip the story of Ananias and Sapphira, because it’s so … what?  Unlike God?

Lots of people have a problem with a God who kills people.  Seriously, we need to open our eyes to this and have a really good look, because in this age we just love to make God in our own image, according to our own sensitivities.  We don’t like death, so God mustn’t be responsible for it.

But as far as I can tell, physical death is part of the plan.  We marvel at the balance of nature, but miss the important point that death is at the very heart of that balance.

Death is an unhappy thing for us, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is absolutely necessary for this world to work.  Death is part of God’s design.  But … and it is a HUGE BUT … physical death is not the end for us.  That is also part of God’s design.

In the account we have just read, God was doing something new and important beyond description.  As far as we can tell, the Holy Spirit poured out on the followers of Jesus was the very thing God had been planning as far back as we can see.  This was absolutely crucial to the good news about life in Jesus being shared across the world.

A wonderful thing had happened – the believers were so captured by the grace, the love and the power of Jesus, so caught up adjusting to life in the power of the Holy Spirit, that they were sharing their material possessions with great generosity.

Add to that we understand that in those early days they expected Jesus to return any time – that is, very soon.  Therefore materials possessions became to them of little value apart from their needs for that day.  That helps us understand it a bit better.

But in the midst of those radical authentic generosity, this couple Ananias and Sapphira take the stage.  What do they want?  They want the reputation of the completely generous ones, but they also want to keep half for themselves.  And they are prepared to lie to achieve their desire.

Let’s be clear – Peter’s response indicates that they were perfectly able to sell the property and give only half the money.  But to lie about it to gain a false reputation was a crime against the Holy Spirit.

Do you all know the TV show “Keeping Up Appearances”?  Well they were the early church Hyacinth Bucket.  And it was seriously offensive to God.

Here I want to hang my hat for this morning.  Keeping up appearances is no way for a follower of Jesus to behave.  Honesty, integrity, humility – these are marks truly following Jesus.  Pretending, making a good impression, going through the motions, keeping up appearances – these are poison to what God wants to do through us.

After Ananias and Sapphira had dropped dead in front of Peter, it says that great fear gripped the whole church.  I imagine it would.

Can you imagine the chatter at morning tea, if a couple of people dropped dead in front of us after I called them out for holding out in the offering?  I would imagine it would have a profound effect on us indeed (even apart from the murder charge against me, and all those who would never return).

The whole sharing thing is never mentioned again in the Bible, and for all we know that may have been the end of it.  However it does go on to say that that the people continued to be amazed by the miracles God performed through them.

Honesty and integrity are such key things.  It such things require humility.  I am a sinner – you should know that, and I should make no secret of it.  Jesus died that sinners might have life, and I qualify.  Do you?  Then there is no need to keep up appearances.

I have seen over the years that a surge in humble honesty among us most often coincides with a surge in God doing wondering things among us.

Duplicity, dishonesty, and keeping up appearances is the very opposite; it is the poison that defeats what God might do.

Where are you in this?  Do you know you’re a sinner?  Do you know you don’t deserve Jesus’ gift of life?  Good, you can have it then.  He wants you to have it.  But there is no need to keep up appearances of goodness.  Honesty is good for us, openness is good for us, it seems to let the Holy Spirit in to places that were locked and barred before.

Do you think your good name matters?  Nonsense!  The only good name here is Jesus, and his is the only name that matters in the end.

Oh that we might be amazed by God among us again.  Oh that we might not swallow personal pride, but rather spit it out and be done with it.  And instead of worrying about appearances, be consumed with the glory, the love and grace, and the power of God to give eternal life to the lost and broken.