God Sends Us Out!

“God Sends Us Out!”

Acts 8-5-8 Philip preaching in Samaria

July 26, 2015 – Acts 8:4-8, 12, 14-17

Did you ever have something unexpected happen? Let’s say, you’re going about your everyday business, everything perfectly normal. When, something out of the ordinary happens. Comes out of left field. Knocks your socks off! Could be called a miracle, even!

That’s what happened in our Scripture passage from Acts chapter 8 today. Something certainly out of the ordinary happened to the Samaritans!

I’m continuing with my Summer Sermon Series from the book of Acts, Postcards from the Early Church. But before I continue, I’d like to thank everyone for the opportunity to take a week to go to a church conference, the New Wilmington Mission Conference in western Pennsylvania. I hope everyone enjoyed Pastor Gordon as he preached and led the service last week in my absence. The mission conference was a marvelous opportunity to see what God is doing around the world in mission and outreach. Reaching out to people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Surprise! It’s just what the apostle Philip was doing, in our Scripture reading today.

It’s only a number of months after that first Pentecost. The apostles have been preaching and teaching up a storm. The fellowship of new believers in the risen Messiah has been growing by leaps and bounds! When—we have the super-deacon Stephen get hauled up before the authorities. You remember, just like a radio serial. “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . !” Only, things went from bad to worse for Stephen. Some things he said about God really got the authorities mad. They thought he was saying blasphemous words, so they stoned him to death. And, God rest his soul. Stephen was the first martyr of the Church.

You might have guessed that Jerusalem was no longer a safe place to stay for many early believers in the risen Jesus. The apostles and other church leaders left town in a hurry!

The early believers in the risen Messiah were ALL Jewish. Everyone in the first church in Jerusalem was Jewish! The first few months were like a greenhouse; this growing church was spreading like a wild fire! But the sudden death of Stephen brought the rapidly growing situation in Jerusalem to an abrupt end.

Which brings us to Philip, one of the apostles. His task is a continuation of sending. The Greek—the original language definition for apostle is ‘one sent on a mission.’ So, Philip is doing his job! Doing what Jesus told him to do.

One problem: Philip was not preaching to Jews. This is unheard of, at this point.

Preaching to Jews? Acts 8 says clearly that Philip—one of the Jewish apostles—went to Samaria, an area some ways north of Jerusalem. There’s a problem: no self-respecting, kosher-keeping Jew would willingly go to Samaria!

Let me tell you a little about the Samaritans, a tribe of people forcibly brought to Israel several centuries before. As John Petty says in his Lectionary blog, “Samaritans and Jews were all-but-enemies.  Centuries of insults and provocations had made each group so disgusted with the other that Jews travelling to Galilee or Judea would usually opt to take the longer route through the area across the Jordan River rather than set foot in Samaria.

“The Samaritans shared some aspects of faith with the Judeans.  Their sacred book was the Pentateuch, and, in their minds, they worshipped Yahweh.  They rejected, however, the focus on Jerusalem that was integral to the Judeans’ Jewish faith. As far as the [Jewish people] were concerned, the Samaritans were some form of ‘half-breed’ and their theology was heretical.”

I think you all can see where the problem lies. Jews hated Samaritans! Samaritans hated Jews! A racial issue! A huge barrier in relationship stood between them!

Just a minute. Let’s step back. Barriers between people? Misunderstood and marginalized people? Differences in religion, even heretical viewpoints? Sounds like a mission field to me!

This past week at the mission conference, I heard about mission outreaches that crossed all kinds of barriers. Differences in language, religion, culture, and viewpoint. Differences in urban people going to rural places, Christian worldview meeting Buddhist or Hindu or Moslem worldview. Wide differences in cultural views and assumptions. And—that’s just on the missionaries’ side.

So, when we consider the apostle Philip crossing a barrier of hatred and disdain and religious difference to reach the Samaritan people with the knowledge and understanding of the risen Messiah, we know for sure this was missionary activity. Listen to verses 5 and 6:

“5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said.” This verse mentions “signs.” I think I know what those signs were. In the very next verse, Dr. Luke explains: “For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.”

I don’t have time to go into the topic of evil, or impure, spirits at this time. I’ve been preaching a midweek bible study for the past few weeks on Angels: Elect and Evil. I’m going to do a “coming attractions spiel.” If you’re available this coming Wednesday at 11:00 am, step on down to this very room! If the weather is hot and toasty outside, come on in. We have air conditioning. This week will be the final session, on demons. Or as they are sometimes referred to, evil spirits.

Let’s move on—to Philip and his effective evangelism. He reached out with the Good News, to this despised and disdained group of people. Guess what? Many believed! Continuing with Acts 8: “12 When they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”

But, wait! There’s more! Apostles Peter and John show up, wondering what is going on.

What did Peter and John think of the Samaritans? Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us, but I suspect they had similar feelings to their fellow countrymen.

I have another question for you: What do you think about crossing barriers today? What about outreach right here, right now? What about an Indian church, culturally different from St. Luke’s ? Oh, wait! The dancing classes St. Luke’s Church hosts during the week come from a Catholic Indian church. What about a language barrier, where a different group of people uses a completely different alphabet? Oh, wait! What about Love Sharing Disciple Church? Our Korean friends who worship in the sanctuary here at 12:30 pm.

Do you think Jesus included everyone in His invitation to come to Him? Or, did He say, “Oh, everyone is invited, except for people with physical problems.” That would put my friend and church elder Bob out of the picture, because he has a withered arm, withered from birth. Or, did Jesus say, “Everyone is invited, except for people with disabilities.” No! Remember my friend Pastor Joe, who was at my commissioning service? He’s blind.

Jesus loved Samaritans just as much as Jews. Remember the woman at the well from John 4? Yup, she was Samaritan. And a woman of loose morals. No self-respecting Jewish man would even talk to her. The Rabbi Jesus crossed lots of barriers to bring her to faith! What about the Good Samaritan? Jesus made a Samaritan the star of one of His best-loved parables! And, here’s the kicker. Jesus’ last words, just before He was taken up into heaven, Acts 1:8b. “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Did you all hear? It doesn’t matter whether the Jews despised the Samaritans. God would help the Jews to love the Samaritans. They still needed to introduce Samaritans to Jesus.

Did you all hear? The apostles needed to go to the ends of the earth. Praise God! That’s just what they did. Did you all hear? It doesn’t matter what kind of barrier you and I are need to cross, God is there to help. We can overcome language differences, culture or worldview problems, religious differences. Remember John 3:16? For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” For you, for me. For everyone.

God loves the whole world. What part of “whole world” do we not understand?

Peter and John were finally convinced. God does not divide or isolate persons one from another. Instead, Peter and John prayed and laid hands on the Samaritan believers. What happened? The Holy Spirit came upon the Samaritans. The Holy Spirit came with power to the Samaritan believers as well as the Jewish believers.

God is all about mission. Outreach. God is a sending God. It doesn’t matter if we are moved to reach out to our neighbor across the alley, to our community with the Maine Township Food Pantry, to the poor and marginalized of Chicago with Bundled Blessings diaper pantry, or to a mission outreach halfway around the world with Dana and Carolyn Belton, with SIM Ministries in Zambia.

In this way, we are following the command of Jesus—to go to our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We have that opportunity, too. We can reach out, say ‘hello’ to someone who looks different—sounds different—worships differently. I have accepted this challenge! This opportunity. This challenge. God would like you to accept it, too!

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!

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We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! 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!)