Click HERE to watch a videos of Zion sermons.
Tuesday, May 31 2016
Applying for a job is scary, scary thing. You see a job description, think you may be good at it, and then you start the application process. And as you start filling out the paperwork, you inevitably have a moment of, “What am I DOING? Do I actually have a shot at getting this job???”
And then there’s the resume. Resumes can be tricky things. You give your schooling, your credentials, your skills on a piece of paper—and then hope that you catch an employer’s eye.
The thing is, though, you always want to sound as good as possible on your resume so that they’ll want to give you the job. And sometimes, there are less than desirable facts about your job history or how much schooling you actually have.
So, on occasion people bend the truth a bit… and unfortunately, some people out-and-out lie to make themselves look better.
And sometimes, people get away with it, if the lie is a small one. But if the lie is a bit more extravagant, well, chances are they’ll get caught.
The job search website Careerbuilder.com surveyed a bunch of hiring managers, asking them to list the most outrageous tall tales and bold-faced lies job applicants had put on their resumes. Here are just a few:
1. Candidate claimed to be a member of the Kennedy family
2. Applicant invented a school that did not exist
3. Job seeker submitted a résumé with someone else's photo inserted into the document
4. Candidate claimed to be a member of Mensa
5. Applicant claimed to have worked for the hiring manager before, but never had
6. Job seeker claimed to be the CEO of a company when he was an hourly employee
7. Candidate listed military experience dating back to before he was born
8. Job seeker included samples of work, which were actually those of the interviewer
9. Candidate claimed to have been a professional baseball player
It seems like job applicants will say almost anything just to convince employers they are worthy of being hired!
In our Gospel reading today from Luke, we’ve got a guy who’s applying to have his slave healed—and Jesus is the one he’s applying to. And it sounds like he has a pretty impressive resume. Although he is a Roman soldier (a centurion), it’s clear he has helped the Jewish people out quite a bit—in fact, it’s some Jewish elders that he sends to Jesus, asking if Jesus would be willing to heal the slave.
The Jewish elders are very eager to share the centurion’s impressive resume with Jesus. They tell Jesus, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.”
So this Roman soldier, despite being an employee of the emperor, loves the Jews and built their place of worship for them. Because of what he’s done, the elders believe he is “worthy” to have Jesus do the healing.
And—unlike the job applicants who made stuff up—we know his credentials are true, because it’s the Jewish elders who are telling about them, not the guy himself! Clearly, they say, he’s worthy to have this miracle done for him.
Worthy. Not a word we use a lot, but we probably still know what it means. Dictionary.com defines “worthy” as being “of commendable excellence or merit, deserving.” So basically, this guy’s resume, according to the elders, is excellent enough that the man is deserving of Jesus’ healing miracle for the slave. He’s “worthy.”
So here’s your Greek lesson for today—the word used in the original Greek here is “axio.” It’s usually translated as deserving, eligible, or worthy. This is the root of the word axiomatic—anyone know what that means…? It means something is obvious—you don’t need to prove it or argue about it. So, the Jewish elders are so sure that this centurion is obviously worthy of this healing, that they believe no other proof or argument is necessary.
In our world today, we still assess the worthiness of people. We may think someone isn’t worthy enough to do something because of their lack of experience or age, or something else. We may look at someone and decide whether they are worthy to talk to or work with. Bosses and employers are constantly looking at whether someone is worthy to hire, or promote, or give a Christmas bonus to.
And because we are so focused on worthiness in our world—if someone has done enough to deserve something— we begin to think about what that means in our own lives.
We may even wonder if we are worthy—if our life resume, so to speak, is good enough—for ourselves, for others, maybe even for God. We may feel we don’t deserve anything because of our past, or our constant mistakes, or the fact that we aren’t Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. If we follow that logic, we, for all intents and purposes, are unworthy of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness because we are imperfect.
Despite his amazing resume, the centurion is aware that he isn’t perfect and is unworthy of Jesus’ healing. As Jesus gets closer to the house, he sends some friends out to give Jesus his message. He says, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
“I am not worthy.” Rather than trying to puff up his resume even more so that Jesus will be persuaded to do the healing, the centurion knows that no matter what he does—because he is a flawed human being—he will never be completely worthy of Jesus’ power.
