6/22/2014 Sermon – Looking for a Hero #4 “As Any Had Need…”

Help wantedWe’ve been calling this month’s sermon series “Looking for a Hero.”  The movies feed this need we’ve got to have a protector, somebody who fights on our behalf, somebody who’s got the brains and muscle to do battle with the enormous evil that’s out to get us.  We’ve got Superman, and Spiderman, and Batman, and Captain America.  And the Hulk (maybe he’s only got the muscle).

When you read scripture, when you read the Gospels, it’s easy to get the idea that Jesus is precisely the real-life superhero that everybody has been looking for.  He outwits his enemies; he’s impossible to out-argue.  He has supernatural control over nature (Look!  There he is – walking on water, calming the sea!). To seal his superhero-ness, he rises from the dead.  We Christians believe that these are not just stories.  A superhero has walked among us.  And then he left, promising that something called the Holy Spirit would come to those who believe and give them power too.

This is exactly what happened.  The Spirit came to believers on a day called Pentecost and gave them supernatural abilities; they became different people.  They began to change the world as God’s love flowed through them.  Maybe you remember that the first supernatural ability that God gave them was the gift of “tongues.”  Very simply, people who were strangers to each other, from different places, because they believed in Jesus, had the ability to communicate with each other.  Communication was the first superpower!

As these people worshiped God and spread the news that Jesus was alive, God gave them more gifts that helped them be together, helped them love each other more, helped them bring other people to faith.  Very quickly, there were thousands of believers in Jesus.  They started to become a movement.  They started to become superheroes to each other and to their communities.  And that’s where we pick up the story in the Book of Acts:

Acts 242They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

If we could interview those first believers, I think that they would say that they lived in a very evil time.  Corrupt political and religious leaders.  Much poverty.  Terrible wars.  The Romans who controlled that part of the world were brutal (Jesus was not the only person who was crucified; they didn’t make up that form of execution just for him).

We have awful things as well, and the list could be very long:  wars in different places that are even more terrible, climate problems on our planet that we are causing ourselves in some ways.

There is a growing economic difference between those who are poor and those who are rich.  Many of us would say that we are somewhere in the middle, but in truth, on a global scale, gathered here, we are among the richest people in the world (check out www.globalrichlist.com to see where you rank if you don’t believe this; someone who makes $35k a year is on the top one percent ).  Jesus would say that this gives us a greater responsibility to help those who may not have the same advantages.

Into the midst of all this evil, God sends superheroes – believers equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit.  God sends the church.

I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a time when churches didn’t have buildings or bylaws or committees.  Before the church got organized (for better or worse), this is what those first believers did:

 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

The Spirit of God helped these first believers recognize that they has resources that they could share.  “I have enough; I’m going to help you.”  As any had need.

toolsI had a revelation a few years ago.  This comes from organizing not just a few mission projects that went to many places and did many things.  This is not rocket science.

You and your family, the group that is traveling to serve, and the people you are serving have basic needs that are the same.  If you don’t meet these needs, problems happen.  And there are opportunities for ministry.  Based on the scripture you just heard, this is a primer for anybody leading a mission project, for those of you who will do this in the future, and really, for anyone leading ministry in the church.

  1. Your people need something to eat.  They need food.  Early on, I was warned, your mission group will enjoy success on your project to the proportion that they are well-fed.  Now think about your family – and think about the people you are going to serve.
  2. Your group needs  somewhere to sleep.  They need shelter.  You need shelter.  You can get away with less than you think in some places (groups going to the Dominican Republic sleep outdoors in hammocks), and in Philly, you’ll need a solid, safe place, but think about it: long-term, no family can be healthy without a place to live securely.  This is why most of the projects I’ve led involve constructing a home through Habitat for Humanity or a similar organization.  It’s a basic way we can make a difference in a family’s future.
  3. On a mission project, people need something to do.  They need purpose.  Everybody needs purpose.  The most frustrating experiences I’ve had on mission trips happened when the group didn’t have enough to do and sat around.  It can happen and most of the time, it’s nobody’s fault.  Maybe the weather didn’t cooperate.

