Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 7, 2024

Acts 4:32-35 Commentary

As we start in on a series of texts from Acts, I’m mindful that the lectionary gives us brief excerpts drawn out of significantly longer narratives.  Although you may not be able to read the full story in the Scripture reading, I think it is essential that the narrative context of these excerpts is honored in the preaching.

Expanding the text or, rather, setting these short verses in their context, means that this Sunday’s sermon can cover all the things we don’t like to talk about in polite company: money, sex and power.


Consider how frequently Luke wrote about money in the Gospel of Luke: parables about debtors, rich fools, talents, and unjust stewards.  Luke brings us classic texts about money squandered hoarded and given freely (The prodigal son, the rich man and Lazarus and the good Samaritan, respectively.)

Is it any wonder, then, as he relates the story of the early church, the theme should arise again? Money, argues Luke in both his Gospel and these Acts of the Apostles, poses a great temptation.  It is what we use to make ourselves safe, even comfortable. It is what we use to measure our worth. It is what we use to build walls between the haves and the have-nots.

Consider, then, what sanctified money can do.  If Jesus’ resurrection truly changes everything, then it must also change our relationship to money.  Willie James Jennings writes of the early church: “Money here will be used to destroy what money normally is used to create: distance and boundaries between people.”  And NT Wright adds, “Being of one heart and mind is less about agreeing to the same sets of core doctrines or feeling the same feelings/having the same experiences in worship. Rather, in the Jewish context and idiom, this related to seeing another person’s need as one’s own.”

The result of a sanctified relationship with money in the early church, says Wright, creates a best case scenario which ‘the work of the people of God is such that it ‘quietly upstages’ all other claims to religion, ethics, morality, etc. Of course, as we quickly see in the very next story, God’s people do not always deliver on best case scenarios.


The story of Ananias and Sapphire is a tricky one and I wouldn’t blame you for avoiding it — it falls outside the boundaries of the assigned lectionary text after all.  But, placed in close proximity to this morning’s text, the two work in tandem to reveal a greater truth. If Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, then it changes our relationship with money and that changes our relationships with one another.

When you belong to God, you belong to a covenant and to a community. When you belong to God, you agree to live your life, make your decisions, offer yourself completely in relationship to others.  So what Ananias & Sapphira get wrong is their assumption of the primacy of their independence in relationship to one another instead of their covenantal inter-dependence with the larger community.

Willie Jennings argues: “It is precisely as a couple that they planned their deception. It was precisely as a couple that they engaged in their economic calculations … The couple agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test. This is not the first couple to test God. Indeed, from the first couple made one flesh by God, God has had to contend against its plans.”

  • Adam and Eve decided together that they would rather be gods than be in relationship to God.
  • Abraham and Sarah knew that God had promised them a child but they made a plan to accomplish it their own way.
  • As the Israelites moved into the Promised Land, Achan and his wife conspired to keep some of the plunder and the pagan gods as spoils of war even though the whole community had agreed to leave it all behind.
  • Ahab and Jezebel conspired against God’s prophet Elijah.
  • Add to this all the stories — not just of couples but of families — who prioritized loyalty to brother or mother or sister or father over their loyalty to God’s covenant and God’s community. In fact, Luke records a rather startling rebuke from Jesus on this matter. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sister — yes, even his own life — he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

To belong to God is to belong to the demands of discipleship, the constraints of a covenant, and the intimacy of a community striving together to follow God. To belong to God is to offer yourself and your resources to others, tearing down barriers, rather than creating new hierarchies within the covenant community. Which means that, when you belong to God, the central operating unit isn’t marriage. It isn’t the family.  When you belong to God, you belong — with a new and primary loyalty — to the people of God.


Why does it matter that we get this right? That we take back the work of intimacy from romantic attachment and the work of vulnerability from the exclusivity of marriage? It matters because Acts moves on from the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Acts turns our attention, again, to those who are on the margins, sitting at Solomon’s Colonnade. Those who are alienated, verbally bullied and physically targeted. Those who are made to feel inferior or unsafe.

But now, because of the church’s resources, they are not ignored or passed by.  In fact, the crowd is bringing the sick and those who are tormented into the community of those who believe in a love so radical that no longer belongs only to those in marriages or biological families.  In fact, this radical love creates a new family in which the work of love and vulnerability and intimacy belongs equally to all.

It matters that we get this right because the world is still full of broken people who need to be healed and lonely people who need to belong and vulnerable people who need to be safe. Getting intimate is so much bigger than wedding rings and marriage beds, y’all.  And marriage beds and wedding rings are themselves no guarantee of true intimacy.


90-Day-Fiance, Married at First Sight, the whole consortium of Bachelor and its spin-offs.  The world is eager for belonging and intimacy.  You don’t have to watch any of these shows for long (and you don’t have to watch any of these shows full stop) before you hear someone confess they are eager to fall in love because they don’t want to be alone.  These are the options the world gives: marriage or loneliness. Hook-up or be alone. Relationship or irrelevance. Willie James Jennings sums it up: “Modern coupling is an energy-draining vortex that seeks to capture all our imaginative capacity for intimacy.”

What the early church had to offer was so much better and so much more. Will Willimon says, “The power which broke the bonds of death on Easter, shattered the divisions of speech at Pentecost, and empowered (a man to walk again) now releases the right grip of private property.” Just imagine the powerful witness of a church in which money, sex and power are all transformed by the power of resurrection — isn’t that what the Easter season is for?


Preaching Connections: ,
Biblical Books:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter!

Insights on preaching and sermon ideas, straight to your inbox. Delivered Weekly!

Newsletter Signup