Listen to Acts sermons!

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This is the media page for the Acts sermon series at Shalimar United Methodist Church. The entire service for all four services is listed for each Sunday with the preacher specified. Enjoy!

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Acts, week 7

Weekly Readings: Acts 21-24

Small Group Questions

  1. In his Acts bible study book, Craig Keener points out that one form of religion we encounter in our reading for this week is religion “exploited in the service of nationalistic objectives.” In our world today, do you ever see religion exploited so that a nation’s goals could be achieved?
  2. Last week we talked about the Church changing culture (God’s intent). Do you see ways that the culture has too much of an effect on the Church? A) In our reading; B) In our culture today
  3. Apologetics comes from a Greek word meaning “speaking in defense.” Has there ever been a time when you have had to defend your faith?
  4. Often being on the defensive can be an agitating and tiring experience. How did Paul seem to respond to speaking in defense of the faith?
  5. What has strengthened or built you up in those moments when you have had to defend the faith?

Sermon: “The Church Apologizes”

Texts: Acts 24:10-15

10 The governor nodded at Paul, giving him permission to speak. He responded, “I know that you have been judge over this nation for many years, so I gladly offer my own defense. 11 You can verify that I went up to worship in Jerusalem no more than twelve days ago.12 They didn’t find me arguing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd, whether in the synagogue or anywhere else in the city. 13 Nor can they prove to you the allegations they are now bringing against me. 14 I do admit this to you, that I am a follower of the Way, which they call a faction. Accordingly, I worship the God of our ancestors and believe everything set out in the Law and written in the Prophets. 15 The hope I have in God I also share with my accusers, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. (Acts 24:10-15, CEB)

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

What typically comes to mind when we hear the word “apology”? “I’m sorry,” right? I’m sorry. I realize I was wrong. Please forgive me. But what if I came to you and said, “I’d like to offer you an apology,” and then I began defending what I did and the reason I did it? According to Merriam-Webster the word “apology” has come to mean in one definition “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” This is probably the definition most of us would expect to hear. But another definition that still exists and is truer to the origin of the word is “a formal justification,” a defense. I’ve heard of the phrase “unapologetically Christian,” meaning, I will never compromise my faith or back down from it even if it’s unpopular or offensive. But today, I want us to consider what it means to be apologetically Christian. I believe our passage this morning teaches us something significant about the early church through Paul, an attribute that is still part of our DNA as God’s representatives in the world.

Apologetics comes from a Greek word, απολογία, meaning “speaking in defense.” This is what we find in the life of Paul as we read Acts 21-26 and Acts 28, the final chapter. He wasn’t apologizing in chapter 27, because he was busy surviving a shipwreck. Once he gets to Jerusalem, Paul continually catches flak from people agitated by his claims that Jesus is the Messiah and He is not dead but is risen! He repeatedly takes the opportunity to απολογοῦμαι, apologize. He gives an example for us.

1 Peter 3:15 says, “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” We’ve said through this series that Acts teaches us the primary function of the Church, to witness. We are called to defend the faith.

So, let’s look at how Paul does this in Acts 24…

You’ve heard it said that the best offense is a good defense, or the other way around. The interesting thing about defending our faith is that it is a result of a life of offense. Paul got himself in positions to defend the faith because he was living and witnessing in such a way that shook up the present order of things. He was proclaiming news that some believed and some refused to believe and were even agitated by.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “…I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The truth is if we are not having to defend our faith it should cause us to examine how we are living as a witness to the Risen Christ. Going back to 1 Peter 3:15, how can anyone ask you to give an account of the hope that is in you if they don’t see that hope! And this brings me to an important point: Apologetics should not be about argument.

There is no proof “out there” of Resurrection. There is now only one proof of Easter – the Church. We must witness to the world that “He is risen.” Faithful witness risks rejection, because faithful witness is utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit, not good argument. Not even Paul convinced everyone. But he defended the faith and risked everything to do so. The proof wasn’t Paul’s argument. The proof was Paul. He wasn’t trying to convince people to buy into his argument of Resurrection. He was witnessing to his experience of Resurrection. The Church apologizes, because we are the only proof of Easter.

As we take this Communion meal this morning, we do so in order to experience Resurrection once again. We will ask that the Holy Spirit make it be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ and that as we eat it He would make us the Body of Christ for the world, a living witness, an apologetic Church, always ready to feed the world when we are asked to give an account for the hope that is in us. This hope is Christ, the One who was broken and poured out for our sins and who is alive that we too may have life. Let us pray…

Acts, week 6

Weekly Readings: Acts 19-20

Small Group Questions

  1. Have you ever felt discouraged or enraged by injustice, exploitation, and false ideologies in this world?
  2. Acts 19-20 chronicles Paul’s long stay in Ephesus (over 2 years). What cultural shifts and backlash do we read of as a result of him being there?
  3. Can you think of some ways our culture is like Ephesus in terms of exploitive religious practices?
  4. Have you ever lived in such a way that challenged the culture around you?
  5. Are there ways you are feeling particularly called to live counter-culturally now?
  6. Question of hope: What are some ways you see evidence today of God’s Church changing culture in this world?

