This story of Ananias and Sapphira, husband and wife, sounds harsh to our twenty-first century ears. When it is found out that the couple have deceived the early church community of which they’re a part, they each drop dead. No one kills them; they just drop dead. Many scholars think this would remind the original hearers of a story in the book of Joshua in which those who deceived God, died. The emphasis then is on living a life of integrity in relationship to God and God’s community, the early church.
Though integrity is critical in a healthy church or community, I think there is more raised by the still speaking God for us. In our era, membership in church has evolved. Membership was once about rights and responsibilities. Our identity was connected to the institutions, churches and other groups, to which we belonged. As our American cultural and communal mistrust of all institutions, has grown over the last one-hundred years, this has gradually become less and less the case. Most of those who have come of age in the last ten to fifteen years are simply not joiners. This is the case for many older folks as well.
So what does it mean to be a member, of the church? Are we expected to hold all our possessions in common? Can we keep our own things as long as everyone within our community has enough? Is is ok if some within our church struggle to make ends meet while others live extremely comfortably?
We talk about being a welcoming and inclusive community church. We believe that every human being is beloved by God. But are there limits to behaviors and beliefs for those who are a part of our church? (Our old by-laws and constitution imply there are. Implicitly even we have boundaries in what we consider acceptable. It is not quite as simple as everyone is welcome no matter what even if that is what we like to think about ourselves.)
This story of the early church implies the expectations are different for insiders and outsiders. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira is they wanted it both ways. They wanted to claim insider status — membership — while failing to live up to the expectations and responsibilities required. In their case, sharing all the proceeds from their land sale with the community.
The Church Council is beginning the months (and maybe year) long process of revising the church constitution and by-laws so that they match how we currently operate. The first task before us is to define what it means to be a member of the Condon United Church of Christ. Our old documents have specific ideas about it that do not match how we function now.
I know of a UCC church in which all it takes to become a member is to write and sign your name in a book in the narthex. I know of some churches who have given up the concept of membership completely. Others have doubled down and increased the expectations of what it means to be a member.
Please read this biblical story prayerfully. What is the still speaking God telling us about what it means to live in community? What is the Spirit’s message about the nature of membership (or lack of it)? Think. Reflect. Doubt. Listen & Love.
See you Sunday,