Acts, week 8

Weekly Readings: Acts 25-28

Small Group Questions

  1. Have you ever been bold enough to risk ridicule and rejection to share Christ with someone or has someone ever been that bold to share Christ with you?
  2. In Acts 25:23, King Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice, arrive for Paul to offer a defense. Look at how they come in and consider Paul, a prisoner in chains. How does this image compare to the picture of Peter and Herod Agrippa in Acts 12?
  3. What does this teach us about the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God?
  4. In Acts 27:33 and following, what seems significant about the meal they shared on the ship?
  5. Acts 28:11-15 tells us that Paul and other disciples (at least Luke, the author) arrived with the gospel at Rome aboard an Alexandrian ship with carvings of the twin gods Castor and Pollux as its figurehead! Have you ever seen God use ungodly means for His purposes?
  6. The book of Acts ends with a profound image: the gospel going forth “unhindered.” How have you seen this idea conveyed from the beginning through the whole story of Acts?

Sermon: “The Church Reaches the World”

Texts: Acts 28:11-16, 30-31 (CEB)

11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had spent the winter at the island. It was an Alexandrian ship with carvings of the twin gods Castor and Pollux as its figurehead. 12 We landed in Syracuse where we stayed three days. 13 From there we sailed to Rhegium. After one day a south wind came up, and we arrived on the second day in Puteoli. 14 There we found brothers and sisters who urged us to stay with them for a week. In this way we came to Rome. 15 When the brothers and sisters there heard about us, they came as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. When Paul saw them, he gave thanks to God and was encouraged. 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to live by himself, with a soldier guarding him.

30 Paul lived in his own rented quarters for two full years and welcomed everyone who came to see him. 31 Unhindered and with complete confidence, he continued to preach God’s kingdom and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

SERMON NOTES:

Have you ever stood watch for the approach of someone you’re waiting for? I think in some ways children are better at excited anticipation, perhaps because we train them mostly during holidays. Someone, a relative or friend of the family, a special guest from far away sends you communication – a phone call or email – that they’re coming to visit. You’ve heard the news, you’ve cleaned the house, made accommodations and prepared for the exciting arrival. All that’s left to do is wait. I’ve seen my two and a half year old so excited about the arrival of house guests he didn’t even know that he would dance around the living room, pausing at certain intervals to run to the glass windows surrounding our front door to look at the driveway hoping to see a vehicle pulling up. The awaited guest arrives and in a celebratory rush of energy there are those in the house who can’t wait for them to get down the sidewalk and onto the front porch, so you rush out to meet them! High pitched greetings are exchanged, hugs are given, and you help them with their luggage as a feeling of gratitude surges through you that finally this beloved guest is at your home at last.

It was three years before his arrival that Paul had sent his letter to the Christians in Rome to tell of his projected visit. When he finally gets there three years later, Acts 28 tells us “brothers and sisters” came to meet him along the Appian Way. Some walked all the way to wait at the Three Taverns about thirty-three miles from Rome. Others walked ten miles farther to meet Paul at the Forum of Appius.

Paul had begun his letter to the Romans this way…

Rom 1:1-4
“From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news. God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures. His Son was descended from David. He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Why were the Roman Christians so excited to finally meet Paul? Because he had beautiful feet!

Let’s do an exercise. You visual learners (I’m a visual learner), you visual learners look down at your feet. Ok, you kinetic learners, you who learn best by doing something, stand up and look down at your feet. Now, for you auditory learners we’re going to talk. Look at someone around you and say, “I should have…” (wait for echo) “…beautiful feet.” Repeat. “I should have…” “…beautiful feet.” Ok, you kinetic learners can have a seat. I’m sorry I don’t have a prayer bracelet for you to braid for the remainder of the sermon.

Biblical scholars agree that in Romans 1:1-4 when Paul talks about good news that God has promised in the prophets, he is pointing to Isaiah 52:7. Let’s look at what it says…

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of a messenger
who proclaims peace,
who brings good news,
who proclaims salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God rules!”

“Beautiful feet…” Bringing what good news? GOD REIGNS! King Jesus  echoes of Eden have come and it only gets better

Paul’s letter, the book of Romans, is the reason “brothers” came out to meet him on the road. They knew he had beautiful feet!

