The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204 704.333.5428 www.stjohnsbaptistchurch.org
Acts of Apostolic People 13:1-3
Fourth Sunday of Eastertide, May 12, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
“I want to be somebody someday,” she whispered to the social worker. Then, the thirteen-year old girl said, if I show you something personal, please don’t laugh at me.” She leaned down and rummaged through a backpack. Slowly she pulled out four spiral notebooks. She turned and faced her social worker, a woman she was just beginning to trust. Her eyes were watery as she spoke: “These are very important to me.” She handed the notebooks to the social worker. The social worker spoke softly: “Thank you for trusting me. Do you want us to look at these together?” For the next two hours, a teenaged girl showed her new social worker page after page of artwork, short stories, poetry and sketches. Each drawing or writing represented an experience of pain or abuse she had experienced at the hands of a relative or neighbor since the age of five, when her mother died. Mixed-in with her loneliness and desperation were drawings of rainbows and colored pencil sketches of pictures from travel magazines. As she got to the fourth notebook, she said, “This notebook doesn’t have much in it. I stopped writing last week. That’s when I decided to come here. I just had to find a time when I could sneak away with clothes and my notebooks. I did write in it just before you came to talk to me.” The social worker opened the fourth notebook and started reading and complimenting until she reached the last entry where she read, “Everyone here is so nice. They’ve given me food and helped me pick out some clean clothes. One shirt still was still in its package. Tonight, I’m going to sleep on a bed with clean sheets. I’m so happy I feel like crying. But, I won’t because I’m new here.” The social worker smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here and I’m very glad you’re happy. Can I give you a hug?” After their hug, the social worker said, “I have something to show you.” Then she wrote in big bold letters, “YOU ARE SOMEBODY EVERY DAY!”
I tell you this true story because this social worker was doing what you do every day.
She was letting her light shine. Like you, she is a Minister in Daily Life.
Your light is your witness in the world; your light is your influence in the name of Jesus Christ.
Your light expresses how you interpret your experience of God as love.
The Living God is that SPIRITUAL SPARK in your life Who ignites the light of your witness.
As you let your light shine, you are living missionally in the world.
Our scripture reading for today’s worship and message is often neglected. It is not included in the Lectionary or in Bible study curriculum plans. Yet, Yet, beloved, this ancient story has meaning for us to consider. We need to remember WHY we are Christ’s Church; we have experienced the SPARK of God’s love and we are to spread this SPARK of God’s love. This is an important scripture for us to consider at this point in our church history.
FIRST, CONSIDER HOW GOD WORKS THROUGH TRANSITIONS.
These three verses introduce you to a transitional time in the early Church.
The first twelve chapters of Acts are centered around Jerusalem.
Jesus told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the SPARK, The Holy Spirit of God.
They obeyed and waited and were empowered; but Jesus also told them something else to do.
In Acts 1:8, we read Jesus’ words to his followers: “…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.” (GOD’S PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS A BOTH/AND PEOPLE, NOT EITHER/OR.)
The purpose of them being empowered by The Holy Spirit of God was for them to be witnesses.
THEY WERE EMPOWERED BY GOD’S SPIRIT SO THEY COULD BE WITNESSES.
They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem – and beyond; this is a BOTH/AND, not an EITHER/OR.
However, those followers of Jesus stayed in Jerusalem until Stephen was killed for preaching.
So, with Saul of Tarsus approving the killing of Stephen, we read these words:
“That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria…Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the Gospel” – the Good News of the God of love.
After the transition, the headquarters of the Church was not Jerusalem; it was Antioch, in Syria.
Syria was the territory north of Galilee where some of those scattered by the persecution settled.
In Antioch, a great number of people committed their lives to learn how to follow Jesus’ teachings.
Antioch was a growing city in the first century; a beautiful city called ‘Queen of the East.’
It was in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called ‘Christiani.’
