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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Be Full of Care; Be Full of the Spirit

I preached this sermon at my grandparents church, Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church, in St. Catharines, Ontario. I am delighted to call pastors Mike and Tabitha VandenEnden friends, and was thankful for their invitation to preach.

You can check out the audio on the church’s website (look for: “19 Aug 2018”)


Ephesians 5:15–20 | Be Full of Care: Be Filled with the Spirit

Be very careful how you live, make the most of every opportunity.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery or excessiveness.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit!

Oast-Growler-Web

 

This is a growler.
It is from the Oast brewery down on Niagara Stone Rd. in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It is empty right now, but you can go there and refill all 64 ounces with beer anytime.

The pulpit may seem like a strange place for such an object. But do not worry, it is meant to make you feel a little uncomfortable. It is making me feel a little uncomfortable.

 

Bringing a bottle of wine up on stage did not seem that harmful of an object, but this… especially for one person… would certainly cause to make you or I drunk. It would be unwise, it would be embracing an evil of today, it would be foolish, it would not be following God’s will, it would lead to worse things…

But, today’s sermon is not about drinking and drunkenness.

In verse 18, when Ephesians says do not get drunk on wine, it is not just talking about alcohol and drunkenness. It serves as an image, a very concrete image, like this bottle. It gives us an example of something we can very clearly grasp. We all know what walking in drunkenness looks like. But we’re talking about more. Ephesians is dealing with darkness, with sin, foolishness, and our Old Humanity—which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires–all of these things should make us all uncomfortable.

This drunkenness is contrasted with the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit.

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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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The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower; Short Sermon

It’s a good thing to learn how to preach short sermons.

At Wycliffe College, every third year student has to preach at least two 5-minute sermons at morning or evening prayer. This past month I was assigned to preach for 5 minutes on Matthew 13:18–23. The sermon would have benefitted from sticking with one main image/question from the outset that clearly and obviously related to the main point. I think I made the five minutes enjoyable, but that’s not the point of a sermon.

So, if you read this, please comment and summarize what you think the main message was in a sentence or two. After that, feel free to ask or comment anything 🙂


Read: Matthew 13:18–23

Prayer: Jesus, may our eyes be blessed and see and our ears be blessed and hear.

I love parables.

In my first tutorial for New Testament, here at Wycliffe, with Terry Donaldson, we were asked to introduce ourselves and to share what our favourite gospel was, and why. I said, “Luke,” because I like all the parables.

But why? What’s up with my fascination of parables?

I imagine that it is, in part, a holdover from my childhood. I can still picture myself in Sunday school, with my friends and teacher reading and teaching the parables of Jesus. The metaphors and similes from nature and common life, their vividness or strangeness drew my thoughts then as they do now.

A farmer went out to sow his seed…

What is the seed?

We read in Matthew: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom…”

We read in Mark: “A farmer sows the word.”

We read in Luke: “The seed is the word of God.”

Some falls on the path, some in shallow rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil.

Our text today explains the meaning:

Some people hear and don’t understand: and the evil one (devil, or Satan) takes the seed away. Some people hear, embrace it, and grow: but once hard times or persecution come their way, the plant withers. Some people hear, receive it, and grow: but they grow alongside the desire for the pleasures of this life, alongside the deceitfulness of wealth, and worries of this life. This plant bears no fruit and never matures. Some people hear, receive, and flourish: they understand, keep it, persevere, and produce a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

The first three explanations make a whole lot of sense from an agricultural standpoint.

Nothing is going to grow on a path. Shallow, rocky soil will only support short-term plant life. Thorns can choke out a plant.

But the last one is simply ridiculous.

No farmer is going to believe that any seed will produce 100 times what was sown, let alone 60 times or 30 times.

Not in ancient Palestine. And not in modern mechanised industrial farming with high-yielding varieties with increased nitrogen absorbing potential. It’s just not possible.

When I was younger, I failed to grasp that parables are both prophetic and apocalyptic. That they witness to the new age begun in Jesus. That they offer both redemption and judgement at the same time.

It almost feels silly to ask the question that the parable begs us to ask:

“What kind of soil are we?”

The Apostle Peter’s responses to Jesus often make it seem like he is on the path or in shallow rocky soil. So often is Peter ready to jump ON a lake for Jesus or declare him Lord. We too can be so eager to follow Jesus, but are we, like Peter, really sure what kind of Messiah Jesus is? Are we ready for the things to come—even what Jesus warns us of?  Are we sure we know the cost of discipleship?

