Sermon on Acts 23:12–24 (Psalm 121)

This is a sermon I preached in Founders’ Chapel at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto; Wycliffe students regularly preach on Tuesdays at Morning Prayer and occasionally on Thursdays at Evening Prayer.

This sermon is addressed to those who regularly attend Morning Prayer, but I hope you can also life-giving. For those who testify and bear witness to Christ:

Audio: 


Readings from: Acts 23:12–24 | Psalm 121, 122, 123 | Micah 1:1–9

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
      from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
      who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)

Last week Tuesday, and two chapters earlier (Acts 21), we heard about Agabus’ warning to Paul in Caesarea:

Thus says the Holy Spirit: The Jews in Jerusalem will bind you Paul: your hands and feet, and hand you over to the Gentiles.

Paul response is courageous:

“I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Where do we find Paul in today’s reading?

After the mob in Jerusalem attentively listens to his every word…
After they raise their voices and shout for Paul’s death…
Sure enough, hands and feet, Paul is bound in the Roman barracks.

This morning, I want us to pay attention to verse eleven of chapter twenty-three:

“That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! (Or “Be of good cheer!”) For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’”

I want us to think and pray about what these words mean for us. We aren’t in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem—we’re in Founder’s Chapel at Wycliffe College. We are seminarians, theologians, teachers, and servants of Christ.

What does it mean when we know that Christ is standing at our side and saying: “Be of good cheer, have courage, you have testified for me, and I have more people and places for you to be my witness”?

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Paul’s question to the centurion: “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” get’s those soldiers and the Roman tribune in a bind of their own (pun intended).

Being bound in Jerusalem works to Paul’s advantage.

Paul is safe from the angry Jewish crowds that want to murder him. Paul has his Roman protectors back-pedalling, now that they are aware of his Roman citizenship. Huge kudos to Paul’s nephew, who reveals to the Roman tribune the plot of the pact-makers that wish to murder Paul. The Tribune, who does not want a Roman citizen murdered by a Jewish mob under his watch, gives Paul safe passage to Caesarea and governor Felix.

Paul has been bound by Roman soldiers before. We read in Acts 16 about the authorities apologizing to Paul and being afraid after finding out about his citizenship. Was Paul HOPING for this to happen again? Did Paul have a smirk on his face or, even, have hope when Agabus prophesied of Paul’s chains? We now hear the words of the Holy Spirit not as a prophetic warning, as something to avoid, but as a prophecy to be fulfilled—for God’s will to be done in Paul.

As one chosen to bring the name of Jesus before Gentiles, Kings, and the people of Israel, Paul knows this prophecy is now fulfilled. However, I really don’t think that Paul was saying to himself: “Yes! Sitting enchained in Roman barracks is how I’m going to witness and testify Jesus before Gentiles and Kings.”

But I do think it is possible that Paul was saying the words of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord.”

The Lord stands with Paul in those barracks: Keep up your courage! Have good cheer! You must also bear witness in Rome.

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Those in professor Paulsen’s evangelism course this term are required to do a bible study project with someone they know that isn’t a Christian. Each student will be reading and talking through three different encounters that Jesus had with people. At first, I had some fear about this; the friend whom agreed to do this project with me is someone I still want to be friends with… but as I prayed about it, I heard Christ say to me:

“I am so ready to bring my love and my joy into their life. What part of me are you afraid to proclaim? Get rid of that fear.”

God is present with Paul. Regardless of uncertainty, suffering, corrupt or virtuous authorities, even plots of death, God is working his will through his willing servant.

And so, in hearing this morning’s text, may we—as a people who testify and bear witness to Christ—know that our help comes from the Lord.

Christ stands with us, encouraging us, saying: “Be joyful and filled with courage. I have more for you: more people and places to bear witness and testify.”

 

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Hear Your Name, Called by the Resurrected One

29871877_10160388152455171_1114473262367905170_oAs the 2017-18 Senior Student at Wycliffe College, I had the privilege of giving the sermon at the final Eucharist service of the school year. I thought I would share the message for those who weren’t able to make it 🙂

For those of you unfamiliar with Wycliffe, preaching in Founders’ Chapel is a significantly different experience and different community than where and to whom I normally preach. Each Wednesday the community gathers for Eucharist–faculty, students, families, and friends–and usually a visiting bishop or guest speaker delivers the homily. No pressure… right?

