We All Are Witnesses!

“We All Are Witnesses!”

Acts 1:1-11 (1:8) – May 16, 2021

            I have a confession to make. I do not say the Apostles Creed very often any longer. I used to say it almost every week, especially in the liturgical Lutheran church where I grew up. However, we here in this church do not regularly say the Apostles Creed. I wonder whether you remember a line from that Creed: “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

            Those are just words from a Creed, aren’t they? Those words don’t really mean what they say, do they? Or, are those words instead blessed Gospel truth?

Commentator Carolyn Brown tells us that “during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, but after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked rooms but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams. [The ascended] Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.” [1] 

We just read about the last appearance of our Lord Jesus from Acts chapter 1. Jesus lived His life on earth witnessing to people around Him, teaching, healing, telling people about the Good News that He was sent to earth to share. Except – Jesus was about to ascend into heaven.

            What was going to happen to His mission after He left? How were more people going to hear about the Good News that Jesus was sent to earth to share?

            For that, we need to step back and look at the Gospel narratives. In fact, Dr. Luke gives us an excellent summary at the beginning of Acts chapter 1. He says in his first book, the Gospel of Luke, he “wrote about all the things that Jesus did and taught from the time he began his work until the day he was taken up to heaven.”

            Yes, the Rabbi Jesus did send out the disciples, two by two, during His life and three-year ministry on earth. Jesus did empower them to go forth and share about the coming kingdom of God – except it was not quite the same, was it? There could not be a clearer distinction between the sending of the two groups of people – before and after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

            True, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus did travel throughout Palestine, up and down the River Jordan, around the Sea of Galilee, and through the Decapolis in the north, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles for three years. Jesus performed His mission, which was communicating the Good News He was heaven-sent to share. His faithful, intrepid band of followers were with Jesus as interns of sorts, learning, doing on-the-job training.

But, there was a big difference between playing on the second or third string with the Rabbi Jesus there as coach, as opposed to going out on the field with the varsity team, sharing about the coming kingdom of God, to the uttermost ends of the world!

            Isn’t that sort of the distinction between before and after the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ? Except, we haven’t gotten there yet! Pentecost is coming next Sunday. Not quite there yet!     

            Have you ever watched high school or college sports? I have. My two older daughters participated in a lot of them, especially my oldest. She lettered in three sports in high school: swimming, basketball and softball. Janet was especially wonderful at relay races, in the pool, where one swimmer would swim her laps and then tag the wall for the next swimmer to begin.

            Can you see the similarity? Just as my daughter was really skilled at relay racing and tagging the wall so that another swimmer could start, that is what our Lord Jesus did at His ascension. Jesus told His disciples – both men and women followers – that He was tagging the wall and expected them to carry on with the race. Jesus plainly told the disciples to carry on with the God-given mission to be His witnesses.  

            The Ascension was NOT an end, in and of itself. At least, it did not put a period to the life of the disciples of Jesus. By no means! Sure, when we repeat the words from the Apostles Creed “He (meaning, Jesus) rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” that is not an ending point!

            Remember back to school days? Near the end of school many elementary schools have field days featuring, among other events, relay races.  Though Jesus did not actually pass a baton to his disciples, he did tell them very clearly that they were to take up his ministry on earth.  Jesus’s earthly part of the race was complete, but theirs was just starting. [2]     

            Yes, with His last words, Jesus commanded His disciples to be witnesses, to tell forth God’s Good News. And, what does that look like? One way is to tell how our Lord Jesus has acted in our lives. What has Jesus done for you lately? I want to know your personal experience! Can you tell someone about that? That’s being a witness!

            I’m getting ahead of myself, but after Pentecost, everywhere the disciples went, they were accused of turning the world upside down. That’s what they did, and that’s what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do, as followers of Jesus. Sharing God’s Good News is not just a suggestion – it’s a command from our Lord.

            What has Jesus done for you lately? Be a witness! Go and tell!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/04/year-c-ascension-of-lord-thursday-may-5.html

Worshiping with Children, Ascension C, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

Go and Tell!

“Go and Tell!”

