“What’s Next?” April 15, 2018 sermon

While my job title is not Associate Pastor, that’s what it would be in most church settings. Someone else is the Lead Pastor (she’s awesome, by the way!). My responsibilities include  youth ministry as well as our justice and outreach ministries. As you might expect, I help lead our two Sunday worship services. But what is apparently a little odd about my situation (ok, one of the odd things) is that I get to preach regularly. Usually once per month, though occasionally more than that. I enjoy preaching. It is challenging and daunting and fun.

Yet, you won’t find many sermons here on my blog. I’ve written about this a few times before. I generally don’t preach from a manuscript, so I don’t have full text to post so that you could read my sermon. More importantly than that, however, is that I find sermons to be nearly exclusively auditory events. They need to be heard to be fully experienced. But most weeks, it is a CD that I have and the technical wherewithal to make a post with audio recording of the sermon that I lack. I can be kind of a dope.

However, recently, an incredible member of our congregation offered to take on the technological part of the task! (H/T to Reid and Kevin!) Thus, I intend to be much better at sharing that content here. Forewarned is fair-warned?

This past Sunday — April 15th — was week 2 of a series on the book of Acts. Our text was Acts 9:1-31. My thesis: The story of the early church has much to teach us. Acts continues the story of God calling and using unlikely people. People such as you and me and us.

At least that was the thesis in my head. I’d love to know what you heard.

I used some visual aids during the sermon. Seeing those will (should?) make the audio make more sense. Those are below.

Special thanks to pastor and illustrator Steve Thomason for sharing his amazing art with the Narrative Lectionary group and, you know, the world.

On to the sermon…

 

 

First, the book of Acts of the Apostles offered in the visual metaphor of a tree.

 

Next, two maps of the areas mentioned in the text for the week. An overview of the Roman Empire, allowing us to see Saul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then a closer look at the sections of Israel: Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and the road to Damascus.

Roman Empire of New Testament

 

 

Jerusalem to damascus map

 

 

Finally, my favorite: Thomason’s visual of the story of Acts chapters 8-9, that is also set up (loosely) as a map. So many intriguing stories here!

Acts Chap 8-9 illustration

 

Celebrating Sabbath

Note: Celebrating Sabbath is my attempt to begin the week with a reminder of our true identity: whose we are and who we are called to be.

Let’s reboot this series with the verses I’ve said should be our first responder, our top go-to text, our  new leadoff hitter:

Acts 10:34-35

Peter: 34 It is clear to me now that God plays no favorites, 35 that God accepts every person whatever his or her culture or ethnic background, that God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.

Finding a new leadoff hitter

During our worship services this Easter Sunday, I got to read the lesson from Acts 10. I added a little prologue because the prescribed reading from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) begins in the middle of the story. It’s a story that’s too good, too important to skip over. In fact, I argue that it changed the church. The church is available to you and me as a result of the, well, actions from Acts 10.

[Disclosure: I’m really double dipping here. This is a post from my stint as guest blogger at The Hardest Question. It’s also a revision of my usually-weekly letter/post/thing for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

With all due respect (isn’t it odd that this is probably the best way to indicate that something is about to be disrespected?) to that whole He-is-risen-indeed thing, this is the most important story to tell on Easter Day.

Of course, in order for this sermon of Peter’s to make any sense, we need to read the story that precipitated it. A story that, sadly, the RCL never has us consider. Am I the only one to whom that seems a bad idea? Maybe it’s the RCL’s way of forcing us to do some homework. You know the story; it’s the one with the…WorstLunch MenuEver.

Toads and lizards and vultures, Oh My!

Peter was staying in Joppa as the guest of Simon the tanner. Peter went up on Simon’s rooftop to pray, but was too distracted by his hunger to get much praying done. Instead, Peter had a vision. A sheet descended through a rift in the sky and on the sheet were four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. And a voice told Peter to “Get up! Kill and eat!” The only thing this missing from this menu was “and for dessert…chilled monkey brains!”

Peter, being a devout Jew, politely declined the offer. Or, you know, not so politely. “No! All my life, I’ve never eaten anything profane!” The voice responds, “What God makes clean, you must not call profane.”

This is Peter we’re talking about, so he had to see the vision three times. But then he really got it. Immediately after this vision he met with Gentiles, offered them hospitality (no word on what Simon the tanner thought about that), and traveled with them to Caesarea to meet Cornelius.

The times, they are a changin’

Upon arrival, Peter entered Cornelius’ home demonstrating just what a radical departure he’d made from, well, the self-understanding he’d had his whole life: “I have always thought it was wrong to associate with Gentiles…” (at this point I can only imagine how glad Cornelius was he’d invited Peter) “…but God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.”

Eat some lizards, make friends with a Roman Centurion, declare Jesus as Lord of all people. Critics have been all over Rob Bell lately, but here’s Peter, barely awake after the gross-out dream, and already out on a whirlwind tour of radical inclusivity! I’m thinking I should do the same.

The new John 3:16?

Given how quickly we USAmerican Christians divide and denounce and declare one another heretical, could it be that we need to hear this story even more than we need to hear the all-too-familiar and all-too-comfortable Resurrection tale? Could it be we need this story to save us from our arrogance and complacency? How might it change the church, change us, change me, if Acts 10:35 was our lead-off hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text?

Hardest Question

Those questions haunt me and I hope to explore them further. But the hardest question here is one the text asks of me: What categories am I using to judge and forbid people? Who am I excluding from the family of God? How am I subverting God’s subversion of exclusivity?