And Jesus is amazed at the faith of this Roman centurion, and heals the slave without even stepping foot in the house.
You see, Jesus’ idea of worthiness and our idea of worthiness are two different things. We base someone’s worth on what they’ve done, said, or look like—their earthly resume. We sometimes base our own worth on it, too.
Jesus, however, completely bypasses the earthly resume, because that will always fall short. No matter how many amazing things we’ve done, our resume will never make us perfect. We will always have those less desirable things on our resume that we are tempted to lie about or hide, like those poor job applicants at the beginning of the sermon.
But Jesus doesn’t even think about our earthly resume. He loves us and forgives us and cares for us even though our resume is lacking.
In fact, Jesus rips up our earthly resume and makes us worthy of his love himself. He sacrificed his life on the cross so that we would be worthy of God’s love, even when we are imperfect. We are of ultimate worth, no matter what the world says.
Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are worthy.
In the 1990s, there were two movies made, based on a Saturday Night Live skit called Wayne’s World, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. The movies followed two average guys, Wayne and Garth, who host a weekly talk show on a local public access channel late Friday nights. One of the major topics they talk about is music. They talk about famous bands and musicians with awe and wonder and reverence.
So you can imagine that when they do meet some famous musicians over the course of the movies, they are beside themselves. In fact, whenever they come across a famous rockstar or band, they fall on their knees, bow to them, and chant “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
Near the end of the movie, they finally get to meet the band Aerosmith. As usual, they fall to their knees. “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy”
The lead singer of the band, Steven Tyler, looks down at the guys and says “You’re worthy! You’re worthy! Get UP!”
We are the ones bowing down before Jesus chanting “We are not worthy!”, and, like Steven Tyler, Jesus tells us that we are indeed worthy—and Jesus tells us to rise in his name.
YOU are worthy to receive Jesus’ love and forgiveness because Jesus has made you worthy! You could have the worst resume in the world—Jesus’ love isn’t based on your resume. His love has no conditions, no strings attached. He has made you deserving and worthy of his love. You are worthy. Amen?
Monday, May 23 2016
How many of you think that you are a know it all? Let’s see a show of hands. Anybody? No hands went up. How many of you know someone who thinks they are a know it all? A few of you.
I think we all know someone who thinks that they know it all. Or – or – the person who thinks that they know more than you do – and they do not hesitate to let you know that.
Well, the rest of us know better. Or at least I hope we know better. I hope that if there is one thing that we know – is that we don’t know everything. But thank God there are a lot of things – a lot of things – that we do know. All of us. The same things. Different things. But there is stuff that we all know. But again – the one thing that I hope we all do know – is that we do not know everything.
There’s a good reason why there are no know it all’s here today. Because a know-it-all probably doesn’t need to be here today – at least not for the sermon part of our worship service. Because a know-it-all already knows it all – and there’s nothing new that Pastor Becca or I can tell you. SO if you really do think you are a know-it-all – feel free to just zone out for the next few minutes.
So where do we learn to know what it is we do know? Lots of places. Like high school and college. As you know, the second year of high school and college is called the sophomore year. Did you know that the word sophomore comes from two Greek words? “Sophos” – which means wise – and moron which means, well, moron. Or fool. Put them together and you get “a wise fool.” So a sophomore – is someone who – having learned a great deal in the freshman year – now thinks that they know everything. Well – that’s not really fair to sophomores – but that’s where the word comes from. “Someone who is confident of knowledge, but poorly informed and immature.” Got that from the dictionary.
As I said, none of us is a know-it-all, but every one of us knows something about something. I sometimes think I know a little about a lot of things, but don’t consider myself to be an expert at anything. And there are some things that I wish I knew more about. My education did not end in high school – or college – or seminary.
If I could go back to being a student – a professional student – if someone were to pay me to go back to school – I might consider doing that. But I can’t.
There are still so many things that I just don’t understand, that I would like to learn more about. At my age, I wish I could just snap my fingers, and have instant knowledge about – whatever. Because I can only read so much – or take in so much – before my brain turns to mush. So unfortunately – getting knowledge – gaining understanding – takes time. Sometimes lots of time. And study. And experimentation. And reflection.