Think about the context of Paul’s letter. It’s written to the Romans. Who in Rome is called Lord, King, and Savior? Caesar! The Emperor. But Paul brings good news that peace and salvation of an ultimate kind have come, because in Jesus Christ, God rules!

And what is this “salvation” according to Isaiah 52:7? Deliverance from captivity and exile. Full freedom and eternal peace and wholeness have come, because the God of Zion, the God of Israel reigns. God has returned and is returning to Jerusalem. And this just happens to be the same chapter of Isaiah where we find the famous passage about God’s “suffering Servant.” So this Messiah will suffer and bear an unimaginable burden of sin and shame…but as Paul proclaims and we still proclaim today, He is risen. He is risen indeed! And thus we know, God rules.

Ephesians 6:15, where Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, he says we are to have our “feet fitted with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”

You are a messenger of the gospel. God reigns. Every day everywhere we go we should have beautiful feet, feet that are prepared to offer the gospel of peace, because we are living witnesses that Jesus is Lord, the King has come, and He rules. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is (silence)? That’s right, freedom.

On this Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who died for the cause of freedom. And there is One whom we memorialize, because He died so that the whole world could be free. But unlike all the others, while we memorialize His death we celebrate that He is as alive as ever. For freedom He died, and for freedom He rose! And we get to be His ambassadors to a world of death, suffering, tragedy, shame, brokenness and pain. We get to bear His light in darkness. We get to sing in a world of sadness.

Rome = the world

The last verse in the whole book of Acts could be considered the image of the whole book. It’s the graphic conclusion of the ending of a book that is not the end of the story. It leaves the story victoriously open and gives all of us a job to do: The gospel going forth “unhindered.”

Acts 28:31
“Paul continued to preach the Kingdom of God and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete confidence unhindered.”

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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!

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.

 

Acts, week 4

Weekly Readings: Acts 12-15

Small Group Questions

  1. Welcome to week four! Do you have a favorite story in Acts so far? Is there one thing we’ve read or heard with which God has especially rocked your world?
  2. How is Peter’s rescue from prison a picture of resurrection?
  3. Look at the way the disciples respond to Rhoda in 12:15. Has God ever done something so wonderful in your life it would’ve been easier to believe in seeing something supernatural?
  4. Herod could not strike down God’s message. What encourages you in our society that God’s Word continues to grow and spread?
  5. What are some “issues” that arose in the early church in this week’s reading that required the church to work through and move forward?
  6. In Acts 15, the early church had certain disagreements to resolve. What disagreements or struggles do you still have with other believers within the global church?

 

Sermon: “The Church Moves Forward”

Texts: Acts 12:20-25

Watch HERE.

Here are some of the thoughts in written form:

20 Herod had been furious with the people of Tyre and Sidon for some time. They made a pact to approach him together, since their region depended on the king’s realm for its food supply. They persuaded Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, to join their cause, then appealed for an end to hostilities. 21 On the scheduled day Herod dressed himself in royal attire, seated himself on the throne, and gave a speech to the people. 22 Those assembled kept shouting, over and over, “This is a god’s voice, not the voice of a mere human!” 23 Immediately an angel from the Lord struck Herod down, because he didn’t give the honor to God. He was eaten by worms and died. 24 God’s word continued to grow and increase. 25 Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem after completing their mission, bringing with them John, who was also known as Mark. (Acts 12:20-25, Common English Bible)

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

The Providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing zeal and concern, has ordained it the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to him, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us to make war to cease, to create peace everywhere, the birthday of the god was the beginning for the world of the gospel that has come to men through him.

31 BC – Augustus became first Roman emperor after a long civil war.

Euangelion, or Gospel, might be best understood as a “breaking headline.” This word we understand as being “good news” was a term referring to the announcement of a great military victory and/or the birth of a new Emperor, a new ruler who is going to bring strength, prosperity and peace to the Roman world. Euangelion, Gospel, was the breaking news that the long awaited reign of a king is finally dawning. So, we can see why a “gospel” that a long awaited King of the Jews being born the first Christmas would’ve been a concerning threat to Herod the Great, grandfather of Herod Agrippa who we read about in our Acts passage today. Gospel has come. Salvation has come for the Jews. Finally, God reigns, God is the King. Who ran the show? Who was called lord, king, and savior? The Emperor…Caesar. Claims of Jesus is a direct challenge to the claims of the Emperor.

