“IT MATTERS!”

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September 2nd, 2018                                                                               PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      ACTS 28:1-16; 17-31

 

                                                            “IT  MATTERS!

 

            For the past several months we've been walking in Paul's proverbial footprints – uh, Paul's foot-prints, learning from him as did his traveling buddies, like Barnabus & Silas, Priscilla & Aquilla, Timothy, Titus and Luke,  and Aristarchus, who was here last week. 

 

            Now his footprints lead us to Rome, by way of Syracuse, then Rhegium, on to Puteoli, a stop at Three Taverns, and on to Rome. Rome would be Paul's final destination, as directed by the Holy Spirit, who told Paul years earlier that nothing would prevent him from spreading the gospel there, right under Nero's nose - not the stones hurled at him by his adversaries, nor the chains of Roman captivity, nor a tempest at sea, nor the shipwreck that would follow, not even the bite of a poisonous snake! 

 

            “And so we came to Rome!” Luke repeatedly declares. (Acts 28:14,16)   Ah, Rome! The flavor of fine Italian cuisine, the aroma of freshly pressed flowers, the grandeur of the coliseum, the vista atop Palatine Hill!  Unfortunately, Paul has arrived in chains and won't be doing any sight-seeing any time soon, as he is under house arrest and dependent upon others to come to him. 

 

            So Paul comes up with Plan B.  Instead of visiting the local synagogue..., he invites the Jewish leaders over for some expresso, where he articulates the purpose for which he’s risked it all: “I asked you to come here today so we could get acquainted and so I could explain to you that I am bound with this chain because I believe that the hope of Israel – the Messiah – has already come.”                                                                                                                                                                   (Acts 28:20)

            Suddenly there’s a bit of confusion.  “Who is this guy?  What guy?   Paul of Tarsus.  Paul of who?  Have you heard any reports about this guy?  Not a one - never heard of him.  He’s one of them Jesus people.  Oh, that explains it.  Explains what?  The ball & chains – you know how they are!

 

He says that the hope of Israel has already come! Really? It’s about time our soccer team won the world cup!  No, no, no!  Not that hope of Israel.  He’s saying that the Messiah has shown up – as a Nazarene!  The messiah is a Nazarene?  Huh.  I must’ve missed that memo!  

 

            The Jewish leaders are a bit taken back by Paul’s words.  If God is on the move, if the Messiah has come...: Why weren’t we notified?   Where’s the proof?   It reminds me of an old classic...

            In the film, Oh, God!, a grocery store manager claims to be having conversations with God, in person, but the authorities demand proof and so in his defense God takes the stand…

            [Oh, God film clip: (scene 21) 1:23:45 – 1:25:11]

 

            The premise for the film, Oh God, raises a good question.  If God showed up and talked to you, how would you help others recognize him?   That was the challenge facing Paul.  He knew many would not accept what he had to say and he was right.  Luke records that “some were persuaded by the things he said, but others did not believe.”  (Acts 28:24)

                                                                                                                                                 

            His circumstances had at least one thing in common with our own.  Folks were suspicious of Christians.  Some saw them as trouble-makers.  In a climate of religious pluralism, in which many religions were represented in Roman cities, the Christian faith sounded extreme and exclusive.   If you have ever tried to share your faith or invite someone you probably have experienced similar resistance.  Many of our neighbors have very similar suspicions of Christians and the church.

                                                                                    -2-

 

            In a 1996 Barna survey of those outside the church 85% viewed Christianity favorably. In 2009, just 13 years later, only 16% did and only 3% of those surveyed wrote favorably of evangelicals.  In a recent issue of Christianity Today, a journalist interviewed people on the street and then wrote an article entitled, “Four Common Complaints About Christians”.  Do you know what they were?   

            1) You don't listen to me.  2) You judge me.  3) You don't practice what you preach.  4) You talk about what's wrong instead of helping make it right.  As comedian, Cathy Ladman, put it: “All religions are basicly the same: religion is basically guilt with different holidays.”  (Cathy Ladman) 

           

            How did Paul manage to convince anyone of the gospel in such an environment?  In this final chapter of Acts we catch a glimpse of Paul's approach – an approach from which we can learn a lot. 

 

            Four things grabbed my attention.  First, was Paul's invitation to those in Rome to come to his house, where he sat chained to a Roman guard.  Talk about being vulnerable!  Those he invited into his new home we're not exactly seeing him at his best.  He was tranparent with them.  We'd do well to do the same.  Too often we try to impress those around us by presenting ourselves as having overcome all adversity due to our faith, or to have all the answers as if we've somehow arrived... 

 

            In the words of Phillip Yancey: “We Christians do not have all the answers.  We squabble and argue with the best of 'em.  I have found that it makes all the difference in the world whether I view my neighbor as some one that needs to be fixed or corrected or as someone whom God already loves.”

