Saint What’s-His-Face – Greatest Sinner to Patron Saint

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Intro: Paul is a model for us
We have all encountered Paul before, in fact, for some of us he has become too familiar and we are in need of a break. (For a while, he was “Saint What’s-his-face” to avoid using his name.) But my aim this morning is to shape our view of Paul and to rub off some of the familiarity so that we can see him for what a great example and patron saint for us.

1) Sinner. Paul was raised in the Church, but to his own admission, this upbringing caused him to be the greatest of sinners. Paul had everything going for him. He was raised as a Jew’s Jew. “If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee…” Paul was born of Jews to be a super Jew.

Paul was born in Tarsus, but it was seen early on that he was gifted and so he was shipped off to Jerusalem to learn from the best of the best. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, Paul was trained by the Rabbi Gamaliel, and was his heir apparent. Luke doesn’t tell us, but it is probable that Paul was present in Jerusalem when Jesus came for what we now know as Holy Week. I’m sure he saw the commotion and went down to investigate Jesus’ grand entrance on Palm Sunday. Paul would have come down to hear his teachings in the Temple, and was trying to assert himself by leading the charge against Jesus. “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” Knowing what we know of Paul, we can almost hear these words on his lips. Then Paul sees the events of Jesus’ Passion and death. And all is right with his world, until the followers of Jesus begin to follow in his footsteps.

We first encounter Paul in as a very dangerous man in Acts during the death of Stephen. Paul is definitely driving the train at that point. So zealous was Paul about the protection of all that he knew that he brought about the brought about the Church’s first great persecution. Paul, not being one to sit idly by, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Paul was setting himself up to be the most important man in Judaism outside of the high priest himself.

2) Conversion. Paul reflects later on this time of his life: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Paul had his famous conversion when Jesus comes to him in a bright light that knocks him to the ground and says, “Saul, Saul. Why do you persecute me?” Then he is struck blind for three days. Then he proceeded to Damascus when he received his sight by the hand of Ananias and was then baptized. This is his actual conversion, but as far as his thinking went, he was still a Jew. That is how he had been taught all his life. He needed to become a Christian in his thinking as well. And so he does.

Acts tells us: “Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews by proving that Jesus was the Christ. When many days had passed, the Jews sought to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul.” His disciples lowered him down over the wall of the city by night, and he fled to Jerusalem. Everyone was afraid of him, except Barnabas who took him to the Apostles and told them of all he did.

Paul gives us more to the story in his letter to the Churches of Galatia: “When he who set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.”

Paul goes on to say that he was here for three years. Three years, in which he pours over the Bible, mining the depths and seeing for himself how the entire Bible points to Jesus. During this time he truly becomes a Christian mentally. He learns that all those years prior were nothing more than a misspent youth because he had been doing it all wrong! He failed to see Jesus for who he really was even when he saw him in the flesh in Jerusalem. He saw the events and turned a blind eye to them so convinced was he that he had the right answer. But when Jesus came to him and showed him the correct reading, he takes his time so that he can see with his new eyes and learn it anew.
3) Converter. Now that Paul is fully converted, heart and mind, God can use his wonderful gifts properly. God reveals to Peter and the rest that the Gentiles are now to be actively included in the plan of salvation history. Previously God focused on Israel and told them that they were to be a city on a hill and ultimately through them the Gentiles would be saved. The time has come for this to become a reality and Paul is the connection between the two. Paul is the best that Judaism has to offer and to boot he is a converted Christian. He is perfect for God’s plan. And so Barnabas is sent to Tarsus to fetch Paul and together they go to convert the world to Christ.

Paul makes three missionary journeys (possibly even four), each with a bigger scope, planting churches and planting ideas and moving on to let another water and nurture to full maturity. During these missionary journeys, Paul is under more and more stress. The better the job he does the more the world fights against him. Sometimes it is among those whom he calls friends. He and Barnabas have a major blow out causing the two to part company, never to see each other again. He also has a fight with Cephas [Peter] over public behavior.

Sometimes it is with those whom God called him to minister to as in the Church in Corinth. In Corinth there was a certain very influential member in the Church who was living a lifestyle that should not be condoned by the Church. Yet here was the Church holding this man up as an example of their open-mindedness in Christ. Paul comes down very hard on this, which results in the man pushing back and turning the Church against him. This causes Paul immense pain.

