The Journey: Faithfully Ever After
April 22, 2018
Disney World was not a destination of my childhood. My family was more the ‘church camp-or wherever the summer church annual meeting was located’ kind of vacation family.
We weren’t deprived by any means. We traveled quite a bit (to relatives in California and other places)…but rarely south…and never to the happiest place on earth.
And so maybe this was the reason that the very minute I thought our kids were ready for Disney…off we went.
Leaving a baby Maggie home with my parents, we took the olders to Orlando. And our first stop was of course, the Magic Kingdom.
We made our way down main street as a crowd was gathering around the castle…the castle…you know, the one that has begun every movie I’ve seen over the past 10 years. The one that changes color, shoots fireworks, and serves as the focal point for every fairy tale Disney has animated..
It is the embodiment of happily ever after…
And it was the location of the show that was just getting underway when we reached the end of Main Street.
The show starred Mickey of course. But soon the whole gang joined in…Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daffy…
Then the princesses came out…all of them, each with the appropriately proportioned prince…
And they danced and swirled and lip synched…
But all of a sudden, the evil witch Maleficent burst out from the castle…with pyrotechnics to match her evil, amplified laugh…and she threatened to steal everyone’s dreams. Cue evil laugh again…as if stealing dreams is funny? Mickey and his compadres cower in fear. With classic exaggerated affect…”Oh no! She will steal our dreams!!!”
And then Mickey came forward to the crowd, and tells us all that if we believe in our dreams…we can do anything.
So 1, 2, 3…dream!
And the power of our dreams blew Maleficent over and everybody does a song and dance…and the music swells…and the sparkling fireworks go off…and every lives happily ever after!
I don’t know if it was the early flight, the 5 years of sleep deprivation, or the magic sparkle dust Disney pumps into the air…but I suddenly realized that this saline- type substance had welled up in my eyes.
Whatever they were selling at that castle…I was buying. I believed in fairy tales.
Until about 6:00 that night when both kids suffered major meltdowns…
Disney thrives off the 4 minute fairy tale…the broad strokes of happiness…the lack of nuance and problems…
Once upon a time…introduce complication…resolve complication at the very last second possible…happily ever after.
And it works for kids…and adults too! Until we realize that fairy tale moments are fleeting…pretty soon our feet hurt, we’re hungry, and we’re looking for relief on the other side of ‘happily ever after.’
I’m finding that more and more…that’s the story I want to hear.
What happens on the other side? What was Cinderella and Prince Charming’s marriage like 15 years later? Did he unbunch his socks before putting them in the dirty clothes? I’d like to know!
I find that way more interesting than whether or not the shoe fit… What happens on the other side of ever after?
I mention all of this because today’s passage can easily be seen as the ultimate Biblical Fairy Tale…
The once upon a time when everything was perfect…the four minute show in front of the castle…
Our story begins in Acts chapter 4, beginning in verse 32: Once upon a time (that’s not really there…)
2 All the believers were one in heart and mind. Lots of sharing here…
Everyone getting along there…
And then Prince Joseph from the Kingdom of Cyprus…but he’s also know as Barnabas, because that sounds just like Joseph…sells his field, brings the money to the royal subjects…
And everyone lives happily ever after. (that’s not really in there either).
There are so many things to love about this passage, but honestly, there’s an equal measure to be wary of as well.
The tale it tells is beautiful…a community of believers who are of one mind, one heart, one wallet…
And if this is where the story ended…it could have easily been filed into classic fairy tale literature, set to music, and won an Oscar for best animated movie…
Luke’s scene paints broad strokes: he uses words like EVERYONE and NO ONE.
And I at least find myself asking, “Really? Everyone shared? Everyone got along?"
That’s what it says.
But place this passage in its larger context…in the book of Acts…and we know that it is anything but happily ever after…
These few verses are the Disney castle in the midst of a mess.
Once upon a time, people were sharing, selling, providing for one another.
But all around them, they were being persecuted, run out, questioned, and even killed.
The passage immediately following this one is one of the most disturbing tales in all of scripture…
Ananias and Sephira, believers and part of this community…sold some land, just like Barnabas did. But they held back a portion of their earnings…and even more, they lied about it.
So they were both struck down dead. Wait, what?
What happened to everyone getting along?
What happened to everyone was of the same mind? What happened to happily ever after?
These passages live next door to each other.
One minute everyone is sharing, and the next minute people are being struck down for keep a bit to themselves.
And it’s not just here…but all around the neighborhood of this passage…
One minute Peter is in front of the Sanhedrin fearing for his life, and the next minute he’s healing everyone in sight.
One minute Stephen is preaching the Good News of Jesus, and the next minute he is being stoned to death.