DrillIn contrast, helping is contagious.  Those who are helped often become helpers themselves.  I believe that one of the reasons the church grew is that those who had need, who had their needs met, began looking for other people to help.  They all paid it forward.  On your mission project, though it may not seem like it, there is always something to do.  (on a Habitat project with no electricity or tools or supervision – we simply cleaned the site).  Just look around. And keep in mind that the people you are helping are getting a booster shot of hope from you, which then turns into purpose in living.

4. On your project, people need transportation, a way to get around, a way to get to where they want to go.  They need a way to get from point A to point B.  You need transportation, a van, a plane ticket, a train, whatever.  You plan ahead and make a reservation.  Usually, that’s simple; sometimes it’s not so simple.  I remember driving a bus that stalled in a turnpike tollbooth (yes, I had a Commercial Driver’s License at one time!).  The battery died.  We unloaded all the athletes, girls and guys, and they pushed that school bus so that I could pop the clutch and get it going.

Transportation in our culture is something we take very much for granted.  I suspect your own family doesn’t worry about it a lot.  On your projects, pay attention to the role that transportation plays. You are able to get to the people you are serving.   But what do they do to get around?  How does that affect their ability to get education or medical attention?  They need a way to get to where their needs are met. Or those with the resources need to go to them.

People need food, they need shelter, they need purpose, they need a way to get to where their needs are met.

44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 

As any had need.  It is possible, that God will put you in someone else’s life to be their superhero. This is what God wants to do with you.

There comes a moment in the life of a believer when God puts a need right in front of you.  You can always say, well, the pastor or the church leadership will take care of this. It’s not really my problem.  It’s bigger than what I’ve got to give.  It’s too expensive.  There are a thousand excuses. But there it is, right in front of you.  In that moment you realize that you have to do something.  You can’t just walk by on the other side of the road. If you are a believer in the risen Jesus, and the Spirit is working in you, God will show you a way to make a difference and give you the resources you need.  God doesn’t expect you to save the world.  But the old Jewish saying is true:  “He who saves one life saves the world entire.”

Jesus tried to make it simple: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…  [and] …you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5, etc.)

Prayer

O God, there is so much we need to learn about you and about each other.  We need to learn to love as you do, and then learn it again.  We need to learn to listen to you and to each other.  We trust you and give ourselves to you.  We want to know you and live for you.  Show us how.

Give hope to those who suffer.  Show us practical ways we can bring peace and healing to your world.  Open doors for us to feed the hungry and care for people who don’t have a decent place to sleep.  All these things we pray in the name of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

6/8/2014 Sermon: Looking for a Hero #2 – “The New You”

LTP00079One of the things that seems so remarkable to me about the story-background of the Christian faith, the story of the things that God did to make us who we are, is the how God used time.  Some episodes took a lot of time.  Noah floats for 40 days.  That may not seem like much time unless you don’t like being close with water or animals.  The Hebrew people wander for 40 years.  Most of us can’t stand to wander for more than hour (where’s my Garmin?)  Why 40 days, 40 years?  God knows; that’s how long God needed to accomplish the transformation he was looking for.

Do you ever feel like you need a transformation?  One thing to know from the scripture today, and the one thing I want to communicate if I don’t get anything else across, is that if we are open to God, if we ask God to fill us with the Spirit, the change will come.  That’s a promise to us individually and to our church.  The circumstances around us may not change, but we will.  But not usually overnight.  It may take a while.

In scripture, one thing that seems clear is that God wants us to learn something in the waiting.  But then, after the waiting, some things happen very quickly – in an instant, really.  Jesus had come back to life after a brutal murder, suddenly on a Sunday morning – and then appeared repeatedly to his disciples for about 6 weeks.