Sermon: “The Church Changes Culture”

Texts: Acts 19:8-12, 18-20

Paul went to the synagogue and spoke confidently for the next three months. He interacted with those present and offered convincing arguments concerning the nature of God’s kingdom. Some people had closed their minds, though. They refused to believe and publicly slandered the Way. As a result, Paul left them, took the disciples with him, and continued his daily interactions in Tyrannus’ lecture hall. 10 This went on for two years, so that everyone living in the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the Lord’s word. 11 God was doing unusual miracles through Paul. 12 Even the small towels and aprons that had touched his skin were taken to the sick, and their diseases were cured and the evil spirits left them. […] 18 Many of those who had come to believe came, confessing their past practices. 19 This included a number of people who practiced sorcery. They collected their sorcery texts and burned them publicly. The value of those materials was calculated at more than someone might make if they worked for one hundred sixty-five years.20 In this way the Lord’s word grew abundantly and strengthened powerfully. (Acts 19:8-12, 18-20; CEB)

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Do you realize that everything is changed because Christ is risen? EVERYTHING is different now than it once was, because He is risen. If you’re new here or jumping into this sermon series for the first time we’ve been continuing the story of Easter since Easter. We’ve been looking at the birth of the Church in the book of Acts. And we’re in week 6 of 8.

Based on what we’ve been looking at for five weeks, today I want to make the claim that when the Church is empowered by the Holy Spirit, perseveres through persecution, crosses borders and boundaries, and finds divine opportunities in the midst of struggles the Church can change culture. The good news of Jesus, the King who has come, doesn’t just change the hearts of individuals. It changes culture in societies, communities, cities, and even the world.

In his book entitled Static, Ron Martoia talks about how Jesus went around handing out samples of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom hasn’t fully come yet, but there were samples of it breaking in through the ministry of Jesus, then more samples through His disciples, and even more through His Church in Acts. And guess what? Samples of the Kingdom are still being handed out and it’s only going to happen more. Ron Martoia says that when he thinks of “samples,” his mind races back to his childhood experience of going to Baskin-Robbins where you can get a small pink spoon and sample any ice cream in the whole place! I’m going to ask you to talk this morning. Turn to someone near you and say, “I want a pink spoon sample!” It’s not enough to quench your appetite, but it’s just the right amount of deliciousness to make you know you want the bowl. We are still waiting for the full Kingdom of God bowl of ice cream to be served. But in the meantime, the Church’s job is to hand out pink spoon samples that will make the world realize it’s appetite for the real deal.

In the passage that was read for us a few minutes ago, Paul gives us this example of handing out pink spoon samples of the Kingdom of God. And we see something happen as a result – the culture in which Paul is serving as a living witness begins to change.

(RETELL STORY OF ACTS 19)

Now, turn back to that person from earlier and say, “I want to hand out pink spoon samples!”

Jesus said we are to be salt, light, and leaven. Listen to what He tells His followers in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:13-16:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.

And then listen to what He says about the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13:33:

33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”

If we are living as citizens of the Kingdom of God and witnessing to that Kingdom that Jesus the Resurrected One brought with Him, the dough of the world should begin to rise.

One of my favorite saints who changed the culture around him by handing out pink spoon samples of the Kingdom of God said the following. I’m going to abbreviate it just a bit.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” But if it does, “…it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”[1]

Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight. I couldn’t agree more.

We are called to be salt, light, and leaven, to hand out pink spoon samples of a Kingdom that has arrived and is colliding in greater and greater measure into what we know as the present reality. And by living as windows into that Kingdom we change the culture around us. We, like the leaven Jesus describes, are a glorious injection of something that eradicates infection. It causes a chemical alteration of the whole substance, and when heat is added the reaction cannot be controlled by other outside influences. It intrigues me that in the Bible the presence of the Holy Spirit of God so often involves fire. And the thing about leaven is…it takes over! We witness to the risen Lord Jesus whose Holy Spirit is inside us and working through us into the world around us. He transforms the people and places where we are.

There was a million dollar question that was asked in this church some years ago. And I want to ask it again today. If Shalimar UMC went away tomorrow, would the community notice? You see, I think since the last time that question was asked the answer has changed. But that question is a kind of vision that never goes away, something we’re always reaching towards that can never been fully achieved. I believe the answer is “yes, but they wouldn’t miss us enough.” Yes, we do way more now than we ever have to reach the community and let those outside of our faith community know that we’re here and God loves them. But we can do more. Our culture is not changed enough. The Kingdom has not fully come. We could offer more samples and show more people something better than what they know.

As you come to the altars and pillows to pray or sit or stand in place to sing praises and pray, I want us to meditate specifically on these questions:

  • Where are the unleavened places in your sphere of influence?
  • And where and to whom is the Holy Spirit leading me to hand out pink spoon samples of the Kingdom to change the culture around me?