And other times it is the opposition that makes life difficult for Paul. At Lystra, Paul was stoned by Jews from Antioch and Iconium. Stoning someone meant taking big rocks and smashing people to death with them. And when they were finished with this, they drug him out of the city supposing he was dead. Bill Creasy suggests that he was actually dead and at Acts 14:20 “But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city…” Creasy suggests that this is actually Paul being brought back to life.

Yet through all this, Paul keeps his eye on the prize. Through all these pain and hardships Paul was responsible for planting churches throughout the Roman Empire. Countless Christians were converted to Christ as a result of his efforts, yet he doesn’t let it go to his head this time. He has a proper orientation that has properly grounded him.

By the time of his death, Paul has been a Christian for a little over 30 years. He says that he would rather boast of his weaknesses that all the great things that he has done, because he knows that he is not perfect. “I do not do the things that I want, but the very things that I hate…I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil that I do not want is what I do…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Paul knows that every day is a struggle for him to do the things that God has called him to do because of his own will he cannot do it, but would chose the evil. But by God’s grace, he is able to accomplish great things. And so he is able in his last days to say to Timothy: “I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day, and not only me but also all who have loved his appearing.”

St. Paul, pray for us. In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


You are dirty BVDs but wants you for himself

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

In our Church year, we have been placed in a really confusing place as far as our Gospel lesson goes, since Easter moves back and forth and thus Pentecost moves right along with it, when we finally are let loose, we return to a very fixed calendar and so we must take a look around to see when we are so that we can see where we are going. “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” This is quite a spot to be just dumped—right into the middle of something that seems to be rather dangerous, such that the people delivering this message need to have their wits about them. So let’s back up a second and get our bearings.

Jesus has just finished called all twelve of his disciples to him. Now that he has finished that, he gives these men some authority and sends them on a mission, a small mission at first, but as we heard from the beginning, a dangerous one. They are to go to the lost house of Israel and give them a message. But in order to give them this message, they must first demonstrate it with signs and wonders. They are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. This should be sufficient to get their attention.

Then once they get their attention, Jesus says, “I want you to give them a message. It will not be a message that they want to hear, for it will be a hard message, and they will even persecute you for it.” Talk about a baptism by fire. These men are mere babes in their tenure with Jesus and here he sends them on a very dangerous mission. Yet Jesus tells them, “Take heart, it is the most important message these people will ever hear. They will persecute you for this message, but know that they have persecuted me first.”

Let’s leave these disciples here for a moment, and travel back about 650 years to the Prophet Jeremiah. We catch Jeremiah in the middle of a rant in our OT lesson. He is very frustrated with God. “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived.” Our lesson stops short before this, but this rant by Jeremiah proceeds to the point when Jeremiah says to God: “cursed be the day on which I was born…Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” This is a real tizzy that Jeremiah has worked himself into isn’t it? Again let us back track and we will find out why Jeremiah is so upset.

Jeremiah has the distinction of being of being both a priest and a prophet. Normally these are different offices in the Old Testament because they perform two very different functions. The priest is one who speaks to God on behalf of the people—presenting sacrifices on behalf of the people and bringing their petitions before him. (Pretty sweet gig if you ask me.) The prophet works the other way around. The prophet speaks on behalf of God to the people.

Can you see a little bit of why Jeremiah is upset when we encounter him today? Priests are people you like because they are your advocate to God. So have them over to dinner and be good buddies. Prophets, on the other hand, have a habit of getting thrown into the deepest, darkest part of the dungeons because they very rarely come bringing good news. One king of Israel needed a word from the Lord about the battle he and king Jehoshaphat were about to enter, and the king of Israel says of the prophet “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.”

Prophets tell people that God is upset because they keep on breaking their promise to keep their covenant with God. Priests offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to say “Sorry for that.”

Jeremiah is very happy and content being a priest. He just wants to love on his people. But God calls him to be a prophet as well. And the people hate him for it. Nobody likes to be told they are doing things wrong, yet here we have Jeremiah informing the people of God’s thoughts—and they are not good. At one point God tells Jeremiah to give a message to his people, but first he is to go buy a new loincloth, then bury it for many days, then dig it up and put it on and say to the people: “This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after false gods and serve them and worship them, they shall be like this loincloth, good for nothing.” God has just compared his people to soiled, holey BVDs. You know things are bad when God calls you dirty underwear.