Before this…

1.  He had told them, as much as they wanted him to, he wouldn’t be staying.  It had seemed like Jesus was the ultimate hero, the answer to all of life’s problems, and in a way, he is.  His job was to put our sins to death on the cross.  Now God has more to do with these people hiding in an upper room,and that won’t happen until Jesus leaves.

2.  And he told them, they will have power when the Holy Spirit comes.  Power to do the same things he had been doing.  They would be the heroes of their own story.

After some more days of waiting, suddenly….

Acts 2:1  When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.4All 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.6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,10Phrygia 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.’12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’13But 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.15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.16No, 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.”

RSCN0231I have to confess, as I play that story out on my mind, as I try to imagine it as I hear it, I need an “instant replay.”  When I go to be with Christ, this is one of those moments I’d like to see on a screen (although, at that moment, I suspect it won’t matter much!).

Let’s look at what God was doing in this story and where God is taking us with this gift of the Holy Spirit.

There was wind in the house.  Wind is God’s calling card.  Maybe you remember…

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  (Genesis 1:1)

God is about to do an act of creation, a new thing.

There were individual flames on people.  How did God first appear to Moses?  Through the flame of a bush that didn’t burn (Exodus 3:1-6).  God did this to get his attention.  God had something to say.  Communication with God is about to happen.  In that upper room, flames come to these people and God is with each of them individually, just as God is with each of us individually, you and me, as we have faith in Jesus.  Communication with God is about to happen.

The communication was between people who were very different from each other.  That is what the tongues, or the languages, were all about.  What was the subject of conversation?  “God’s deeds of power.”  (Acts 2:11)  The topmost deed of power?  That would be the resurrection of Jesus.  But what shouldn’t be missed here is that this group of people, to this point in the story, are normal people with issues and differences.  They are young and old, probably poor with a few rich people mixed in.  They come from different places, they don’t even speak the same languages.  And in one moment, God leveled the playing field: “Now you can talk to each other, and you can talk about me.”

Right there, you can see a basic purpose of the church, to communicate God to people who don’t know “God’s deeds of power” in Jesus.  The first gift of the Spirit was the ability to communicate – to speak and to hear what God says through people who believe.

When people believe in the living Christ, the Holy Spirit of God has the power to move us away from what separates us, whether it’s language, economic status, or race, or issues, to the One who makes us all equal (Jesus).  When we believe, his love flows through us.

When we ask God to fill us with the Spirit, life takes on new meaning, becomes different.  The presence of God in the Holy Spirit removes barriers and becomes the one thing all people can have in common, no matter who they are.  The Spirit in us gets our minds off of ourselves.

As I was saying those words, you might have been thinking, “Alright, Holy Spirit!  I don’t have any issues with the people gathered here.  We are an awesome bunch.  Thank you for giving us a wonderful church family!”

But that story about flames of fire and people speaking different languages makes no sense unless that party upstairs went downstairs and started spilling out into the streets. The first thing the Spirit did with those first believers in Jesus was get them talking to strangers, people with whom they had very little in common.  Any group of believers, any church that doesn’t do this is dying.  Sounds ominous, but the fix is simple:  pray that God fills us with the Spirit in a way that allows us to communicate with those who need to hear.

A few years ago, I heard a story about the custody trial of a deaf teenage girl.  Custody was given to her interpreter instead of her parents.  Custody cases are always tragic and damage families in some way.  This one had a lesson attached.

The story said that it was her father who wanted custody, and although he apparently had some problems with alcohol, the main reason the judge chose the interpreter was that the father refused to learn sign language.  He didn’t want to learn her language, and may as well have been saying that he did not want to understand or be understood.

Asking God to give us a re-filling of the Spirit is not about making us stronger, better believers.  It’s about God using us to communicate with people who need to hear, people who need hope, people who need healing.

