May 12, 2019 Sermon
Response to Resurrection:
First Scripture Reading: Acts 13:1-3
13 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Second Scripture Reading: Acts 14:8-18
8 In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14 When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Message – “Response to Resurrection: Perform Miracles”
Imagine the scene in Lystra, a Roman colony and a city of education and enlightenment – as far as we can tell.
Imagine the scene. A large crowd was gathered to hear the newcomers Paul and Barnabas speak. In this crowded area, there was a man most everyone knew, a man who was lame from birth and who therefore couldn’t work. He was a man who had to rely on the goodness, the alms, of others in the community, just to survive. He was a man who likely intruded on the lives of most everyone in the community, begging them for help each time they passed by that place.
And then, as far as the people of the crowd was concerned, this newcomer, this Paul, looked at the homeless man and told him to get up and walk.
Can you imagine the disbelief, the scorn, even the chuckles in the crowd, that met Paul’s statement. “Surely this newcomer doesn’t know what he’s saying! Surely this newcomer doesn’t know this lame man. Surely this newcomer’s words are just that – words. How terrible it is for this newcomer to give such baseless hope.”
And then….the lame man got up and walked. Except, he didn’t just GET up, he sprang up. He lept. He gushed! (Yes, this is the same word that would be used of gushing water.) How the disbelief of the people in the crowd must have turned to astonishment!
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted…, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
THAT, my friends, must have been an amazing scene. Can you imagine witnessing such an amazing miracle…and wondering what you would think about it?
Would you think the gods have come down…or would you think something else?
I’m assuming your response to this question has everything to do with your experience of miracles. I’ve talked with people through the years who’ve asked me why God doesn’t work miracles anymore the way God did back in biblical times. And I’ve talked to people through the years who see miracles happening all around them…all the time.
Myself, I’ve encountered a great number of miracles…and I’ve heard from people I trust eyewitness accounts of many more.
You might recall me telling the story before about a group of guys I used to pray with before responding to my call to ministry. And the time we prayed over a baby who had been born with only half a brain…and how during the time of our praying over that baby the seizures that had dominated her young life suddenly stopped, prompting the medical professionals to take another scan of her brain to discover not half a brain but a full brain. I was there, in the hospital, and I witnessed it. I saw and heard the shock, the amazement, on the faces and in the voices of the doctors and nurses. THEY thought the gods must have come down. That miracle was just as powerful to me as Paul and Barnabas healing that man who could not use his feet.
I’ve been in hospital rooms when people near the ends of their lives have motioned toward an empty space in the room and started having conversations with people who did not appear to be there. Almost always, these end up being people who are well known and loved by the person in the hospital bed AND are people who have long passed. Almost always, these are people who bring great comfort to the person in the hospital bed, usually by calling that person home and providing a glimpse into the other side to ease the person’s anxiety.
I’ve heard voices from above calling to me, sometimes audibly and sometimes just an internal sense of the voice. And every time I’ve listened and followed the directions of the voices, something amazing has resulted:
- I seemingly by chance encountered exactly the person I needed to encounter in that moment. It’s even the way I met Susan, by listening to an urging telling me I needed to go to a particular church on a particular Sunday…which just happened to be the beginning of the last week Susan was to be in that town…maybe the last week Susan would have ever spent in the town in which I lived had we not met. Twenty three years later this Saturday, I can say that miracle has made all the difference in my life.
- At other times, when listening to the voice, I’ve been the one sent to provide help to another…as the voice has directed me to a place where there was a person with I need I was capable of meeting.
And of course, you know about my miraculous dreams…those times when I’ve asked God for guidance, for direction, and have received direction and guidance from God in the midst of a dream or middle-of-the-night vision.
Y’all, what I’m trying to say is that I most definitely have witnessed miracles in my life….miracles as powerful as the one performed by Paul in our reading and witnessed by that crowd in Lystra.
But I’m not the only one who has witnessed…or somehow experienced…miracles.
I’ve talked to people in this congregation and others I’ve served who’ve witnessed, who’ve experienced miracles. Some have seen visions communicating important truths they needed to hear or see. Some have heard voices guiding them to places they’ve needed to go…sometimes to do something as extraordinary as saving a life. Some have witnessed healings. Some have seen angels protect a loved one, even prevent automobile accidents.
I share all of this with you:
- to try to convince you that miracles are real;
- to try to convince you that what happened in our reading from Acts today was not just a story magnified to help make a point;
- to try to convince you that God has been working miracles for a very long time and has not yet stopped – miracles are NOT reserved for biblical times alone;
- to open your mind to the possibility that God might even be trying to work miracles through YOU.
There; I said it. God might be trying to work miracles through YOU.
