Our Good Confession

“Our Good Confession”

1 Tim 6-12 good confession

1 Timothy 6:11-13 – September 29, 2019

Some people express their devotion to certain things so clearly, don’t they? Take sports teams. I am sure you know friends or acquaintances who devoutly follow a sports team in season and out. I have one particular friend who regularly wears the team jerseys (yes, he has several), plus team hats, team jackets, and team flags. All the official merchandise! Everyone knows who he supports!

I wonder, do many of us know people who express their belief or devotion to Jesus Christ with the same excited amount of fervor? Or, are people shy of expressing their belief in the Lord very loudly, lest they be considered weird or narrow-minded, or even extra judgmental?

We are looking at the letter to Timothy for the second week in a row. Here we sneak a look over Paul’s shoulder as he dictates this letter, and discover he is concerned about Timothy remembering what is really important. He tells Timothy what that is: remember when he made the good confession, when he openly told everyone he was on Team Jesus. Can you see him excitedly shouting, waving his arms and wearing his Team Jesus merchandise?

Perhaps that “Team Jesus” uniform and jersey analogy is going a bit overboard, even somewhat fanciful. However, Paul was quite sincere in reminding Timothy about the time he publicly confessed his faith in Jesus Christ. This time of baptism was an important time in any adult believer’s life, both early in the founding of the church as well as in later centuries.

I suspect we here in the United States have only an unclear idea of how much danger the first believers were in. They were outlaws, outcasts in the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was not particularly fond of Jews, but at least Judaism was allowed. However, Christians were getting rounded up by the authorities because Christianity was a new, outlaw religion.

Did Paul realize his friends would get in trouble if they told people they were on Team Jesus? Yes, of course he did. Sadly, he knew this very well. He himself was in prison for regularly testifying to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s take a closer look at the words Paul wrote to Timothy: “12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command.”

Almost everyone who became a believer in Jesus Christ at that time was converting as an adult from another kind of religion to Christianity. In other words, taking the step of a public baptism was part of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, publicly.

In many cases, the newly-baptized person put on a fresh, white robe, signifying new life in Christ. I want to emphasize—after baptism—putting on fresh, new clothes: a brand-new Team Jesus jersey, letting everyone know that the newly-baptized person was now an openly-professing Christian.

Just so we do not mistake exactly what this confession details, let me give an illustration from the book of Acts, chapter 16. Paul, Dr. Luke and their friends were on a missionary journey to a large city in Macedonia, Philippi. Paul—as usual—was getting in trouble for preaching, teaching and casting out evil spirits. Paul and his friend Silas get thrown into prison, and God sovereignly causes an earthquake to happen. The jailer (who has been hearing all about their good confession all day and into the night) gets convicted by God, Reading from Acts 16: 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

That was the good confession. Right there. The confession made by the Philippian jailer, even though he knew what a commitment that confession might be.

But, wait—Paul does not stop there in his letter to Timothy. He then mentions the Rabbi Jesus, who after His arrest and during His trial makes the good confession before Pontius Pilate oly a few hours before His crucifixion. Moreover, Christ Jesus made this good confession before many hostile witnesses.

A professor of the New Testament Dr. A.K.M. Adam states “In this, Timothy followed the example of Jesus before Pilate, who did not deny God in order to secure his own safety (the letter identifies Jesus’ response to Pilate also as a “good confession”).” [1] Again, the apostle Paul is not shying away from openly stating that these people believe in the Christian God.

We here in the United States might think, Paul, are you crazy? Coming right out and telling hostile people you are a Christian? Wearing your Team Jesus jersey all the time, day and night?

Yes, Paul does mean that. He is faithful, and he confesses his faith in Christ on a regular basis. He wants to encourage Timothy to do the same, to live each day for Jesus.