And that’s why Jesus’ words in John’s gospel today really caught my attention. Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. He is saying, “Good bye,” to his disciples. And he tells them, “I still have many things I want to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Now wait a minute. Jesus is about to be betrayed and arrested. He is about to be crucified. Since those things are about to happen in the next 24 hours – then when are the disciples going to get a chance to hear the many other things that Jesus wants to say to them?
Well, listen to what Jesus says next. “When the Spirit of Truth comes,” – Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit now – “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth…He will declare to you the things that are to come.” A few verses earlier Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of all that I have said to you.” All those other things that Jesus wants to say to the disciples? That will be the work of the Holy Spirit. This is one of those times when it’s important to pay attention to the verbs. The verbs – the four action words here – are “guide,” “speak,” “declare,” and “remind.” Guide, speak, declare, remind. That’s what the Holy Spirit does.
But the Holy Spirit does more than guide, speak, declare and remind. Little test time here. Last week Pastor Becca told us four other things the Holy Spirit does. If you weren’t here last week, just sit back and take notes.
Are you ready? Those four things are, what? I’ll give you a hint:
1. The Holy Spirit catches our what? That’s right. Our attention. Did the Holy Spirit just catch your attention? Okay, good.
2. The Holy Spirit points us to? Jesus.
3. The Holy Spirit creates – believers. Disciples. Hey, you guys are good!
4. And what’s the fourth thing? The Holy Spirit encourages us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.
Hey! Have you ever wondered why we hold worship services every single weekend – 52 weeks every year? Do you know why we hear the same Scripture passages in a repeating cycle every three years? (By the way, that cycle is called a lectionary. Write it down. Will there be a test.) Do you know why I repeated those four things that the Holy Spirit does that Pastor Becca told us about last week?
I’ll tell you why. Because we are NOT know-it-alls. Sometimes there are some things that we forget. There are some things that I sometimes forget. And the older I get the more forget. I still have a great memory, but I’ve also got a good forgetter.
SO I need to be reminded. I need to hear things over and over again. I need the words and the teachings of the Scriptures re-declared to me. I need the Holy Spirit to remind me of all that Jesus has said. There are certain new things I need to hear. Certain lessons – certain old things told to me again – explained in a new way – things that I heard and learned in the past – that I need to hear again. Week after week. Year after year.
Let me tell you something. My Christian education did not end on the day I was confirmed way back on May 5, 1968 at St. James Lutheran Church in Bergholz, NY. In case you’re counting, that’s 48 years ago! And quite frankly – neither did yours.
And I find it interesting – when I look at all those confirmation pictures on the wall in the fellowship hall – you know – it’s also called the “Watch Pastor Randy grow old wall,” – but I stand at that wall sometimes and I think a) those young folks – those young folks must think they know it all – or b) I must be a whiz of a teacher, because all too often, our kids get confirmed – we throw them a party – and we send them on their way.
And sadly, some of them I never see again. But thank God a good number do come back – or move away and join a church somewhere else. And that’s a good thing. For some, it’s a good number of years. Truth be told, it was true for people of my generation, too. But they get married. Have children of their own. And those kids are getting baptized and filling our Sunday School classes. And then we ask their parents to teach those same Sunday School classes – and THEN they’ll say, “I don’t know enough to teach.”
“Well, gee! I thought after you were confirmed you knew it all.” But reality sets in. And they realize that – just like the rest of us – they don’t know it all.
No. None of us is a know-it-all. Especially when it comes to knowing who God is. Now – to be sure –we CAN know God. Remember – there is a difference between knowing God, and knowing about God. We can know God – and we most certainly CAN be known by Him. But who God is – that’s a bit of a mystery.
Today – this weekend – is Holy Trinity Sunday. We talk about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God, not three gods. And as I tell you every year on this day – and this is the part that blows my mind – we believe in and we worship a one-person God in three persons. This is how God has revealed God’s own self to us.
It’s a mystery. And I’m okay with mystery. What we know – is that we don’t know – we don’t understand everything there is to know about God.
But here’s what we do know:
• God the Father is the Creator of all things.
• We know that Jesus Christ – through his life, death and resurrection – forgives sinners – and promises eternal life with God.
