Acts 13:1-3; 14: 7-20
April 30, 2023
From time to time, I get asked about my faith journey … some ask about my “coming-to-Jesus moment.”
I don’t usually share the story in full detail … I don’t want to take up a person’s day. Let’s say it isn’t a Road to Damascus moment.
It involves leaving the denomination of my youth over what I saw as racism, homophobia, sexism, privilege and hypocrisy within the church … aspects that goes against the teachings that the denomination embraced on a Sunday and seemingly forgot the rest of the week. All of this pretty much informs my perspective and approach to ministry nowadays.
Some of you have heard this part of the story … so you can doze for a few moments … if you haven’t already.
Some years ago, a college friend … who happens to be a Lutheran pastor by the way, … lay in a New York hospital bed.
He had lost a leg to flesh-eating disease and was still battling for his life.
During a lengthy long-distance phone call, we spoke of our families … he commented on the breadth of Donna’s patience … our journeys since college … the distances we have travelled and we spoke of our faith.
I still marvel that in that time … and through all the serious health issues that have followed over the years … his faith is unshaken.
In fact, these challenges have shaped and formed his faith.
At the end of the phone call, he told me: “I can hear that you’re being called … you need to decide if you’re going to listen.”
It took awhile, but I took the cue … listened for and to the Spirit … discerned … prayed … and started a journey that led me here.
Last week, we heard about the Spirit’s influence on the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and upon Peter. It was a message that no one … neither Jew nor gentile … is ever excluded from God’s love and from the grace that comes through the cross.
Since then, the story has shifted from Peter to Saul.
Saul is called to carry the name of Christ before gentiles and kings. He was transformed on the road to Damascus and now proclaims the redemptive gift through Jesus in Lystra.
Saul-slash-Paul is a man who is living between two worlds. As Saul, he persecuted Jews and now after the experience on the road to Damascus, he has left Jerusalem and is traveling among the gentiles … sharing the good news of the resurrection.
This morning, we hear of Saul’s formal commission by the Holy Spirit and the joyful response to Paul’s and Barnabas’ healing efforts.
In the city of Antioch, Saul and Barnabas are sent by the Holy Spirit to go out and share the promise of the gospel with people living far outside of Jerusalem.
Between Antioch and Lystra, Saul becomes Paul as his transformation continues.
When the two apostles stop in Lystra, they come across a man who had been crippled since birth and had never walked.
Paul senses the man’s faith and tells him to stand up. The man listens … stands up and walks.
The gathered crowd witnesses this healing and believes that they were in the presence of gods … Zeus and Hermes. Through Paul and Barnabas’ ministry, word of a powerful god at work in the region had reached Lystra and they simply embraced a god they knew in Zeus.
Which makes the oxen and garlands and the offer of a sacrifice understandable … the crowd framed what they witnessed through the lens of the familiar … by what they knew. And because they did, they missed the point.
This can be true whenever people are faced with a new concept … a new approach … a new perspective … experience provides the framework that supports their understanding.
On one level, the passage is about mistaken identities and misunderstanding. On another level, it is about listening and our response when the Spirit enters our life and where embracing the Spirit takes us.
It’s coincidental that we are taking part in a congregational meeting later this morning. The meeting will play a role in determining the form and our ability of answering our call to mission.
It is a moment when we … as a community … are called to discern what we hear the Spirit calling us toward … setting us aside from the world … and to how we can respond in faith to that call.
Congregations … like Saul/Paul … have found themselves living between two worlds … past and future. Bishop Mike has come to call this the “liminal time” … a time when we can step forward or step backward. We too are living in this time … a period filled with anxiety … uncertainty … and great challenges.
Rather than focus on the enthusiastic and mistaken response of the people in Lystra, maybe we can consider what happened earlier in the church in Antioch.
This is the only time in the Book of Acts that the Spirit speaks directly to a church community.
In the church … after the Spirit’s presence was made known …after the Spirit touches the individuals … the response was to fast … to pray … and then to lay hands before sending the pair off into the world.
The church community did this together.
Judging by the names of the people present, it is a diverse faith community … one that was open to being drawn, sharped and formed by the Spirit.
During worship, the Spirit called for the two to be set apart from the teachers and prophets. The Spirit said they had special work to perform. Saul and Barnabas have a mission … later, during his missional work, Saul becomes Paul.
The commissioning was initiated by the Spirit, but it became a communal effort … Paul’s mission in the world was not something he performed alone. There was always someone with him … assisting … teaching … witnessing and proclaiming.
The Spirit also calls us into mission. Through our baptism … our affirmations and confirmation … we are brought into a community of believers. These are the moments when the Spirit calls us into a true community.
This is never an individual effort … it is not a solitary journey. A true ministry of healing, of comforting and of invitation is done in and by community. But first we have to listen … to disregard the other voices in our ears and hearts … and allow the Spirit to work within and through us to what is right.
Like in the church in Antioch, the Holy Spirit invites us and binds us together as a community, and calls us to be open-hearted … to share our faith and in God’s unconditional love … and speaking through the Spirit … being willing to bear witness to God’s grace in our lives.
We may not get things right as we embrace our mission to serve … we may not fully understand the invitation … but through faith, we can be sure that God meets us where we are and that through being drawn … shaped and formed by the Spirit, God takes us where we need to be and to be where we are needed to serve God’s mission in the world.