Sunday, July 15, 2012

To Hell With Your Money - Acts 8:9-24

Acts 8:9-24

Note: Were I to do this text again, I would focus more on the temptation to sell out and lift up the disciples as an example of not selling out.  Love the illustrations of T. Campolo about some of his former students. 
Intro:(From B Gaventa, Acts, p 137-39:)
“Having briefly depicted the gospel’s powerful arrival among the crowds of Samaria, the evangelist Luke turns to an individual whose response to the gospel is far more complicated.” Simon the magician is impressed by Philip, and by his teachings.  But it seems Luke does not have a positive impression of Simon.
By calling him a magician, he suggests he’s a charlatan.  Jews are strictly prohibited from any involvement in magical practices. (Duet 18:9-14), not just because it is deceptive but because it is associated with idolatry and with the demonic.
Making things worse, Simon has been preaching about himself and his own abilities, which is what the devil suggested Jesus do when he was tempted.

The Samaritans had been fascinated by Simon the Great Magician.
But when Philip comes on the scene they quickly change their allegiance. 
Simon is no longer the one who amazes; but, interestingly, he himself is amazed by Philip’s teachings as well; he believes and was baptized.

When Peter and John come to witness the profound movement of the gospel among the Samaritans; they lay hands on many people who receive the Holy Spirit. 

That does it for Simon. 
He reaches right for his wallet. 

How do the Apostles respond? 

Let’s read it together.  First in Spanish, then English as found in the bulletin, using the Message translation. 

Hechos 8:9-24

Dios Habla Hoy (DHH)
9 Pero había allí un hombre llamado Simón, que antes había practicado la brujería y que había engañado a la gente de Samaria haciéndose pasar por una persona importante. 10 Todos, desde el más pequeño hasta el más grande, lo escuchaban atentamente y decían: «Éste es a quien llaman “el gran poder de Dios”.»
11 Y le hacían caso, porque con su brujería los había engañado durante mucho tiempo. 12 Pero cuando creyeron en la buena noticia que Felipe les anunciaba acerca del reino de Dios y de Jesucristo, tanto hombres como mujeres se bautizaron. 13 Y el mismo Simón creyó y se bautizó, y comenzó a acompañar a Felipe, admirado de los grandes milagros y señales que veía.
14 Cuando los apóstoles que estaban en Jerusalén supieron que los de Samaria habían aceptado el mensaje de Dios, mandaron allá a Pedro y a Juan. 15 Al llegar, oraron por los creyentes de Samaria, para que recibieran el Espíritu Santo. 16 Porque todavía no había venido el Espíritu Santo sobre ninguno de ellos; solamente se habían bautizado en el nombre del Señor Jesús. 17 Entonces Pedro y Juan les impusieron las manos, y así recibieron el Espíritu Santo.
18 Simón, al ver que el Espíritu Santo venía cuando los apóstoles imponían las manos a la gente, les ofreció dinero, 19 y les dijo:
—Denme también a mí ese poder, para que aquel a quien yo le imponga las manos reciba igualmente el Espíritu Santo.
20 Entonces Pedro le contestó:
—¡Que tu dinero se condene contigo, porque has pensado comprar con dinero lo que es un don de Dios! 21 Tú no tienes ningún derecho a recibirlo, porque delante de Dios tu corazón no es recto. 22 Abandona esta maldad tuya, y ruega a Dios, para ver si te perdona el haber pensado así. 23 Porque veo que estás lleno de amargura y que la maldad te tiene preso.
24 Simón contestó:
—Oren ustedes al Señor por mí, para que no me pase nada de esto que me han dicho.

In English....

"To hell with your money! And you along with it.
Why, that's unthinkable—trying to buy God's gift!

I wonder how long Eugene Peterson, who translated the greek into THE MESSAGE deliberated over the words he was going to choose for this verse.

To hell with your money...and you along with it! Them words is harsh!

When’s the last time you told someone
To hell with whatever?” a show of hands, please...
In JEsus’ name of course! .

The NRSV translates the verse much more tamely:
 "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money!

Clearly, the boys running the show, peter and john, are pretty upset. Their response to Simon is not very pastoral, as they go on to describe him as existing in the gall of bitterness and entrapped in chains of wickedness...

Clearly, whatever Simon is doing is not what the disciples or God are all about. 