• We know that the Holy Spirit is the present work of Christ among us – who gets our attention—points us to Jesus – creates believers – encourages us to share the Good News message of Jesus Christ – and reminds us of all that Jesus says to us.
Quite frankly – we don’t need to know more than that. AND – AND – thank God we’re not saved by what we know. Since none of us is know it all’s – none of us would make it. The promises of God – life – forgiveness – salvation – are ours as a gift of God’s grace received through faith – and not by how much we know.
And what I want you to know is that God loves you. God cares about you. God is interested in you. He wants us to grow in faith. He wants us to grow closer to Him, and to develop a greater love for each other.
And that’s why we hold worship services 52 weeks every year. There’s no way any one of us can “get it” in just one or two sittings. And those of you who are going through confirmation classes right now? You’re not going to get to know it all in two years either. Even if Pastor Becca is a dynamite teacher! Even if I am a whiz of a teacher!
Lord save us from sophomoric Christianity. Save us from thinking we know it all. Let me tell ya something. When it comes to faith – I want to grow in faith some way every day. When it comes to learning more about the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the things of God – I want to learn at least one new thing every day. And if that’s where you’re at today too – then don’t be surprised when you see in yourself – or in someone that you love – a leap of faith. A new depth in understanding. Change. Transformation.
You see – God’s not finished with you yet. I don’t care how old you are – God’s not finished with you yet. We are just beginning to go deeper – to grow deeper – in knowledge and in faith and in love.
If you think you know it all, then watch out! The Lord is full of surprises. The Lord has so much more in store for you. And that’s why we gather here— that’s why we meet – every weekend – 52 weeks a year.
Monday, May 16 2016
Pentecost C; Acts 2:1-21 (John 14:8-17, 25-27)
Zion CC; 5/14 &15/16
Welcome to the day of Pentecost! This is the day the Church celebrates the Holy Spirit coming and filling Jesus’ disciples in a powerful way—and because of this filling of the Spirit, they traveled far and wide to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the world. We consider this the “Birthday of the Church”, because this is the event that started EVERYTHING.
Pentecost is one of the three major festivals of the Church. Anyone want to take a crack at the other two…? Yeah, Christmas and Easter. Pentecost is considered to be equally as important and the other two holy days. Without Pentecost, we wouldn’t be here right now. The Church wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t know the love and saving power of Jesus. I cannot stress enough how important Pentecost is to our lives and to the world. This day changed everything.
I’ve always loved Pentecost because it’s a day we focus on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We Lutherans talk a lot about God the Father, and God the Son. But we tend to forget God the Holy Spirit. Other Christian traditions, like Pentecostals (notice that they use Pentecost in their name!), talk about the Holy Spirit a lot. But for us, the Holy Spirit isn’t someone we talk about a ton. The Spirit may get a mention here and there, but for the most part, the Spirit is sort of the runt, the forgotten one.
Which is so weird, because without the Holy Spirit, there would be no CHURCH. There would be no US. There would be no FAITH. The Holy Spirit moves in quiet and dramatic ways in our lives and in our world, all the time. The Holy Spirit actually lives IN us, inspiring us and sustaining us.
As someone who feels like a big part of her calling is to remind people of the Holy Spirit and help them notice the Spirit’s movement in their lives, I’ve read this Pentecost story in the Book of Acts probably hundreds of times. I honestly didn’t even feel like I needed to read it again to preach on it.
But I did read it again. And lo and behold, the Holy Spirit showed me while I read some things I never noticed before about this story. Four things, to be exact, that the Spirit is up to. And these four things not only help us to understand the Pentecost story better, but to also understand how the Holy Spirit acts in our lives and in our world today.
You want to know the four things? OK, here we go. (Feel free to write these down. You don’t have to be a Confirmation student filling out Sermon Notes to take notes on a sermon!)
The first thing is that the Holy Spirit is GETTING PEOPLE’S ATTENTION. So the disciples are all hanging out, waiting, because Jesus told them to hang out and wait for the gift of the Spirit. And then suddenly, there’s a rush of wind and tongues of fire show up and rest above each person’s head (that’s why we use red to celebrate Pentecost by the way, because of the fire). And if that wasn’t attention getting enough, the disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way that they start speaking in different languages that they had never learned before, speaking about the amazing things God has done.
