Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter May 26, 2019
As a pastor in Saskatchewan I would volunteer to serve at the local summer Bible Camp. Part of my duties was to lead morning worship. Instead of preaching a sermon, which would probably bore the kids, I would write a skit. I had no trouble finding volunteers to serve as actors. I enjoyed being with the children. However, there was one boy who behaved and spoke in ways annoying and sarcastic toward the Bible Camp. In my memory he was one who refused to be pleasant. So I thought to myself his parents made him come to camp against his wishes. He wanted to give the impression that he thought the whole camp week was lame.
Evenings at camp always concluded, weather permitting, with a camp fire. The camp staff would lead the kids in all kinds of songs—some rousing, some silly, but at the end songs that did have a message of faith. After campfire the kids would go to their cabins, get ready for bed, and lights out. I was out for a walk one night and I saw two people sitting by the still glowing camp fire. It was the boy with the nasty attitude and his cabin counselor. As I came closer I noticed that the young man had tears running down his cheeks. His counselor was consoling him. I don’t remember all the details, but the young fellow’s mask of disdain had been removed. Something had inspired tears and a need to share his feelings and fears. The camp counselor saw an opportunity and a priority to minister to this boy. I sat down to share in the conversation. Although I don’t remember all the conversation I do recall the boy saying his father was the principal at his school and so felt a need to act rebellious and deflect ridicule from his peers. For the rest of the week the young man was a changed person, noticeably better attitude and enjoying his stay at camp. I was taken by surprise. I had prejudged him as a pain in the backside to be endured without an awareness of the power of care, shown by a cabin counselor. He understood that beneath the rebellious behavior was a cry for help.
In the first reading from the book of Acts we heard of a cry for help. Paul the apostle had a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In the time of the Bible Macedonia meant the northern portion of the nation of Greece. Not part of the text in Acts we read that Paul had no plans to go there. He wanted to go over to other areas and preach the gospel. The text said on one occasion the Holy Spirit said ‘no’, and with another preaching plan the Spirit of Jesus would not allow it. The text does not say how the Holy Spirit would cancel the plans of Paul, but perhaps through prayer they discerned the time was not right to go those regions. With our lesson toda– Paul and his missionary companion Silas–we heard they were led to Macedonia, for the cry for help was urgent. This teaches the church of today to be people of prayer and not just human planning. We must seek the Spirit’s direction for the ministry of this church. So instead of worrying about church growth or finances, may we prayerfully seek the Spirit’s direction toward people who need help.
Paul and Silas heeded the cry for help and got on the next ship to Macedonia. They landed in Philippi. This was a strange place to end up—it was a Roman colony. It was a city of privilege for Roman army veterans. They had the privilege of what was called ‘liberty’—they could govern themselves without interference. A bigger perk was called ‘immunity’, meaning immunity from paying any taxes. Many of us would probably like to live in a city like Philippi. If the city was a Roman colony, the worship of Roman gods, including the Emperor would have been prevalent,.
Paul and Silas found a small group at prayer by a river, and notice the location was outside the city gate. A group of women had gathered together on the Sabbath. The setting was quite informal and Paul and Silas spoke to the women. We heard about a woman named Lydia from the city of Thyatira; this was a city known for its dyes to color clothing. And Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth. Lydia was a business-woman. She had a home in Philippi for a good reason. She had a good head for business: Romans loved the color purple to highlight their togas. Philippi again was a Roman colony, full of army veterans and officers and other officials who liked to look good. But Lydia was also about another business. She was called a worshiper of God. These were Gentiles who worshiped the one God of the Jewish faith. She listened intently to the speaker on that Sabbath. The key verse of the text said, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”
The book of Acts does not tell us what Paul said that Sabbath Day. But the Holy Spirit was present to open hearts and minds to the message, the gospel message. No doubt Paul spoke the good news of Jesus. Like Paul, we speak the good news of Jesus today, trusting the Holy Spirit to open your hearts to eagerly listen. Eagerly listen to Jesus who said in the gospel today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The gospel of Jesus is not just for religious elites. It is for stressed out people. According to a Gallup Poll, Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. Asked to describe their feelings on the previous day, 55% said they were stressed much of the day, 45% said they worried quite a bit, and 22% said they were angry much of the time. These results matched or exceeded previous polling.
Jesus knows our stress, worry, and anger and seeks to draw us to him with his gift of peace. He did not say it is peace the world gives. Such peace is fleeting and tends to be overwhelmed by the next source of stress. Jesus did not say this peace is yours only upon meeting the criteria of memorizing Bible verses or attending church as a requirement for earning points. Jesus said “my peace I give to you”. Imagine Jesus each day sitting next to you and saying “my peace I give to you.” This is the peace from his cross, the forgiveness of sins. This is the peace of his resurrection, “Lo, I am with you always”. This is the Spirit of Jesus speaking to your anxious spirit, “you are not a slave to fear; you are not a number or cog in a machine, you are not what your worst day is telling you: no, in all these circumstances you are and ever shall be a child of God. Breathe deeply the Holy Spirit, the oxygen of grace. You don’t have to show strength of faith before God. We can be honest about what troubles our faith and trust Jesus to settle our doubts so there is no doubt in our minds that we are loved eternally by him.
At the Synod Assembly all 80 congregations gave an offering for the Hunger Appeal, and as far as I know to date, the total amounted over $35,000; Pioneer Lake donated over $1200. I read of a pig farmer in the African nation of Malawi-can you locate this nation on a map. At age 57, while at work in the field he became ill and collapsed. He was too weak to walk. Someone took him by bicycle to the nearest clinic. This clinic and further out patient care is supported by the Evangelical Lutheran church of Malawi, which is supported by Hunger Appeal dollars. Not only did the clinic provide medicine and ongoing health care, but a companion to accompany him on each clinic visit, 12 miles one way, 12 miles walked. The farmer said ‘if it wasn’t for the church, I wouldn’t be alive. But now I know my life is not over, and I have a future.” I was impressed that the clinic provided a companion to walk with him—24 miles round trip. In this season of Easter, a season of hope and joy, we rejoice that Jesus is our companion. He walks with us, more than twelve miles, but throughout our lives. We know with Jesus we have a future with him. The reading from Revelation gave us a vision of heaven, the home of God and God’s children. There is a river there, the river of life; on either side of the river is the tree of life, producing its fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations. So much healing is needed in this world, but God has not abandoned this world, God still loves this world, and plans for its healing.
Lydia believed the gospel message and had her whole household baptized. May we imagine the baptismal waters to be like this river of life, giving us the healing presence of Jesus throughout life, the promise of Jesus coming in our darkest times with the light of his word: “My peace I give to you.”
In the Fellowship Hall is a large chart of Luther’s 95 Theses. Take a piece of chocolate and read thesis # 54. Luther warned that injury is done the word of God when in the sermon equal time or all of the time is spent trying to sell indulgences. Indulgences were spiritual benefits sold by the church of his day. My point is that we do not want any injury done to the word of God. It must be the central meaning of our time together. For with that Gospel word of Jesus, the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds for a living and trusting faith.