About four years ago, I was on a mission trip in Ruidoso, New Mexico, down in a valley when my phone beeped. Because I had taken all of the middle schoolers’ phones and promised their parents if they needed to contact me in an emergency I would be available, I left our worksite and tried to get reception to check the message that had appeared. When I finally connected with voicemail, I only got part of the message from my stepdad, Malcolm. “Hello Arth—zzzkkkhthttt–I hope you get —zzzzhkktkkt—your mother—zzzzzkkhhhhtt—hit by a car—zkkkkkhttttt—going into surgery at—kkkhzzzztt. We’ll be here awhile, so—-kkkkhtttrztttt—having fun. Call me back. Bye.” Finding that a little too casual for my tastes, I hopped in one of our vans and drove until I found high enough ground to make a complete, uninterrupted phone call. (There were mission sponsors, first aid kits, plenty of water and another two vans with the youth, don’t worry.) And when I calmly called Malcolm, I got the full story: my mother was out bicycling and got run over by a man who did not check before turning right. She had severely broken her leg, but she’d be fine. Crisis averted and all that.
What happens when only part of the message gets through? There was a Simpsons episode years ago in which the eponymous family was abducted by two incompetent extra-terrestrials, Kodos and Kang. Thinking that they would be devoured, Bart and Lisa found their cookbook: “How to Cook Humans.” Kodos blew off dust, and it read, “How to Cook For Humans.” Lisa blew off more dust, showing, “How to Cook Forty Humans,” following one final puff from Kang revealing the full title: How to Cook FOR Forty Humans. Knowing only part of the story might create the wrong impression, offer the wrong advice, or provide the wrong conclusion to the story.
This Sunday, as we continue to look at the Church in Acts to see how it was alive, and how we are alive, the scripture will be Acts 5:1-11. You know, the story where two people sell a field, claim they’ve given all of the profit to the Church but haven’t, and then drop dead immediately because they lied about money? What? It’s not in Children’s Bibles or the Lectionary or ever really talked about? Because it’s freaky, weird and gives off the fine odor of bullying theology? What if this is a vital part of the story of the Church, of Acts, of the New Testament, of the faith, and we just have to shake it up a bit and see what falls together?
I hope you’ll come and hear the whole thing on Sunday; I look forward to seeing you then.