And of course, one minute Saul is breathing dangerous threats against these new Christians, and the next minute he is their biggest champion.
This story that we are a part of doesn’t fit in a fairy tale.
It doesn’t really fit anywhere.
And so when we try to hem it in, to solve it, to finish it, and slap a happy ending on it…we diminish it.
The goal should never be “happily ever after”…even though sometimes I think we’ve convinced ourselves it should be.
I’m a Christian. I should be happy all the time. Everything should be perfect. That’s a tremendous amount of pressure to live under!
But it certainly wasn’t perfect for these first Christians…it was wonder and fear, togetherness and conflict, sharing and hoarding all at the same time.
The goal wasn’t happiness…it was faithfulness… Faithfully ever after…
And that’s our shared goal as well…
This passage is important not because it immortalizes a time when believers were doing what they were called to do…but because it shows us the way. It shows us how we are to be as a faithful Christian community…
Faithfulness has three aspects that I see in this passage: Faithfulness loves more, shares more, and truths more…
The passage says that “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul…”
How did they do that?
I firmly believe that one heart and soul doesn’t mean thinking the same about every issue, whether biblical or cultural…
It means that we listen to one another. We make room for one another.
We’re curious around another person’s point of view.
It’s understanding over agreement. Kindness over rightness.
Life together is messy, and we’re going to have different opinions on a whole range of issues.
Having one heart and mind simply means that people take precedence over positions.
Likemindedness doesn’t mean sameness of mind…but it does mean liking each other’s minds…
Love more. This is what faithfully ever after looks like…
Luke says it like this: “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
It’s hard for me to say this…but sometimes I don’t think we’re very good at this one…
It’s something that we try to teach our children from such an early age, and yet, when we really ask ourselves the question…how good are we at sharing?
The truth of the matter is that we all would love to share more…but if you’re like us, we’re rarely asked to share. We have a garage full of rakes and tools and sports equipment that I would be thrilled to share. The problem is…so does everyone else on our block.
I wonder if it’s to simply buy whatever we need for ourselves rather than borrowing it from a neighbor.
When did getting take priority over sharing?
Stuff has become the easy fix, the quick hit, the soothing something. If I could just get this, or that…life would be good.
I read an article a few months ago about a woman who gave up shopping for a year…no clothing, no shoes, no accessories for a year.
She was quick to say that there is a difference between someone who does this out of choice and out of necessity…and it was clearly a choice for her.
She writes that the unspoken question of endless browsing for stuff…whether online or in stores…is “what do I need?” She found that what she needed was less.
I found the article both convicting and liberating…And starting January 1, I gave myself the same challenge.
The thing is…I have enough. No, I have too much. And after all, its just stuff. It gets old. It goes out of style. It doesn’t matter.
And yet we’ve made it matter. And we’ve made getting more and more matter.
Compare this to …”No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own…” and we all could say we have some work to do…
It’s a simple equation: Buy less. Share More. This is what faithfully ever after looks like… And finally, truth more.
Or in other words…don’t be deceptive or misleading about who you are.
Barnabas sells a field and gives over the money.
Annie and Saphie…sell a field…but instead of giving over the money they seem to plot and scheme and hoard. They were on the same page, but it was a deceptive one. They knowingly betrayed the community they were a part of.
And it led to their destruction.
I wonder if they had just been honest…’Hey, it’s been a rough month. And we could really use this extra cash for…I don’t know, a down payment on a new camel.”
But they chose to justify their deception to themselves…wanting to appear perhaps as pious as Barnabas.
When we operate out of a framework of how we think we are perceived or how we want to be perceived…it rarely goes well for us.
Being faithful means owning the entirety of who we are…the good, the bad, the real.
It means saying out loud what is true for us: Perhaps its saying…
-I’ve been sad lately.
-I’m disappointed my kids live so far away.
-I’m not crazy about my job.
-I’m so tired of this weather I’m ready to scream.
-I’d really like to go shopping (just a hypothetical…)
When we’re honest with first ourselves, with God, and our loved ones…it’s incredibly liberating. We can come out from behind the masks of perfection we’ve been holding up.
Being authentic with ourselves and others is one of the most generous things you can do.
God says “I can take the broken pieces of these truths and start piecing you back together.”
This is what faithfully ever looks like..
Love more, share more, truth more…
Christian community is no fairy tale. It cannot be solved in an 4 minute Disney production.
Its a messy clamoring towards Acts 4… But of all stories, this is the best story.
Because in this story…through the death and resurrection of his son, God ensures an ever after for all of us.
And this one is true!
On this side of heaven…it will not be happily ever after…but that’s not interesting enough for us.
But by loving more, sharing more, and truthing more. We can all live faithfully ever after…