Monday, July 25, 2016

Sunday's Sermon – To Boldly Speak

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 24, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. 

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Acts 4:23-31

And after they were released, they went to the others and reported all the chief priest and elders said to them. And when they heard, with one accord, they lifted up their voices to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, you who made the heavens and the earth and the seas and everything in them, our father, through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, your servant, said, For what reason are nations insolent, and people making worthless plans? The kings of the earth take a belligerent stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Christ. For they gathered, in fact, in this city, against your holy child, Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontus Pilate with Gentiles and people of Israel; they did what your hand and your will foreordained to happen. And now, Lord, look at their threats and give to your slaves the ability to speak your word with boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders to cause to happen through the name of your holy servant Jesus." And when they had made their plea, the place, where they were, was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

To Boldly Speak



Now, I have three reasons for showing this little clip before the service this morning. First, I know we’ve got some dedicated Trekies here this morning, and I’m talking about folks who would disagree with a Star Wars fan who told me, about a year ago, that Trekies are the real nerds of the science fiction world. Now that’s one reason. And second, I think I showed the opening from the original series a couple of years ago and so I didn’t want to convey any kind of prejudice. But I’ll tell you, the third reason is actually the most important. You see, I think one of the storylines from The Next Generation really has a lot to say about the topic we’re discussing this morning.

You see, back in it’s sixth season, and that would be stardate 1993 (maybe, I don’t really know how that stardate business works), there was an episode entitled Tapestry. And without getting into a lot of the details, the main character, Captain Piccard, a person who, I’m guessing, would be in his fifties, appears to be fatally wounded, but not because of something that just happened, rather because of a injury he sustained during a bar fight he got mixed up with when he was in his twenties. Well, as a result of all kinds of stuff that would only be meaningful if you follow the series (and if you do, you probably already know about this episode), he gets the chance to relive his life, starting around the time of the fight, only this time he knows what he knows as a fifty-year-old. And so, to make a 60-minute story short, he makes the decision to avoid the confrontation that led to the fight, even though that means sort of wimping out and humiliating his best friend. And although we don’t see it, he lives his life as a Star Fleet officer, carefully avoiding all the risks he took in his other life. And by the time he reaches his fifties, instead of being the captain of the Enterprise, he’s still a junior lieutenant, who’s never received the promotions he believed he deserved, all because his desire to avoid any kind of gamble meant he never really showed that he had what it takes to be a captain. In other words, his caution resulted in him not really boldly going anywhere. Now that’s what happened in the episode Tapestry.

And I’ll tell you something, I think this same kind of thing happens to Christians all the time, at least as it relates to sharing the story of Jesus to others. As a matter of fact, to say we lack boldness, lack guts, man, that’s really an understatement. And the reason we hold back, the reason we hesitate, well, if we’re really honest with ourselves, I think we’d all agree that the reason is actually pretty much what happens with Piccard in Tapestry. Simply put, I think most of us, and I include myself, we are just, plain a afraid of the possible consequences of sharing. I mean, isn’t this how we think? If I talk about Jesus, how are people going to react? And what are they going to think about me? My gosh, what if they think I’m trying to tell them what to believe? And what if they ask me questions that I can’t answer? And what if they think that I think I’m better than they are? And what if they don’t want to hang out with me any more? And what if they tell others that I think I’m all high and mighty? And what if, what if, what if. Man, it’s better if I say nothing at all, right? And let them believe anything thing they want, right? And then I can do the same thing other Christians do who understand that the risks of sharing are just too high. I mean, isn’t that the kind of thing we think about. Sure it is. And so, as good, contemporary Christians, we shift our focus from those with whom we can share the story of Jesus to our own feelings, because that’s what’s most important about following Jesus, you know, feeling good. And even though Jesus never really said that being a disciple should be comfortable, give me a break, why let Jesus interfere with Christianity? No, like most other believers, without Christ to get in the way, we can focus on ourselves.

And I’ll tell you, if we follow this path, that focus will probably be reflected in our prayers. I mean, think about how most folks pray. When we’re not asking for stuff for ourselves and those whom we like, we’re probably praying for the kind of things all risk averse folks want, you know, like protection and safety. Heaven forbid, we actually find ourselves risking something for God. And if we share anything at all, it’ll involve how Christianity is really all about a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s not about anyone or anything else; it’s all about what’s personal, you know, inside here, and the relationship we might have with God, you know, inside here. And let’s get real, it’s doesn’t demand much courage, much strength, much boldness to have a relationship that personal. Welcome to the wonderful world of gutless Christianity.