09871_12Without the Spirit, we are a bunch of frightened disciples hiding in an upper room behind a locked door with no window.  Without the Spirit, we sit inside our walls worrying about the future.  Without the Spirit, we worry about money, we worry about the budget.  Without the Spirit of God, we only have some rules and traditions and some church buildings.  And that’s where a lot of churches end up.  You get comfortable.  In so many ways.  Then you worry about your comfort.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for fulfilment.

DSC_0673

 

 

So, I have wondered what those tongues of fire looked like.  Remember there was wind rushing at the same time.  So, it couldn’t have looked like this (right).

 

 

 

Fireworks

 

 

Maybe more like this.  I think it literally was a rush for those people.

 

 

 

It’s a party – a party with an open invitation to the community.  We invite guests to a celebration.  If you think about what we do to be a followers of Jesus in that way, it changes what we do, how we do it, and how we invite the community to be a part of what happens among us.

We need to pray for the power of the Spirit to be the church God intended us to be.  With the Spirit of God living in us, we see the world and we see each other through God’s eyes.  We sing about Christ, we speak about Christ, we eat together to honor Christ.

Through all these things we grow closer to each other as the Spirit teaches us how to love; how to be church in a challenging time and how to care for our church; how to reach out to our world and communicate the most important person we know.

In a more personal way, the Holy Spirit allows you to be Christ to someone in your life who needs him desperately right now.  God has given you  a superpower to be a hero for someone in your life today.

There is always something you can say to bring Christ into the room.  I know how petrified some of you are about public speaking.  But I’m not talking about being eloquent or have a convincing speech ready. It doesn’t mean you have a degree in theology.  But it does mean you are willing, when the time comes, to talk about our own experience with Christ. In the book of Acts, when the Apostle Paul preached, all he did was tell his story.  One of the most powerful sermons another person can hear, is your own telling, in your own words, why Christ has made a difference.

You might be able to say, because of Christ…

  • “I have real peace that stays with me, even when everything is going wrong.”
  • “I am less judgmental and more able to forgive.  That prejudice I had is now gone. “
  • “I know a joy and contentment in my life I never knew before.  I live with more confidence and less worry.”
  • “I can no longer ignore the needs of others.  I need to find a way to help.”
  • “The guilt I lived with has been taken away.  The burden has been lifted.”
  • “My life now has a purpose.  My life now has new meaning.”

None of this guarantees that God will be able to reach the person hearing, but the words you have to say – the words the Holy Spirit gives you when you need them – will have a greater impact than the best-written Sunday school lesson or the most articulate sermon that was ever preached from a pulpit. That’s because nobody can deny your personal experience. All they can do is say that they have never had a similar one, and when they open that door, you can encourage them to give Christ a try and see for themselves.  Invite them to join with us for a breakfast or a worship service.  Love them in your own way.  And this is how the fire spreads and makes you into the hero God needs.

Prayer

God, we pray for our own day of Pentecost.  Fill us with your power, speaking the truth of your love in a language our families, friends, and neighbors understand.  Show us where to go, what to do, what to say, and when to be quiet.  Use your Spirit to help us make a deeper commitment to following Christ.  Help us see the world as he sees it, feeling his joy at the good things happening in his church, his weeping at the sight of sick or hungry children, his anger at the injustice of senseless violence.  Use your Spirit in us to bring forgiveness and healing to a world you love.  Amen.

6/1/2014 Sermon: Looking for a Hero #1 – “Waiting for the World to Change”

Acts 1:4-14.  4While staying* with them, [Jesus] ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with* the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

DSC_7946.jpg6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James.14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

marvel-superheroes
Marvel Comics superheroes.