I think most people who knew how hard the baseball player Joe DiMaggio played would say he gave his heart and soul to the game of baseball. Late in his career, when the New York Yankees were comfortably ahead in the pennant race, Joe DiMaggio was asked why he continued to play so hard. He said, “Because there might be somebody out there who’s never seen me play.” Just so, the Christian should live every day as if someone will see him who has never seen a Christian before. [2]

So, Paul and Timothy are both wearing their Team Jesus jerseys, and maybe Team Jesus hats and jackets, too. The transformed Paul and Timothy let everyone who sees them know that they are Christians, showing love, compassion, and caring to all.

Paul even gives Timothy a run-down of all the attributes we ought to expect to show in our lives if—if we have this good confession, and before hostile witness, too! If we show this kind of sincere, persistent faithfulness, then our lives will start to show these Godly characteristics Paul mentions in verse 11. We will pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. That was the transformation that Paul told Timothy would happen. And, God does transform lives, even today!

Just like Timothy, we are encouraged to live like we mean it. Live as if someone who sees us has never seen a Christian before. Live the best life we can, for God’s glory. It’s not just with a spoken-confession, but it is also with a doing-confession. Not only show Christ by the words we say, but we show our belief by the actions we do. Yes, confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus, and also do the deeds that please God and glorify His name.

That is confessing the good confession, indeed. Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=731

Commentary, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, A.K.M. Adam, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faithful-all-the-time Source: Summer of 49, David Halberstam

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Dynamic Spirit Power!

“Dynamic Spirit Power!”

Acts 2 Pentecost mural

Acts 2:2-4 – June 9, 2019

Have you ever been outside in hurricane-force winds? Either you, or a loved one you know and who is very dear to you? How about a massive storm that has huge bolts of lightning, and loud cracks of thunder? Can you imagine God’s mighty power displayed, for everyone to see and hear and feel? Anyone who has ever been caught in such a powerful storm can tell you, such a dynamic panorama can be earthshaking, literally. That mighty God-sent power is just what I’ll be preaching about today.

Most of us, perhaps even all of us are familiar with the disciples’ fearful reaction after our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven. And, for good reason! The Roman authorities were still hunting for the body of the Rabbi Jesus that disappeared from the tomb, some weeks before. Remember what happened on Easter morning? Not only the Roman authorities but also Jewish leaders were still demanding to see the body of this itinerant rabbi that they said was stolen from the tomb! Of course, we know better.

God’s mighty, miraculous power intervened, by way of the Resurrection and Ascension. Our Lord rose from the dead, walked and taught on this earth in His resurrected body for seven weeks, followed by His bodily ascension into heaven. What is more, the last instructions of Jesus to wait for power, to stay put in Jerusalem, were still fresh in people’s ears.

But—still, God left the disciples very much afraid, and very much in hiding. At least, after the risen Jesus went away for good. That’s what humans thought, anyhow.

Here we are, on Pentecost morning, waiting with the disciples. As was their custom, they were gathered for prayer in the Upper Room. Can you imagine a large group of disciples, with Jesus’ mother Mary in the midst of them? Talk about a prayer meeting! Still, they were huddled, in hiding. These disciples were being faithful, as best as they could. When, on Pentecost morning, a God-sent happening occurred. But, you don’t need to take my word for it!

Listen to what Dr. Luke says at the beginning of Acts 2: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

Now, today, if something like that happened, we might look around for the fancy special effects team in the background. We might wonder where the cameras were placed when those tongues of fire wondrously appeared above each person—marking them, letting everyone know that God was director, and God wrote the script.

Getting back to a description of a display of God’s mighty power, that other-worldly power was certainly on display in the sound like the blowing of a violent wind from heaven. In keeping with my analogy, God was also producer and certainly handled all special effects.

The Koine Greek word for “power” is dunamis, which the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament defines as: able to produce a strong effect power, might, strength” and “as supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed.” This is the same word that is used ten times in the book of Acts to refer to God’s mighty power or acts. Plus, dunamis is the root word for dynamite: the mighty, powerful dynamite of God!

