DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
[Tim Bruster just now came into my office and gave the Justice Ministry a 100 Grand!]
I’m letting you all in on a not so well-kept secret. All preachers count the house. For a number of reasons. We want to reach the most people we can, we want to pay the light bill and keep the church running, and, of course, we want to be appreciated. I would call all of these “good” reasons. But this desire to draw a lot of people in also brings with it the pressure to make the gospel message palatable to people, maybe even to water it down a bit or to be overly selective in the parts of Jesus’ message we leave out. As Bishop Will Willimon has written (and I paraphrase him here): “Preachers are under pressure to protect their parishioners from Jesus.” And even though First Methodist is not going to survive or fail based upon my preaching in our “little church” service, as Carol Harrell calls it, I still feel a bit of the same kind of pressure.
Which makes it a little hard for me to preach again this Sunday on the “message God sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ,” which we considered last week as part of Acts of the Apostles 10.37. But I feel strongly that we ought to continue considering this message, even though it is so very disconnected and runs so counter to the general American embrace of the “redemptive power of violence,” as theologian Walter Wink termed it. I am going to consider this message and Way of peace for at least one more Sunday because: (1) this message and Way, which very much included what we would now term pacifism, was absolutely central to the life of the early church depicted in Acts; (2) this message and Way was and is central to the teachings and life of the Jesus whom we call Lord on Sundays; (3) because violence — almost a worship of violence and the claim that it has saving power — are becoming more and more pervasive in the entire world, and (4) reflecting on my own life’s experience as a Marine, a criminal prosecutor, and now an attorney trying to protect poor women and children from family violence is motivating me to look for a radically different approach to confronting evil and injustice. The world’s Way isn’t making things any better at all, so maybe at least we Christians ought to try Jesus’ Way. So…you’ve been warned about what I will be asking you to consider with me again.
But first, the specific scripture for Sunday. As you read this, please you might consider what the greatest difference was between Saul and Paul:
ACTS 7 – 8
54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?”22Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
See you Sunday?
[Oh. The “100 Grand” Tim gave me was a candy bar!]