But I’ll tell you something, that’s definitely not what we see in the passage we looked at this morning. I’m telling you, those early Christians were anything but gutless. For example, since it started with “and after they were released, they went to the others and reported all the chief priest and elders said to them,” I think what happened before these verses is really important. You see, Peter and John reported that they’d been arrested for telling people about Jesus. And they’d been thrown in jail and threatened that things would get a lot worse, if they didn’t shut their mouths and start viewing their faith as their own private and personal relationship. Of course, to that, Peter said, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Now that’s what they reported.

And I want you to notice that, based on that report, the people started to pray. But they didn’t pray for stuff. And they sure didn’t pray that God keep them safe, and protect them from the real world. Instead, they approached the one they addressed as “sovereign Lord and asked him to give them boldness: boldness to speak up when the powers would prefer them to be quiet, boldness to tell the story of Jesus Christ, I’m talking about boldness to step into a world that might never know about who Jesus was and what he did if they remained quiet. I’m telling you, they didn’t want God to keep them safe and protected. They prayed for boldness. And at the end the passage, that’s exactly what they got. And so they stepped away from what was comfortable and shared the story of Jesus to people who needed to hear it, even though that meant risk far greater than being laughed at or losing a few friends. You see, they weren’t imposing their values on anybody; they were sharing a story. And for them, what they believed wasn’t suppose to be personal; it had to be public. Man, they were bold, and speaking for myself, I’m glad they were, because right now, I wouldn’t know anything about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit without them.

And even though I don’t want to suggest that we can leave here and be like Peter and John and Paul, I think we can be a little bolder in sharing the story. And I’ll tell you, for me, it really comes down to us doing three things that I believe will help us along the way, and let me briefly share with you want they are. For example, if we want to show a little more courage in sharing the story, first, we need to pray about it. In other words, we need to do the exact same thing those Christians did in the passage we just read, we need to ask God for boldness. Now, I recognize, that’s not what we generally do; I know I don’t. But just think about what might happen if we did. You see, not only are we opening ourselves up to the movement of the Holy Spirit, we’re also shifting how we see ourselves and the world around us. I mean, if I’m always praying for God to protect me and to keep us safe, I’m kind of pulling inside, right? And I’m viewing the world as an alien and a dangerous place and I’ll probably start seeing myself as a frightened little wimp. But I start asking for boldness, man, I’ve got to see myself engaged with folks I may have avoided before. As a matter fact, I might even begin looking for opportunities to be bold. You see, if we want to up our boldness meter, the first step is to pray about it.

And then second, I think we need to prepare for it. In other words, we need to prepare to be bold. And I believe that involves being really clear about what we need and what we don’t need. I mean, since we’re sharing the story of Jesus and we’re not dealing with a bunch of ideas and concepts and principles; we’re talking about what he taught and did and not a lot of philosophy or theology or morality, we don’t need to know all the answers. For example, if asked, “Would you consider your philosophy more Stoic or Epicurean? Is your theology Calvinist or Arminian? And has your morality be shaped more by teleontology or deontology?”, I think we can say with boldness, “I don’t know (what a radical thought, saying “I don’t know.”) I don’t know, but what I do believe is this: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.’” You see, we don’t need all the answers, but we do need to know the story. And if that’s something we either never knew or haven’t thought about since Sunday School, now may the time to focus on it again. We might need this kind of preparation, if we’re serious about sharing the story with boldness, and that’s the second step.

And finally, once we’ve prayed about it and prepared for it, somewhere down the line we need to decide to proceed with it. In other words, we need to do something, which means stepping out into a new and constantly changing world to share the old, old story in language that people will understand. But before we say out loud what we may be thinking to ourselves, “Well, I can’t do anything like that. This is for the professionals. I sure didn’t sign up for this,” please remember what we talked about a couple of weeks ago, how Jesus called you and me just like he called fishermen and a tax collector and a bunch of other folks, not because they were so eloquent or wise, but because they could identify with people just like them. We need to remember that, just like we need to remember that God has put us where we are for a reason and surrounded us with folks who really don’t need scholarly philosophy or profound theology or complex moral systems. They simply need to hear the story of the one, using the words of Paul, “...who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” After we’ve prayed and prepared, we really need to proceed. And that’s the third step.

Now, in that Star Trek episode we were talking about earlier, Captain Piccard decides to reject the revised version of his life even though, by doing that, he thinks he’s going to die, because he would rather die as the captain of the Enterprise than to live as a nobody. Of course, he doesn’t die. He goes on to another season and four movies. But I’ll tell you, we can make the same kind of decision he made. You see, we can choose to reject the private and personal nature of modern American Christianity and choose to follow those in the early church who stepped out to share the story of Jesus, because they knew that if they didn’t do it, then people may never know. I mean, right now, we can decide to pray about it and to prepare for it and then to proceed with it and then to boldly speak a message the world desperately need to hear.

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