Being intentional about what you do and what you do not do is tough. It is easier to just drift along on the surface of life’s currents. We find the path of least resistance through the day, the week, the year…. In that way we act like electrons bumping along in a not straight path, occasionally going backword, but always moving in the direction of the electric current. Moving in the direction of whoever applies the strongest voltage.
That is not the full life that Jesus wants for us. Luke writes both the Gospel that bares his name and Acts. The heroes in them are all people who live intentional lives. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He set his face knowing full well what was ahead – the cross. In the reading from Acts today Paul does the same thing. Paul has finished his third missionary journey. And the Spirit is telling him to go to Jerusalem. The Spirit is also telling Paul that imprisonment and affliction await (Acts 20:23). And is nice enough to send a prophet to visually remind him (Acts 21:11). In the face of that, and the people of Ephesus, and all his stops along the way begging him to not go, Paul intentionally goes to Jerusalem.
Minister’s who preach things like, You’re Best Life Now, are half right. God does want you to have your best life. The problem comes in our definition of that best life. We fill that term with meaning such as a full bank account or an easy path in life. We think of our best life in terms of that electron, please don’t put any large resistors in our path. The best life is the life that finds its purpose and end in Jesus Christ, the source of life. The Christian lets Christ define what the best life means. For Paul the best life was shipwreck and imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel. How do we discern what Christ’s best life for us is? Prayer, study, trials.
It may be like the old joke about wishing someone an interesting life, but may the Lord grant you the desire and power to live an intentional life. Amen.
I really like this text. I got more out of the textual study this week than most of the prior weeks. I’m wondering if that was helpful though. There were just so many linkages and promises. You could link old and new testament around the presesnce of God in the Temple and the presence of God in our lives. (Some of which made it in.) You could line Gosple to epistles with the temple made of bricks superceded by the Temple made of flesh and blood. (Some of that got in.) You could go with the Son of David motif. (Some of which got in.) You could be systematic about it and talk in three points about the different types of authority we live under and that Jesus is the authority. (This gave me the intro and the closing.) And I haven’t even got to my favorite insight from the week in connection with Acts, how in Acts 3 – 4 the same type of authority question with the same players happens, but so much is flipped, and the comparison makes so clear that Jesus is now on the throne instead of in the state of humiliation. (None of that made it in.) Usually a single line of thought jumps out at me early and I just don’t have to think about others. This week all those individual sermons were jumping around and I had to prune it down. I have a sinking feeling I didn’t do that enough.
A couple of comments thought it was good. A couple of comments noted reading other material. I have a feeling it was tougher to follow. As much as I edited and edited and tried to choose and make one coherent theme, I think the others kept intruding – which means that I was probably talking to myself as I was the only one who had the background.
The writers of the Bible not only believed in a personal God, but they believed (saw) personal evil. Luther often talks of Christ’s victory over Sin, Death and the Devil. The passage from Acts today is an example of what such a victory might look like in these last days. Paul, as the apostle of Jesus had the ability to perform miralces. Just like Jesus in the Gospels where people would line up just to touch his cloak, in Ephesus, handkerchiefs and aprons were taken from Paul to the sick to heal them, and drive out evil spirits. But some took these miracles not as signs and wonders pointing to Jesus and his victory. The Seven Sons of Sceva took them as witchcraft. When we say witchcraft we think of the holloween images and bogus witch trials, but the point of witchcraft is lost in those images. The point is to gain power over God or some other power entity through ritual. Becuase I do/say these things in the correct way, you, the powerful entity, must do what I ask. There is no such thing as witchcraft, because you can’t put God in a box, and the devil only does what he thinks is in his interest. The demons in our story teach Sceva’s sons that lesson as they run naked and beaten out the door.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, a center of the witchcraft, says be sure to put on the full armor of God, becuase we do not fight against flesh and blood but agianst the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world. (Ephesians 6:10-20) Christ has triumphed over these forces. They fight a scorched earth retreat. If they can’t have the world, they are going to burn it all and take as many to hell with them as they can. But we can fight in the armor supplied by God. In Ephesus, fear fell on them all. The name of Jesus was extolled and the people came forward confessing what they had been doing. Those who thought they had practiced magic brought the books together and burned them. They had been valued at 50,000 pieces of silver -100’s of years of wages. When the veil is lifted just a bit, the foolishness of the thoughts are clear.
But this victory over the devil is exactly what our culture today says we can’t do. It says people won’t burn 50,000 silver pieces. It says you can’t turn back the clock. Most of the time it is not a turning back the clock, but a growing in wisdom. Pornagraphy is bad for you, in Christ you can defeat it, put it on the fire. Sloth leads to get rich quick schemes, like flipping houses on bad loans. In Christ you can learn fortitude and patience. The Devil fights his battle of the bulge, but he’s judged, one word can fell him. It is not turning back the clock, but growing in the wisdom of our situation.
