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  • Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – 04/12/2015

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 133
    1 John 1:1-2:2
    Acts 4:32-35

    Sermon:

    I never really got in trouble in school. It just wasn’t my thing. Never suspended, never got detention, never suspended, never failed a class. My mom always said that the reason I never got in trouble was that I was always very good at knowing just where the line was. And when I went through my teenage years, I really enjoyed walking up to that line, even standing on that line – but never crossing it.

    That can be pretty tricky for some kids. There are those kids who are so afraid of the line that they never approach it (and by the way, this is the best strategy; if you never get close, you never risk crossing it). My mom was definitely one of those kids. Never really set a foot out of line.

    There are the kids that cross the line constantly. I had a friend who was like that. My friend Matt. He and I used to sit around and say things like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and then one of us would suggest something funny. If it was going to get us into trouble, I wouldn’t do it. But he didn’t have that filter, and no matter how many times he got punished in school or grounded at home, he didn’t ever really learn where the line was. The good thing is, he’s grown up to be a successful person who works a good job and has a fiancée and everything.

    Then there are the other kids, who step out of line just once or twice. My dad was one of those. There’s a famous story in our family about my dad’s freshman year of high school. He was in math class. The teacher put a very difficult problem up on the board. This problem was beyond the abilities of most of the students, so the teacher said something like, “I bet none of you can solve this now. But by the end of this year, this will be easy. I bet you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I bet you don’t even know the first step of the problem.”

    Two things: number one, my dad is excellent at math; and number two, this teacher kept saying the phrase, “I bet.” Over and over, he said it. So my dad, tired of hearing this phrase and tired of hearing his math teacher make unsubstantiated claims about my dad’s formidable math abilities, answered by saying to the teacher: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    Now, I’m not sure how many of you were in school in 1965, but for those of you who were, I think you can agree with me that saying that phrase to a teacher during school was probably (and by “probably,” I mean “100%-certainly”) going to land you in a world of trouble.

    So my mom and I, who were never in trouble, tease my dad about this all the time. “Put your money where your mouth is,” is a phrase that gets said in jest in my family of origin a lot, because we like that story. And, of course, that story has a particularly high degree of resonance with our reading from Acts this morning.

    I have to admit that I think it’s odd that the lectionary has us in Acts at all in this season of Easter. Easter is the 7-week season beginning with Easter Sunday, and lasting until Pentecost. As I’m sure many of you know, Pentecost celebrates the day that the church was born. Yet, the lectionary gives us our biggest dose of Acts in the entire three-year cycle of texts right now, in Year B (which is this year), before Pentecost. Personally, I find that really odd. Nonetheless, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be reading from Acts and the letter of 1 John every week, since we’re also tracking that book. I’m not sure if I’ll preach exclusively from Acts or if I’ll actually sprinkle John in there as well, but it’s hard to know what I’m going to want to do for 7 weeks!

    Anyway, the book of Acts; as you may or may not know, the book of Acts is the story of the disciples. In chapter 1, Jesus ascends up to heaven, but leaves the disciples in charge. Acts is also notable in that it is the “sequel” to the Gospel of Luke; they’re written by the same author, and are really meant to be read as one unit. Our Bibles sort of mess that up by putting the book of John in between them.

    So this story from Acts is all about the very beginnings of the church. And, like so many other things, it struggles to tow the line between idealism and memory. This passage famously states a lot about the finances of the early church – and so if you’re uncomfortable with the fact that all the apostles were socialists, now’s the time to close your ears.

    The reading says, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” That’s pretty clear: they held all their goods in common, and distributed them to the people who needed them. Perhaps “socialist” is actually less technically accurate than “communist.” So, yeah. There’s that.

    But a fair question would be, “Is that actually how things were?” Well, yes; and no. Just as many, many people in the US today look back on the 1950s and claim that nothing was ever wrong back then (when, in fact, things weren’t that great – there was Cold War paranoia, a War in Korea that went too far because of a disagreement between a sitting president and a general which cost American lives, it was still pretty horrible to be a woman or a person of color, unreported child and spousal abuse was horrifyingly common, etc., etc.) – so too does this paint a too-rosy picture of an era which was, at the end of the day, pretty similar to the rest of time – we’re awfully good at romanticizing the “good ol’ days” – even the disciples did it. The book of Acts itself actually points out that not everyone was so into sharing. As the Feasting on the Word commentary points out, Barnabas is actually singled out for being one person who actually sold everything and gave the proceeds to the disciples if you continue our reading through verses 36 & 37.

    Furthermore, we learn that Ananias and Sapphira sold all their stuff, but didn’t share the all money in chapter 5; we learn in chapter 6 that widows were being shortchanged in terms of what they needed. So even Acts itself is proof that not all Christians were doing this. So why is it written this way, and are we actually supposed to emulate it?

    Whether we’re supposed to live like this is a hard question. But I’ve got a thought, at least as to why Luke would’ve written the story this way, even if people weren’t actually selling everything they owned and giving it to the church. The reason it’s written this way is not because it’s what actually was done; it’s because it’s what people wanted to do. It’s what people believed they should do. People may not have sold everything; but they did give most of what they had, and that’s certainly admirable.