Jeremiah has the task of telling the people of God that God is sending them into exile for not listening to him. To get their attention, God is sending them to time out. But more than that he is sending into exile and their captors will destroy their city and the Temple within the city. God is, in effect, sending them to a stranger’s house in another state and burning down their house after they leave. No wonder Jeremiah is so upset in our lesson today. And is it any wonder that Jeremiah only has one good night’s sleep in his ENTIRE 41 year ministry as prophet?!

Yet on that day when he wakes refreshed from his one good night, God tells him good news. “Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God and they will be my people…I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is the message that Jesus sends his newly-minted disciples out to proclaim. He tells them to go show the lost house of Israel that the kingdom of God is at hand and that God is re-establishing his rule. The disciples are to go out with signs and wonders that mean that God reigns. “And after you have their attention,” Jesus says, “tell them the implications of what this means. Tell them God reigns in his kingdom and you do not. Tell them that they have already seen what the world looks like when they place themselves above God and reign in his place.”

The problem is that before God can establish this new covenant with the people that he tells Jeremiah about, he has to clean house. The people will not like this because while they were not listening to God, they were allowing another to take his place—Satan, and he will not release control gently. He will resist and confuse those in his influence that what these people are doing is the work of Satan. And so these people whom the disciples are trying to save will be the very people who will resist them and persecute them and even try to put them to death.

But Jesus tells them, do not fear them. “Do not far those who can put you to death. Fear the one who has the power over death. Fear him who has the power of life—the one who will not grant the gift of life to those who spit in his face and deny his rule.”

Beloved, we have been called to give the same message to our generation. We have been given the same good news that Jesus gave his disciples, but this message is just as hard for the people to hear. “God rules and you do not.” God gives life and which we cannot obtain by ourselves. We cannot do it on our own. We are to take this message and take it into our hearts first and then take it to the people. We are to eat the scroll of the good news of salvation and at first that message will be sweet in our stomachs, but then it will sour them, because it means that we cannot live our loves the way we want to anymore.

God knows that this is hard to say and hard to do, but take heart, we read later, “Come to me all that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” God knows that this is a hard thing he asks of us, and yet after he is done asking it, he tells us that he will be right beside us the whole time helping us and cheering us on until we reach the finish line. And this is good news, because it means that we don’t have to do it alone, and that God gives us the grace to accomplish the things that he wants us to do.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Our History

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
I decided the other day to start listening to an old seminary class that I had a friend record for me. The professor’s name is Patrick Henry Reardon, an Orthodox priest in Chicago. During the class he was musing about the difference between man and animals. Reason, of course, but that is not what he hangs his hat on as the greatest difference between man and beast. He claims it is our ability to remember corporate history.

He uses his cat to demonstrate this point. Cats do not remember their grandparents’ deeds. There are no cat-made monuments to great cats of the past. There are no songs of Fluffy the Great, or cat-lore of Ivan the Terrible (my cat growing up). Cats have memory, yes of course, without it they wouldn’t be able to remember where things are in the house, but for a cat there is no such thing as corporate cat history. They just don’t care.

We, however, do have such a thing. We do have stories of great heroes, and we do have monuments made to honor great heroes of the past. We have a knowledge of our history and feel that it is important enough to know it that we require school-age children to learn it.

I had a professor in college Vince Clark who began both his Texas Government and his Texas History classes with the same lecture a history of the world to that point. In order for us to get a sense of self, he began, as all good stories do, at the beginning, “in a hole in the ground. Not a nasty hole…” Actually he began with the migration of caribou over the frozen land bridge between Russia and Alaska.

I can almost do his opening speech verbatim: “Ice covered the globe. I wish I had a globe. Ice covered the globe (hand demonstrates this on his bald head) heading from the poles, slowly moving toward the equator, forming bridges between lands that are normally separated by water. Then one day a caribou sniffs the air, and he smells food on the other side of that little bridge. And then he walks over across the bridge and then he looked at his left wrist, and he looked at his right wrist, and he decided that he is no longer a Russian Caribou, he is now a North American Caribou. And the man that would hunt this Russian Caribou followed his source of food over the land bridge and began settling North America.

And ol’ Vincer (as he preferred to call himself) would fly us through history thousands of years, then hundreds, then tens until he arrived on the day when the people residing in the land of Mexico called Tejas, looked at their left wrist and they looked at their right wrist, and they decided that they were no longer Mexicans, they were Texicans.