For quite a number of years, it seems that there is always a superhero movie playing at local theaters, especially in the summer.  Which one would you say is the most popular?  One way to find out is to track how many superhero Halloween costumes are sold.  This list, for example…

1. Batman

2. Spider-Man (tied with Batman)

3. Iron Man

4. Wolverine

5. Hulk

6. Thor (one of the few with a non-American ethnic background; glad to see a Norwegian superhero!)

7. Superman (probably the oldest superhero, from the 1930’s)

8. Captain America

9. Green Lantern

10. Black Widow

 (http://www.comicvine.com/forums/gen-discussion-1/who-is-the-most-popular-superhero-right-now-692515/)

I have to admit, I didn’t know who the Black Widow was (a Russian woman, a kind of female Batman who defected to the US during the Cold War).  In the last “Avengers” movie, that’s the character played by Scarlet Johansson.

All of those superheroes have unique powers and backgrounds. On the Marvel Comics website, you can make your own superhero…

20140531_103949
“Manheim Man”

(http://marvel.com/games/play/31/create_your_own_superhero).  From a list of choices, I put together “Manheim Man.”  You’ll have to help me decide what his super power is.  Maybe growing things or directing traffic.

We are so looking for a hero.  Everybody looks for a hero to help them fight the evil in their lives.  All of these superheroes come from a place in our culture’s imagination – this need for someone or something bigger than ourselves to help us, to protect us.  This desire, this need, for a hero with superpowers comes from a very ancient place.

Statuary of Greek gods from the pediment of the Parthenon, Athens, Greece (replicas).
Statuary of Greek gods from one of the pediments of the Parthenon, Athens, Greece (replicas).  That’s Athena in the center with the spear and Poseidon with the trident on her left.

Maybe you remember the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens last week (Acts 17:22-31), when he commented on all the temples and altars he saw all around the city.  When he was speaking to the Athenians, these statues on the Parthenon (above), the temple to Athena, were within their sight.  Everybody was worshiping different gods, worshiping these statues, and had included the “altar to an unknown god,” just to touch all the bases.

Paul introduced them to Jesus Christ, the closest thing we might know in real life to a superhero, this guy who could do amazing things, including rising from the dead.  But compared to those Greek gods, who were completely mythical, this superhero has an absolutely different way of saving people in trouble.

On a rock 2We aren’t so much different from those first followers of Jesus.  These were real people with real problems, the most common of common people.  They may have lived long ago, but like us, they were average people just trying to live normal lives, doing daily battle with forces beyond their control.  They were looking for a hero and thought they’d found one.  But it hasn’t gone the way they expected.

In the space of just a few weeks, they have seen their leader Jesus tried by the Jewish elders, crucified by the Romans, then raised from the dead.  At the time this story takes place, Jesus has been with them for about 6 weeks, appearing repeatedly, and what’s interesting is that Jesus didn’t do any “major” miracles. Outside of helping with some fishing (John 21:4-8), Jesus does no healing, or feeding 5,000 people, or anything like that.  The gospel-writer Luke, who is telling this story, says that the big miracle, the huge earth-shaking news, is that Jesus is alive.  He was physically resurrected after being brutally murdered.  All the elements of Jesus’ existence – teaching, healing, miracles – lead to that one fact:  he was dead, and now he is alive. God has been living among us.

And then he left.

I have to wonder what that was like, watching Jesus ascend.  I imagine it was just a little confusing; why couldn’t he stay?  And he said this strange thing:  Wait.  Stay where you are.  “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  (Acts 1:5)

Jerusalem was a dangerous place for them to be, but they stayed because that’s where Jesus was appearing to them and he had told them to stay put.  He told them to wait, to wait for the Holy Spirit to come.  They not only don’t know what that means, the Holy Spirit is not what they are concerned about; they want political justice.  They’d like to not be afraid.  They want the world to change.  They asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (1:6)

Centurion
Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The immediate problem, as they see it, is Romans, the occupying army and the people who killed Jesus.  They want their kingdom back.  They want the Romans gone, and they figure that the risen Jesus is just the one who can do the job.  These followers of Jesus are looking for a Superman to knock these guys around.  And Jesus definitely gives off a certain kind of superhero vibe.