When a new ruler conquered a land, it was his right to come in and wipe it out as part of establishing his new reign. If he spared the land and people, he was their Savior. The Savior is the one true king who is in charge and who will reign forever like a god and establish peace.

Salvation is about a new world order, new era of peace and prosperity, mercy, lives spared, and eternal security.

Repentance, then, wasn’t so much about just receiving forgiveness, but about a total reorientation of one’s loyalty to a new regime. It was changing one’s allegiance to the true Ruler. This was the invitation of John, a voice calling in the wilderness “Prepare the way for the Lord!” The King has come.

“The Church Moves Forward” may not be a title that tells you much in comparison to the other weeks in this series. It might seem like for four chapters in Acts we simply want to say, “stuff kept happening.” Last week we made the point that God’s grace is universal. The Church crosses borders as God in Christ has torn down the barriers that hinder any group of humans from coming into His presence by faith. That’s a powerful message. In this week’s sermon, I want to make one point. Christ is King. Acts 12-15 show the Church moving forward in response to this truth: Christ is King.

Acts 12:20-25 challenges our view of the state as protector of liberty, security, and provision.

BACK STORY – Acts 12 and surrounding

Passover = Israel’s Independence Day, 4th of July Celebration. Herod orders James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, Son of Thunder, to be killed. Seeing that this pleased the Jews he also orders the arrest of Peter who is imprisoned and set to go on trial. This is the same time of year Jesus was arrested and crucified. Jesus had a trial too, and I’m sure Peter’s would have been similar in process and ending.

“Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea […] There he exhibited shows in honor of the emperor […] On the second day of the festival, Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful contexture, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment was illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it. It shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him. At that moment, his flatterers cried out […] that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’” (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.343-345).

As Bishop Will Willimon says, “God is not nice to politicians who try to act like God.”

Herod Agrippa is a picture of why the world’s “gospel” is a false hope and an unworthy adversary. He is proof also that the true Savior really is the One who reigns eternally. Herod who is hailed as a god ends up worm food. And the crucified suffering servant turns out to be the Risen One! Christ is King.

This is the confidence that allows the Church to MOVE FORWARD with its message, its gospel, its “breaking headline.”

Our mission is the witness, to spread the message, to show that the new regime is already in power and that the New Ruler is already seated in His place of eternal and universal authority. We move forward in unity as we are all members of this one new Kingdom, united under One King, representing one message with one mission.

In the end, God’s word, the message of the church that Herod tried to suppress moved forward and multiplied.

Acts 12:24 “But God’s word continued to grow and increase.” This is the third punctuation of its kind so far in Acts. Verse 6:7 tells us, “God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith.” Then, Acts 9:31 says, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers.” The Church moves forward.

This is important for us to realize as we reconsider today how we might understand these words – gospel, savior, salvation and repentance. Christ is King. And as we orient our allegiance to this one true King, we accept His mission and message.

The Apostle Paul, a once Christian-killer, would say in Acts 20:24, “Nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.”

The great theologian Karl Barth says the following about conversion, being called to Christ:

“The Word of the living Jesus Christ is the creative call by which He awakens man to an active knowledge of the truth and thus receives him into the new standing of the Christian, namely, into a particular friendship with Himself, thrusting him as His afflicted but well-equipped witness into the service of His prophetic work.”[1]

What Barth is saying is that every call to Christ is an assignment. Christ offers us salvation and at the same time vocation. We are thrust as an afflicted but well-equipped witness into the service of His prophetic work. We become part of His Church which is always moving forward on mission…with message…in unity. Then, now, and until the King returns. In the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. T. F. Torrance and G. W. Bromiley, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd, 1962), IV/3, Part II, p.481.

