“Understanding & Wisdom”

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, June 16th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

Father’s Day

 “Hear now these ancient words from the book of Proverbs, chapter eight, verses, one thru four and twenty-two thru thirty-one.”

1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.  22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.  23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.  24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.  25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth – 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.  27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

“Having heard this ancient writing let us now ask God to open our hearts so that we too might come to understand more clearly how wisdom calls out to us today.”

 

“Understanding & Wisdom”

Here it is Father’s Day, yet our scripture begins with the voice of a woman.  Frederick Buechner, in his Blog, tells us that Wisdom is a woman.  “In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom is a woman.  “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,” she says (Proverbs 8:22).  She was there when he made the heaven, the sea, the earth.  It was as if he needed a woman’s imagination to help him make them, a woman’s eye to tell him if he’d made them right, a woman’s spirit to measure their beauty by.”  Feminist and women’s right’s activist would have quite a lot to say about this point.  Yet, I feel that it would be disrespectful to the fathers in our midst to push this point to its full potential today.  We can leave that conversation for another time.  Even with this said, I can’t help but celebrate with John C. Holbert as he speaks out regarding this moment in scripture.  “Today I celebrate the delight of Lady Wisdom, who delights her God always and who sheds that delight on all of us.”

Bringing our focus back into the acknowledgment of Father’s Day in our society, perhaps we might go back to one of the early commentary’s, an earlier writing’s understanding of these verses.  Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary speaks of wisdom in these words.  “Where there is an understanding heart, and willingness to receive the truth in love, wisdom is valued above silver and gold.”  Good, honorable, fathers and mothers, whom desire to be good parents surely live by these creeds.  Without these values attributed to wisdom, parents would fail more often than they already do.  The wise parent, the wise father would do well to study the feminine pros of this wisdom writing.  Indeed, “wisdom is something to be valued above silver or gold!”  An understanding heart is a priceless gift.  The willingness of any parent to receive the truth in love, shall strengthen their effectiveness exponentially, to the power of ten, twenty and beyond!

Most fathers, good ones at least, and mothers also, would recognize the wisdom of this writing as well.  “…true wisdom is to realize that one cannot always control events, not to speak of the many others with whom we travel together on this earth.”  The author of that sentence, Juliana Claassens, surely has spoken from experience as well as from her scholarly approach to things, as she writes her sermons.  Parents, young and old, rich or poor, know all too well, through the rocky roads of parenthood, that believing we can – ‘control the events of life’ – is unreal.  To believe otherwise will only lead to unwanted despair and anxiety as expectations of things continually go unmet!  No, it is prudent to anticipate that all things shall not go as planned.  Nor shall others follow through as agreed upon.  Not to mention the people outside our daily circle of life whom may abruptly enter in and alter the course of our lives.

How often have we believed the path forward was a straight line, only to find ourselves needing to reevaluate, and make a few detours along the pathway?  Jim Edlin, Professor of Biblical Literature and Languages tantalizes us with his opinion regarding how “Life can get crazy at times.  In fact, for many people their lives feel more like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine.”  I think we can all relate to this illustration.   Yet, he teases us with a reference to a story he does not finish; at least not in the commentary in which I found his words.  He authenticates his remarks by telling us that “Such is the testimony of one young woman whose story I recently heard.”  Even though we do not know the details of that woman’s plight, it would not take much to come up with numerous confirmations to the truth of it.  Surely, we all know ‘Life is a bit crazy, now and then.”  Indeed, the journey in front of us all, shall have many unforeseen moments and obstacles.  This fact is not in question.  The challenge to us is this: how shall we negotiate the ever-changing flow of life?

Take for instance a moment in my life and that of my wife, Lois.  We have a one car garage and a driveway only big enough for two cars… when one is parked behind the other.  We needed to go out on a recent Friday evening to an event but thought it prudent to put Lois’ car at the entrance to the driveway, as she would be leaving earlier than I the next morning.  So, about half an hour before we needed to leave, we went out to do just that!  We no more than got into our cars and got them switched around then the wind which we had ignored, turned into Florida rain!  I jumped out of my car and the rain chased me into the garage, Lois was no were in sight.  The rain was coming down in buckets’ you know what I mean, hard bands of tropical like rain was upon us.  Consequently, Lois sat alone in her car for about twenty minutes before I dared to venture back out with a large umbrella.  In the end, we got to our destination on time, and I was well bathed by then!  I suspect we could all tell a story or two, or three about a crazy time in our lives; many surely with more substance than the ‘rainy’ example I have offered up.

It can be reassuring to know that the “Wisdom” personality of God has been there throughout Creation.  You did catch on during the reading, did you not, that ‘Wisdom’ goes back to the beginning of the understanding of God?  In our reading it is written this way, “The Lord created me (me being Wisdom) at the beginning of his work.”  And Wisdom continued throughout as clarified in verses 26 thru 31 of our reading this morning.  “When God (the Creator) had not yet made the earth, when God established the heavens, I was there, and when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when the Creator assigned to the sea its limit, when marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside God and I was rejoicing in God’s inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” /Proverbs 8:22-31/ A theologian named Larry Broding points out for us how this writing played a role in the early understandings of God.  He tells us that “…no matter how people interpret the author’s meaning of “wisdom,” there can be no doubt these passages (and those like them) were critical in the development of the Christian view for God, as three persons, three personalities.

What is truly critical for you and I, to note, is that the essence of ‘Wisdom’ is clearly within the movement of the Living Spirit of God whom interacts with us – on a continual basis.  This is important for the fathers and the mothers as-well-as, all parents among us to understand.  It ought to be reassuring, as wisdom is a multifaceted expression, taking in not just understanding, but continues-on with knowledge, insight, good judgment and prudence.  All of which are key elements to being successful parents.  Yet, I encourage us to have good sense about this, as we have only connected wisdom to parenting, in honor of Father’s Day.  ‘Wisdom’, however, via the Spirit of God is available to all of humankind!  Albeit, a great many people do not seem to be strongly connected to this crucial tool for effect living, especially in these times and in these places where you and I reside.  Don’t misunderstand this critique easily applies to other areas of the world where an abundance of humankind resides!

One author, in her comments, points out how parenting has to do with ethics and justice.  Amy Erickson tells us of her battles with this text.  “One of my struggles with the text, and, I suppose, with parenting, has to do with ethics and justice.”  She is not alone as I think, in modern times, these terms have been repeatedly brought up.  But, unfortunately, too many of our society and that of others, is that these terms are used and misused before being ‘tabled’ into the ‘back room’ of no action!”  Ethics is all about integrity and principles.  Justice is about fairness, truthfulness and righteousness.  And clearly wisdom is in the middle of these struggles as understanding is an essential element in grappling with the pros and cons of ethical choices.  Justice, like wisdom, demands that we speak out in behalf of the rights and needs of others.  We need to do more than simply collect a couple of jars of peanut butter for the hungry; we need to advocate and speak out to move others to join us in sharing a bit of our abundance with those who do not even have their basic needs met!

Regarding this discussion about the Wisdom aspect of God points us to our human need to ‘divide up’ the many and various attributes of God.  Trying to put the full understanding of God into in one body is simply beyond our capability of understanding.  Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm, a good Presbyterian Pastor speaks to us about the significance of our God of ‘many faces’ and ‘multiple personalities’.  “The point of the Trinity is that God is a God of love, love that acts for us and among us.  Love that reaches out to us and seeks a relationship with us.  It is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world and takes great delight in the human family.”  Fathers, mothers, single parent families with all its variations and forms, all forms of parenting need to celebrate today, that God is here with us all!  All the personalities of God are needed to successfully navigate and negotiate the pathways of parenthood!  We lift-up ‘Wisdom’ on this day, as wisdom is that crucial aspect of parenthood that is at the core of understanding that next generation of God’s Creation.  We raise up our voices in praise to God for giving fathers and mothers and all parents the capabilities to love and care for the children that they are responsible for!

Amen.

“All Together”

Acts 2:1-21, June 9th, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


 

Read Statement of Faith, Pentecost Sunday – Wear Red!

 “Today’s reading continues our journey into the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, verses one thru twenty-one. May the Spirit open your ears and your heart to this ancient writing.”

Acts 2:1-21

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.  18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

“Having listened to this accounting of the coming of the Holy Spirit, let us be open to understanding what this narrative means to us today.”

“All Together”

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” /Acts 2:1/ Who were they? Was it the group of believers spoken of in Acts, chapter one verse fifteen? “In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons.) Or was it just the inner circle of disciples? Or was it the whole crowd that gathered that day? The question then is this: who shall receive the Holy Spirit; or whom has already received it? The Apostle Peter proclaims, “God declares, that I (God) will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women.” /Acts2:17-18a/ The scripture states that “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” /Acts2:4a/ Regardless of how we interpret the count of whom was bestowed the Holy Spirit that day, this passage of scripture tells us, through the words of the Apostle Peter, that all whom call upon the name Of God, through Christ shall be saved! /Acts 2:21/

A theologian named Matthew L. Skinner clarifies for us the believed intent here. “Acts does not regard Pentecost as an entirely singular occurrence. This scene introduces a sequence of occasions in which the Spirit mobilizes Jesus’ followers and inaugurates new directions for ministry and community.” His thoughts put forth a very important aspect of the occasions upon which the Living Spirit of Christ is acknowledged. First, we need to recognize and accept that this scripture, our reading for today, does indeed mark a major introduction of the Spirit into the newly developing Christian community – which is in its beginning and early stages. This is crucial, as they were weak and afraid when Jesus left them, but now as promised by Jesus, they are not alone; neither are we! Jesus proclaimed to the disciples that after he was gone, he would send an Advocate to be with them. “I will send him to you.” We find Jesus saying this in a prayer, found in the sixteenth chapter of the gospel according to John, verse seven. He was speaking about the Holy Spirit, the third personality of the Trinity; God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit being the promised Advocate.

This is vital to all Christians, as without the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, we too would be helpless, weak and afraid as were the early disciples. “Many Christians, us included, don’t seem to take this seriously.” /Danielle Shoyer/ Somehow, many of us, we don’t seek out the strength and inspiration of God’s Living Spirit as we seek to do the will of God. As we continue our journeys, we shall need to seek out the Living God in our doings or we shall surely fail! The preacher proclaims to the gathered crowd: “Have a little faith.” But what is the response of those gathered? (pause) You have all heard the account, I am sure, do I really need to share it again? Ah… indeed I must.

See if you can find yourself in this simple dialog. “There was a man hiking along a cliff and he got too close to the edge and fell. He was able to grasp onto a small outgrowth as he descended, breaking his fall. It was the branch of a small bush to which he grasped, hanging on in desperation. He yelled out: “If there is anyone up there, please help me!” A loud voice from heaven replied: “It is I, your God. Just let go of the bush.” The man looked down into the cavern below, unable to see the bottom and shock his head. Looking back up into the heavens, he cried out: “Help, is there anyone else up there?” /Original Author Unknown/ (pause) We must seriously seek the Living Spirit of God to help us with the seemingly impossible tasks. And we need to be willing to follow the pathways which are set before us, trusting in the direction of God. If we cannot trust the Spirit of God, we will fail to achieve the goals God has set before us.

We could spend the next minutes discussing the flamboyant, colorful and loud entrance of the Spirit into this lesson, yet to what purpose? The only point of value is to recognize that the Spirit did indeed enter the community of early believers. The Holy Spirit gave them new courage, new abilities and a new depth of understanding of their fellows, the men and women of all types all around them! If we as a community can do the same – then we too shall greatly expand our ministry to those whom live here in our local community. Yet in the so doing we need to remember, as David Lose has said, “The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter.” /David Lose/ We all want the Living Spirit on our side. We clearly need the courage, the motivation and the support which the Spirit offers to us. But we don’t really need a provocateur, or do we?

What is meant by a provocateur? The word comes from Latin and can mean “to call forth.” Frequently, we hear of the Holy Spirit ‘calling’ folks to ‘go forth’ and to do various tasks and deeds; which often seem impossible, hopeless even, or at the very least very difficult. Shall we let go and let God carry us ever forward? Or shall we, like the man stranded on the side of the cliff hang on in desperation, unwilling to trust that God has a new plan in mind? Before you decide, let us consider what the consequences of not trusting in following a new set of instructions might mean. If you are clinging on to an old idea, an old methodology, trying to starve off the inevitable, like the man hanging on to the frail branch on the side of a cliff, you will ultimately fall and that to which you have clung to, will inevitably be lost as well. Even as we bewail the agitator, the activist or campaigner for a new way, in our midst, we need to also acknowledge that the Spirit that now stirs things up is also the comforter. The Spirit of God will give us the courage needed, the motivation to see things through, the support and comfort that will surely be needed. Don’t give up before the miracle happens!

Let us look again to our scripture lesson. Consider these words from a theologian named David N. Mosser. “On Pentecost, God takes a group of haphazard, diverse believers and unites us with the precious gift of spirit-language.” Our local church is made up of a diverse group of folks for sure. Many, outside our fellowship probably can easily make this observation. Most of us are truly proud of our diversity as it fits our message regarding “all are welcome here!” The key here, for us, is that we take note of how the Holy Spirit is also the unifier, the one whom brings us together as a community. Herein lies our future abilities to be of true value to the community we strive to be a part of! The Spirit is also that energy which keeps nudging and pushing us in the right direction. It may seem provoking to some, especially when we strive to do or seek to do something new. Yet, it ought to be comforting to know it is the Spirit of God whom is prompting us to go forward.

Nancy Rockwell urges us ever forward, reminding us of the promise which the day of the Spirit proclaims! “This is the promise of Pentecost: now we no longer depend solely on Jesus to be the one who understands. Now we, too, understand. And now we, too, can speak and our voices can spread the Spirit of understanding.” Wow! I wasn’t expecting that, were you? Now this is a twist. Most of us believe that God, the Holy Spirit, is the one responsible for getting the work of ministry done. But in this analogy from Nancy Rockwell, it sounds like we have been gifted with understanding through the work of the Spirit, thereby making us responsible for using that gift as we reach out and work with others. Didn’t we kick this responsibility thing around last week? Yes, we did and here it is again. God impowers us with what it takes to work with others; in this case, understanding. It is our job to use this gift to make a difference in the lives of those we are called to serve.

As we begin to come to closure with this discussion lets us again consider what the scripture is saying to us. A diverse group of folks were able to come together and understand one another. Language and cultural barriers were broken down. As we consider the implications of this event and how it affects our lives today listen to these probing questions. Dr. Janet H. Hunt asks us several rhetorical questions. “Can you think of a time in your experience when language separated people from one another?” This statement sadly demands a resounding yes! Frequently people miscommunicate or are separated from others because language has separated them. This is, of course, true even when individuals are speaking the same language. All too often we allow unnecessary barriers or walls to separate us and keep us apart from others. The Spirit works at breaking down those barriers and those walls so that we can hear and listen to one another, understanding each other in a new way! Her second question causes my heart to skip a bit with joy at its center. “Can you think of a time when that division was overcome?” /Dr. Janet H. Hunt/ For me the answer is again, a resounding yes! Our scripture is clearly saying to us that the Spirit of God can help us cross these barriers, figuratively and even literally at times! Let us all come together, as the Spirit prepares us to do a new thing!

Amen.

RUCC Summer Newsletter


Pastors Note June & July 2019

As I write this note, the days have gotten longer, the sun hotter and summer is close at hand!  June 21stwill be here before we know it.  Many schools have already closed for summer vacation and others will quickly follow.  Our Florida sunshine has already made it clear that the heat of summer is now upon us Floridians.  Lois and I are finalizing our plans for our vacation scheduled in July.  Yes, everyone needs a break from their daily, weekly routines, even pastors and their families!  I have lined up four fantastic members of our congregation to fill the pulpit while we are away (July 14th, 21st, 28th, & August 4th).  I pray you will come out to hear what they have to say and fully support their willingness to share from their heart their understandings of God’s love, kindness, compassion and mercy!

Hold on now, we still have the full month of June and the first week of July to ‘live into’ before your pastor gets some vacation!  There are a few important and exciting things to talk about and experience in these next upcoming weeks!  Our ‘New Beginnings Task Force’ and their ‘’Home Group Leaders’ are compiling a summary of the consensus of the group participants and their feedback, including any suggestions made.
This will be presented at the Church meeting on Sunday June 23rd immediately following church!  (Don’t fret, a pot lunch luncheon will be served following the meeting.)  Hear all that you said as a group, compiled with all that our assessors told us about ourselves.  Hearing their feedback and yours as well, shall be a major part of our process, as we begin to think about where we go from here!

These next six Sunday’s, I have put together some sermons that will further accelerate our discernment process for the future, as I strive to remind us ‘all’ – about what it means to be a Christian in the Twenty-First Century.  Here is a peek at the topics I have planned: 1. “Freedom Comes with Responsibilities” 2. “All Together” 3. “Understanding & Wisdom” 4. “God is Always with Us” 5. “The Mantle of Ministry”, and last but not least, 6. “The Mission”.  Mixed into these topics we shall also celebrate Pentecost (The Coming of the Holy Spirit)!  And we cannot forget Father’s Day!

Looking forward to a meaningful month as we reflect on our future roles in ministry together!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tim Woodard
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Church News

Stewardship Committee – There will be a Fashion Show on June 22,2019 from 1-3pm. The tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased before or after church on Sundays. The Fashions will be from Cottonways in Melbourne.  The Stewardship Committee is asking for volunteers to donate goodies for the event.

Riviera UCC 130 Year Anniversary – This year we as a church is celebrating 130 years. We will be having a celebration in the fall. Watch for more details. The stewardship Committee will be the one that will be organizing it with additional volunteers. If you would like to help with the celebration let Bess Severance know.

Christian Education – For the month of June we will be holding pet Food Drive to benefit Hope for Brevard, a local animal rescue shelter. There will be specially marked containers in the Narthex every Sunday in June to place dry or wet cat and dog food, cat treats, dog treats and toys for cats and dogs. At the end of the month, everything we get will be gathered up and delivered to Hope for Brevard!!

End of Summer Kid’s Day – The Christian Education is looking for volunteers to help with his event. We will be planting a bee and butterfly garden!  We need volunteers to help with both indoor and outdoor activities!  More details to follow shortly!  If interested or you have questions, please talk to Carol-Ann after church!

 

MARK YOUR CALENDAR – SPECIAL CONGREGATIONAL MEETING WILL BE HELD ON JUNE 23,2019 AT 11 am.  All members of the congregation are encouraged to attend. The New Beginnings Leadership Team will present conclusions from the group sessions. They will also conduct an interactive discussion on how the process should continue. No other church business will be presented or discussed at this meeting. There will be a potluck lunch after meeting with a ham provided by the church.

Lunch Bunch – We will meet at Red Lobster on June 13,2019 at 1pm. All are welcome to come and join for a great lunch with friends.

On Behalf of the Operations Committee, we would like to Thank everyone who came out to our workday. Just look at the front of the church. Everyone did an awesome job.

Fellowship Hour – It’s summertime and we are in need of some treats for fellowship hour as well as some volunteers to sign up and host. Signup sheets in the Narthex.  A big thank you to Lois Woodard for all the work she does with the fellowship hour.

Sunday Service Flowers – In honor of an event such as an anniversary, birthday or in memory of a loved one, you can now order flowers from the church, for a $ 30.00 donation to the church. The donation will include the cost of the flowers. For more information and details for ordering, please see Pat Lawson.

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Moderator’s Letter
June 2019

Riviera United Church of Christ

Our church is in good health. We have been moving forward with new ideas and concepts. The “New Beginnings Program” leaders have been busy, showing us new roads to the future of our church. All the “New Beginnings” facilitators have done an excellent job presenting the Assessment, and for those of us participating in the home base discussions learned many surprising details.

We have also been busy in other areas of our church. For example, the Operations Ministry and its volunteers are keeping our church looking nice, clean and safe. Maintaining the safety systems, such as fire, sprinklers and alarms. Keeping up with the city sanitation requirements and general maintenance in and around our church. Each Monday morning you will find three volunteers cleaning the church interior including restrooms and taking out the weekend trash. And let’s not forget the volunteers who keep us save during Sunday Worship services, by guarding the front doors.

Our Education Ministry, assisted by the Outreach Ministry, recently organized an Easter Egg Hunt for the children in our community. We congratulate the ministries and volunteers, along with the many that donated treats for our children. “Well Done”. Outreach is also doing an outstanding job with our “Social Media” profile. Our Facebook page is receiving comments from all over the country.

There are many more volunteers that work each week to keep our church strong. The audio-visual folks, Sunday Ushers, the choir and music department, our wonderful office staff, coffee hour would not exist without the compassion of our volunteers. For many years we have supported Daily Bread feeding the hungry and homeless. And finally let’s not forget the many volunteers working behind the scene, each performing a valuable service to our church family.

Yes – our church is in good health and “Volunteer Strong”, with God’s Blessing and faith in our ministry we will continue to grow into a vibrant source of community outreach.

May God bless everyone

Herb Parisi
Moderator

“Freedom Comes with Responsibilities.”

Acts 16: 16-34, June 2nd, 2019

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


         

 

“Listen to this reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, chapter sixteen, verses sixteen thru thirty-four.”

Acts 16:16-34

16 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling.  17 While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most-High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  18 She kept doing this for many days.  But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  And it came out that very hour.  19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities.  20 When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21 and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.”  22 The crowd joined in attacking them and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.  23 After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.  24 Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  26 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened.  27 When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped.  28 But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  31 They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  33 At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay.  34 He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

“Having heard this amazing account of Paul and Silas while confined in prison, let us consider how this pertains to us in our current time.”

 

“Freedom Comes with Responsibilities.”

I promised you that the writings in the Acts of the Apostles are a fascinating read and today’s reading once again has us riveted to the story line!  Kate Matthews says it so well: “The adventures of the apostles continue in this colorful story of exorcism and outrage, mob scenes and courtroom drama, liberation and celebration, with Paul at the center of the action, and God very busy at work in the town of Philippi.”  Which quickly lead to Paul and Silas being thrown into jail!  Their “Imprisonment then lead to a remarkable conversion story about a jailer who is himself imprisoned by the powers that employ him.”  /Kate Matthews/ The actions of the Apostle Paul and Silas are packed with drama and inspirational accounts of their ministry as they spread the gospel accounts of Jesus.  The hardships and humiliation they endure is frightening at times, and yet, only their profound acts of faith are recorded for us to ponder.  How can we not be inspired and filled with hope when we hear about such men as these?!

There are several story lines and there are multiple avenues for learning in this account.  Kate Matthew’s writing’s take us in a line of thought that urge us to discuss those things that hold us captive.  She sights all the various addictions that we whom live in the Twenty-First Century know way too much about!  Certainly, worthy of discussion.  As we talk about the addictions which we moderns have in our society, we must also consider the avenues of faith that offer freedom from so many things and forces which are far beyond our control.  When we follow such lines of conversation, they shall inevitably lead us to the responsibilities which come with freedom.  So, let us journey onward.

In our reading we hear how an earthquake of some sort shook the jail where the disciples were held.  Mystically, their chains fell off and the doors were opened.  Imagine, if you can, being locked up in a prison with your hands and possibly your feet bound in chains after having been severely flogged.  Makes my stomach clench just saying the words of such a dreadful situation.  Many of us can perhaps say how hard this is to even imagine.  We are the fortunate ones.  Sadly, the evidence of such cruelty, even to the innocent, is heavily documented throughout history.  Such things are still happening in the world we live in today.  Even with this said most of us, in this country, are still sheltered from these harsh realities.  Thank God!  Yet, what of those who are not so fortunate?

Yet, the shackles which ensnare so many are not always made of iron.  Once again, our retired theologian, Kate Matthews, names snares which entangle so many in our own culture.  “In our personal lives, we may struggle with the chains of addiction, loneliness, depression, poverty, and violence in our own home or community.” /Kate Matthews/ Those whom are so enslaved often suffer in silence and with no way out.  Others, thrash and smash and make chaos of their lives and the lives of those they touch.  One could write a full dissertation on any one of these which would take me hours to simplify down to a two-day lecture to properly address!  Yet, I shall assume for now that most of us have a nodding acquaintance of at least a few of these.

For simplicity, let us choose just a couple, loneness and depression.  I believe many of us have brushed shoulders with these once or twice.  Loneness is something we oftentimes seek to hid, yet it still is.  Ever been in a crowded restaurant, by yourself?  When the waitress finally waits on you – your day shifts more than you want to admit!  As she or he takes your order you realize how good it felt to speak aloud for the first time today!  Have you ever experienced that feeling?  Some folks live alone and the only person they chat with is the yard guy or the delivery gal that drops off a package or their groceries.  Then there are the business folks that seem to have it all together, they go to the office, say good morning to a few co-workers then sit down at a desk that holds them captive for the day.  They know what we are talking about as their day ‘drags’ on and on!  I am here to tell you – people can be lonely and depressed standing at a buffy table, while at a splendid banquet!

Didn’t identify with those, so what about an addiction to caffeine or chocolate?  Or is it prescription drugs? Or is it that someone you know is hooked on something that everyone, everyone but that person, seems to clearly see?  No, I truly believe we all personally know or know of someone whom identifies with what it is to be addicted to something!  These are the chains that bind us or those we love!  Surely, we can identify with the feelings of these men in our scripture lesson, whom, after having been beaten are locked away with no escape!  Freedom is something we all long for!  Even the well-rounded social butterfly in our midst has something or someone she or he yearns to be free of!  Whatever it is, even if it is just the responsibility to be somewhere, for something or someone, on a certain day of the month, you may want to be freed from that responsibility now and then!  Furthermore, if you are not yet free from that which binds you, consider these words from Frederick Buechner.  “Fortunately, there are two words that offer a way out, and they’re simply these: Help me.”  /Frederick Buechner/ Help comes more readily to those whom willingly ask for that which they need.

This past Tuesday morning, Adrienne and I got to chatting when we were talking on the phone, about the bulletin for this Sunday, and she said: “even when we retire and are freed from our job or from a long lasting career, we learn that – we are still responsible!”  She went on to say, “we realize at such a juncture we must now volunteer to be helpful in other ways.”  She implied that with freedom comes responsibility!  Thank you, Adrienne!  Of course, she had just typed my sermon topic into the computer.  This takes us back to our scripture lesson.  Because of the earthquake that rattled the prison that night, Paul and the other prisoners could have easily escaped, yet they did not!  Why?  Why didn’t Paul and the others run off?  The answer is simple yet powerful!  They were not afraid because they knew God would take care of them.  This gave them the freedom to be compassionate to the jailer for he was about to kill himself; rather then to face the consequences of being held accountable and ultimately responsible for the prisoner’s escape!

This is the heart of our lesson today.  Recognizing, like Paul did, the responsibilities that come with our freedoms!  Having just celebrated Memorial Day and the sacrifices of others for our freedoms, we need to take on the responsibility of preserving the freedoms which others have long since fought and died for; we need to live into the role of being responsible for other’s freedoms.  That is a responsibility that all Americans, all citizens of these United States of America must accept, if we are to continue to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” /The Star-Spangled Banner/ Likewise, as Christians we need to take on the responsibility of passing on the gifts, the freedoms which God has bestowed upon us, one and all, just as the Apostle Paul and Silas did!

A theologian from the fifth century BCE (Before Christ,) a man from Athens Greece, an Athenian historian named Thucydides, said these words: “The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage.” /Thucydides, 5th century B.C.E/.  As we grapple with the impact of these ancient words – consider the words of this man to whom many referred to as ‘the most trusted man in America,’ during the 20th century, Walter Cronkite.”  “There is no such thing as a little freedom.  Either you are all free, or you are not free.” /Walter Cronkite, 20th century/ From these historic statements we must take up the cross of courage as we accept our freedoms and use them to ensure the same for others.  As citizens, this is true, and even more so as Christians.  For the gift of the Spirit of God’s grace is a responsibility that we cannot, and we must not, ignore!

The Apostle Paul gave up his freedoms so that others might come to know of Jesus, the Christ.  So did many others like Silas follow in his footsteps.  We, whom are true followers of Christ, we too have gained the freedom which Christ offered to all those whom came to believe.  Our responsibility is to continue to pass on to others – this priceless gift.

Thanks be to God!  Amen.