Mark 16:1-8 (16:7) – April 4, 2021

            After a terrible, horrible week like the disciples have just had, anyone would be distressed, dispirited and downhearted. The last few days were horrible, indeed. The most horrible thing about the last few days was when the disciples’ Rabbi Jesus died on the Cross.

            .  Friday evening Joseph bravely claimed Jesus’ dead body and laid it in a cave tomb. He and a few of the women quickly wrapped the body in a sheet, since it was so late in the day.  There was a law that you couldn’t tend or even touch a dead body on the Sabbath.  So, everyone went home to hide and cry and try to figure out what happened.  The women gathered supplies to wash Jesus’ body and some good smelling spices to wrap into the sheet when they rewrapped it. [1]

            But, let’s back up. Back up to early Friday morning. Where were the men disciples? Except for Peter, who followed Jesus and the mob at a safe distance, the Gospel accounts make sure to tell us that all the men ran away. And, Peter denied Jesus three times in the High Priest’s front yard. We know John showed up at the foot of the Cross that Friday, because Jesus mentioned him specifically in the Last Words on the Cross. However, the men disciples must have been scared to pieces, fearing that they might be picked up by the Roman soldiers, too.

            Admittedly, it must have been a very scary time. Imagine, a bunch of Roman soldiers carrying off the leader of a rag-tag group of disciples, in the middle of the night. I probably would have run away, too. Terrifying times, indeed.

            Except, the Gospel writers – including Mark – tell us that a number of the women disciples remained at the Cross. And, watched Jesus die. And, helped Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body to the fancy tomb, wrap it hurriedly in a linen sheet, and make sure things were decently done before the Sabbath time began at nightfall. What is more, nothing could be done during the Sabbath – especially this Sabbath, during the holy time of Passover.

            The angel (who Mark calls a “young man,” but the other Gospels identify as an angel) tells the first witnesses – the women disciples – to go and tell the others.

“The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark conclude with a description of the women as “trembling and bewildered.” Mark tells us that they “fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).” [2]

At first, they don’t! Would you? If you had something that horrified and grieved you to the depths of your soul happen on Friday, and then something else to shock you out of your sandals on Sunday, would you be all that eager to go and tell? Tell even your good friends about what the angel said?

            The men disciples themselves did not have a very good track record at this “go and tell” command, either. “Those who are closest to Jesus and should tell others about him often don’t. So the disciples hear Jesus predict his passion three times and regularly end up dazed, confused, and arguing about who is the greatest. Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah but completely misunderstands what that means and actually rebukes Jesus when he explains. Again and again those who should understand just don’t understand what is going on and so fail to share the good news.” [3] So, who are the faithful ones, the ones given the great Good News of the Risen Lord at the tomb? The women disciples, and they are told by the angel to go and tell. At first, they are afraid. But then, they gain courage – again – and do go and tell the men disciples.

            I wonder – where would we find Jesus today? The women disciples are told to go to Galilee, because Jesus is planning to go there and meet with all of the disciples, after His resurrection. But, where can Jesus be found today? Is He here, in church? Well, yes. I think He is, but not only here. Isn’t Jesus found outside of the church, too? What about in the hospital, at the bedside of those we are praying for? Isn’t Jesus there? What about right next to people who are newly unemployed? Or, homeless for a long time? Does Jesus sit by their sides? What about people who are not sure Jesus is even God, maybe not even sure God exists. Doesn’t Jesus wait patiently for them, ready to embrace them in His time?

            Jesus is right by the side of all of these people. Yet, we are also told to go and tell. It is not an either/or proposition! Yes, our Risen Lord Jesus is walking beside each of us! And yes, we are to witness to Him! To go and tell everyone that Jesus Christ is risen today! We serve a risen Savior, who’s in the world today. I know – we know that our Redeemer lives!  

            We are emerging from the tomb of pandemic quarantine into a world that desperately needs the healing touch of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. And, since we are His followers, Jesus has given us the direct order to go and tell, too!

We are to tell the world there is hope in the name of Jesus. We are to tell the world there is joy in traveling with the risen Savior. We are to tell each person we encounter that they have the opportunity to know the one who brings compassion and forgiveness and a just society. And then, we are to go out into the world and do our best to bring that about – in the name of Jesus.