Acts, week 3

Weekly Readings: Acts 8-11

Small Group Questions

  1. What caused the early church to be scattered? How did God use that?
  2. Name out loud or in writing some of the borders, boundaries, or barriers that were crossed with the good news in this week’s reading.
  3. One of the most formative things we can do in reading scripture is to discover where the biblical story connects with our lives. Do you see anything in Saul’s experience (Acts 9) that connects with your own human experience?
  4. Paul thought he was obeying God until God opened his eyes to His perfect will. Have you ever thought you were doing what was right and later discovered this was not God’s will?
  5. In Acts 10, Peter realizes his “animals on a sheet” vision is not about unclean animals, but unclean people! Can you think of some people that our own society, culture, and community would label “unclean,” but for whom God’s heart breaks?
  6. Are you challenged to love certain people? What does Acts 8-10 have to say about this?

Sermon: “The Church Crosses Borders”

Texts: Acts 8:26-40, Isaiah 53:7-8, Isaiah 56:1-8

You can listen HERE, slide to about  28:00, and wait for it to start at the beginning of the sermon. Or just hit play and enjoy the whole service! Written sermon below:

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

I want to introduce the sermon today by identifying the introduction of this week’s reading in Acts. We will look this week at chs.8-11. And at the beginning of Acts 8, which is where we left off last week, we find that the church is scattered due to persecution resulting from Stephen’s death. Stephen was the first Christian killed for the faith, he was stoned to death, and a great persecution broke out. This is the introduction this week. Listen to how the stage is set in Acts 8:1 – “At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.” Now, I want to go back to the very beginning of the book at verse 1:8. Listen to what Jesus told the disciples before they were to receive the Holy Spirit: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Do you see it? Here Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit is going to come upon them in power and then they are to be His witnesses throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. They receive the Holy Spirit, but up until ch.8 the good news has stayed only in Jerusalem. Then, here finally in ch.8 the church finds itself being scattered through Judea and Samaria. This is the backdrop of our message today. The Church is now poised for what it was always intended to do – crossing borders.

The first man to flee into the territory of Samaria that we are told about is Philip. And after a successful spreading of the gospel there he is led into an encounter we are going to spend this morning looking at.

After witnessing in Samaria, we read in Acts 8:26 that Philip receives instruction not from the Holy Spirit but “an angel of the Lord” in the same way the prophets of the Old Testament were given divine guidance.[1] He was appointed to take a specific road, a desert road to Gaza. Had he taken another road he would have missed the divinely appointed border crossing, an encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch. Question #1: Have you ever had a divinely appointed border crossing…an ordained encounter that you were pretty sure was from God and afterward you had no doubt because of what God did through it? Or, have you ever thought that maybe God was nudging you to cross a border, but you talked yourself out of what may have been a divine appointment?

Philip engages in this divine appointment. He takes the desert road. As Philip makes it to the road, this time the Spirit (not just an angel of the Lord) instructs Philip to approach a carriage and stay with it. Philip walks alongside the carriage in which is riding an Ethiopian eunuch. The kingdom of Ethiopia lay on the Nile River in Africa near Egypt and Sudan. This man was the royal treasurer, and is coming from worshiping in Jerusalem. He was probably a Gentile worshiper of the God of Israel.[2] The text suggests that like other Jews he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the annual Jewish festivals. Now, what was significant about this man being an Ethiopian eunuch? Well, for one thing, Ethiopia was located at the edge of the known world at that time. So, when Jesus commanded His disciples in Acts 1:8 to be witnesses throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Ethiopia would have been considered to be at the end of the earth! He was also a Gentile and a eunuch. Deuteronomy 23:1 prevents eunuch’s from being “part of the Lord’s assembly.” A eunuch was prohibited from being part of the people of God. He could be a worshiper, but not belong to the community. Why? Because lacking the male sexual organs made a man incomplete or unclean. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the mark of the covenant was circumcision. If a man had no genitals, circumcision was not an option. Thus, being a part of God’s covenant people was not an option. For this eunuch, being part of God’s family would never be part of his future, and he knew it, even though he was a sincere worshiper and God-fearer. But all this was about to change. As this Ethiopian eunuch royal treasurer is returning home on this desert road he is reading an Isaiah scroll in Greek.

Philip hears the eunuch reading aloud Isaiah 53:7-8, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent so he didn’t open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was taken away from him. Who can tell the story of his descendants because his life was taken from the earth?” Philip hears the familiar passage and recognizes his chance to engage. It is Philip who initiates the encounter. Philip crosses the border. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” The eunuch replies, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then, he invites Philip climb up into the carriage with him to look at the passage of scripture.

