Sent on a Spiritual Journey into the World!
Back before cell phones, wifi, or even cable TV, we got bored every summer. We invited fun. playing home-run derby with a wiffle-ball or riding our bikes over a little ramp through the sprinkler like Evel Knievel. One day, we were all down at Joey’s when John, my only and older brother rolled down the driveway and earnestly requested my assistance with some chore. Fully assured I had discharged my chore list, I ignored his entreaties. He pedaled home in disgust. John was never a whiner or tattler, so when he returned barking, “Dad wants to see you right now!”, I immediately dropped the bat, mounted my metallic green Schwinn and raced up the street. The One Who Sends You makes a difference! If my brother was truly sent by my Dad, then I needed to skedaddle home.
- Do you feel sent? Do you feel sent to share a message about Jesus with the world?
What do we do with Jesus’ Great Commission? “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end.” (Matthew 28) Are progressive Christians sent- or is evangelism only for our conversative cousins? Does the world need to hear a progressive Gospel?
I heard a scholar, whose name sadly escapes me, talk about two types of Christians: “Great Commission Christians” and “Sermon on the Mount Christians.” Great Commission Christians focus on belief and call the world to faith in Jesus. Sermon on the Mount Christians just want to live like Jesus. If you simply want to live like Jesus, remember that Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim Good News and give away healthcare. (Luke 9:2) If you are a Great Commission Christian, know that “disciple making” is more that believing something about Jesus… disciples live like Jesus. Disciples live out the Sermon on the Mount.
The Acts of the Apostles tells us about the Spirit sending out the church. In Antioch, a diverse church ordained Paul and Barnabas sent them out into the world. The early church held the powerful and the poor. Three of five named leaders represented different cultural identities. “The church at Antioch included prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (nicknamed Niger), Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen (a childhood friend of Herod the ruler), and Saul. As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to undertake.” After they fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on these two and sent them off.”
The One Who Sends You makes a difference! How you are sent shapes your call! Who sent Barnabas and Saul? Who spoke to the church? How did the “the Holy Spirit say, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to”? Was there an audible voice? Did God’s finger write on the wall? Did the disciples search the scriptures and make a list? Did someone see a vision? Did it just “seem good in the Holy Spirit to God and to us”? (Acts 15:28)
How did the Spirit speak? The text is not too specific. Perhaps, First Antioch asked John Wesley’s historic questions: (1) Do Paul and Barnabas know God as pardoning God? Have they the love of God abiding in them? Are they holy in all manner of conversation? (2) Have they gifts, as well as evidence of God’s grace, for the work? Have they a clear, sound understanding; a just conception of salvation by faith? Do they speak justly, readily, clearly? (3) Have they fruit? Have any been truly converted to God under their leadership? Are believers edified by their service? As long as these marks occur in them, we believe they are called of God to serve. These we receive as sufficient proof that they are moved by the Holy Spirit. (UM Discipline 310:1d) In a few weeks, our Annual Conference will ordain new elders and deacons. Do we believe God is still speaking in 2018? Do we believe the Risen Christ is with us, saying to us, “set aside Darren or Sara for the work God has called them to?” Is there still sufficient evidence that the Spirit is still moving hearts and changing minds or do we have a dry, hollow, spiritless, impersonal, fixed, second-hand set of rules? When we say, “The Lord be with you! And also with you!” Do we believe God is still speaking?
The Holy Spirit said to the church, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to undertake.” The call did not even originate within the church. No, the call that produced about half the New Testaments (Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians) welled up within Paul and Barnabas’ heads and hearts! God speaks twice in every ordination service! God first called Saul and Barnabas and then God spoke to the church saying “set them apart for this work”! What does it mean to be called? Jefferson, did you hear an audible voice? Heather, did a holy finger carve a message on a stone tablet? The Apostle Paul speaks of his pastoral office as a holy mystery: think of us like this, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (1 Corinthians 4:4) I would like to put that title of my door: Steward of Divine Mysteries!
How can we believe that God still calls, still ordains, still works, still sends and not believe God still speaks? How do people, who believe in a personal relationship with God, get locked into a dry, spiritless, unyielding (hard-hearted), literalistialic second-hand orthodoxy? If the Spirit calls us to preach, is that all the Spirit has to say? Is not God’s Spirit teaching us new things? Did not Jesus promise to be with us to the end of the age? Did not Jesus give us the keys of the kingdom? Did not God do a new thing- offer a new covenant in Jesus? Did not the church in Acts embrace a whole new group of gentiles- those once called unclean? Did not the church drop a kosher diet? Did not the Spirit teach us slavery is morally sick, even as the Apostle Paul tells slaves to obey? Why can’t the Spirit show us some new ways of living out the old, old story of God’s great love for us? Do we believe it when we say, “The Lord be with you! And also with you!”? The Spirit is still speaking!
Paul warned the church not to embrace a dry legalism and hard-hearted orthodoxy. “You are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. .. not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3)
Do we have sense of being called? Do we feel sent to offer hope, love and transformation to a hurting world? Is God still speaking?
The same Holy Spirit that spoke in the Acts of the Apostles, speaks today!
In Acts 1, Jesus promised “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit and you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (1:5-8)
In Acts 2, Luke tells us “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 4, the church prayed for the courage to keep speaking after Peter and John were arrested.“ After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence.”
In Acts 5, Peter gets arrested… much like Dr. King being arrested for parading without a permit! Acting as his own defense attorney Peter says, “We must obey God rather than any human authority… And we are witnesses of Easter, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey.” The Holy Spirit bears witness of Easter, even in 2018. The Lord be with you! And also with you!
In Acts 6, the church forms the first committee: food service and create the office of deacon. Is the criteria for ordination; excellent theology or winning Bible Quiz Bowl? No! They must be well-respected and endowed by the Spirit with wisdom!
In Acts 7, Stephen, just before being martyred argues, “You stubborn and hardheaded people! You are always fighting against the Holy Spirit.”
In Acts 8, the Spirit sends Philip to Samaria and church follows behind, sending Peter and John to go investigate. The Church was troubled “because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Baptism with all the right words was not enough!
In Acts 10-11, the Holy Spirit leads a reluctant bishop to break bread with with a pagan centurion. Peter comes to see “God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean… “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to God.”
So friends, as we explore Acts and this theme of being sent, let us remember who sends us. Let us believe it when we say: “The Lord be with you! And also with you!” The Spirit is still speaking! God still calls. God still sends. God still speaks. The Risen Christ is with us to the end. We have the keys of the kingdom- to bind and loosen. Let us offer the world some hope. Let us say to the world: The Lord be with you. And also with you. Amen!
- Are you more of a “Great Commission” or “Sermon On The Mount” Christian?
- How do you think the Holy Spirit “spoke” to the church at Antioch or “called” Barnabas?
- Do you feel called to share Jesus’ message? Why or why not?
- What would you want unchurched people to know about Jesus?
- What might God “call” or “send” you to do this week?