    See, the early church was taken with the message of the apostles, and it actually changed the behavior of the people who heard the message. And what was that message? “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” People heard the story of this man who came, taught, healed, saved, died, and was raised again, and their lives were transformed. People weren’t just giving in to peer pressure or something like that. They heard the story of Jesus Christ, and their lives were different because of that message.

    Friends, we call ourselves Christians. We sit here, and we come to church, and we try to be good people. But I think a fair question to ask ourselves every once in a while is this: are our lives actually different because of Jesus Christ?

    That’s a question I struggle with. I like to think so. I think that I think about the thoughts and needs of others more because of Christ; I know that I’m more financially generous because of Christ. But sometimes I wonder if I truly do such a great job of showing people that I’m a true disciple. Because here’s the thing: the early church offered a challenge to its members, and it’s the same challenge my father offered to his math teacher in high school: put your money where your mouth is. Prove that you’re a disciple with how you live your life.

    So I don’t really think we’re being asked to sell everything we own and give the proceeds to the church. I’m certainly not going to ask you to do that. But we are asked to prove that we’re disciples, and I don’t think that’s too much of anyone to ask of any group of Christians.

    For the early church, it meant giving generously as people who didn’t have much. For us, living in the US today, with Presbyterians being (on average) the best-off financially of all people in the US, I don’t know that financial giving is the true test of discipleship. I’m not saying not to give money – it’s still important. It’s just that it’s sometimes too easy to give with our wallets, if that’s all we do.

    The real challenge of discipleship, the challenge set forth by Jesus Christ, is giving our lives. So don’t think about it as “put your money where your mouth is;” think of Jesus asking you to “put your life where your mouth is.” That’s a much tougher challenge, and it’s not measurable in dollars and cents, at least not only in dollars and cents; it’s measured in commitment. It’s measured in part in dollars and cents, and in part in prayer; in part in devotion to God; in part in love of neighbor; in part in prayer for enemies; in part in compassion to strangers; and most importantly, it’s measure in increasing the love of God throughout the world. So I ask that you really examine yourself today. Are you different because of Jesus Christ? Is your life different than it would be otherwise? Are you like the members of the early church, whose lives were truly and measurably transformed because of the Resurrection of this one amazing man? If so, great; keep doing it, and maybe there’s room to grow and do even more. If not, if your life is the same as it would be without Christ – well, maybe it’s time to re-examine your priorities, and instead of just saying you’re a Christian, to put your life where your mouth is. Amen.

  • Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – 04/12/2015

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 133
    1 John 1:1-2:2
    Acts 4:32-35

    Sermon:

    I never really got in trouble in school. It just wasn’t my thing. Never suspended, never got detention, never suspended, never failed a class. My mom always said that the reason I never got in trouble was that I was always very good at knowing just where the line was. And when I went through my teenage years, I really enjoyed walking up to that line, even standing on that line – but never crossing it.

    That can be pretty tricky for some kids. There are those kids who are so afraid of the line that they never approach it (and by the way, this is the best strategy; if you never get close, you never risk crossing it). My mom was definitely one of those kids. Never really set a foot out of line.

    There are the kids that cross the line constantly. I had a friend who was like that. My friend Matt. He and I used to sit around and say things like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and then one of us would suggest something funny. If it was going to get us into trouble, I wouldn’t do it. But he didn’t have that filter, and no matter how many times he got punished in school or grounded at home, he didn’t ever really learn where the line was. The good thing is, he’s grown up to be a successful person who works a good job and has a fiancée and everything.

    Then there are the other kids, who step out of line just once or twice. My dad was one of those. There’s a famous story in our family about my dad’s freshman year of high school. He was in math class. The teacher put a very difficult problem up on the board. This problem was beyond the abilities of most of the students, so the teacher said something like, “I bet none of you can solve this now. But by the end of this year, this will be easy. I bet you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. I bet you don’t even know the first step of the problem.”

    Two things: number one, my dad is excellent at math; and number two, this teacher kept saying the phrase, “I bet.” Over and over, he said it. So my dad, tired of hearing this phrase and tired of hearing his math teacher make unsubstantiated claims about my dad’s formidable math abilities, answered by saying to the teacher: “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    Now, I’m not sure how many of you were in school in 1965, but for those of you who were, I think you can agree with me that saying that phrase to a teacher during school was probably (and by “probably,” I mean “100%-certainly”) going to land you in a world of trouble.

    So my mom and I, who were never in trouble, tease my dad about this all the time. “Put your money where your mouth is,” is a phrase that gets said in jest in my family of origin a lot, because we like that story. And, of course, that story has a particularly high degree of resonance with our reading from Acts this morning.

    I have to admit that I think it’s odd that the lectionary has us in Acts at all in this season of Easter. Easter is the 7-week season beginning with Easter Sunday, and lasting until Pentecost. As I’m sure many of you know, Pentecost celebrates the day that the church was born. Yet, the lectionary gives us our biggest dose of Acts in the entire three-year cycle of texts right now, in Year B (which is this year), before Pentecost. Personally, I find that really odd. Nonetheless, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be reading from Acts and the letter of 1 John every week, since we’re also tracking that book. I’m not sure if I’ll preach exclusively from Acts or if I’ll actually sprinkle John in there as well, but it’s hard to know what I’m going to want to do for 7 weeks!