What’s amazing to me is an insight Craig Keener points out in the Immersion Bible Studies book on Acts, that just three chapters ahead of where this Ethiopian eunuch is reading, the prophet Isaiah already predicted the good news in 56:3-5:

“Don’t let the immigrant who has joined with the Lord say, ‘The Lord will exclude me from the people.’ And don’t let the eunuch say, ‘I’m just a dry tree.’ The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant, in my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed.”

How providential that this eunuch was reading a prophetic word about Jesus just three chapters before the passage that would tell him that one day the Lord would give him a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. He would belong to God forever.

Continuing the story, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?’ Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him.” (Acts 8:34-35) Philip is able to answer the question of the Ethiopian, because he was an apostle. In other words, he had witnessed the good news about Jesus! He knew the one about whom this scripture was written.

“As they went down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?’ He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him.” (Acts 8:36-38)

The eunuch’s response to Philip’s witness blows me away. For one, it addresses a major shift in God’s requirements to be part of His family. Another reason it blows me away is the passion it reveals in the heart of the Ethiopian – “What would keep me from being baptized?” The mark of being in the family of God is no longer circumcision. It’s baptism. And this will become an issue for the Jewish community later in this section in Acts. The fact that he is a eunuch no longer prohibits him from being part of the Lord’s assembly. The Ethiopian’s question pours from a heart of gratefulness, conviction, and desire to belong to God. And now, the borders have been crossed, the barriers torn down, for this man to have a home in the Body of Christ.

What is going on here? Border crossing. In this same section in Acts, we will read this week another story of border crossing in which a man named Saul who thought he was living in God’s will shall be confronted by Jesus and called to serve His Church. Paul would later write these words in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

One thing I hope you’ll discover as we encounter the book of Acts is that what happens to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel is continued in Acts in, through, and to the Church, the Body of Christ. And one image that comes to mind from the end of the gospel of Luke is when Jesus breathes His last on the cross, the sun stops shining, and the seamless curtain in the Temple is torn from top to bottom. In the sacrifice of Jesus, the barriers and boundaries between God and humanity are torn down. Borders disappear, and the grace of God is freely available to all peoples. The curtain between Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female are torn down as all are given access to the one true God of love and redemption. This, brothers and sisters, is the activity of God that is still going on through His Church. We re-present Christ every day in how we live, act, and speak as witnesses to the world around us. We evidence every day over and over that the Temple curtain has been torn. The barriers, the boundaries, and borders between how can belong to God and who can’t, who is acceptable to God and who’s not, who can receive grace and who can’t have been breached by what Christ has done for humanity. It is our job to make the world aware that the love of God, the forgiveness of sins, and the power of Resurrection is now available to everyone who would accept it. Church is a place where the racism, sexism, ageism, and classism of the world are torn down and there is one category of redeemed humanity who needs Jesus and has access to Him with no borders. We must be border crossers.

At the end of this amazing story in Acts 8 we see that Philip has fulfilled the mission the Spirit led him to carry out. So, at the end of the story we see the Spirit “taking him away,” leading him without wasting any time on his next mission to cross borders with the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and the universal availability of God’s love. The Ethiopian leaves as anyone should leave baptism – rejoicing. He has been made new. It is clear that this man is baptized in one instance with both water and the Holy Spirit. He receives forgiveness and an overwhelming “joy in the Holy Spirit” (14:17).[3] And now this one, this Gentile God-fearer whom the Law of the Old Testament barred from God’s assembly, is not only accepted into the Body of Christ as a reborn child of God, but is given a new vocation as missionary to his own people. Christ now has a living witness in Ethiopia of royal influence. The gospel is indeed beginning to reach the ends of the known world.

What better picture of redeemed humanity without borders than Communion – a Table with common elements shared by all regardless of any category or label the world would attach. In a moment we will come to this Table, not as Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, not as a certain ethnicity or social class, but as a beloved child of God redeemed by Jesus Christ. So, as we prepare our hearts to receive God’s grace anew and afresh this day, I ask…

What borders, boundaries, and barriers is God showing you in your own sphere of life? What might be keeping those around you, the people you regularly interact with, from knowing and accepting the love of God in Christ? Can you cross those borders? Will you let the Holy Spirit lead you? I pray it will be so…for you and for me.