As I took the weekend off of writing we missed a couple of beats the the story of Acts. Paul went to Athens to let things cool off. He’d been preaching around Thessalonica (Thessalonians) and the Jews got so hot they were hunting him from village to village. Silas and Timothy stay, but they send Paul to Athens. Athens was not its former self. It had expended itself in the Pelopenisian wars and Rome had swept through. Athens was living on its former glory with the ‘soft power’ of sophists and the heirs of its great philosophers. People would come to stare at the art and babble about beauty, but action was not its strong suit. So the cooling his heals Pual stares at the art as he wonders the city. So being Paul finds his way to the marketplace and the councils and preaches the Gospel. Athens response, “Eh – we’ll hear you again about this”. The apathy of those secure in their knowing relativism.
Paul leaves and goes to Corinth – more a Paul kind of town. Corith, opposed to Athens, was the commercial and political hub of Greece. If Boston with its universities would be Athens, New York would be Corinth. Here in Corinth Paul gets a job and he stays a year and a half. The Lord tells him to stay – “I have many people here” He says. Eventually Paul heads back to Antioch.
In today’s reading, Paul has regrouped and headed back out to Ephesus. He finds a congregation of 12 already there. They had the baptism of John (one of repentance) but not the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Paul baptizes them and the Holy Spirit comes with signs – tonges and prophecy. Paul stays with this congregation in Ephesus for over 2 years – meeting in the public hall.
Ephesus eventually becomes a primary seat in the ancient church – John the last living Apostle writes from there. In the orthodox tradition this is where the assumption of Mary happend from. It is one of the seven churches in Revelation. All churches have humble beginnings, or humble re-beginnings. And they all take time. Armed with prophecy and tonges and healings and apostolic authority, Paul starts with about 12 in Ephesus and he’s there over 2 years. We can get trapped into looking for the easy answer – the divine response – the deus ex machina – to miraculously build things. But sinful humans eventually fall away even from witnessed miracles. The walk of faith is a walk. It requires that we cooperate with God and put one foot in front of the other in doing those good works he’s laid out in advance. And that takes place in space-time, accross space and over the time of God’s choosing.
May the Lord grant you some good sights on that walk and the patience to keep puting one foot in front of the next.
Education, in the classical sense, was not training for a particular job or skill set, but it was formation of patterns of thought. It was about how to think. Not what to think – people of good conscience can come to different answers – but how. To do that you have to have the confidence that there is a correct way to think, and that we can find it or have it revealed to us. Concordia Seminary is an interesting institution in that it still believes in formation. Pastoral education is still called formation. And they definitely believe that the scriptures contain the proper way to think.
This post on the Concordia Seminary recruitment blog is a reflection on the church and that formation by Dr. Burreson. He mentions two classes, Lutheran Mind and Systematics 4. I had him for both of these classes.
Toward the end he states.
we human beings that make up the body of Christ are one through Him alone who was crucified and raised and whose Father incorporates us into His Son’s body by the stuff of life: water, bread, wine and words.
That struck me a similiar to my introduction to last week’s sermon.
The Bible is actually full of monetary images. That shouldn’t surprise us because while inspired the Bible also had human authors. It is full of the things of everyday life. Bread and water and wine…The stuff of everyday life.
It might have been a window opened to Dr. Burresson recently (he just came off sabbatical, so things look new), but it would seem that the same thoughts and windows were in action well before that.
Grace is strange. On a day when your head seems to be elsewhere (like forgetting to take the offering and moving it later in the service) you get a sermon that you still like. Pure grace.
Grace is just on the border of our experience. That we can recognize it seems to me a strong argument for God. Kinda like that old Police song, there has to be an invisible sun, gives its heat to every one. When the world is nasty, brutish and short, we catch a ray of grace. A glimpse of the divine economy. When the market is down and fear overwhelms and attendance is not where you’d like it, some small piece of grace seems to balance all the scales – no drives them completely out of balance. Like only underserved and unlimited grace can do.
Paul is still going first to the synagogs. He is arguing with Jews. The the synagogs of the diaspora also contained god-fearers, gentiles who believed in the Jewish God. At Thessalonica Paul debates with the Jews for three weeks. Always from scripture. Some of the Jews were persuaded, but a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. You can hear the sneering now. How easy is it to convice women and Greeks? They don’t know better. They aren’t trained. And its just the “leading women”, well known for being flighty and attracted to novelty. Luke says the Jews were jealous and gathered up a rabble. Jealous of what? Paul’s freedom and spirit? The freedom of the outsider, the woman, the greek to accept the gospel without serious societal cost? These men who have turned the world upside-down have also come here.
It happens to us occasionally. We get presented with a discontinuity. Rochester has two examples in Xerox and Kodak. The transition to digital was seen well in advance by both. Xerox PARC had the entire PC. Kodak had both printers and cameras. The choice was clear. The executives had heard the 3 weeks of testimony. Some believed. A whole bunch of staffers and guys like Gates and Jobs and those flaky west coast types believed in the digital future. The established leaders all yelled, this is turning the world upside down. Discontinuities produce two emotions – excitement over the new direction and jealousy or anger over a forced change.
