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

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