Go and tell – in the name of Jesus. Alleluia, amen!

(I would like to express grateful appreciation to Dr. Esau McCaulley and his opinion column featured in the New York Times on Friday, April 2, 2021. I have taken several ideas from this column for this sermon.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2012/01/year-b-easter-sunday-april-8-2012.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter Sunday B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/easter-celebration.html?referringSource=articleShare

[3] http://www.davidlose.net/2015/03/easter-b-only-the-beginning/

“Only the Beginning,” David Lose, …in the Meantime, 2015.

To the Ends of the Earth!

To the Ends of the Earth!

Acts 13-47 go into all the world

Acts 13:47 – August 16, 2015

Every month, St. Luke’s Church has a Church Council meeting to deal with the everyday business of running the church. We are going to have our August meeting this coming Friday. This being a congregational church, any member is more than welcome at our council meetings.

Let me ask: what would you think if someone from the Church Council were to get up in front of the congregation next Sunday morning, and say something like, “This past Friday at the Council meeting, the Holy Spirit told us to send two of our church leaders—two Council members—off to the mission field full time. We prayed over them, and we sent them off. They’re gone, and we’re not really sure where they’ll end up”? What would your reaction be to such a statement?

That’s just what happened. That’s just the situation, here at the beginning of Acts chapter 13. Except, I suspect the whole congregation gathered around Paul and Barnabas, as well as several others who intended to travel with them. Dr. Luke doesn’t specifically say, but I think the whole congregation prayed over them before they sent them out.

Paul and Barnabas were chosen by the Holy Spirit to go out. To tell others about the Good News of the risen Jesus. They, and several of their friends, left for parts unknown.

It’s a wonderful thing, to be noticed, recognized. Chosen as a messenger, a missionary for God. In the several churches I have attended over the years, I have seen dozens of people go on both short- and long-term mission trips, just like Paul and Barnabas. I’ve been involved with mission committees, and led prayer teams and prayer efforts in support of many of those same missionaries. However, I—myself—have never gone anywhere on a mission trip. Nope. Not even a short-term one.

How many of us, here, can say the same thing? I am not asking for anyone to raise hands or otherwise identify themselves. But, in your hearts, how many of us know that we have never gone to the mission field? Either overseas, or in this country?

Let’s define terms. What is a mission field, anyhow? What does it mean to be a missionary?

A simple definition? A mission field is somewhere on the other side of a boundary or barrier. I know seminary professors and people who study the history of missions might quibble with the specifics of this definition. However, I think most everyone would agree that a mission field involves crossing some sort of a boundary. That can be a boundary or barrier of race, nationality, language or culture. Those are the easiest to see and recognize! But a mission field can also be on the other side of an economic boundary, or a societal barrier.

Take my friends, Jim and Amy. Both trained as doctors, they both worked here in the Chicago area for a long time. But, they were mission-minded. They intentionally went to the South side of Chicago regularly, for years, to work at a Christian medical clinic. An inner city mission, right here in Chicago. They are now in sub-Saharan Africa, working as missionary doctors. Still with that mission mindset. But, it was only recently that they went to Africa.

For years, before that, they were using the training they had to work for God—as medical doctors. To communicate the Good News that God loves everyone. Here in Chicago, but in a radically different community, with a different culture. Were they missionaries then, in Chicago? Are they missionaries now, in Africa? I say, in both cases, yes!

Let’s consider our scripture passage for today. Pretty new idea, for these early believers to preach the Good News to a multi-cultural audience! Take a look at the list of prophets and teachers from the beginning of Acts chapter 13. “1-2 Now there were in the Church at Antioch both prophets and teachers—Barnabas, Simeon surnamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen the foster-brother of the governor Herod, and Saul.”

Just looking at this list, off the top of my head, I might not notice anything particularly different. But, let’s dig a little deeper. My research tells me that this assembly of believers in Antioch was the first truly multi-ethnic local church. This church had Jews and Gentiles together in one local congregation, according to Acts 11:19–22.