Then there was a battle that resulted from this decision of the Texians as General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana brought 1500 of his finest trained and battle-hardened soldiers, fresh off their war for independence from Spain 15 years before. They were highly trained, marching in perfect unison like the Texas A&M marching band, with uniforms crisply starched, and weapons gleaming having been freshly polished. They were just itching to use all that training.

So off they went with General Santa Ana in the lead, descending like a horde upon the rebellion at San Antonio. William B. Travis, desperate to make a stand against this impressive army, sent four messengers out to gather as many volunteers as he could. But not many answered his pleas. By February 23, 1836, Travis had mustered 100 men, farmers mostly, to fight against the Mexican army.

He took his men and gathered them at the local mission—the Alamo. This building walls thick as the arm of a man. This was a place that the great army of Santa Ana would crash against, but not penetrate. Cannon balls could not even dent such a wall. His men were safe as long as they kept them outside. And to get them all on his side and because he knew that he was hopelessly outnumbered, Colonel Travis begins to give them a pep talk: “We must die. Our business is not to make a fruitless effort to save our lives, but to choose the manner of our death.”

He saw three possibilities: Surrender and summary execution, trying to fight their way out only to be “butchered” by Mexican lancers or “remain in this fort…resist every assault, and to sell our lives as dearly as possible.”

Then, with a flourish, Travis drew his sword and slowly marked a line in the dirt. “I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line.” All but one did. And Travis placed them on the wall of the Alamo for the battle.

Then someone heard in the distance: “ya dadada ya dadad ya. Ya dadada yadadada ya.” And someone else looked over the wall and the light hit him in the eye. And he kinda blinked and he saw those soldiers marching in their perfectly synchronized lines, like the Fighting Texas A&M Marching Band, all marching toward them and playing those drums. “Ya dadada ya dadadada ya. Ya dadadada ya dadadada ya.” And the battle that resulted lasted 13 days until March 6, 1836, and gives us names to remember like Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie, and of course, William B. Travis.

This is history. This is our history. It is part of what forms us as Texans—part of what informs us that yes, we are a part of the union of 50 states, but our star should be just a little bigger on that flag, for we came into this union not as some land grant, but as an independent nation who wanted to join.

Our history as Christians forms us as well. And, as Vincer did with Texas history, we begin today at the beginning. Genesis 1 gives us many clues to who we are as it unfolds.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” And then God speaks creation into existence and he sets about the task of forming the world and filling the void.

The first three days God are dedicated to addressing the formlessness of the earth.
The first day, God set up time. He said, “Let there be light.” And he saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the dark and the called the light Day and the dark Night.
The second day God establishes space. He separates the waters from the waters, making a space for us in the middle.
And the third day he creates life, or really the place where life will live—the dry land—filling it with plants.

Days 4-6 are God filling the emptiness and establishing rulers over the various realms.
On day 4, God gives us the ability to determine our place in history by giving us rulers over the day and the night—the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night.
Day 5 gives us rulers over the sea and the air—fish over the sea, and birds in the air.
Day 6 God fills the land with wild animals and livestock, and bugs and all creeping things that creep on the earth and makes these the ruler over the land.

And finally, still on the sixth day, God makes man, in his image and likeness. God creates man to rule over all the things below him. From the beginning of our creation, establishes his relationship with us. He wants us to be his sons and daughters. And then God places man over all the birds of the air and fish of the sea; over all the wild beasts and livestock, and creeping things that creep on the earth, and he is to rule over them as God rules over man, as a loving Father. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Creation is now finished.

God can now kick up his feet and relax. However, God does not rest because he was tired; he rests to teach us a lesson. God created us as rulers over creation—the highest in the realm. But God rests to show us that our destiny is not solely in being king of all the earth. God rests to show us that there is more to us than this earth can offer and so he calls us to himself on the seventh day. On the seventh day, God gives man his purpose in life.

Animals are to live their lives glorifying God in how they go about their lives in the way in which he created them—that is their purpose. We on the other hand are called back to the Father. Our purpose in life is to seek and follow God in his eternal Sabbath rest. We are called beyond being rulers of the 6 days of creation and are called to the seventh.