This is so incredible that other people notice this right away. The crowd gathering are people from all different places, and they are hearing about God in their own different languages as the disciples speak. The Spirit GOT THEIR ATTENTION, all right.
And because they were now paying attention, they wanted to know how this amazing thing was happening. Some just wanted to dismiss it, saying that the disciples must be drunk. But they weren’t drunk!
They were filled with the Holy Spirit! And now that they had people’s attention, Peter talks to the crowd. This brings us to our second thing.
The Holy Spirit POINTED TO JESUS. Now that everyone was paying attention, Peter tells them about how Holy Scripture has prophesied that this would happen. What we read today is actually only part of what Peter says to the crowd. He tells them about Jesus. He tells them about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and how Jesus promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. Does anyone know what happens after Peter tells them about Jesus…? They all want to know how to become Jesus followers too.
3,000 people wanted to know what to do next that day, to become followers of Jesus, all because the Holy Spirit POINTED THEM TO JESUS. The flashy stuff—the wind, the tongues of fire, the different languages—wasn’t just to do something cool. It was to GET PEOPLE’S ATTENTION AND POINT THEM TO JESUS.
Which brings us to our third thing. The Holy Spirit CREATES BELIEVERS. Does anyone know what Peter told the people to do…? He told them to repent and be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. And they did. 3,000 people that day were baptized and became believers in Jesus Christ, and received the Holy Spirit. Their lives were completely changed. The Holy Spirit not only POINTED THE 3,000 PEOPLE TO JESUS—the Spirit GAVE THEM FAITH AND MADE THEM BELIEVERS.
OK, so we’ve got three things the Holy Spirit was up to: GETTING PEOPLE’S ATTENTION, POINTING TO JESUS, and CREATING BELIEVERS.
Here is the fourth thing: the Holy Spirit was INSPIRING TO SHARE. The Holy Spirit inspired people to share the Good News of Jesus.
Peter, an uneducated fisherman, delivers the most powerful sermon on record—inspiring faith in 3,000 people-- all because of the Holy Spirit. He was INSPIRED TO SHARE. The Holy Spirit gave him the words and the ability to share so that others may come to believe as well.
And those 3,000 people? They were INSPIRED TO SHARE as well. It says in the Book of Acts that they lived together, learning and teaching and hanging out with one another, eating with one another, worshiping with one another. And then it says “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
And how were there more and more people added to those being saved…? The Holy Spirit INSPIRED THEM TO SHARE the Good News with others. It’s not like people came to faith in Jesus in a vacuum. These people were filled with the Spirit, ready to tell others about what Jesus has done for them. And then those new believers were filled and ready to share, and it just keeps going.
OK, so we’ve got the four things the Spirit is up to: GETTING PEOPLE’S ATTENTION, POINTING TO JESUS, CREATING BELIEVERS, and INSPIRING TO SHARE. How does the Spirit do these things, today? I’m so glad you asked!
First of all, the Holy Spirit is trying to GET OUR ATTENTION on a regular basis. We just aren’t used to looking for it.
The Spirit is God with us and within us. When you were baptized--and if you aren’t baptized, please see me or Pastor Randy after service so we can talk to you about baptism!—In baptism, the Spirit comes to live within you in a special way. In fancy church terms, we call it the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”
So the Spirit lives within you. That’s why a lot of time when the Spirit is speaking or nudging us, it comes as an inner feeling or thought. Anyone ever had someone who you haven’t seen or spoken to for a long time randomly pop into your head? Many times that’s the Spirit nudging us to pray for that person, or maybe even to call or text them, see how they are doing.
The Spirit is also at work outside of us, and that’s where other people come in. If you’ve heard something over and over from different people, that is quite likely the Spirit speaking to you. If someone says something you REALLY needed to hear in that moment, it is probably the Holy Spirit speaking to you. Or if things fall into place just at the right time and place… what? Yeah, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our paraclete—that’s the Greek word that Jesus uses—and it literally means “being alongside of”. The Holy Spirit is always with us. Always. And because the Spirit is always with us, the Spirit is constantly trying to get our attention—to guide us, inspire us, move us. Sometimes the Spirit tries to get our attention in small, subtle ways, and other times the Spirit gets our attention in big, dramatic ways. No matter how it happens, the Spirit is trying to GET OUR ATTENTION.