[1] Bruce. The Book of Acts, rev. ed. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998; p.174

[2] Ibid.; 175

[3] Ibid.; 178

Acts, week 2

Weekly Reading: Acts 3-8:4

Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. How do you feel when you hear of Christians getting killed for their faith?
  2. Not everyone is happy when you share your faith with them. Have you ever encountered this?
  3. How did the early Church respond to suffering and persecution?
  4. At the end of chapter 2 and the end of chapter 4, the experience of the Holy Spirit caused the community of believers to value people more than possessions. Do we? How do we live it out?
  5. What does the controversial story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:-11 teach us about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church?
  6. In the Craig Keener’s bible study, he suggests that if the Jesus movement was manmade it would have been crushed before the end of the book of Acts. What has convinced you personally that God is in the Church and the movement of Christianity?
  7. Stephen’s death accomplished 3 significant results – a message that God is not localized in the Temple, the scattering of the Church, and a seed sown in the heart of Saul (who would become Paul). How have you ever seen God turn tragedy to good?

Sermon: “The Church Perseveres”

ACTS, Part Two

Text: Acts 5:33-35, 38-40 (CEB)

To listen to the sermon, CLICK HERE, slide to about 23:03, and wait a minute for it to start at the beginning of the sermon. Or, don’t fast forward and enjoy the whole service!

Acts, week 1

 

Weekly Reading: Acts 1-2

Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. What did you see the Holy Spirit doing in Acts 1-2?
  2. How did the Christian community respond?
  3. What two baptisms does Jesus identify in Acts 1:5, and what is the significance of each?
  4. Do you see any parallels between how Jesus began His ministry and how the church began its ministry?
  5. In following Christ and carrying out God’s mission in the world, why do you think community matters?
  6. According to Acts 1-2, what do you see as the primary function of the church?

Sermon: “The Church Is Born”

ACTS, Part One

Text: Acts 1:4–8 (CEB)

4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” 7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

One word should frame our reading of Acts over the next eight weeks – Resurrection.

We begin our journey, in a sense, in Act Two of a great drama. Luke writes Act One as a gospel, a story of one man, Jesus. He writes Act Two not as a history of the early church as we might be tempted to assess, but as an explosive sequel in which the church picks up where the Messiah leaves off and the gospel begins to transform the world. Bishop Will Willimon suggests it could even be considered a kind of sermon, “Jesus: Greatest Hits,” stories of the resurrection recurring over and over in the life of His followers, “Jesus Continues,” or perhaps best, “Easter Continues.” This, brothers and sisters, is our story. It’s the story of disciples of Christ trying to figure out how to live, what to do, and ways in which to engage God’s mission once Christ is risen and a witness is needed in the world. It is the gospel proclaimed, as Willimon puts it, “in such a way that the hearers, the church is given encouragement and guidance in another age.”[1]

Some of you have already gotten Craig Keener’s Bible study on Acts we will be using. You don’t have to have the book, but it’s a great resource. He titles this week, “The Power of Pentecost,” and he makes the following statement: “Our problem today is not that we lack access to God’s power. It is that we often neglect to plug our spiritual appliances into the power source by faith.”