This is the story of our origin and it is a story that gives us a lot with which to work. It gives us our beginnings and introduces us to the themes that will be played out throughout the rest of history until history is no more and we are called to the Father through His Son. In it is a history that shows us who we are and how we are to live. This is the beauty that is our story.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Continuing through our look at Acts, last week was a weird week in the Church, because how often do you recall Jesus ever telling his disciples to do nothing.  “Just hang out, don’t do anything.  Go see your family or something, just hang out here with each other, you band of 120, I will be doing something big in a little bit.”  But they didn’t do nothing, they did something—they elected Matthias to fill Judas’ place.  And Matthias fills the role perfectly and is never heard from again and we won’t find out what he did until we get to heaven, and then we will be amazed.

 Now today, we have the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, and it is indeed a big one.  Today is the Jewish feast of Pentecost (it was a Jewish feast before it was a Christian one.  This is the feast of first fruits, and called Pentecost because it is 50 days after Passover). So, since it is a major feast, all the Jews gathered their things and went to Jerusalem.  They had to, it was a MAJOR feast and the only place to celebrate the feast was at the temple, so everyone takes vacation and went to Jerusalem to party.  Jerusalem is packed at this point (think Olympics—where everyone from all around the world flocks to a certain town). 

 Suddenly, there came from heaven a mighty sound, like a rushing wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.  And tongues of fire descended upon them.  The Holy Spirit is descending upon them, setting the whole atmosphere on fire as he descends upon the 120 people present.  They just cannot contain themselves.  They are talking about what is happening to them at that moment.  They are talking about all the great works that Jesus has done.  They are talking about all the things they are going to do for the Church.  They are literally on fire with the Holy Spirit and are about to tear down the building through all their excitement. 

 Look back on a time when you felt closest to God—the most filled with the Holy Spirit you have ever felt—it was like that, but magnified 100-fold.  Now I have felt on fire with the Holy Spirit plenty of times, but never so much that the world was shaking and the sky burning.  This was an experience such as has never been felt before.

 Let’s take a second and compare an event.  In 1 Kings 19, the Prophet Elijah is fleeing Jezebel the evil Queen of Israel.  For has just finished his display of God’s power on Mount Carmel which resulted in Elijah slaying 450 of the queen’s prophets devoted to Baal.  She is very dangerous and now very upset with Elijah and Elijah goes into hiding convinced that his life is forfeit.  He is also convinced that he is the only one faithful to Yahweh left, and so he prays for God’s help, because Israel is God’s people and if they are to survive this, God is going to need to act mightily. 

 God tells Elijah that he is going to visit him.  All of the sudden the wind begins to howl outside the cave. The wind was so strong that it picked up boulders and smashed them to pieces on the sides of the mountain.  But God was not in the wind.  And after the wind, an earthquake, such that Elijah thought the world would break in two, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake, an inferno erupts around the cave, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire, the sound of a low small whisper (KJV still small voice), and then Elijah came out and met the Lord.  This encounter was to show Elijah that, yes, God could produce these marvelous works, but all he needed to do was to listen for his voice and great things would be accomplished.  This was enough to strengthen Elijah’s weak knees to accomplish the task given to him.

 Contrast this encounter with our encounter today.  The whole world was shaking and burning, one can imagine this looking like the same thing that happened to Elijah, but God the Holy Spirit is not coming to merely get the attention of a scared prophet, he is coming to permanently reside in the hearts of his followers until such time as the Son comes to end the world.  This is a huge event in the life of the Church and it is marked as such.

 This event is so big that everyone in Jerusalem who is present for the feast of Pentecost comes running to see what in the world just happened.  Major disturbances draw everyone—take the train derailment; everyone in the neighborhood was out of their houses to see what just happened.  So out come the lights and sirens and this draws everyone to the scene of the supposed disaster and they witnesses this event of God.

 As everyone gets there, each person from all parts of the surrounding areas (remember, think Olympics) hears the commotion, everyone telling about the wonderful works of God in their own language.  But the Apostles and the rest of the 120 followers of Christ are talking to each other in their native language of Aramaic.  This miracle is such that each person needs to understand perfectly what is going on, and it would not do for the speaker to not understand what they are saying, so each person was speaking in his own native language, yet all understood in his own native language as well.  Nothing was lost in translation.  And they all ask, “What does this mean?”