The second thing the Holy Spirit is up to: the Spirit is POINTING US TO JESUS. That is what the Spirit does. We read in our Gospel reading from John that Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit—“whom the Father will send in [Jesus’] name.” And if we really think about it, human Jesus—God in human form-- wouldn’t have existed without the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who caused Mary, a virgin, to be pregnant with Jesus. The Spirit isn’t here just to hang out with us for the heck of it. The Spirit is in us and with us to point us back to the One who gives us our purpose for living—Jesus Christ. When the Spirit guides and nudges and shows us things, we are brought closer to Jesus, and we grow in our relationship with him.
Third thing the Spirit is up to: CREATING BELIEVERS. The main job of the Holy Spirit is to give people faith in Jesus. You cannot believe Jesus is your savior without the Holy Spirit giving you the gift of faith. Paul tells us in First Corinthians “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” As a believer in Jesus Christ, you were given the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit.
When I met my husband Will, he was not a Christian. He didn’t know much about Christianity at all. And when we started dating, I invited him to take the Alpha Course—and there, he was encouraged to try reading the Bible. So he downloaded the YouVersion Bible App, the first app that came up on his smartphone store that was free, and started to read.
And when he was reading the part of the creation story when God breathes life into man’s nose, he felt an actual crushing pressure on his nose. It was like someone was taking the palm of their hand and pressing his nose into his face with all their might.
He texted me afterwards: “Either my mind is playing tricks on me, or the Holy Spirit just punched me in the face.”
It was this experience that made Will realize that God was bringing him to faith. You could say that the Holy Spirit GOT HIS ATTENTION, POINTED HIM TO JESUS, and CREATED A NEW BELIEVER.
And the fourth thing the Spirit is up to: INSPIRING TO SHARE. When you are filled with the Holy Spirit like those disciples on the day of Pentecost, you are bursting to tell others about Jesus. The Holy Spirit will guide you and nudge you and give you the words to say—you just have to listen and look for the Spirit’s movement.
If you feel the urge to tell someone about your faith journey, that’s the Holy Spirit. If you feel the urge to be Jesus to someone in need by helping them, that’s the Holy Spirit. If you suddenly have the exact right words to say to comfort someone and show them Jesus’ love, that’s the Holy Spirit.
I think we sometimes expect God to break open the heavens and God’s voice to boom out and be like “TELL THIS PERSON ABOUT JESUS NOW!!” And sometimes it is that dramatic and it feels like God is smacking you upside the head. But most of the time, it’s that still, small voice of the Spirit giving you gentle nudges and impressions.
Some of you know already that Will now works for the YouVersion Bible App—the one that he was reading when the Holy Spirit punched him in the face and made him a believer. Once he became a Christian, he was filled with the Spirit and wanted to do anything and everything to make sure people heard the Word of God and came to faith in Jesus, just as he had.
So now he works in technology ministry, keeping the servers running for the Bible App so that people all over the world can read the Bible in their own language, for free. He was INSPIRED TO SHARE the Good News because of the Holy Spirit.
Both in our Pentecost story and in our lives today, the Holy Spirit is GETTING OUR ATTENTION, POINTING TO JESUS, CREATING BELIEVERS, and INSPIRING TO SHARE. The Holy Spirit is doing amazing and incredible things, all the time. How is the Holy Spirit working in YOUR life? Amen?
Monday, May 09 2016
Maybe some of you here today can relate to a story from a mom who wrote to Reader’s Digest. She says it had been a rotten morning. Her three kids were wired and driving her crazy. Counting to 10 wasn’t cutting it, so to release the pent-up frustration, she walked into her bedroom closet, shut the door and SCREEAAMMED!
It worked. Afterward she felt much better. Ready to face the rest of the day, she opened the door and was greeted by three terrified faces.
“Mom,” said her five-year-old. “I told you there was a monster in that closet!”
I’m glad you enjoyed that. For all of our mothers here today, and for all of us who appreciate our mothers, let me wish all of us a Happy Mother’s Day. After all, maybe some of us were the monsters that our mothers had to put up with.
