Sermon from July 2nd, 2017

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“Basic Christianity #4: Motives Matter!”

Acts 5:1-16; John 12:1-11

By Pastor Ralph Boyer

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Sermon Text
Welcome to Christ Lutheran today and welcome if you’re listening on the radio.

Listen to these words from the Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Today we give thanks to the Lord---Our creator--- for the freedom to live in this great land and we pray for his blessing to renew our nation in following his path.

We continue in our sermon series on the book of Acts.  Today we’re in chapter 5.  We heard just a moment ago---

Acts 5:1  “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.”

Is this anybody’s favorite Bible story?  It’s a tough one.  I wish this story had a better outcome.
Acts 5:2-3  “With 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. Then 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?”

What’s the real issue here?  Was he required to give all of the money?  No, Peter said to him---

Acts 5:4  “Didn’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.”

Tom Wright says---“Let’s face it: most of us would have been relieved if Ananias and Sapphira had been confronted with their cheating, had confessed and repented….Instead, swift judgment falls on them, judgment of a sort which (despite popular impressions to the contrary) is highly unusual in the Bible. Mostly, nations and individuals who do wrong seem to get away with it for a long time, and even if judgment comes eventually it’s not always in the form people expect. What is different here? What is Luke (the writer of Acts) trying to tell us in and through it all?”

No, the issue was not that Ananias kept some of the money.  Ananias was allowed to freely decide what he would do with it.  The issue was that he lied---to God.

Does that mean that every time someone lies to God, they’ll drop dead?  No, the funeral homes wouldn’t be able to handle all the business if that was true.

Does death or misfortune come from the hand of God?  We need to remember Jesus’ response to that question.

In John 9:1-3 we read---“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

Jesus is saying that we can’t make direct correlations of God’s favor or judgement with the circumstances of life.

Jesus also said in Matthew 5:45   “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

The point here in Acts 5 is that when we want to be in relationship with the holy and almighty God of all, truthfulness is essential.  When we choose to be dishonest with the Lord---it won’t likely end like it did for Ananias and Sapphira---thanks to the mercy of God---but it will seriously damage our relationship with the Lord.

After all, when we play games with the truth, how can we really claim to know the one who is the way, the truth, and the life?
What form do those lies take?  It’s amazing how creative we can get with that!  There is the lie we tell ourselves that we are the source of life and not God.  There is the lie that we are fine just as we are, maybe a rough edge here or there, but we don’t need a savior!  There are the lies about what really matters in life.
The basic problem with lying to God is that it creates a great chasm between us and him as we try to make believe that life is very different than it really is.

And we are all stuck in that delusion.  Even the greatest leaders of the Christian faith like St. Paul.  He wrote---

Romans 7:15  “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Here Paul is being very honest about his struggle.  He wants to live by the truth but he can’t do it.  Why?  Because we are all riddled with sin.

Paul writes---

Romans 7:17  “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

And that’s the truth!

Romans 7:19  “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Does that ring true with anybody?

If you read the Daily Bread devotional, you read this week about Michelangelo and some of his sculptures.  There are some of them that he didn’t finish before he died.  But some art scholars believe he left some unfinished on purpose.   One is nicknamed the “Atlas Slave”.

The man seems to be carrying a huge weight on his head. He is nicknamed after Atlas, the mythical figure who held up the entire world on his shoulders. You can make out his face encased in stone---and his strong arms struggling to fight their way out of the stone.  But he’s stuck in the human condition of sin with no way out.
Paul knows the feeling of being stuck like that Atlas Slave!  “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

But thanks to the love and mercy of God, we are not stuck forever.

Romans 7:24-25  “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

That’s the truth we all need to know and hold fast to!  And as we experience the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we begin to see cracks in the stone of sin that enslaves us, as we come to know freedom in Christ.

Ananias and Sapphira played loose with the truth.  Their motives were impure.  And it ended in disaster.  But look at a very different example just one verse earlier.

Acts 4:36-37  “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

It seemed that Barnabas and Ananias did the exact same thing.  They sold some property which benefitted the Christian community.  But it wasn’t the same.  Barnabas, who later became a leader of the church, did it out of pure motives.  Ananias did it to get acclaim or recognition.

It’s not as important what you do, as it is how and why you do it.  In God’s eyes, motives matter!  Especially motives for why we give.

In the last year or so, there’s been a lot of talk about giving around here.  Building a new sanctuary.  A new water system for the children in Transkei, South Africa.  Supplies for Vacation Bible School. Support for the youth mission trip.

You might hear all of that and feel like you’re being pushed into giving.  And we should always be careful in how we talk about giving.  It is never our intention for anyone to feel pressured into giving.  Rather we want to make people aware of opportunities so you can freely decide how to use what resources the Lord has given you.  You can’t respond to all the needs.  But you also can’t respond if you don’t know the needs.

You’ve probably heard Pastor John and I say some things about our offering on Sunday morning.  Sometimes people refer to it as the “collection”.  I cringe when I hear that.  “Collection” implies something being taken from people.  An “offering” is something freely given.  Which is why we say that an offering should come not from feelings of guilt or obligation---but out of a sense of gratitude for all that the Lord provides.

Doug Brouwer writes, “Giving is at root a spiritual matter….It’s a very personal, spiritual matter, having to do with gratitude to God for what we have been given and trust that God will see to our needs.”

Paul puts it this way---

2 Corinthians 9:7  “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

A child reading this verse once put it, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not repulsively or under convulsions.”
“A cheerful giver” describes Barnabas very well.  “Repulsively or under convulsions” describes Ananias and Sapphira.  Motives matter, not only in giving but in how we live and act.

Of course because we are still struggling with that stone of sin that entraps us, we all operate out of mixed motives.  But just by being aware of that fact, we move toward operating less out of selfish motives and more out of the Lord’s!

Our Gospel reading for today is another great study of motives.

John 12:1-3  “Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

Mary was motivated to show her gratitude to Jesus, the one who raised her brother from the dead.

John 12:4-5  “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”
Judas’ question sounds reasonable, but his motive is not.

John 12:6  “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

You could question what Mary did if you didn’t know her motive.  But Jesus did know why she did what she did.

John 12:7-8  ““Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary made the most of this opportunity to show her gratitude to Jesus.  She had pure motives.  Judas did not.  Motives matter.

Of course you and I can never know the true motives of another person.  We can only know our own.  And those motives may be very mixed.
Left on our own we are like that Atlas Slave---entrapped in the stone of our sin.

But thanks be to God we are not left on our own!  Remember Paul’s message---

Romans 7:24-25  “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We can thank the Lord that because of what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection, our lives don’t need to be driven by seeking approval and recognition from God or the people around us.  Everything that matters most has already been done for us.  Life, forgiveness, relationships with the Lord, and his people, the gift of eternal life.

We don’t need to be motivated by grabbing those things for ourselves, like Ananias and Sapphira. Instead, like Barnabas, we can grow toward the true motivation of life---gratitude to the Lord for all he has done. 

We often say that life is a gift. Believing that, implies there is a giver of life---a giver, a creator, who deserves our gratitude.  For all of us, I pray that our gratitude may grow stronger every day---growing strong as we experience and appreciate the infinite gifts we all enjoy from the Lord.   That is the best motive for everything we do in life!


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