 Peter, now filled with the Holy Spirit, has also had his shaking knees calmed a la Elijah (remember his encounters while Jesus was on trial and being afraid to even tell a servant girl that he was associated with Jesus).  He opens his mouth in front of all gathered (Olympic level), and he boldly proclaims Jesus Christ, even though 53 days earlier, his best friend had just been murdered for doing the same thing to a similar crowd.  Peter has now been strengthened by the Holy Spirit to accomplish his role as head of the Apostles.

 This is one of the roles of the Holy Spirit.  The official roles of the Holy Spirit are: 1) to guide, shape, and nurture the Church as a whole, 2) to help individuals to life the live that God has called them to live, and 3) to provide gifts, talents, and abilities to be used in the service of the family of God.  This is most evident when we see Peter stand up and address the crowd, because we know from previous encounters with him that he does not, of his own nature, have the ability to address this big crowd so boldly, nor does he have the discernment to understand what the significance of this is. 

 Peter, who usually puts his foot in the mouth on every available occasion, flawlessly and beautifully tells the assembled crowd about the mighty acts of Jesus Christ. And the crowd’s response is: “What shall we do?”  His answer?  “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone—whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And the crowd received his message and were baptized, about 3,000 souls.  This is the birthday of the Church. 

 Now this number is significant.  At what was supposed to be the birthday of the Jewish faith, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he came down to find, not a people ready and waiting, chomping at the bit to hear what it was that God had to say to them through Moses.  Rather he found an illicit party going on in front of an image of a golden calf—an idol of a false god.  Moses then smashes the tablets of stone and calls for those on the Lord’s side—the Levites (the priests)—to kill all those associated with this abomination—about 3000.

 So on the birthday of Judaism (the faith, not the family), the celebrated with a slaughter as a result of infidelity.  But in Acts, we read that that day about 3,000 souls were converted, and then we get to the next line: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  And awe and wonder came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done.  They committed themselves to God, and God blessed them greatly, as he desired to do that day on Mt Sinai, thus righting that previous wrong.

 Beloved in the Lord, I wonder, what would it look like today in our Church, if we did the same?  What would it look like if we really and truly devoted ourselves to these things: the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers?  Luke says that powerful signs and wonders will happen, and wonder and awe.  But I would like to know what you think.  This week, think about it and pray about it, and then go to our website and follow the link to our blog.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments and let’s see what it looks like here in Gainesville as commit ourselves to doing these things.

 In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jumping the Gun

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Our story takes a slight turn today.  We leave Paul behind and rewind all the way back to the beginning of the story.  But at this point in the story it matches roughly where we are in our pilgrimage since witnessing Jesus resurrected on Easter Sunday.  Jesus appeared to the disciples and Luke tells us that he had an intense 40 day master class with his disciples on how to the scriptures point to Jesus and how to take that bit forward and spread the good news. 

 We see a brief bit of this at the end of Luke.  For those keeping score at home, Acts is the second volume of the Gospel that Luke wrote.  A little history on Luke before we dive into his Gospel:  Luke was not an eye witness to the gospel; he was a travelling companion of Paul.  They met when Paul came to Troas and Luke was so convinced by Paul’s message that he decided to accompany him on his journeys—which was not a bad arrangement for Paul as Luke was a trained physician.  I’m sure this helped out immensely with Paul’s “thorn in his flesh” and the many beatings he got.  Paul had plenty of work for Luke and while he was working on Paul, Paul continued to preach the gospel to him.

 Luke later would use his skill and attention to detail to fill in what Paul told him with the witnesses of those who were there and following Jesus at the time.  He went and spoke to Mary, and other sources.  After doing this, somewhere in his travels he came upon a rich benefactor who asked him to write all of these stories down and told him he would finance the whole thing.  And like a good author, Luke dedicated the two works to him, the most excellent Theophilus.

 Now back to the story: Luke tells us about a post-resurrection encounter that informs us about the things which Jesus taught his disciples.  The disciples were at what became their safe house—the house of Mary the mother of John Mark—the house in which upstairs they had the Last Supper.  We see the disciples many times here and it seems to be the case that they decided that whenever something bad happened, they would go here.  They had to have decided this because every time something happens, we find them here at this house.

 So here are the disciples hiding for fear of the Jews, as the men from the road to Emmaus come in from their encounter with Jesus and tell their story.  And as they finished, Jesus appears to them: “Hey guys!”  They examine him but are so excited they think they are all seeing a ghost or something, so Jesus asks for some food—ghosts don’t eat food.  Now having convinced them that it is really him back in the flesh—he has their complete attention—and then proceeds to “open their minds to understand the scriptures.”  Jesus had to show them how they needed to view the scriptures in light of the resurrection.  And he did this for forty days—oh to sit in on that class!