This dynamic power was on display to the disciples, in the upper room. Dr. Luke mentions that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” On display only among the disciples—at first. But, soon, other people started to get in on the action!

Let’s hear from Dr. Luke: “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”

Once the dynamic Holy Spirit blows in on the disciples with tongues of fire, and their physical tongues are loosened in many other languages, what an awesome display of power! Passersby from other countries off the street gathered around. They heard the violent wind of the Spirit and the expression of many languages that quickly followed. All of the disciples were telling the Good News, that Jesus our Messiah is risen from the dead—in many different languages. And, probably because of the regional pronunciation, the expat onlookers were able to tell that many of those who were speaking different languages were Galileans. Is it any wonder that these onlookers were totally amazed?

I am reminded of a flash mob in some public place, like a mall or in a downtown square. Just as passersby are engrossed in the performance the flash mob does, in a similar way, the onlookers are fascinated by the whole God-sent operation that happened in Jerusalem on Pentecost morning, especially by the sharing of the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ in their own heart-language, their own mother tongue. And, since the Holy Spirit was present in mighty power on that Pentecost morning, many came to believe in Jesus as their Messiah that day.

But, Pentecost was not just a one-time event. You know, an event that happened just in the distant past, in Bible times, never to be repeated. No! Whenever anyone believes on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, a Pentecost happens! The Holy Spirit blows through that person, that beloved one of God. The Holy Spirit blows into each of our lives, and the power and possibility of God acting with and through each one of us is an amazing and awesome truth!

Commentator Rev. Gary Simpson brings out the fact “I am more aware of the numerous ways the Holy Spirit comes into people’s lives and affects positive change. No longer is my understanding of Pentecost simply wrapped around the phonetic languages we speak out of our mouths. Rather, I am aware of the many ways the Holy Spirit speaks through us and to us through sounds, pictures, ideas and even hope.” [1]

I am reminded that some people think Pentecost was just a day, an event that happened two thousand years ago. But, no! Wait a minute! Are these well-meaning people putting limits on the mighty power of God? What about that violent wind of the Holy Spirit that blew through the house on that first Pentecost? Are these well-meaning people trying to put God in a little box of their own devising and understanding?

As the Rev. Simpson reminds us, Pentecost is not simply a day to remember the birth of the Church, but it is also a day to celebrate the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of God, active and present in each believer’s life and heart. It is God’s power working in us and through us, so we can be witnesses to what the risen Lord Jesus has done for us. Yes, we are changed, too! And we have the opportunity to change the world, just as much as the first-century disciples of Christ—by the power of the God-sent dynamite of the Holy Spirit.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=88

Lectionary Commentary, Acts 2:1-8, Gary V. Simpson, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

The Jailer’s Story

“The Jailer’s Story”

Acts 16-31 Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ stained glass

Acts 16:30-34 – June 2, 2019

A number of years ago, a pastor friend of mine needed to buy some new tires for his car. He had an acquaintance who was an auto mechanic, and went to his auto shop to purchase the tires. My friend Pastor Jamie was fascinated by the machine used for balancing, and watched the tires go round and round. The mechanic watched, too. Pastor Jamie suddenly asked the mechanic, “Did you ever feel your life was just spinning round and round, just like that tire? So fast, that you weren’t sure if it was going to spin out of control?”

As we follow the apostle Paul through the book of Acts, we might get the same idea. Paul’s life seemed to spin out of control time and time again. Trouble certainly seemed to follow Paul; take this week’s Scripture reading, for example. Paul and his friend Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. What is that all about?

We need to back up and see exactly why the people of the city of Philippi were so upset. Last week, we met Lydia, a well-to-do Gentile business owner who became a believer in the Gospel. She invited Paul and his friends to stay at her large house and use that as their base of operations. This week, we continue in Philippi with a slave girl who had an evil spirit, who did fortune-telling to earn money for her owners. She followed Paul and his friends around town for days, calling out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, telling you the way to be saved!”

