JUNE 10th, 2018 PASTOR DON PIEPER
In Paul's Footprints ACTS 20:1-6; 7-15
“PAUL'S PARAKALEYSAS PURPOSE”
It's Paul's third mission trip and he's all over the map. His purpose is threefold: to spread the gospel, raise funds to the impoverished church and Jerusalem and to provide parakaleysas. No, that's not some kind of form of illness or malady but a remedy for strengthening the church. Check it out...
“When the uproar was over,” (the uproar being the riot in Ephesus we read about last week), “Paul sent for the disciples (in Ephesus) to parakaleysas them.” (that is, to encourage them) “Then he said goodbye and left for Macedonia. While there, he encouraged (parakaleysas) the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece...” (Acts 20:1-2)
So – we're sailing to Macedonia and Greece again! Alrighty! I came prepared...! So are you ready...? I must warn you, its a bit of whirlwind trip! Luke doesn't pause to provide much info along the way. I'll try to fill in the blanks as we go. So leaving from Ephesus, we head north thru Asia Minor, to catch a boat out of Troas. It was here that the Holy Spirit redir-ected Paul on his last trip, by way of a vision he had. While in town, Paul shares his faith; as he soon writes, “When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me.” (2 Corinthians 2:12)
So sailing from Troas back to the seaport in Neapolis, Paul returns to Philippi. It is there, that Paul writes a second letter to the church in Corinth and sends it on ahead with an amazing partner by the name of Titus. “After saying goodbye (to the church in Troas) I went on to Macedonia to find (Titus).” (2 Cor. 2:13) Unlike his first letter, this one is a letter of paralalyesis, as we'll see next week.
From Philippi, Paul heads south to parakalysis the believers in Thessalonica before doing the same in Berea, Athens, and then finally in Corinth, where, Paul writes to the church in Rome.
Paul is eager to bring the offering that's been collected during this trip back to the struggling mother church in Jerusalem but catches wind of a plot to do him in and steal these vital funds. “So he decided to return through Macedonia”, taking with him the bold traveling buddies we mentioned last week, friends who represent churches from across the mission field: three from Macedonia, three from Galatia and two from Asia. So back thru Berea, Thessalonica and Philippi we go! There Paul sends his entourage ahead while he and Luke celebrate the Passover in Philippi before regrouping in Troas!
From this point on the narrative is told in the first person plural as Luke, who was pastoring the church in Philippi, rejoins Paul in his travels. “They waited for us at Troas where we stayed a week.”
After telling us about his third trip to Troas, which we'll get back to in a moment, Luke tells of how Paul pressed on to get to Jerusalem. To do so he hoofed it to Assos alone while his traveling buddies sailed there, presumably so Paul could preach along the way. From there they sailed together to Mitylene, the capital of the island of Lesbes. “The next day we sailed past the island of Chios”, (Acts 20:15), where the famous poet Homer was born, before landing on the island of Samos, the birth-place of Pythagoras, the father of mathematics and geometry and then finally on to Miletus.
So the first half of Luke 20 reads like a sandwich. The buns of the sandwich are Paul's travel itinerary and the meat is his extraordinary stay in Troas. At the end of their week-long stay, Luke tells us, “we gathered with the local believers to break bread on the first day of the week.” (Acts 20:7)
Imagine the scene if you will. The believers in Troas have gathered to celebrate Holy Commun-ion with Paul and company. The table has been set but Paul has so much to share that he keeps talking well past the dinner hour. The candles are flickering, stomachs are growling, eyelids are fluttering and there’s the unmistakable sound of someone snoring. But does it phase Paul? No,…Luke reports simply that “Paul spoke on and on…” (20:9) He was the energizer, preacher bunny of the first century!
It reminds me of an incident in which a man fainted in church. The paramedics were called and quickly rushed to the scene. As the report goes, they wound up carrying out five people before they found the man who’d fainted! I understand that there was a certain Mr. Bean among them… [*Mr. Bean, 18:45-20:30]
Anyway, Paul talks so long that they’re dropping like flies. So much to share and so little time.
But here's the thing, three of four key elements of early Christian worship are found here in Troas. First and foremost is the proclamation of the Gospel. To encourage the believers, Paul made sure they were being aptly fed on God's Word. He knew that for them to grow in faith, they would need to digest, apply and be changed by the ancient words of scripture, just as we sang earlier this morning.
As children of the Reformation, where Martin Luther pointed to the centrality of God's Word for faith and life, based on what he called sola scriptura, on God's Word alone, we place the reading and proclamation of God's Word at the center of our worship experience. As Paul put it: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true... ” (1 Timothy 3:17) What's more, “This Good News is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day your first heard it and understood the truth about God's wonderful grace.” (Colossians 1:6)
God's Word is Spirit breathed. No wonder so many of you have told me at one point or another, 'Pastor Don, it felt like you were preaching directly to me this morning.' That's not because my sermon that day was any better but because of what the Holy Spirit was doing in you! Luther taught that what distinguishes a sermon from a lecture is that the Holy Spirit is at work at both ends, on both the sharing and on the receiving end! No wonder Paul had a hard time stopping that night – the Spirit was moving, and most there were eating it up..., and being greatly encouraged! Proclamation...brings parakaleysis!