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, 1963, p.47

Acts, week 5

Weekly Readings: Acts 16-18

Small Group Questions

  1. What are some examples of struggles that led to opportunities in the reading?
  2. How do you see the disciples responding to struggles that you see in the reading?
  3. According to Acts 17:7, what is the controversial action that resulted in struggles (even persecution) for the disciples?
  4. What finally led Paul to go the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus? (beginning of ch.18)
  5. In Acts 18:9-10, did the Lord promise God “no struggles”? What did he promise?
  6. Acts 16:1, enter Timothy. One thing we might have never realized about him is that he was the “son of a believing Jewish woman and a Greek father.” Can you think of examples of people who seem to come from families with “struggles” or challenges that God uses to prune them into mighty servants for the Kingdom?
  7. In Acts 16:6-10, we see the witnesses (disciples) being held back by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus from speaking in certain places. They discovered that God was calling them to another specific location. Has there ever been a time where you felt like instead of calling you to boldness God was calling you to “hold back,” because He had a different opportunity in mind?

Sermon: “The Church Finds Opportunities in Struggles”

Texts: Acts 16:25-34

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations. The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted loudly, “Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here!” 29 The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He led them outside and asked, “Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.” 32 They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33 Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God. (Acts 16:25-34, CEB)

Thistles have a whole history of survival by brutality. They push up through concrete. They survive drought. They thrive in floods. But they also have this beautiful purple center. When Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest, would start going down to the roads in Nashville, TN, where women were walking and sleeping that was the only flower that was still growing.

Fifteen years ago Becca started a residency for women coming off the streets called Magdalene. Her feeling was that nobody gets to the streets by themselves. So it’s impossible that they’re going to come off the streets by themselves. And so everything they offer to the women who come into Magdalene and Thistle Farms is a gift. No one signs contracts, no pays money. It’s just a gift.

At Magdalene, Becca and others lead the women through dealing with addiction, post-traumatic stress, mental health issues, and physical health issues. The problem is when they go back out to look for work, many of them have multiple felonies and have lived on the streets since some of them were 13-14 years old. So, they also have no work history except for the illegal ways they have earned money by selling their bodies among other things.

To answer this problem, 10 years ago Thistle Farms was born, a company that began with four people in an A-frame chapel who started harvesting a plentiful flower that no one wanted, thistles, making candles and body balms. Now, 35 employees, women who are residents and graduates of the Magdalene program, run every area of the company. All day long they are working a trade and earning money while having their hands in healing oils all day long. Becca learned through research that the extract of thistles has been used for about 1000 years to heal the liver. What’s profound about that is that 35% of women served in the Magdalene program and with Thistle Farms are Hepatitis C positive. All the damage done by years of drugs and alcohol directly affects the liver. This means that kind of by chance, they named a company and stared harvesting thistle, having their hands picking it and dipping it in water and having it run all over them and breathing in the down. They picked the one flower that these women needed for healing.

Becca Stevens says, “A ‘thistle farmer’…can you imagine a lower position in the hierarchy of the church?” What I haven’t told you yet is that Becca Stevens is the chaplain at Vanderbilt University. And she’s really smart. Now she’s a thistle farmer. What a biblical metaphor! A thistle farmer looks at a field of half dead thistles and sees a wonderful harvest. [i]

The Church finds opportunities in struggles.

You know what you call opportunity that comes out of struggle? HEALING. Becca says, “Healing is the central sacrament of the church.” The story of Christ and His Church and the world is a story of healing.

The Church sees a world of half dead things that are forgotten, unwanted, unloved, and sees a beautiful harvest, and opportunity for healing, restoration, and new life.

(RETELL STORY OF PAUL, SILAS, AND THE PRISON GUARD…)

At the center of our faith is the story of struggle and opportunity, the ultimate climax of struggle – DEATH – and the ultimate opportunity – RESURRECTION.

COMMUNION is a sacrament that celebrates the ultimate eternal opportunity out of the most beautiful graphic cosmic struggle of all time.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

I do need to acknowledge something. It’s the difference between the story of Magdalene and Thistle Farms and the story of Paul and Silas in prison. We’re not all struggling for the right reasons. We’re not all struggling in the name of Christ and on the mission of His Church. BUT…God is a God of redemption. And regardless of whether you’re feeling guilt and shame over bad choices and dead end roads or you’re really discouraged because you are struggling to honor God with your life and you’re hitting walls, opportunity is here today. Grace is available to you today. God provides opportunities out of ANY struggle.


[i] Some of the content in this sermon about Magdalene and Thistle Farms is taken from the Turning Points video which can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=I_y4BniKBso, their website: http://www.thistlefarms.org/, and a presentation Becca made at CATAPULT Conference at Christ United Methodist Church, Mobile, AL, on April 30, 2013.

 

One-sentence story

Here’s my first shot at a one-sentence story…

The toilet is now cleaner than it was before it overflowed.