He will make things right for them, but Jesus has a different agenda, based on a different wisdom.  He comes to bring wholeness to those who believe.  He wants to give his people power, but a kind of power they weren’t thinking of.  It wasn’t power to fly or the power of superhuman strength.  It wasn’t the power of great intellect.  It was the power to be the kind of people God needs Christians to be: witnesses for him.

[He said,] “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:7)

So, now it’s not about Jesus having power, it’s about believers having power.  And that won’t happen if he stays.  The difference between Jesus and the superheroes or the Greek gods is that he came to give power to believers, to you and me, so that we can be the force that changes the world.  Jesus came to give power away.  But the change that we bring has nothing to do with who can exert the most force over someone else, even if they are an enemy.

As soon as Jesus gave them their marching orders he rose out of sight.  Actually, they were waiting orders.  Waiting; waiting for the Holy Spirit to come.  So they went back to the upper room and prayed.  Until this point in the story, the followers of Jesus did not appear to be especially “with it,” but this time they did something that fit the moment: they prayed.  They made themselves open to God, and whatever God was going to do.  That is the essence of prayer: making yourself open to God and whatever God wants to do with you.

The first step in any kind of a meaningful change in a Christian’s life is being open to whatever God might do, whatever that might be.  If you need the world to change, if you are waiting for the world to change, the first change that needs to happen is you.  You can hear them praying, “God, whatever this Holy Spirit is, send it.”

They prayed and waited.  A little like waiting on the bench for your turn at bat, or for your play to be called.  I wonder what these people were thinking as they were waiting.  Were they excited?  Probably so.  God raised Jesus from the dead and now God is going to do something for us, something with us!  Then, in just a short time, they were given power to do things Jesus did, such as healing; the power to care for people the way Jesus cared.  As they talked about Jesus, they became like him.  But the very first superpower given to believers by the Holy Spirit was being a witness to Jesus Christ.

And that’s the way it is when people believe in Christ.  Faith brings a change in your own life, and then with God living in you, you have a power to connect others with God.  To bring faith and healing.  And the Spirit goes flowing around.

I believe that we are completely equipped for the work the Holy Spirit needs to do in Manheim, PA – and around the world.  Wonderful worship opportunities, incredible mission opportunities.  Fellowship opportunities, Christian learning opportunities for all ages.  There are so many things we can do for Christ to make a difference in our world.  There is someone here who is having a new idea right now.   God is still speaking and the Spirit is at work.

I think one of the key statements in that story came from the two men in white robes:  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

Why are you standing around?  Jesus didn’t do all these things so that you would be amazed and impressed.  Maybe they thought he would swoop back down.  They need to get ready for action.  There’s a world to reach.  And they’re getting their biggest challenge right from the get-go.  These people from Galilee are in Jerusalem, away from home.  Maybe they were hoping they could go back to Galilee and scrapbook about the experience, sit back, and bask in the wonderful glow of faith.  But they got their assignment: it starts in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish world, and down the street are the people who crucified Jesus.  All the good things these believers are about to do, all the witnessing for Jesus, the healing, the caring happens in the same location of their biggest fears.  I think that is where most effective ministry starts, in the place where you might be most afraid.

It’s the same with us.  People of St. Paul’s, God is ready to do amazing things with us.  Why do you stand looking upward towards heaven?  We’ve got a world to reach.  Let’s pray, let’s make a plan, and let’s make it happen.

Prayer

God, we open our hearts to you, and know that you will continue to do great things with us through the power of the Spirit.  Give us the vision to see our spirituality for what it is; how we pray, how we sing, how we plan for the future, how we live together.  Give us a clear picture of who we are and what we could be.  Give us the courage to remove the obstacles in our lives, the sin that keeps us from enjoying our relationship with you; the sin that keeps us from caring for each other and caring for the world as you want us to.  Now send us to the ends of the earth with your message of love, in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.