We are all presented with one discontinuity. Did Jesus die and rise for me? A yes fundamentally changes the way you live. A no produces jealousy and anger over the loss of a beautiful and longed for story. No one is left unchanged by the offer of the Gospel.
May the Lord lead you to that exciting and life giving yes at the discontinuity of the Gospel.
You either like Pual or you will find him extremely annoying. He doesn’t live by the rules of polite society. When you meet people like that they either tickle you at the mischievous fun they have playing with and calling society on its own rules, or you hate them passionately. They have a fire which makes convetional life seem pale. They take rules to mean what they say instead of to mean what everyone “knows” what they mean. There really is no middle ground with Paul. That is the man, but probably also a reflection of the gospel at his core. There is no middle ground with the gospel. It is a two edged sword. It is a proclamation, a claim – Jesus died and rose again for you. If true, you have to fundamentally reorder your life. Like that pop song a few years back – What if God were one of us?…Would you want to see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe, in things like Jesus and the saints and all the prophets… – You can answer no, I don’t want to see. No I don’t accept the proclamation, but you don’t just let it go. When someone who said yes appears, it causes anger.
Paul, thrown in prison for interruping the cash flow and disturbing the peace, doesn’t run when he has the chance. The jailer accepts the Gospel. The magistrates just want the problem gone. Paul, you are free to go, please leave quickly but the back gate. Convention would say run, don’t walk. That is not Paul. But I’m a Roman citizen. Can you beat and jail a Roman citizen and then show them the back door. No, let the magistrates come here themselves. So they came and apologized and showed them the door, but Paul gets his picture and apology with the magistrates. A gift to leave with Lydia. The Phillipian church has a very capable woman and the town sherrif at its bedrock.
May the Lord grant you the ability to appreciate (if not always follow) those like Paul consumed by a different message.
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Paul meets a servant girl with a spirit. The text interestingly doesn’t lable it an evil spirit, but this spirit does something that they all did when they saw Christ – they shout out who He was. In this case the girl shouts out that these men (Paul, Silas, Timothy) are servents of the Most High God. The spirits know what is what. They don’t see through a glass darkly. This calling out continued many days. It annoyed Paul. That is an interesting phrase. When Jesus cast demons out, it was usually becuase he was moved to compassion or had pity on the possessed. Paul is annoyed. Just an interesting way of putting it. Especially when this spirit might have been helping their cause. People paid this girls owners very well to hear what she had to say. Paul was getting free publicity.
The reaction is a familiar one. There is always something at the center of people’s lives. Religion is treated as an add on – a nice pious practice that nice people do. You can have your religion up to a certain point. For the owners of this slave girl, they let Paul preach in the marketplace for many days. It wasn’t a naked public square. It crossed the line when Paul’s actions changed their lives. Christ was no longer something that might have been slightly annoying as this girl screamed out the truth. Christ through Paul had cast out their money maker. Now religion had crossed the line. These men are disturbing our city…they advocate unlawful customs. Every Christian disciple faces those lines in their journey. Christ is about changing lives. What lines are you maintaining – this far Jesus but no farther, I’m not letting you mess with my: free expression, money, sexuality, politics, sports, family? Is there a point where you would say this preacher is disturbing our church or city or community? Is that line valid (i.e. is the preacher a false one) or have you discovered something other than Christ at the center of your life?
May the Lord help you to brightly see those lines and grant you the freedom to break them.
Paul is trying to go north, but the Spirit won’t let him. Instead it tells him to go west. And being Paul, he heads for the center, to Philippi, the leading city of the region and a Roman colony. If you read Paul’s letter to the Phillipians you soon recognize that the church at Philippi is a great place. Paul is not correcting the church as with the Corinthians or Galatians. Instead, Paul encourages and takes joy in a faithful assembly. He also gives thanks for the Philipians financial support of his ministry. Unbidden, they had sent Paul in prison money. It is a code word of blessing among minister, may you have lots of Philipians among your assembly.
In Acts we get the account of the first convert – Lydia, a seller of purple. Lydia must have been some woman. Proverbs 31:10-31 spings to mind just from these few lines. She sold purple, an expensive dye and a high risk business. It says that when she was baptized, her household was baptized with her. And she prevails upon Pual to stay at her house. The NLT translates it – “she urged us until we agreed.” With such an accomplished person leading the church, it is not a stretch to see Philipi later as Paul’s joy.
One other thought that comes out of this passage is where Pual & Silas go. They go to the river where they think people will meet for prayer. They go to where people gather and speak to the women gathered there. Where do people gather for spiritual things today? Churches are one place, but curiously Paul is not said to go to the synagog or to the temple. (Although this gathering for prayer could be because of the smallness of the Jewish community. 10 were required for a synagog – a minyan and they may not have that number.) Does our society have such places, or are we so materialist that we have completely divorced ourselves from hearing the Spirit?
May the Lord grant to you a place for prayer and the ability to hear the Spirit.