    Anyway, the book of Acts; as you may or may not know, the book of Acts is the story of the disciples. In chapter 1, Jesus ascends up to heaven, but leaves the disciples in charge. Acts is also notable in that it is the “sequel” to the Gospel of Luke; they’re written by the same author, and are really meant to be read as one unit. Our Bibles sort of mess that up by putting the book of John in between them.

    So this story from Acts is all about the very beginnings of the church. And, like so many other things, it struggles to tow the line between idealism and memory. This passage famously states a lot about the finances of the early church – and so if you’re uncomfortable with the fact that all the apostles were socialists, now’s the time to close your ears.

    The reading says, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. . . . There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” That’s pretty clear: they held all their goods in common, and distributed them to the people who needed them. Perhaps “socialist” is actually less technically accurate than “communist.” So, yeah. There’s that.

    But a fair question would be, “Is that actually how things were?” Well, yes; and no. Just as many, many people in the US today look back on the 1950s and claim that nothing was ever wrong back then (when, in fact, things weren’t that great – there was Cold War paranoia, a War in Korea that went too far because of a disagreement between a sitting president and a general which cost American lives, it was still pretty horrible to be a woman or a person of color, unreported child and spousal abuse was horrifyingly common, etc., etc.) – so too does this paint a too-rosy picture of an era which was, at the end of the day, pretty similar to the rest of time – we’re awfully good at romanticizing the “good ol’ days” – even the disciples did it. The book of Acts itself actually points out that not everyone was so into sharing. As the Feasting on the Word commentary points out, Barnabas is actually singled out for being one person who actually sold everything and gave the proceeds to the disciples if you continue our reading through verses 36 & 37.

    Furthermore, we learn that Ananias and Sapphira sold all their stuff, but didn’t share the all money in chapter 5; we learn in chapter 6 that widows were being shortchanged in terms of what they needed. So even Acts itself is proof that not all Christians were doing this. So why is it written this way, and are we actually supposed to emulate it?

    Whether we’re supposed to live like this is a hard question. But I’ve got a thought, at least as to why Luke would’ve written the story this way, even if people weren’t actually selling everything they owned and giving it to the church. The reason it’s written this way is not because it’s what actually was done; it’s because it’s what people wanted to do. It’s what people believed they should do. People may not have sold everything; but they did give most of what they had, and that’s certainly admirable.

    See, the early church was taken with the message of the apostles, and it actually changed the behavior of the people who heard the message. And what was that message? “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” People heard the story of this man who came, taught, healed, saved, died, and was raised again, and their lives were transformed. People weren’t just giving in to peer pressure or something like that. They heard the story of Jesus Christ, and their lives were different because of that message.

    Friends, we call ourselves Christians. We sit here, and we come to church, and we try to be good people. But I think a fair question to ask ourselves every once in a while is this: are our lives actually different because of Jesus Christ?

    That’s a question I struggle with. I like to think so. I think that I think about the thoughts and needs of others more because of Christ; I know that I’m more financially generous because of Christ. But sometimes I wonder if I truly do such a great job of showing people that I’m a true disciple. Because here’s the thing: the early church offered a challenge to its members, and it’s the same challenge my father offered to his math teacher in high school: put your money where your mouth is. Prove that you’re a disciple with how you live your life.

    So I don’t really think we’re being asked to sell everything we own and give the proceeds to the church. I’m certainly not going to ask you to do that. But we are asked to prove that we’re disciples, and I don’t think that’s too much of anyone to ask of any group of Christians.

    For the early church, it meant giving generously as people who didn’t have much. For us, living in the US today, with Presbyterians being (on average) the best-off financially of all people in the US, I don’t know that financial giving is the true test of discipleship. I’m not saying not to give money – it’s still important. It’s just that it’s sometimes too easy to give with our wallets, if that’s all we do.

    The real challenge of discipleship, the challenge set forth by Jesus Christ, is giving our lives. So don’t think about it as “put your money where your mouth is;” think of Jesus asking you to “put your life where your mouth is.” That’s a much tougher challenge, and it’s not measurable in dollars and cents, at least not only in dollars and cents; it’s measured in commitment. It’s measured in part in dollars and cents, and in part in prayer; in part in devotion to God; in part in love of neighbor; in part in prayer for enemies; in part in compassion to strangers; and most importantly, it’s measure in increasing the love of God throughout the world. So I ask that you really examine yourself today. Are you different because of Jesus Christ? Is your life different than it would be otherwise? Are you like the members of the early church, whose lives were truly and measurably transformed because of the Resurrection of this one amazing man? If so, great; keep doing it, and maybe there’s room to grow and do even more. If not, if your life is the same as it would be without Christ – well, maybe it’s time to re-examine your priorities, and instead of just saying you’re a Christian, to put your life where your mouth is. Amen.

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