Having said that, let me ask you if this sounds like you. Every once in awhile, I run into people who say to me things like, “Pastor, I don’t know a lot about the Bible. My parents used to drop me off for Sunday School when I was a kid, but I’ve been away for a while, and I’m looking to get back to church. I want this for my children too. I know it’s important. I’ve never read the Bible much, so I guess I want it for me too.” When I hear things like that – I want to jump for joy! And here’s why. We live in an age of disbelief, and a growing skepticism about God – about Jesus Christ – about the Bible. To make things worse – we live in a time when we are bombarded by 24 hour news programs – radio – TV – internet blogs – where most of the news we hear is what we would call bad news.
And since we are bombarded with almost non-stop bad news, I find myself – along with most – if not all of you – crying out for Good News. People are starving for Good News.
Would you agree that the church – this church – is a Good News place? You’ve heard me say this before. I think one of the biggest crimes any preacher – including myself – can do is to be boring. I think one of the worst things any church – including this church – can do is to be inhospitable. Especially when there’s a famine for the word of God – a famine for Good News. We want to hear it. We want to see it. The Good News is something that we want to experience. We want to see the Good News in action, yes?
Now our generation is certainly not the only generation in which there has been a hunger for Good News. Just read the Gospels. Just follow the lives of the disciples – particularly the life of Paul in the book of Acts – and you’ll find that the world in which those first Christians lived experienced a famine for Good News too!
And that’s where our story begins today in our reading from the book of Acts. You know, there are so many great stories about the early church in the book of Acts. In today’s reading, we see that Paul and his traveling companions Silas, Timothy and Luke are in Philippi, a cosmopolitan city in Greece. There they share their faith. There they share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Did they win over the entire city? Well, no, but they did have a successful start. In fact one of the first people in Philippi to become a believer – is a woman by the name of Lydia. Lydia’s story can be found in the verses immediately preceding today’s reading in the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts. She and her entire household hear the Good News, and are baptized. So satisfied is Lydia with the Good News she has heard, she invites Paul and his companions to stay with her. Lydia’s offer of hospitality creates the first house church, where this tiny but growing flock can be taught and nurtured. It also gives them a base of operations – a place from which the Good news of Jesus Christ will be spread.
Well, things are going fine until one day – Paul and Silas get into trouble. You see, there is this slave girl who the Bible says, has a “spirit of divination.” This girl – this slave – is a fortune teller, and she earns a lot of money for her owners through her fortune telling. Following after Paul and company day after day she cries out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you “a” way of salvation.” Well, after several days of this, Paul becomes annoyed. He addresses this spirit of divination in her and says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to come out of her.” And it did. But alas, now her fortune telling days are over. She no longer is a source of income for her owners. So what do these owners do? They seize Paul and Silas and drag them before the magistrates of the city. And they say things like, “These men are disturbing the city.” (A lie, but never mind that.) “They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Roman to adopt or observe.” (Another lie, but never mind that too.) As a result, they are stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison. Now folks, how do you think you would respond if that were to happen to you? You’ve been lied about – you’ve been stripped and beaten – you’ve been thrown into prison, your feet locked in stocks. Every painful breath reminds you of the beating you’ve just received. Your ribs are cracked. Your kidneys are bruised. Your back aches. Your legs are cramped. It’s cold and damp. Oh yeah – and there are probably rats running around in the dark.
Ok. Did I make that sound gruesome enough?
So – now – now put yourself into that setting. Yeah, I know, the rats probably did it for some of you. BUT – but how do you feel? Feel like ... singing? Huh? Listen to what Paul and Silas do next: “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
In that nasty place of a jail – you know, where those rats are running around – Paul and Silas are praising God. In other words – they’re making that jailhouse rock. And if that weren’t enough, an earthquake hits – an example of God’s perfect timing by the way – and that jailhouse really starts to rock. The foundation is shaken. The doors are opened. Chains are unfastened. I guess you could say that that jailhouse began to shake, rattle and roll!