On the face of it, Paul and his friends might have looked on this slave girl’s hollering to be free advertising. But, no! It got annoying, very quickly! The slave girl was a kind of heckler, constantly trailing after the missionaries. Finally, Paul got fed up, and cast the evil spirit out of the slave girl. The spirit was gone! However, so was the way the girl had earned money, telling people’s futures and fortunes. The girl’s owners were really upset at this turn of events! They got mad at the apostle Paul, too.

Now we start to see why Paul and Silas got thrown into prison—this time.

I am not sure whether life has ever spun out of control so much that you and I have gotten thrown into prison, but things can take unexpected twists and turns, and sometimes drag us into some awful predicaments.

It did not matter whether the owners of the slave girl were lying or not when they accused Paul and Silas in front of the Philippian judge. (They were, though.) The false accusation—that Paul and Silas were trying to lead the citizens of Philippi astray by encouraging them to leave behind good, solid Roman practices—fired up the crowd and got them to shout out against Paul and Silas. What is more, the judge was convinced to have Paul and Silas beaten and put in prison.

To give us a closer look at what their punishment involved, I am afraid Dr. Luke will offer a candid description. I am letting people know, just in case anyone needs a trigger warning.

First, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods—around the size of a broom handle. We cannot be sure in Paul’s and Silas’s case, but the beating with rods was oftentimes so severe that it broke bones and lacerated the skin. Following the painful beating, Paul and Silas had their legs pulled far apart and wooden stocks were clamped around their ankles. [1]

After this acute pain and suffering, the two missionaries actually were singing hymns of praise at midnight. Can you imagine how much Paul and Silas had just experienced? After all that, Dr. Luke reports that they were singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening. What a change from the usual prison noise of shouts, groans and curses.

Perhaps we have not experienced anything as severely agonizing as being beaten and thrown into jail unjustly, but life can spin out of control in any one of a number of ways.

We can see how Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight is a key part of this narrative, because the Lord sends an earthquake to the Philippian jail as a result of that praise. “Just as the Gerasene demoniac was loosed from his chains by Jesus (Luke 8:35), all the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, are loosed. The work of the Spirit brings freedom to all who are captive.” [2]

Enter the jailer upon the scene. At this climactic point, the Philippian jailer was filled with fear and despair. Dr. Luke says, “When the jailer saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.”  His prisoners—his duly-appointed charges—had been sprung. The jail had been destroyed, and the jailer thought he would be tortured and killed by the Roman authorities for failing in his duty.

It is at this critical point of despair for the jailer that Paul calls out, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Remember my friend, Pastor Jamie, and his acquaintance the auto mechanic? Remember how they both watched the tire spinning round and round, almost out of control? Jamie made that comment, and the auto mechanic immediately agreed. The auto mechanic then asked the question of the day: “what’s the use? What can I do about it?”

This is so similar to the question asked by the Philippian jailer: “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

What can we do to get right with God, get our lives on track, and come into a loving relationship with our Lord and Savior? Paul and Silas’s answer is in the next verse: “They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.”

Pastor Jamie shared the good news of Lord and Savior with his acquaintance the car mechanic. Similarly, Paul and Silas shared the good news with the jailer, another working-class guy. Both gratefully received the Gospel. And, the jailer and his prisoners were ultimately freed—both in this world, and the next.

To take that sudden out-of-control moment and transform it into something God-sent is truly a gift of God. We can all pray with Jesus in our reading from the Gospel of John, our Gospel reading for today, “26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

The narrator Dr. Luke so skillfully expanded the apostle Paul’s groundbreaking adventures in the city of Philippi into an elegant story or drama in Acts 16. Using the backdrop of Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew [Paul and Silas] or Greek [Lydia, the slave girl, the jailer], there is no longer slave [the slave girl] or free [Lydia, Paul], there is no longer male [Paul, Silas, the jailer] or female [Lydia, slave girl], for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” [3]

God’s power acts to bring together the most unlikely group of people for God’s glory. We can celebrate, because God has arms wide open for all who believe. Even me, even you.

