“The Mission” was a sermon preached by Pastor am Schaefer Dawson on the 4th Sunday of the Easter Season — April 30, 2023. The text upon which it was/is based is selections from Acts 13-14. To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20230430
Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18
The book of Acts reads like a fast-paced novel… and we have missed a few things in the chapters between last week’s encounter between Peter and Cornelius and the beginning of today’s lesson. After his paradigm-shifting vision and his encounter with Cornelius that caused Peter to proclaim, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,” Peter went to Jerusalem and reported his new learning to those who were questioning his choice to eat with non-Jews. Initially, the word was being preached only to Jews, but in Caesarea, with Cornelius, and then in Antioch, “Hellenists” were also hearing the word, also hearing about the Lord Jesus. When the leaders of the church in Jerusalem heard this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. He went to get Saul of Tarsus, and then the two of them stayed in Antioch for a whole year, meeting with and teaching the new believers. Other things also happen in these chapters, like James’ martyrdom, Peter’s imprisonment (and the Lord’s bringing him out of prison), and Herod’s death. Oh, and in these in-between passages, we also hear that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”
So, now – this morning – we hear that following a period of worshipping and fasting, the disciples have heard the Spirit say, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,” and then, after fasting and praying the disciples laid hands on them and sent them off.
And then…? Well, then we take another leap forward in the text, missing the parts where Saul and Barnabas preached in Cyprus (primarily to Jews, but also to the proconsul who asked them to teach him and who believed because of their teaching and preaching). We also miss their visits to the other Antioch, in Pisidia, and to Iconium, where Saul, also known as Paul, and Barnabas encounter Jews who reject the word of the Lord Jesus. So, they turn to the Gentiles, which made the Jews angry and maybe a little jealous, so that they “stirred up persecution” against Paul and Barnabas. And so, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their sandals and moved on.
The young church, the disciples who were just beginning to be called Christians, was encountering growing pains. Some believed the message of Jesus was just for the Jews, while others were beginning to learn otherwise. And it was, at times, an uneasy and an uncomfortable mix.
And do you also hear how fickle crowds can be? They can turn quickly from loving and adoring to hateful and downright dangerous. Public opinion is not usually lukewarm, and it is also not likely to stay with you forever: celebrity is fleeting. And people’s reactions to the all-inclusive, accepting message of the love of God in Christ were hot and cold by turns… fickle… but never just so-so or “middle-of-the-road.” No, this message stirs up strong reactions wherever and to whomever it is preached.
And now, back to our story: because all of that was told in the verses we did not read today. Saul and Barnabas were commissioned, and after all of these events – where the crowds, the public’s opinion, turned on them – after all of that, they go to Lystra, where they encounter Gentile crowds. Straightaway, they heal a man who had been crippled from birth. And straightaway, the crowds decide that they are gods, come down among them in human form.
Public opinion – hot or cold, with not a lot of in between.
Paul and Barnabas, hearing that the crowds were calling them Hermes and Zeus and were planning to offer sacrifice, tore their clothes and rushed into the crowds, trying to keep them from offering sacrifice to them, trying to convince them that they were mortal.
While it might have been tempting to enjoy the good favor of the crowds after having just run from several other crowds that had turned on them, Paul and Barnabas instead proclaim that they, as the bringers of the word, are just as human as their hearers.
And Paul preaches his first Gentile sermon. Here, he cannot rely upon his crowd of listeners knowing the stories of the Jewish people. Instead, he draws on what these listeners know: they know the goodness of the natural world, with all its rains and fruitfulness that gives them food and fills their hearts with joy. Now, Paul wants them to understand that these good gifts come, not from “worthless” idols but from the creator God, the living God, who made heaven and earth and all that is in them.
There is something quite lovely about these people of Lystra. They, unlike some of the crowds in other cities recently visited, are open to God’s visitation and receive it with excitement and joy. And, quite understandably, they try to relate what they are seeing and hearing to what they already know. So, they conclude that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form.
In this moment, as they may have been enjoying the accolades and the good reception, Paul and Barnabas realize that this mission, this ministry, is God’s mission, not theirs. They remember that they do not act or heal or preach or teach by their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their job is always to give glory to God. Their job is always to preach and to teach in such a way that they help people of all cultures to encounter the living God.
So, what about us?
Not all of us are preachers, but all of us are called to tell of the goodness of God, of the redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus.
Not all of us are missionaries, but all of us encounter people who have not heard the story.
And, whether we encounter resistance or accolated from others when we tell of Jesus, we can be sure that the reaction to this story will never be lukewarm. And so, like Paul and Barnabas, may we be given grace to give God the glory. May we rise from discouragement, or level off from periods of rejoicing in the splendor of our own words or deeds and the accolades they may bring. May we always, in all things, give glory to God for his wonderful gift of mercy in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And may we tell – and live – the story… every day.