Let me backtrack a bit. I get that it’s one thing to say that Paul (and actually Barnabas with him – but I’ll get to that later) performed a miracle in this story from Acts 14. I get it that it’s one thing to say God STILL works miracles and we maybe get to watch them. But it’s another thing altogether for me to suggest God might be trying to work miracles through us, through YOU. That’s even a stretch for THIS story, isn’t it? I imagine you might even be freaking out a bit over the suggestion that God might be wanting to, trying to perform miracles through you.
Well, my friends, this is the season of Eastertide, the season of resurrection and new life. This is the season during which, this year, we’re looking at each story given by the makers of the Narrative Lectionary to discern how God calls to us in the story to respond to resurrection. And while, at any other season and perhaps during any other year, I might look at this story and say something like, “Wow! God used to work some amazing miracles…God didn’t end with resurrection…God even worked through Jesus’ apostles.” While I might say something like that during any other season or any other year, THIS year, during this season of Eastertide, I’m receiving a slightly different message from God to share with you. I’m receiving the message that God desires WE respond to resurrection by allowing God to work miracles through US.
Let’s start at the beginning, in chapter 13. While a group of Christians was worshipping, the Holy Spirit said among them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Y’all, this singular moment, it sets everything that happens in chapter 14 in motion, and it sets in motion everything I’m going to tell you about miracles today. (Saul, by the way, is the same person who in chapter 14 is called Paul.)
We learn in this verse that God’s Holy Spirit calls specific followers of Jesus to specific work. We learn in this verse that God’s Holy Spirit EQUIPS specific people for specific work. Luke already told us a little about this gifting thing when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in chapter 2 of Acts. And Luke offers little glimpses that add piece by piece to Luke’s understanding of how the Spirit works throughout the book. And Paul expounds upon this in his letters when he writes about Spiritual gifts. But the key to all this – in Luke’s presentation – goes all the way back to the first chapter in Acts when, right before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His followers, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
In Acts chapter 1, Jesus says the Holy Spirit will give power to Jesus’ followers. In Acts chapter 13, the Holy Spirit calls Paul and Barnabas to a specific ministry. In Acts chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas allow God to work a miracle through them…simply by following through on the ministry to which the Spirit called them. Paul and Barnabas, they weren’t gods; they were mortals…just like the people of Lystra. Paul said so. God worked miracles through Paul and Barnabas, and God wants to work miracles through YOU!
Perform miracles? Us? Really? Yes, really. We remember that the gospels present Jesus as performing miracles, but often we forget that the book of Acts presents Jesus’ followers as performing miracles…not just Paul and Barnabas but a whole bunch of Jesus’ followers, performing all different kinds of miracles, all in response to resurrection. But surely that doesn’t mean WE are supposed to perform miracles, right?
My question to you is: Why Not?
Just as the Holy Spirit set apart Paul and Barnabas for a specific ministry, the Holy Spirit sets ALL of us followers of Jesus apart for specific ministries, and the Spirit equips us with gifts to perform those ministries. Paul spells it out quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the effecting of power [Brad’s translation], to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
What does this mean? It means YOU have been gifted in such a way for the Spirit to perform through some kind of what I’ll call miracles. Through you, the Spirit might:
- Literally and amazingly heal people…just like that baby I saw healed so long ago.
- Provide the encouragement others need to better utilize their gifts. This, by the way, was Barnabas’ gift, and it’s why Luke portrays the people in the crowd recognize the healing miracle was performed by BOTH Paul and Barnabas. Without Barnabas’ miracle of encouragement, the healing through Paul may not have happened.
- Speak things, speak truth, well beyond your human capacity to KNOW truth. Y’all, I’ve encountered people with middle school educations who spoke God’s truth with the knowledge and wisdom beyond that of a Master’s level graduate. THAT’s a miracle!
- Accurately discern right from wrong, even discern the Spirit’s desires for a whole group of people, when everyone else is downright confused.
- Show real, tangible love to people others deem unlovable. Even bring happiness and contentment to the downtrodden. If you don’t think these are miraculous acts, you and I live in very different worlds. In fact, these miracles might make the GREATEST difference in the world I live in.
Friends, my point is this. The Spirit has set each of you apart for ministry, and the Spirit has equipped you with a gift to perform what others will see as miracles to aid you in the fulfillment of that ministry. You might be wondering whether or not YOU are included in this statement, whether you have been called and equipped. The answer is YES!!!! And when you respond to Jesus’ resurrection by doing the work for which the Spirit calls you, the Spirit WILL perform miracles through you. There’s no doubt about it in my mind.
So…part of your response to resurrection should be to discern the ministry to which you have been called. And part of your response to resurrection should be to develop and use the gifts with which the Spirit has equipped you. Because – and I’m sure you know this – the world needs more miracles. The world today needs to see God’s miraculous power at work more than ever. And that power, it’s in you. Allowing God’s miraculous power to work through you – it’s up to you. How will you respond? Amen.