Praise God! Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.christianlibrary.org/authors/John_L_Kachelman_Jr/phil28.htm

[2] Landers, Richard M., Homiletical Perspective on Acts 16:16-34, 7th Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 527.

[3] Walaskay, Paul W., exegetical Perspective on Acts 16:16-34, 7th Sunday of Easter, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 527.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

For the Least of These

“For the Least of These”

Matt 25-35 for whatever, words

Matthew 25:31-46 (25:40) – November 26, 2017

This Sunday—today—is the last Sunday in the liturgical year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate and lift up the might of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ today! Dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, majesty! Crown Him with many crowns! Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

We have many marvelous hymns we can choose from for today. I love many of the words and tunes of the hymns that refer to our Lord Jesus having all power and authority in heaven and on earth, being King and ruler of the universe, and all creation.

I think all of us are familiar with the stories Jesus tells in His ministry, featuring real life situations. The Rabbi Jesus tries to get His listeners to understand some deeper truths through these stories, or parables. Jesus Himself talks about an all-powerful King at the end of the world, in this final parable from Matthew 25. The all-powerful King from this parable is the exalted Lord Jesus, ascended to heaven, as we declare every time we say the Apostle’s Creed.

As we did two weeks ago, let’s pull back from this particular parable, and look at the larger situation where the Rabbi Jesus tells it. This is midway through Holy Week in Jerusalem, where Jesus is being asked when the end times will come. That’s why He gives this long discourse called the Olivet Discourse, several chapters long in Matthew’s Gospel. Similar to now, people all through the centuries have been aware that the Bible has certain mysterious, even unclear prophecies concerning the end times, just before when the Messiah will come.

However, something does not fit. Something is very puzzling about this parable.

Here in Matthew 25, we have the exalted Lord Jesus, the almighty King eternal, sitting in judgment over all the peoples of the earth.

At first reading, even at second, third, tenth or twentieth reading, this final parable from Matthew can be really scary. Just like in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Ezekiel, all sheep and goats are separated, just as all the people from every nation in the world are separated. All people are divided into two groups: those who the King is pleased with, and those who the King is not pleased with.

The people listening to Jesus in Jerusalem that day were extremely puzzled. Scratching their heads, they might have said, “Rabbi, you just don’t make any sense.” Especially the people who had followed Jesus for months might have been particularly lost. Things just don’t add up!

On one hand, we have Jesus, the caring, nurturing Shepherd. This is what the prophet Ezekiel starts off with in our reading today. In many parables, in many situations throughout His ministry for three years, Jesus has shown Himself to be loving, caring, gentle, and welcoming to everyone—no matter who, no matter what.

But, wait. Let’s go back to this final parable from Matthew, where the King at the end of all time is talking to the vast assembly of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Let’s remind ourselves of the words of the Son of Man: “Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”

I am certain that many people listening to Jesus and His parables were absolutely floored by these words. What on earth are You talking about, Jesus?

Dr. David Lose said, “When we think of God, we typically think in terms of power and might and glory and all the rest. And, indeed, the [final] parable begins by describing the coming of the Son of Man in glory to sit on his throne attended by angels, seemingly only reinforcing our preconceptions.” [1] This word picture is absolutely the picture we associate with Christ the King Sunday, with dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, and majesty!

Yet, we also see a loving, caring, nurturing Shepherd, as expressed by our Lord Jesus Himself any number of times during His ministry. And, there are glimpses of that Shepherd here in the parable, too. We have two different, disparate, even disconcerting pictures of Jesus here. What gives? Which is the real Jesus? What is going on here?

The people in the parable are puzzled, too. Let’s listen to their reaction: “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

As if the two very different pictures of Jesus are not enough, the King in the parable adds a third. I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!”