But imagine the jailer’s panic! He is personally responsible for all of those prisoners. And suddenly, they are all free! Will they kill him to get their revenge? Will his captain do the job as punishment for letting them escape? He decides to save them all the trouble, and just as he is about to plunge his sword into himself, Paul cries out, “Do not harm yourself. We are all here.” What happens next is simply amazing. The jailer goes to Paul and Silas, falls down on his knees, and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Obviously, he’s been listening. He’s been listening to Paul and Silas – as they make that jailhouse rock – with their songs and prayers. Who knows, perhaps he had heard Paul preaching on the streets of Philippi. We don’t know. Whatever, what Paul and Silas DID was far more important than what they SAID. They cared for the jailer’s welfare. They cared about his life. They literally save the jailer’s life. “Do not harm yourself. We are all here.” Paul and Silas by their words AND their actions reveal the mercy of Christ. Do not miss this point. Paul and Silas reveal the mercy – the compassion of Christ. And the jailer? Well, the jailer was hungry for more. He was hungry for good news. “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer? Listen now. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
When you get home, I want you get your Bible out. I want you to take and circle that verse in your Bible. Acts 16:31. Circle it as God’s promise to you. Because this promise IS to YOU – to you and your household. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Acts 16:31. Now how are you going to remember that verse? Here’s how. How old do you have to be before you can drive a car?  Ok. Double that and subtract one, and you get what? . There you go. Acts chapter what?  Verse what? .
SO – what happens next? The jailer takes these men to his home – and he bathes their wounds. They in turn bathe him – and his entire household – in the waters of baptism. The wonderful thing is, is that the Bible is full of stories just like this one – about people like Lydia – people like the Philippian jailer – people hungry for Good News. People starving for the Word of God. And God, in God’s own way, and in God’s own timing, brings the Word – the Good News message of Jesus Christ – to them. Listen! People are still hungry – still starving – for Good News today. As I said earlier, one of the worst crimes preachers and churches can commit is to be boring, inhospitable, and uncaring. Folks, if you ever feel that I am boring you, please let me know. Because if that’s the case – then I’ve been boring you for 25 years. By the way – for those who keeping track – I started here 25 years ago [yesterday] [this past Friday]. Let me know if I ever bore you. That would mean that it’s time for me to find another line of work. Because let me tell you. God’s Word is not boring. God’s Word is Good News. And we are Good News people!
And by the way – we need to be hospitable people. Lydia and the Philippian jailer not only heard and believed the Good news Paul proclaimed to them, but they in turn immediately practiced the ministry of hospitality. They opened their doors to Paul and his companions.
We are a hospitable church. But I think we can always do better. More and more people are coming to this church for the first time all the time. By the way – if you are a first or second time guest with us today – I want you to know that we’ve been expecting you and praying for you – and we’re glad that you are here with us today.
But it’s the job of all the rest of us to be welcoming – to be hospitable. So if you come here, and you find someone sitting in your seat – especially someone you don’t know – please – do not ask them to move – even if you ask them nicely. Even if that is the place where you sit week after week after week – and have been for years. I say this, because this very thing happened at one of our worship services just last week.
So – what’s the better thing to do? Sit somewhere else! Graciously give up your seat – AFTER you say hello to that person you don’t know. Introduce yourself by name – and say something like, “I don’t believe we’ve met,” and let the conversation go from there. And here’s why. People are hungry for the Word of God. People are looking to be fed – not only by what we say – but also by how we make them feel welcome – but by what we do – and by how we do it. If you ask someone to move – or if we fail to say hello – do you think that person is going to hear the good news? No! But they will remember that we were not a welcoming church.
Listen! This is a lesson we can learn from Paul and Silas. With their prayers and singing – they made that jailhouse rock. With their prayers and singing – and with a little help from an earthquake – they were all shook up. But here’s the wonderful thing that happened. The jailer heard their prayers and their singing – but it was when he saw the integrity of their actions – actions that were the result of their faith – he saw that they not only talked the talk, but they walked the walk. He said to himself, “I want what they’ve got. I want to be one of God’s people too!”
Folks – when people are watching you – and they are – are they saying, “I want what she’s got. I want what he’s got.”? It’s important – because people today are hungry for good news – people are hungry for the Word of God. So any time we can make this church rock, let’s do it! Let’s get people all shook up! We have Good News to share. So let’s do it! Let’s tell it! Let’s live it! Let’s be it! Let’s do it! God is doing a wonderful thing. And that’s Good News – Good News that everyone needs to hear! Amen