And, yet, my question for us this morning, how different are we, in society, from Simon?

There’s always some sucker out there who thinks that because he or she has a bunch of money...he or she can buy whatever they want... and the church and spirituality and God aren’t off limits.

Buy off the pastor..Any of you know any pastors who have been bought? Maybe I’m one of them?
Buy the church building...named for such and such a family.
Buy a ticket to heaven.  That’s the way money works.
Buy the Holy Spirit.  why not?
What is money for if it’s not to buy whatever we want whenever we want it!

Sell me your secret, Simon says.  How much do you want!
As different as the church and society was back when the church was not a building from the way it is now...
when we want something, what’s our best chance of getting it....

money money money money

What did Jesus say was the root of all evil?  Money!
And so did the O’Jays....


Our relationship with money is complicated...
And the truth is the way we relate to money is old habit...
and one of money-lust.
It’s a hard habit to break...maybe the hardest. 
Scripture doesn’t shy away from talking about money.
But, often in the church, we do, except when its stewardship season, and we say, give.
And maybe we do, in order to influence.
Maybe we don’t in order to influence

I’m wondering if this passage can be a helpful reminder of how important a healthy relationship with money ought to be, and Simon a reminder of how hard it is to have a healthy relationship with money. 

How do we align our walk of faith with our use of and relationship with the almighty dollar? 

The alternative is to simply buy into the system, thinking that money can buy happiness..
Thinking that money can buy the Holy spirit and salvation.
To hell with your money! 

Recently, I read what is probably the best book I’ve read on the topic of money. I want any who are interested to take this book title down and see about checking it out from the library or downloading it to your Kindle.

Lynne Twist - The Soul of Money. (repeat)

Twist  names the realities of the old money lusting habits we have;
and knows that for most of us, it’s not something we think aligns with our deepest and truest values.

I’d like to read two fairly long excerpts from her book which I think illustrate well what we’re up against when it comes to our relationship with money.  

In the opening chapter Twist says: “if we peel back thousands of years of cultural conditioning and assumptions to take a fresh look at money, we can begin with some basic observations.  Money is not a product of nature. Money does not grow on trees. Money is an invention. We made it up and we manufacture it. It is an inanimate object that has appeared in many different forms in its more than 2500 to 3500 year history, whether we’re talking about shells or stones, coins, a paper bill or a blip on the computer screen.  From the very beginning, money was invented to facilitate the sharing and exchanging of goods and services among individuals and groups of people.  Money still facilitates the sharing and exchange of goods and services, but somewhere along the way the power we gave money outstripped its original utilitarian role. 

Now rather than relating to money as a tool we created and control, we have come to relate to money as if it is a fact of nature, a force to be reckoned with.  This stuff we called money, massed-produced tokens or paper bills with no more inherent power than a notepad or a Kleenex, has become the single most controlling force of our lives. 
Money has only the power that we assign to it, and we have assigned it immense power.  If we look only at behavior, it tells us that we have made money more important that we are, given it more meaning than human life. 
Humans have killed for it, enslaved other people for it, and enslaved themselves to joyless lives in pursuit of it.

In the name of money, humankind has done immense damage to Mother Earth. We’ve destroyed rain forests, dammed and decimated rivers, clear-cut redwoods, over fished rivers and oceans, and poisoned our soil with chemical wastes from industry and agriculture.  We’ve marginalized whole segments of our society, forced the poor into housing projects, allowed urban ghettos to form, exploited whole nations to get cheaper labor, and witnessed the fall of thousands--in fact, millions--of people, many of them young, caught up in selling drugs for money, hurting others and wasting their own promise in a life of crime, enslavement, or incarceration.  We’ve perpetuated age old traditions that assign men and women different and unequal access to money and the power we place in it, subjugating women and distorting men’s expectations and obligations with their privileged access to it. 

There is little that we accept so completely as the power and authority of money, and assumptions about how we should feel about it.  We challenge assumptions about every other facet of life: race, religion, politics, education, sex, family, and society.  But when it comes to money, we accept it not only as a measure of economic value but also as a way of assigning importance and worth to everyone and everything in the world. We we talk about success in life, money is almost always the first, and sometimes the only, measure we use for it.” 

This story of Simon and Peter and John reminds us: money can’t buy everything.  MOney can’t buy God’s gift. 
How do we get right with God in relationship with our money?
How do we change our ways and break old habits? 