Here, Jesus tells us He is right with the chronically hungry and thirsty. He is among the strangers and refugees. He is among the indigent poor and sick, and is right there with the many hundreds of thousands all across the world who are in jail. Jesus, the Son of Man, would rather hang out with the bums on Skid Row rather than with the fancy people in their religious country clubs or with the fine Pharisees in their first-rate houses of worship.

Does anyone else feel challenged when they hear these serious words of Jesus?

As Dr. Lose tells us, “No one expects to see Jesus in the face of the disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and all those who are in manifest need.” [2]

Jesus gives us a judgment scene in this final parable. This is a cautionary scene described here, at the end of all time. Here, in this parable from Matthew, we have three separate pictures of Jesus. Yes, He is the King! All honor, power, majesty and glory be given to Him! Amen! Yes, Jesus is the Gentle Shepherd, the loving, caring, nurturing one who gathers the lost lambs into the fold. And, third, our Lord Jesus is seen in the faces of those who are difficult to love, and a challenge to care for.

Jesus shows up in those unexpected places, in the concrete and real needs of our neighbors next door, and around the world. But, you and I are not at the end times, yet. We can take action, and see the face of Jesus in others around us. The disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and in need.

Jesus calls us to serve others. By serving others, we will be serving—loving—caring for Jesus. How can we serve Jesus, today? How can we help others? How can we extend our hands and hearts to be loving, caring and giving, today? The best part? God will be right by our sides as we extend our hands to serve and care for others. And, God promises to change us from the inside out as we extend our hands—our hearts—ourselves—to others.

Here, in this final parable, Jesus the King tells us He is right with the vulnerable, the unlovely, the indigent, those difficult to love and those who are such a challenge to care for.

Next week, we will begin the liturgical year with the season of Advent, those weeks when we await the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem at Christmas. We await the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Eternal Almighty God the Son emptying Himself and becoming a baby. Becoming vulnerable, becoming human. Just like us.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/ “The Unexpected God,” David Lose, …In The Meantime, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Spinning Out of Control!

“Spinning Out of Control!”

Acts 16-31 Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ stained glass

Acts 16:30-31 – September 6, 2015

Most people I know like things in order. Neat and tidy. Under control. I mean, most things. Steady income, check! Roof over our heads, check! Clothes to wear and food to eat? Check and double check. Sure, we can have little surprises now and then, but most people crave order. Everything’s hunky dory! Just the way it’s supposed it be.

Until, it isn’t. We experience things spinning out of control.

In our Scripture reading today, we have Paul, Silas, Dr. Luke and their missionary friends in the town of Philippi. This is another in our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church. If you remember last week, we met Lydia, a Gentile woman. We are told she is from a city called Thyatira, and is a dealer in purple cloth, which for that time was a luxury item. What I suggested last week was that it’s similar today to a dealer in high-end designer clothing in our culture and context. She not only owns her own business, but she also has her own house.

The pertinent part for us in this week’s sermon is that after becoming a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Lydia invites Paul and his friends to stay at her large house in Philippi. Paul and friends start to carry out the challenging work of starting a church plant. That is, spreading the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus.

Paul is skilled at debate, and I suspect he and his friends went to gathering places all around town to talk with people. To tell them about the Good News about the Lord, how He died for our sins and was raised from the dead, conquered death, and has ascended to heaven.

Now we discover a slave girl starts to follow Paul and his friends around, as they travel about town. Listen to Acts 16: “We were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days.”

Here Dr. Luke gives us a thumbnail sketch of this slave girl. Yes, she is telling the truth. Paul and his friends were telling people the way to be saved. But, the truth can be twisted. She refers to “the Most High God.” Meaning, a God among other Gods. And, in the polytheistic environment of Greece, the title “the Most High God” was also a common name for Zeus, ruler of the Greek pantheon of gods.