                                                                                                (from Phillip Yancey's Vanishing Grace)

            It's significant that Paul invited those in Rome to his home “so we could get acquanted”. (Acts 28:20).  In order to get acquanted with those around us we must be engaged listeners.  Learning to ask good questions and good followup questions is key in getting to know someone.  Paul sought to make friends of his new neighbors in Rome.  We'd do well to do likewise – not in order to convert them but because we could all use more trustworthy, transparent friends.  In doing so we embody grace...

 

            Secondly, Paul welcomed them. Luke writes,“For the next two years, Paul...welcomed all who visited him...”  (Luke 28:30)  This witnesses to the ministry of hospitality.   We partner in two ongoing ways in this ministry here – one, on Sunday mornings, and two, on Monday evenings at Alpha.  Those like Shawn make it easy for us here on Sunday.  The spread of goodies in the back makes it a fun, tasty place to practice hospitality – sharing a shrimp.., getting acquanted, introducing them to our friends...

                                                                                   

            Hospitality also involves reaching out to guests when they first show up, being careful not to overwhelm them – (let go of my hand!), but helping them to feel at home, maybe sitting with them... 

            Likewise, hospitality at Alpha involves humility & sensitivity.  It takes a great deal of courage for someone to show up for an evening of Alpha.  Whatever we can do to help put them at ease....     

           

            A third approach Paul took in Rome was that of addressing their source of hope.  In speaking about the Messiah – the hope of Israel – in the way he did, Paul spoke to a deep longing they shared.  As a Jew, Paul knew how deep this longing went.  In our situation, we are less inclined to know what a person's deep-rooted hopes are without getting to know them first.  

 

            That's why it is so vital to truly listen to one another, particularly those who don't share our faith or world view.  Sharing our hopes and dreams requires trust.  Sometimes they are expressed in terms of where we have been disappointed or hurt.  Other times, in terms of deep held longings.  It's one of the reasons I love being involved in Alpha because so many of our guests share those things... 

                                                                                    -3-

 

            Paul's fourth approach was how he articulated the gospel.  Paul “explained and testified about the Kingdom of God and tried to persuade them about Jesus from the Scriptures.”  (Acts 28:23)

 

            Paul talked about what Jesus talked about – how trusting in him brings God's kingdom to life.

Jesus told parables to help us grasp it.  He healed people to demonstrate it.  He taught us to pray so that we would long for it, and experience it: “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”                                                                                                                                                    (Matthew 6:10)  

Paul's ministry to Publius and his father was a manifestation of this reality.  When the Holy Spirit healed Publius' father it opened an opportunity to minister to scores of other residents of Malta: “As it happened, Publius' father was ill, so Paul went in and prayed for him, and laying his hands on him, he healed him.  Then all the other sick people on the island came and were healed.” 

                                                                                                                        (Acts 28:8-9) 

            Paul saw this life as a cosmic battleground, where Jesus came to free and heal those under attack.  The stakes couldn’t be higher.  Even though he was rejected by the majority of those who heard his message, Paul refused to give up.  He knew his days were limited and so he gave it everything he had.  Every opportunity to help advance Jesus’ kingdom matters!  “For the next two years, Paul lived in his own rented house.  He welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the Kingdom of God with all boldness and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one tried to stop him.”                                                                                                                                                  (Acts 28:30-31)

            And then…?  I don’t know; it feels like there should be more.  He’s there for two years after all! Perhaps Luke’s abrupt ending was his way of urging the young church to continue the book – that there were still chapters yet to be added – chapters in which the story of Jesus’ kingdom continues to push back the realm of darkness…through the healing and awakening of God’s people. 

            It’s reminiscent of how Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings comes to a close… 

                        [* Lord of the Rings film clip: (scene 59) 3:10:50-3:11:25]

 

            I like that.  We all have parts to play in the kingdom Jesus came to bring to life.  There is so much yet of the story to be written/told.  As William Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage.”   The question is, how big a part are you willing to play? 

            Admittedly, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  There is so much hurt and dysfunction in the world, not to mention how hostile the world/Jefferson County has become to the Christian faith.  What difference can one person make?   What’s the point? 

 

            It’s like the man walking on a beach where millions of star fish have been stranded, dying in the hot sun.  As he walks along he notices a boy picking up a star fish and throwing it into the water.  The man scoffs at him, “What are you doing, boy?  There are millions of star fish out here?  What differ-ence do you think that will make?” The boy reached down and picking up another one he flung it out into the sea and shouted back, “I bet it made a difference to that one!”

 

            My friends, it matters.  It matters that Jesus came to give you life and to give your life meaning that surpasses the 9-5, you deserve a break today, kind of life the world is selling.  The gospel Paul shared showed in word and deed that you matter..., and you were called to make a difference!  

             It matters!  (Just ask....)

 

            “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches our thirst.” (Henri Nouwen)             The story is still unfolding – yours and theirs – what part will you play…?!