            We have Barnabas, a Jewish man, a Levite from the priestly class, born in Cyprus. Next, Simeon—he’s also called Niger. That’s a black man, from Africa. Then, Lucius, the North African from a large town called Cyrene. Then, there is the upper-class Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod—raised in the palace of the ruler Herod Antipas. And finally, we have Saul (or Paul), one of the most pre-eminent Pharisees of his day, born a Roman citizen in Asia Minor, and educated in the equivalent of an Ivy League school.

            We have some heavy hitters. Men of spiritual substance, described by Dr. Luke as both prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch. And, they are VIP’s. Very Important People, from many different regions and cultural backgrounds! It was these church leaders—the Church Council of the church in Antioch—who commissioned Paul and Barnabas and their friends. These missionaries left a multi-cultural local congregation to go to the multi-cultural world.

            As we read further in the chapter, Paul, Barnabas and their friends traveled further. “13-15  They continued their journey through Perga to [another] town called Antioch. They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and took their seats. After the reading of the Law and Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent to them with a message, “Men and brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, by all means speak.”

We can see Paul goes first to the congregation at a synagogue. Dressed as a Pharisee (because they did wear distinctive clothing), the synagogue leaders knew he was learned in the Law and the Prophets. Paul gets up to speak. He gives them the Gospel, in a way they could understand.

Using the Hebrew Scriptures, he spoke about the coming Messiah, and about the death and resurrection of the risen Jesus. He spoke in a clear way that Jewish people could easily relate to. And, many of them came to faith in the risen Jesus, the Messiah.

However, Paul did not stop there! He spoke of the risen Jesus to God-fearing people who were not Jewish! He spoke of the resurrection to Gentiles, to Romans, to people without regard of their ethnic origin, or of the color of their skin.

Listen as chapter 13 continues: “44-47 On the next Sabbath almost the entire population of the city assembled to hear the message of God, but when the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy and contradicted what Paul was saying, covering him with abuse. At this Paul and Barnabas did not mince their words but said, “We felt it our duty to speak the message of God to you first, but since you spurn it and evidently do not think yourselves fit for eternal life, watch us now as we turn to the Gentiles! Indeed the Lord has commanded us to do so with the words: ‘I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

“48-50 When the Gentiles heard this they were delighted and thanked God for God’s message. All those who were destined for eternal life believed, and the Word of the Lord spread over the whole country.”

Did you hear? The Gentiles were delighted when they heard that they were welcomed by God, too! The Gentiles were—are as much God’s beloved children as are the Jews. All people are welcome to be saved. Salvation is for anyone, to the ends of the earth!

            What about the rest of the church, where Paul and Barnabas came from? Were they just sitting at home, twiddling their thumbs, or hiding their heads in the sand like ostriches?

I think the other believers in the church at Antioch had an important job to do, too. True, they may not have been sent out, called by the Holy Spirit to be missionaries. To go far away, like Paul and Barnabas, to suffer hardship and travel and preach the Good News in a different town every few weeks. However, God called these believers who stayed in Antioch to follow God, too. The Lord wanted each of them to share their story to the people around them, to share the Good News of the risen Jesus, too.

And, what about us, today? Do we have to be sent out as missionaries to Africa, like my friends, Jim and Amy? Or, can we share our stories, here? Can we show others the Good News of the risen Jesus? Tell them what Jesus has done for us, lately? Or, show them God’s love? Or what God has done in the lives of people we know?

What can you say about what God has done for you, or for a loved one? People almost always listen to stories. So, tell a true story. Tell how God has worked in your life.

How can you share about God, today?

I’d like for everyone to think of one person you might talk to. And, think of something that God has done in your life. And, prayerfully, go and tell! Here in multi-cultural Morton Grove—and Niles, and Des Plaines, and Skokie, and Chicago—most people we meet are from different ethnic groups or various cultural backgrounds. Just like the church in Antioch, the first truly multi-ethnic local church. So, go forth! Go and tell! That’s our challenge today.

Alleluia, amen!

 

(The scripture readings of Acts 13 were taken from the excellent translation by J.B.Phillips; ; J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins.”  And, thanks to the wonderful people who prepared the bible studies on Acts at http://www.intervarsity.org/bible-studies – The study on Acts 13 was quite helpful, and gave me some great jumping-off places from which to preach!)

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!