At the end of Luke’s gospel, Christ appears to His disciples, proves His bodily (not just spiritual) resurrection, and illuminates this new reality by teaching them the scriptures. Then, He leaves them with explicit instructions – “do not leave Jerusalem until I send you what the Father has promised.” So, Christ has conquered death and hell, the disciples have witnessed it, and God has won a cosmic victory. Yet, somehow the disciples don’t have all they need! Interesting. And this is where the gospel of Luke leaves us. We find the same scene at the beginning of Acts, the disciples obediently waiting in Jerusalem. Why? Because Pentecost shows us that it is not only useless, it is foolish to embark on the mission of God in the world without the Holy Spirit. We can think we know Jesus. We can have what we think are the right beliefs. We can even want to serve God. But if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, we are simply not equipped to do God’s work in the world. It’s like the distinction I’ve heard between being “in the world for God” versus “in God for the world.” The Holy Spirit is the One who allows us to be in God for the world. He is the power source of God. He connects us to God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Speaking of Jesus, did you ever wonder why God needed a body? We celebrate Jesus being born at Christmas, the little Child of Bethlehem born in a moment in human history in a manger of all places. For the first time, God has a human body. Wow. Then, we remember the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday: God in the flesh is killed. He dies and is buried. But then, as we celebrated last Sunday and are still celebrating, He is risen! And after Jesus was raised from the dead and God had conquered sin, hell, and death, Luke 24:43 tells us that He ate a fish. I love that part! Why did He eat a fish?! Because this is a physical world and we are physical beings. Spiritual resurrection would not be enough. The risen Christ has a body. But then He leaves the earth to be with the Father and return again one Day. What about the meantime? This is why it is necessary for the Church to be born. Because God still needs a Body in this world. Until Christ returns that is where you and I come in. Pentecost in Acts 2 is the birth of the Church. The Holy Spirit comes in with a violent rushing wind and what appear to be tongues of fire, and the disciples are flooded and filled with the Holy Spirit of God. And from that moment to now, we are the Body of Christ on earth. Mortal bodies were raised to new life in Christ filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The Church is the Body of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit for the purposes of God in the world.

Practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit is our way of “plugging in” to the power of God. Again, we don’t lack access to the power. We must plug in. We have a fancy term for ways of plugging in called “means of grace.” Think of “means of grace” as sails you raise in order to catch the wind. The wind is there. You’re on the water. But it’s up to us to raise the sails to catch the wind and let it propel us toward God’s destination. If you feel like you’re sculling around in circles, perhaps it’s a sign that you need to engage the means of grace more in your life. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, taught that God’s grace is unearned and that we are not to idle around waiting for God to make us experience grace. Rather, we are to engage in the means of grace, because it’s always available to us. Prayer, Scripture, fasting, worship, small groups, and Communion – these are means of grace.

What an appropriate morning to begin our series on Acts. Today we gather for worship, Scripture, and prayer. We are launching small groups. And we center our worship this day on Communion. We are also baptizing and confirming the baptisms of our confirmands today in the 11:00 service. How fitting. Peter says in his sermon, Acts 2:38-39, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you, your children, and for all who are far away – as many as the Lord our God invites.” Baptism is about God’s grace and belonging to the Church. Confirmation is about personal faith and response to God’s grace, receiving the Holy Spirit, and full membership into the church. And then, Communion is a regular experience of grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the unity of the Church to come together and go forth in mission. All of this is part of our worship today.

The other means of grace we are celebrating today, of course, is small groups. This is a new venture in discipleship and Christian community.

Again, Acts 2:42-47 tells us…

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.

No matter how many were added to the Church, the emphasis was always on community and mission. The Church was to carry out the mission of God, but it was always a community. The larger we get, the smaller we must feel. That’s why today we are launching small groups. Christian community is a means of grace.

Acts gives us a glorious picture of the Church in community…on mission…filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s going to be a powerful eight weeks.

Let us begin by sharing together the meal of the Church, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. This meal is a reminder of the physical body and blood that were broken and poured out for us. It is also a means of grace. In a moment we will pray for the Holy Spirit to come in presence and power upon these ordinary things to make them extraordinary and fill us once again with His presence. Finally it is a reminder that we are the Body of Christ. We eat and drink physical elements as a physical reminder that we are God’s physical presence upon this earth. Let the eating and drinking of this meal overwhelm you with thanksgiving and also be a challenge to go forth and witness what you have experienced. He is risen! He is risen indeed!


[1] Bishop Will Willimon. “Preaching and Teaching Through Acts.” Pensacola District Day Apart, April 1, 2013. Alabama West Florida Conference, UMC. First United Methodist Church of Pensacola, Pensacola, Florida.

Acts Begins

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In celebration of our church beginning an eight-week series on the Book of Acts in conjunction with launching small groups I have decided to post sermons and small group discussion questions for each week here. One of the resources we are using throughout this series is the Acts volume of Immersion Bible Studies, a volume written by New Testament scholar, Craig Keener.

Grace and peace,

Jonathan