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ApPeter.jpgMissional communities are not perfect, idealized, romanticized communities. They are apostolically-shaped but still sin-influenced. They are called to join Peter on their knees. 

As is made clear time and again in Beverly Gaventa’s The Acts of the Apostles (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries) the Book of Acts describes the mission of God in which the Church participates. The mission, though, is God’s mission and God alone is the Perfect One. The Church contains the sort of person who obeys and loves God and others, but who also disobeys and does not love God or others. To use Luther’s category, and I know of no better one, Christians are simultaneously saints and sinners. Here is the principle text for today (and, as I almost always do, I quote the TNIV from Acts 4:36–5:11:

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.

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 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? 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.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”  “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

There are all kinds of attempts to explain this text. What it says is that two people conspired to lie in a day when everyone was sacrificing for others. The implication is that they wanted the glory but didn’t want to pay the price. The text implies that God struck them with death because of their sin. The timing is providential. The conclusion — death and fear of God — is compelling. Peter’s message to them is that the sin of lying and deception is not before humans, though it is that too, but it is before God.
As Gaventa observes, the event is important to Luke — it shows the holiness needed in the community of God. Words and commitments matter; the words of Ananias and Sapphira remind of the Korban rules of Mark 7 — once committed, the funds are surrendered for profane purposes — and even of the sin of Achan in Joshua 7.
Missional communities are apostolically-led but sin remains in the community; sin, however, is not tolerated. Missional communities, then, live in fear of God.
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