Some big news just two weeks ago was that the new Roman Catholic Pope had excommunicated the Mafia.

This is serious business in the Roman Catholic Church, meaning someone can’t receive communion, a central part of their way of life and worship.

To many this seems like a no-brainer, of course a member of an organized crime ring can’t claim to have repented of sin and made things right with their brother or sister, in order to receive communion.

And yet, history tells us that’s exactly what happened.  Television shows and movies show images of mafia kingpins in churches attending mass, having their children baptized, wearing crosses and praying, while perpetrating incredible violence outside.  It apparently wasn’t far from the truth, since the Pope has taken this drastic action.  There are of course incredible stories of this, and I don’t know which ones are true and which ones are legend, but the very fact the Pope has had to name this as a problem simply tells us that there are people who use the name of Jesus and the institutions of the Christian church to advance their own goals.

A criminal claiming to be a good Christian is a player, trying to con people.  Like a magician who uses distraction in his sleight of hand, they want you to notice the good Catholic side of their life, and ignore the murderous, criminal side.

The pope said this a few months ago: The life that you are living now will not give you pleasure or joy.  The power and money you have now from dirty business, and from mafia crimes, is blood-stained money, it is blood-stained power, and you won’t be able to take it to the after world. Repent.

Several months later, they have clearly not repented, and the Pope has excommunicated them.

Now I’m not Roman Catholic, but this story is relevant to us all.

There are players in every church today, just like they are everywhere in society.  There are people with ulterior motives – seeking power, business contacts, maybe a spouse.  Worse, there are those who want to do harm – pedophiles, fraudsters, who have found the Christian church to be an easy place to infiltrate and use for their crimes.

This kind of thing happened way back when the church began as well, 2000 years ago.

This week we’ll study the story of a magician who became a Christian, but his old life came back to haunt him.  It became evident when he tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the church leaders, and the first Christians had to act.

Question: What examples have you seen of people using the church, or Christian message, for their own illicit gain?

Meeting with a Group?  Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide

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