C Cycle – 5th Sunday of Easter 22
Acts 14: 21-27
Imagine the scene, Paul has preached the gospel message so powerfully in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch embraced the message and became faithful believers. Keep in mind believing in Jesus Christ as the crucified Messiah who was raised from the dead was not popular or an easy message to embrace. There was tremendous opposition from the elders and chief priests and ordinary Jews who refused to believe. Paul returns to people who had earlier accepted Christ and gave them a sobering message. It was not a message of joy and peace, a life of abundance but one of remaining steadfast amid opposition. He tells them, “It is necessary for us who believe to undergo many hardships if we are to enter the kingdom of God.”
Certainly, he is talking to those in charge; the holy ones, those who believe they have all the answers. He could not be talking to us; the ordinary believers who hear Christ telling us to ask and we will receive, seek and we will find. What happened to the message of joy, peace, fullness of life? Is that message a myth or just an enticement given to us to make us want what is offered, only to find out there is a price to be paid. A price that is one of hardship and constant attacks and rejection.
Was Paul sharing his own experiences of being stoned, beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, and bitten by a poisonous snake. Was he talking about the distrust of the Jews because of his past persecution of those who believed in Christ? Paul was speaking a profound truth when he points out what will be the consequences of being unafraid to publicly profess what we believe. Christ came to show us the Father by what he did and what he said. Then he told us to go out and do the same. Is what we do on Sunday as we gather a public profession of our faith? Does what we do on Sunday create a desire in others to want what Christ died to give us?
The answer to those questions is complex because it does depend on what seekers see while we are worshipping. Has an unpublished demand for decorum stifled our visible witness? Does our belief in Christ animate our worship so our actions, voice, body, and soul all express our love of Christ among us? If the answer is yes, then we can influence those who are seeking to discover the source of our belief. If the answer is no, it is because our body language, our lack of emotion, our lack of joining in the prayers and songs are not giving witnessing to anything but our own faithfulness. Have we forgotten we are there to give thanks to God and give witness to his mercy, forgiveness, and love?
That is just looking at what we do during our Sunday worship. What do we do when we are at home, work, or play? We should always +be visible witnesses of God’s grace and mercy. If we cannot be vocal and visible on Sunday when we are together with believers, how can we ever be witnesses when we are outside the walls of our churches. Society today is becoming increasingly intolerant of Christian views and influences. Think about the debate that is currently being waged in the US about abortion. It is a debate about when someone should be able to decide to legally kill a child. That is a far cry to the debate over prayers in school or in a government building. Have we forgotten the basic laws of respect for human life and the dignity of each person?
There is a bigger war going on in society today for the hearts and souls of every man, woman, and child. Paul’s words are a reminder to each of us, to always be ready to identify ourselves as believers. He is reminding us that there is a battle going on between the powers seeking to destroy our relationship with God and those trying to solidify our relationship with God. This battle is not just with forces outside the church for often the resistance comes from within the church itself.
The mission is clear, and it is not our mission it is God’s mission to restore each of us to our position as His sons and daughters. We are given the task to bring others to Christ. It is every believer’s mission to restore our relationship with God. The mission is not murky or hard to envision for it is to encounter the heart of God and be transformed by the work of the Spirit opening us up to receive the love and forgiveness of God. Count it all joy when there are hardships on the journey into God’s heart.