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle...

Really, the Twist book isn’t as much as a downer as the section I’ve drawn from may make it seem...
but here’s another potential downer.  Twist tells this story which shows how powerful and deeply rooted our current economic system is in creating a culture of money-lusters. 

I was living in Mexico on September 11, 2001.  When the towers fell, I was far from the dust , rubble, and and the aftermath of the collective responses across our nation.
I missed some of the deep connection and spirit found across the land. 
But here’s how Twist describes it which may speak to your own experience of what was happening at that time in our country (p209-:
“Immediately following the attacks...the extraordinary generosity and compassion of people’s responses filled the media and conversation all around us.
Day after day after day we heard the stories, not only of those who had died in the attacks or in heroic rescue efforts..., but also of the hundreds and then thousands who continued to step forward in every possible way to express their caring in the form of letters, prayers, food, clothing, and money for families of the victims and for rescue workers.  I remember going to the local blood bank near my home... and finding a line around the block of people waiting to give their blood. As we waited in line, everyone talked to each other, sharing the shock and the desire to respond in some meaningful way. Everyone and every conversation was about how we all could help. 

In those first weeks, it was as if we had all gone down to our own Ground Zero, the Ground Zero in our hearts and our souls.  The public conversation expressed the most beautiful values and behavior in the inspiring examples of the rescue workers, the world’s support and love for the American people, and every American’s desire to help....People opened their hearts in so many ways.  They openly expressed appreciation for their intact families as they wept for those who had lost loved ones. They laid down their religious differences and prayed together at interfaith gatherings. There was sudden compassion and concern for those in Afghanistan who had suffered under the oppressive rule of the religious extremists--especially the women and children.  There were candlelight ceremonies and vigils, and we all felt and knew that we were connected by generosity and compassion. 
Then after just a few weeks, when the collective state of shock and mourning started to show up as an economic downturn, specifically as a serious fall in retail sales, President George W. Bush in a televised address called upon Americans to support the economy by getting back to business, the business of spending money.  Shopping was portrayed as an expression of patriotism, a way to show the terrorists that they could not destroy our economy, our consumerism, the American spirits, or the American way of life. 

I remember, Twist says, in the days just following the president’s speech, at first there was an awkward, almost reluctant, halt in the public conversation of grief, generosity, and compassion.  Then the conversation began to turn, with only a slight pause and a trace of squeamishness, to the new order of the day. Within just a few days the newspapers and television news crews were at the malls interviewing shoppers as if they were foot soldiers on the front lines of this new consumer patriotism. Retail sales figures were reported more prominently, with headlines that treated those figures in a way that suggested buy retail goods was a measure of the nation’s emotional recovery from the terrorist assault.  Stories about people and community events that suggested a reflective or spiritual response were replaced with stories about the economy and the weekend’s top grossing movies.  Again and again, people interviewed at shopping malls became the media-appointed spokespeople for us all, describing their determination to shop and spend so as “not to live in fear.”

Back in that early church, thousands of years ago, a community existed that shared its resources, provided for those in need, preached and taught Jesus in their living and in their dying, and was determined not to sell out. 
Peter and John told Simon: To hell with your money. 
We cannot buy the Holy Spirit, which Luke suggests is a life lived without fear.
We cannot buy God’s free gift of grace. 
We cannot buy our way to being right before God. 

We are all in this together...

I don’t know about you, but I often feel in conflict about money and my relationship with it. I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t how much I need or want. I don’t know how to best use the resources I have. 
I would love to engage folks in a conversation about money....and I think using this book is a good starting point. 
I would love for Money Care to discuss this book or maybe other books that have been helpful for people, and suggest ways this congregation may be able to enter into a more healthy relationship with money. 

I’d  certainly be glad to help get that together and to be part of the conversation. 

After the scathing response of Peter and John to Simon’s attempt to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. 
Simon responds:
Oren ustedes al Señor por mí,
PRay for me. 

And so let’s pray for one another.

God, thank you for your free gift of Grace.  Thank you for your love for us. May our love for you always be greater than our love for money.
May our quest for you always be greater than our quest for money.
And may our money be used for your glory, for the good of this world.   

Keri Brinegar will continue to lead us in a time of prayer.   

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