Jesus has already said in Matthew 6 that you cannot serve both God and money. Jesus is insistent on this point. Here he is reiterating the fact that the Word cannot flourish among those who continue to care for and are shaped by the things of this world. It’s not an easy lesson for his disciples and it’s not an easy lesson for us.

When I was younger, when I was ignorant about judgement in parables, I assumed I was in the good soil. I lived a moral life, I read my bible, and went to church with decent, kind, and hard-working people. But this is not just a thought from my youth. This is an assumption all Christians have to keep in check.

The good soil produces 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown. We can thank the disciples for being good soil—without them, there would be no church.

Do we believe the ridiculous claim that seed can flourish 100, 60, or 30 times in good soil? Do we see this fruit in our lives? Or, do we scoff at the idea… do we think it’s just not possible. Can the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually work in our lives, in our relationships, in our churches, and in the world?

Maybe our church growth strategies simply have too much money—and so our imaginations are choked.

Maybe we’ve fallen into sentimentality, and crafted idols for ourselves.

Jesus, may we hear the message of your kingdom and receive your word and understand it.

May we be possessed by the joy of the kingdom, like the man who found a hidden treasure in a field or the merchant who found one pearl of great value, both sold everything they had.

Jesus, help us be good soil.

A thought on suffering and the call for Christians

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When a baby dies alone in a Calcutta alley, where is God?” She responded to him,

“God is there, suffering with that baby.  The question really is, where are you?”

This quote came up in a sermon I just read from a friend.

I don’t want to be cliché, nor do I want non-christians to be offended, I’m looking at Teresa’s response as a call for Christians.  Christians are called to a rather high standard: love your neighbour; give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back; welcome the strangers, feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

Where are we when there is such suffering?

In Tom’s sermon he discusses how we are called to the margins, called into relationship, called to equal relationships where barriers are broken down.  We are called to have reciprocal relationships where we “walk with” the other, don’t have defined rules that can stifle the spirit of Christ to work, care, and show gentleness.

I like what Tom has to say about our society, our comforts, and the call of Christ:

One of the major faults of Jesusʼ society and ours is that
we push people out. We see certain people as having more importance and others as having less. This simply will not fly for Jesus. If there is any group or individual that we devalue, that is exactly where Jesus will go. This therefore is where the church of Christ and his followers must also go in order to serve.

We like to be with those who are at the centre. We like
to be with those who we know, those who aren’t struggling with money, who are self-sufficient upstanding citizens.

So the call to be yielded to Christ is a very scary one because we very much know where it will take us.

What do you think?

Better thinking

After watching a splendid sermon entitled “Anti-Intellectual” by Michael Krause, in Southridge Community Church’s UnChristian series, there were many things I agreed with and was intrigued by.

One such thing was a quote (turns out, so says the internet, that it’s rather popular… I’ve never heard it) by St. Augustine from his “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” written in 408 AD. (His meaning of the word literal is different than what you’re thinking):

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens and the other elements of the world, the motion and orbit[s]… about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such and embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

Now, there’s probably a lot of things I could follow up with after this quote, but I think it’s rather obvious that since the 5th century there have been plenty christians who’ve done such disgraceful and dangerous things.  Least of these things would be the Kirk Cameron Banana video.

I’m just going to keep things simple and in thought with the sermon.  I apologize if these things are rather redundant.

  • Scriptures are not to be treated as science textbooks.  Therefore, don’t give the creation story in Genesis 1 a timeline of 7 “earth?” days (or a timeline at all – St. Augustine would say it all happened at once).  Giving it such a timeline is similar to agreeing with the Sun rotating around the Earth as written in the book of Ecclesiastes.  On this topic Galileo says:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

  • The primary role of scripture is to describe the redemption of the universe through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the spirit filled community of the Church.
  • To in-errants, theologically, the age of the Earth is a matter of indifference.
  • In reading Genesis 1, one must engage with the history of the ancient world – especially the text of the creation myths of other cultures, engage with systematic interpretation of the genre of literature that Genesis 1 is, and engage with all that modern science has validated.

Nearing Michael’s conclusion he states that Genesis 1 both is and is not history, its definitely not science, and is primarily theology.  Disagree with this because of better thinking, not less thinking.