Note: the italicized text in square brackets is added just for you online readers.]


Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24 | Acts 10:34–43 | John 20:1–18

Prayer: For the Extension of the Church, Book of Common Prayer, p. 42

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give commandment to the Apostles that they should go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: Grant to us whom thou hast called into thy Church, a ready will to obey thy Word; and fill us with a hearty desire to make thy way known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[It’s important to note that this prayer is from the BCP, an OLD prayer book that Wycliffe uses on alternating months with the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), I like the prayer, but would not ordinarily use this kind of language]

Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!)

 [The “Hallelujah!” catches me off guard, as I’m used to simply “He is risen indeed!”  A certain faculty member was especially exuberant about the “Hallelujah!” so I laughed with joy, and also asked everyone to be aware that I will expect a couple of responses throughout the message.]

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). [link to passage]

When Jesus calls her by her name, she immediately knows that it is her Lord.

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and “calls them by name,” and his sheep “know his voice.”

In one word, spoken by the most significant person Mary Magdalene had ever known, her entire life changed. She became the first person, ever, to experience the personal presence of the Risen Lord.

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“Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise”

Quote

The invitation to follow [Jesus] is, in the Gospels, immediately followed by a promise which is often misunderstood as a command or authorization — “I will make you fishers of [people].”

Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise. Jesus promises that as we follow him we will become fishers of men, women, and children. Our lives, reflecting the image of God, will attract and change others. To hold the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves is a supreme act of selfishness.

– The Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, Bishop of the Diocese of West Malaysia and Primate of the Church of the Province of South East Asia (Anglican)

 

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another man tell me how to live my life!”

Quote

A feminist friend once said to me, with passion and no small hint of exasperation, “If Jesus is just another wise teacher, I have no interest at all. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another man tell me how to live my life! If he is not the Son of God, God’s Chosen One, the Messiah, then forget about it!

– Good News in Exile: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church, p. 9–10

 

A Response to “Lady Gaga vs. Religion?” (From: Jesus- meetpopculture)

For the original post from “Jesus-meetpopculture“, click this link.


Gaga has certainly amassed an immense fan base, and has, as you say, a ‘religion’ (I’d say she certainly preaches a gospel) based on inclusivity, tolerance, peace, and love.

There are certainly positive associations with Gaga’s ‘religion’ (e.g. inclusivity), along with other that aren’t too terribly positive.  But the negative ones (e.g. sexualization) aren’t articulated too often in popular circles, which I would say is a commentary on society/popular culture as a whole.

I find it interesting that you ask the question whether or not Gaga has created a ‘religion’ or a ‘non-religion’.  I’m not sure whether you addressed if her ‘religion’ was actually non-religion in your post, but I would say that it is certainly not non-religion.  Her persona/message – a gospel if you will – is full of religious qualities: outlining a belief system, including narratives/symbols (her own or stolen), and promoting a certain lifestyle.

Peaceful Future T-shirt graphic

She, as you say, envisions a future with a more peaceful religion for the younger generation.

Jesus too, includes poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors – outcasts – not only to listen to him, but he invites them into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This can easily be seen as a gospel of inclusion.

I would also say, strangely, that Gaga, when envisioning a more peaceful religion, echoes Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Specifically when he teaches his: “You have heard that it was said…  but I tell you…” message.  He contrasts the ‘old’ ways and teachings: “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, with “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44)

In these two ways, Gaga shares similarities with Jesus.  And if Christianity is the by-product of followers Jesus, I’ll be fascinated to see what ends up with followers of Gaga…

Of course, there is that whole thing with Jesus dying, resurrecting, and being the Son of God… that helps with establishing a lasting following.

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Many Christians, myself included, struggle with the problems of religion, in the same way that Lady Gaga does. (I like the interview a lot, I also like how she separates the church from religion, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation)