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Sermon: Created Courageous to Carry the Story
Posted by Susan Baller-Shepard on: 2019-05-08 @ 13:55 pm

Come Holy Spirit Come!

Sermon: Created Courageous to Carry the Story preached at First Presbyterian Church, Normal, IL May 5, 2019

First Reading Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)

 

1Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

 

10Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." 11The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." 13But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." 15But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." 17So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

 

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."

 

Second Reading Revelation 5:11-14

 

11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" 14And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

Here end our Scripture readings for this morning, all thanks and praise be to God.

 

Come Holy Spirit Come!

God,

work in our lives as You wish

We seek You.

We listen to Your Word.

We praise You.

We pray You might be resident within us, all our days.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Amen.

 

I saw author Terry Tempest Williams at a conference last week and she says, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us

And they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”

Which I think fits well with both our text and the message of legacy Sunday.

 

I still laugh with a friend about how her mother believed expiration dates on food were merely suggestions.

She didn’t take them seriously.

When cheese in the fridge would grow green mold, she’d turn to her kids and

Say, “Where do you think penicillin comes from?”

 

We come to church to Praise God.

We come to church for Good News

It’s also a safe place to consider the hard news, the news about suffering,

the news about sadness, the news about death.

Talking about our legacies, is a reminder we all were born

with expiration dates.

None of us gets out of here alive.

It’s both the harsh reality and the fact that makes our days matter—

We are time-limited here on earth.

 

Jumping in:

Consider this: In this text, Paul is called an “instrument” for God to use

Or a “vessel,” in the Greek. The Greek says that word means,

“the goods,” the vessel, the container, the instrument. Has both

The ability to be usable, and the ability to contain.

What about your life? Usable? Ability to contain?

 

Saul, which is his Hebrew name, Paul is his Greek name.

He’s zealous. He’s rounding up Christians because he believes

they’re against the Jewish faith. He’s going as far as Damascus,

in Syria, to round up followers of the Way, followers of Jesus.

He’s serious about this.

He becomes the very person God will use to spread the Good News

Of Jesus Christ far and wide?

Why? You’ve gotta ask why, when reading this text.

Because within him, contained in the vessel of Paul

Are strengths and abilities and knowledge God can use

To further God’s reign on earth.

Housed within this fraught murderous man?

Abilities ripe and ready to spread the Good News.

Contained within you and me? Things God can use as well.

 

You can tell Paul’s Greek because he was scholarly,

Well educated, well versed in both the Jewish and Greek

worlds. He was brave.

The Christian faith was carried by oral tradition, word of mouth.

Did you know that the first written documents of the New Testament

in terms of age are not the Gospels, but 7 letters written

by Paul, starting in 50 AD or Common Era. Paul—

The first things committed to writing about Jesus and early

Christianity were in the letters of Paul, this man, this flawed,

Very human instrument.

 

In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 we hear Paul say these things:

“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I.

Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.)

I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently,

Been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again…”

He goes on about all the dangers he’s faced

(Verse 29)

“Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not

Inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness”

Later he says, But the Lord said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 

Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”

 (2 Corinthians 4:7)

 

My challenge to you this week is to consider how God is able to use you as

An instrument? As a vessel?

So I’m throwing that down.

For your consideration.

 

God knows our weakness. God knows our strengths.

God can use our lives in this world.

We can be living vessels of grace in our work places,

We can show compassion in this community, we can show

Respect for all human beings worldwide.

 

 

I ask you again: How is God able to use you as an instrument?

What are you making available in your life for God to use?

Your time, your energy, your money, your skills, your imagination?

 

There’s a line from a hymn I pray sometimes,

From the hymn, “Lord, Speak to Me, that I May Speak”

“Use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where”

 

Pray it only if you really mean it—

Just sayin’

“Use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where”

 

We are an incarnational people.

It’s what makes Christianity profoundly different from other traditions—

We believe that the flesh and blood matters.

It’s a language humans understand.

God coming in vulnerable human form.

 

As followers of Christ, Our bodies, our minds, incarnate,

Touchable, huggable, with a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on,

Arms to cook, legs to help carry, brains to shape policies and decisions,

Hands and spirits to assist in healing

This, the stuff of us, all we contain, is good and right and usable

By God, all of it.

 

Another clue for how to live, is in the courage of Ananias. Looking at Paul, this complicated guy, it’s enough to remind us.

And Ananias, it’s pretty hilarious if you read and reread this, he’s

Sort of moonwalking away when God calls,

“Lord, I’ve heard many reports about this man and all the harm he’s done….”

The Lord says, “Go!”

And Ananias, scared as he may be, goes…even calls Paul,

“Brother Saul….”

 

The New York Times ran a story last year about the Golden Lampstand Church, which has a congregation of more than 50,000, in the city of Linfen in Shanxi province. The church was seen as a threat to authorities. Chinese authorities dynamited the church. It was destroyed. Church leaders have been put in prison in the past.

The story of faith is a story of courage.

We are built to contain courage.

 

Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says that people remember information when it is weaved into narratives “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”

 

The story of God’s saving grace, as it is woven in and through

Your life story is a powerful narrative people will remember.

It’s the Gospel lived out in a life, your life, my life, our lives.

 

I don’t know what your legacy will be.

In fact, there’s a song right now with the lyrics,

“And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus”

 

And to that, I’d say, “Yes, and….”

 

Yes, let it be all Jesus.

And, you and I are the tools, the instruments through which

God’s mercy, grace, and peace might flow.

Pray about this as we move to our time of prayer and communion.

How can God use our days?

How is God able to use you, how can God use me, as God’s instruments

in this world? Consider it.

To God be all Glory, Honor, and Praise.

Amen.

 

 

____________________________________

 

 

Sources:

Evolution of the Word by Marcus J. Borg

 

Destruction of Church in China: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/12/world/asia/china-church-dynamite.html

 

“Use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where” is from the hymn, “Lord, Speak to Me, that I May Speak” by Francis Havergal, 1872.

 

Quote from Jennifer Aaker from https://leanin.org/education/harnessing-the-power-of-stories