A second key element of worship was the celebration of Holy Communion. Luke reports that this was the primary reason they gathered. “We gathered with the local believers to break bread...”
It's the same expression used throughout the New Testament to describe this special meal of remembrance. It began back at the birth of the church: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching, to fellowship, to sharing meals, including the breaking of the bread and prayer.”
Breaking bread was the first idiom for communion. Luke clarifies this a couple of verses later: “They worshipped together each day, (celebrating) the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God...!” (Acts 2:47-47)
Why is Communion so vital to Christian worship? Why do we do it – and why do we do it so often? Primarily, because Jesus told us to. “Do this is in remembrance of me,” he said. (Luke 22:19)
Here we are reminded at what cost God has set us free from the penalty of sin thru faith in him. Here we're reminded that the Father has held nothing back, not even his beloved son, so that we may know, not just in our heads, but in our hearts, in the depth of our being,how deeply loved we really are!
What's more, we do it because Jesus said he is personally present when we do so. “Take and eat,” , he said, “this is my body! Take and drink; this is my blood!” (Matthew 26:26-27)
Here, Jesus says, this is me! Once, at an Alpha retreat a guest told me she had a vision of Jesus during the breaking of the bread. It was here during Communion that Matt Baker experienced healing.
Here, we relive the power of his love, of his grace, of being utterly, completely forgiven. In this way, we experience his very presence! In this way, we let him in, and he gets into our system! In this way, proclamation and Holy Communion bring paraleysis! And we are encouraged...!
A third element of early Christian worship was singing praises to God. I can't help but wonder why Luke didn't include it in this text. Maybe its because Paul got so carried away in his preaching that he forgot...or maybe like me, Luke had such a poor singing voice he glossed it over. Either way, we know from Paul's writings that singing praise opens our hearts like few things can. As he put it: “Keep being filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God in Jesus' name.”
Clearly singing praise is instrumental, so to speak, to Christian worship. And notice how Paul connects it to being filled with the Holy Spirit. That's why when we invite the Holy Spirit we always do it in the context of hearing or singing praise music; it lifts our human spirit to receive the Holy Spirit!
That brings us to the other element of Paul's ministry of parakleysis and Christian worship – a demonstration of the Spirit's presence and power! Here we find Jesus making good on his promise to his disciples: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done and even greater works, because I am going to my Father. I'll ask the Father, and He'll give you another parakleytos (helper), who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” (John 14:12, 15-17)
First, not only does the raising of Eutychus reveal Paul having the same power as did Peter, and Jesus before them, the power to raise the dead back to life, but it fulfills Jesus' promise. And that power that same Holy Spirit lives within us – within you! Jesus clearly says, anyone who believes in me will do the same works! Anyone includes you and me! Jesus has entrusted this power to us – today!
Second, is the striking similarity between the Greek words, parakelysis, translated encourage-ment and parakleytos, (helper)! After Paul, thru his faith in Jesus, provides a profound demonstration of the Holy Spirit's presence and power at their worship by raising young Eutychus back to life, by holding him in his arms no less, we're given a recap of the evening's events encompassing all the elements of their worship experience.
“They all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord's Supper, and ate together. Paul continued preaching until dawn, and the young man...was alive – and everyone was greatly parakleytheysan!” (Acts 20:11-13)
How encouraging! You think?! Actually, Luke uses a little tongue in cheek expression. The translation literally reads: “And everyone was more than moderately encouraged!” I bet they were!
And so can we be! Jesus is in the proclamation of the ancient words of Scripture and the distri-bution of his body and blood, and in any and every demonstration of the Spirit's presence and power! When we invited the Spirit to fill us recently young Robby sensed God's presence in a powerful way, while on the other side of the room Chris Wilson did too, so much that she didn't want it to stop.
Nearby Ginger saw an image of Anne Louise being annointed just as Anne Louise felt water running down her open hands, as she was anointed. When she placed her hands on Nicky's neck the pain went away and complete mobility returned! Other's experienced God's love for them/others.
Now that we're all together, early and late worshippers under one roof, like those in Troas anti-cipating celebrating Communion and the sharing of a meal, and having feasted upon the ancient words of Scripture shall we lean in together for a fresh demonstration of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit? If it was good enough for Paul and Luke, Gaius and Eutychus, why shouldn't it be so for us?
Let's pray: Come parakleytos, come Holy Spirit, and fill us with fresh parakaleysis, that we, like the saints of old..., may be strengthened and encouraged in and by your presence, oh Lord...!