 On the last day of class, Jesus tells them he has a surprise for them.  “Don’t leave Jerusalem, but wait here for the promise of the Father.”  Basically, “hang tight here, see the sights if you can, but don’t do anything.”  And as he is saying this to them and giving a few last minute advice, they watch him ascend into heaven.  You can almost see him going up still giving the advice, his voice becoming softer and softer as he rises higher and higher.  And the higher he gets, the more the disciples have to strain to hear it, until they are just standing there looking up straining their ears for one last syllable from him.

 I’m sure they would have remained there awhile, all sort of in a trance, just thinking about Jesus and the things he had given them to do.  They had probably been standing there a while, for Angels needed to come to them to rouse them from their state.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go.”  It’s not written here, but I’m sure he said, “Now go away, go about the business he gave you to do,” which, remember, was nothing.

 They went over to the Mount of Olives to gather—not a very far journey Luke says, but it was an important place.  In Ezekiel, he tells us that when the Messiah comes, he will touch down on the Mount of Olives and then the dead there will be raised first.  Which is why this is such a coveted Jewish cemetery—who wants to wait in line to be resurrected—something may happen while you are still in line to be roused from your dirt nap.  So this is where they go to await the gift.

 Luke tells us who was there, Peter, James and John and Andrew, Phillip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James (or not Iscariot—he’s dead).  Also the women were there including the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus’ family (whether they are cousins or brothers from Joseph we don’t know), and we are happy Jesus’ family is here because it means that they have finally come around to believe in him (last time we encountered them they didn’t—crazy Jesus, why don’t you come home and lie down?).

So Peter, being the one to whom everyone looks to now that Jesus is gone (again), decides to address the group.  “We need to replace Judas Iscariot.  Jesus appointed twelve, there are twelve tribes of Israel, and we need to replace him.”  They come up with some rules: it must “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become, with us, a witness to his resurrection.”  So they pulled out their trusty dice (a popular way of determining God’s will) and the lot fell to Matthias. 

 Now I’m sure Matthias was a very worthy candidate, and indeed he is the one who completed the number and now holds the venerable place among THE Twelve.  But what did Jesus tell them to do?  Nothing until the gift of the father comes to them—the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  But typical Peter prior to this descent, he gets an idea and presses forward with it, even if it is not exactly what Jesus would have wanted.  

 Don’t get me wrong Matthias isn’t a scab, he is the honest and worthy Apostle—the completion of the twelve—but probably not exactly whom Jesus would have chosen had Peter not made the decision to fill Judas’ place, for this is the last we hear of Matthias (although I am sure that in saying this, I will need to give poor Matthias a huge apology when I meet him in heaven).  But in Acts 9:15, Jesus comes in a vision to Ananias and tells him, “Go [anoint Paul], for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” 

 That kind of sounds like Jesus meant to call Paul, but Peter jumps the gun to round out the number.  Now I don’t think this is something that would cause God’s plan to be torn in two, but it seems to be something that God uses despite his intentions, rather than something that he uses because of his intentions.  I’m sure Matthias did (and even continues to do) a wonderful job in his role as Apostle, but from the witness of Luke, Paul was the one whom Jesus intended to choose.  But as Paul says himself, he is one “as yet untimely born.”  It did not decrease him ministry in the end, he just had to spend a bit more effort in the beginning to become recognized as an Apostle.  And it was probably good for his ego to boot.

 This is a good reminder for us: sometimes God’s plan works despite our choices rather than because of our choices.  To be sure no one here can individually thwart the plan of salvation for all mankind, however, you can alter your own personal track of salvation.  Every decision you make affects the path.  Some cause God to provide an alternative route should you decide to take a path other than the one he desires, and some even require a back track.  Other decisions, decisions that follow the God’s track, allow you to cover more ground faster. 

 In the end, discernment is required of each of us as to how it is that God wants us to go.  We get to choose whether or not we want to listen or to disregard God’s plan.  But let Paul’s lack of being numbered with the twelve be a reminder of not paying close attention to God.  Let us also look to Mathias as a reminder that though we may sometimes be asleep at the wheel, God can still make good things happen. 

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.