This slave girl was a factor completely out of the control of Paul and his friends. From what this looks like, she was a sort of a heckler. Walking after them, shouting and making a big fuss. And, the slave girl was a local. A known person to the inhabitants of the town. Paul and his friends were visitors, strangers in town. There was that dynamic, as well.

Not only is she starting to get irritating and annoying, following them around like a pesky little sister for many days, Paul realizes this slave girl is energized by a demon. The demon inside of her enabled her to tell fortunes, to tell people what would happen to them in the future. I suspect the demon knew with great certainty the exact identities of Paul, Silas, Dr. Luke, Lydia, and the rest of the believers in the risen Lord Jesus there in Philippi.

Let’s see what happened next! “Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.

What was that that happened? Paul got fed up with the persistent heckling the demon—I mean, the slave girl was doing. So, he cast the demon out of this slave girl. Next thing we know, the girl’s owners got really mad! That was a serious consequence, to be sure.

Let’s trace this back a bit. Why were her owners so angry and upset?

Apparently, the slave girl’s owners didn’t particularly care that she wandered around the city of Philippi shouting about Paul and his friends being servants of God and telling people how to be saved, as long as she pulled in the money. As long as she was a profitable cash cow, her owners were happy.

But in casting out the demon? Talk about things spinning out of control! The unexpected consequences of Paul’s action? It dried up all the profits the girl’s masters were making! Paul dried up the owners’ lucrative source of revenue! Talk about hitting them in the pocket book!

Continuing with Acts 16: “19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.”

I owe thanks to John, a pastor on a sermon discussion board I follow, from time to time. His insight? The wallet. The billfold. “’Religion’ is all well and good, at least until it starts affecting my pocketbook. In this [passage], it’s only after the new religion affects the slave girl’s owners’ bank account that they have Paul and Silas arrested.”

With you and with me, today. What about us? Is “Religion” all well and good, until it hits us in the pocketbook, too? Is “Religion” affecting our bank accounts? Will following Jesus here in the United States affect us in a negative way? Affect our pocketbooks? Or, is that hitting too close to home for us? Hmm. I’ll let us think about that for a while. Let it sink in.

Let’s follow along with Paul and Silas. Dr. Luke tells us specifically about their time in the prison. “23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Things are spinning out of control again. Paul and Silas are thrown into the inner cell of a prison. I bet that was an especially secure place. But what do they end up doing? Instead of crying and desperately lifting their voices in prayer to God, they begin to sing. Imagine, singing hymns of praise to the Lord, at midnight. Securely locked, in a dark prison.

We continue with chapter 16: “26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”’

We can see the economic effect this earthquake had on the jailer, for sure! Plus, the horrible sinking in his heart, seeing his jail destroyed, with the prisoners quite possibly running away, escaping in the middle of the night. No wonder he drew his sword, ready to kill himself.

The jailer is stopped by Paul, shouting out to him: “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Did you hear? What must we do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what is spinning out of control. It doesn’t matter what economic consequences are happening. It doesn’t matter what the authorities say or don’t say. Instead, we hear the Good News preached to us. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and we will be saved. All of us, and our households, too!

On this Labor Day weekend, we can see all levels of society hearing the Good News. We can see the slave girl—a slave, someone from the lower class, being freed and exposed to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus! And, we can see the jailer, a solid member of the middle class, receiving salvation with joy! And last week, we saw Lydia, a member of the upper class in Philippi, listening eagerly to the Good News. She came to faith in the Lord Jesus, too.

Our Lord Jesus is not only for the Gentile and the Jew, not only for male and female, but Jesus also transcends all class distinctions. All separations of caste, of nationality, of ethnicity, of background.

That’s how it was in the first century, and that’s how it is today, too. What about you? Do you believe in the Good News? Do you believe in the power of Jesus to forgive your sins, and help you to walk with Him day by day?

As I proclaim each week after our Confession of Sin at the beginning of the service, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel. In Jesus Christ we are forgiven!” Alleluia, amen!

@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!