The Antioch Church refused to call Caesar Augustus their ‘Lord.’ Jesus was ‘Lord’ of their living.
So, because they refused to be called, ‘Augustiani,’ they were called, ‘Christiani.’
IN ANTIOCH, A NEW DAY WAS DAWNING AS THE CHURCH ENTERED ITS’ 2ND GENERATION. THEY HAD A STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO LIVE MISSIONALLY.
St. John’s, a new day is dawning for this church, as we enter our second century.
1. On June 9th, Pentecost Sunday, we will express our worship in this sanctuary alongside the two other worship communities gathering in our buildings; from South Sudan and Sierra Leone.
2. Last Sunday, our Staffing for Our Future Task Force explained new beginnings through staffing transitions which will provide stronger and expanded ministries of outreach, care and learning.
3. Last Sunday, our Architectural Review Task Force presented opportunities for us to make facility improvements, so our buildings are better oriented for ministry in the 21st century.
4. Last month, you learned that Charlotte Family Housing and Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy will be purchasing the buildings adjoining us, at the corner of Lamar and Park, from King’s College, making this entire block a service-oriented square within the city.
5. Every week, we see dust fly and deal with the mess of the trolley line construction in front of our buildings along Hawthorne Lane. Whether or not you support the idea behind this project, we must prepare for the day when we will be more visible and accessible in our city.
6. Increasingly, young adults and young families are moving into this area of Charlotte; but, not only 20 and 30 somethings. We have all ages of adults and families moving in around us. Plus, we are a regional church and we need to extend our message to other areas of Charlotte.
7. As our metro population continues to grow, many new residents will be looking for a church family and opportunities to serve in Christ’s name in their new city. We are already enhancing our approaches in messaging and outreach as we engage these new residents and others.
Yes, I know, all of this involves change. And, I am aware of what Mark Twain observed;
“The only human who likes change is a wet baby.”
YET, A NEW DAY IS DAWNING IN THE LIFE OF ST. JOHN’S AS WE ENTER OUR 2ND CENTURY OF MINISTRY AT AND FROM THE CORNER OF HAWTHORNE AT FIFTH.
WE ARE BEING GIVEN A STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO LIVE MISSIONALLY.
SO, FIRST, CONSIDER HOW GOD WORKS THROUGH TRANSITIONS.
SECOND, CONSIDER HOW GOD CREATES COMMUNITY OUT OF DIVERSITY.
These three verses list five names; men who were exemplary spiritual leaders among them.
Women in church leadership is also recognized in Acts; but this passage mentions only men.
The emphasis here is not their gender; the emphasis is their influence. They let their light shine.
You may be familiar with Barnabas. He was an encourager; a bridge-builder; a trustworthy discerner of God’s spirit and the human heart. Barnabas became the defender of Saul who, later, became the Apostle Paul. Barnabas was one of those who had settled in Antioch from Jerusalem.
We are not told much about Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene or Manaen. What we do know is this: Simeon was a dark skinned African; Lucius was from the area we now know as Libya; and Manaen had grown up in a wealthy and privileged home as he was a good friend of Herod.
The fifth person named is Saul; the same Saul who had persecuted the church, approved the killing of Stephen and experienced a spiritual transformation on the road to Damascus.
What we have here, beloved, is a collection of humans who are just like you.
They are from a variety of places; have diverse backgrounds; and are shining the light of Jesus.
Like you, they experienced the SPARK of GOD and were learning to live missionally.
There are a few moments recorded in these stories of Acts of Apostolic People that tell us what was happening as this Gospel of God was moving in the lives of the early Church.
The resurrection hope of Jesus Christ and the spiritual power of The Holy Spirit of God was transforming and forming people’s lives. And God was creating a new kind of community.
The energy of God’s Gospel propelled them to new meanings and gave them a transcendent mission which shaped the way they viewed their work and their relationships.
In truth, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Spirit gave them a new vision for how the world could become through the hope of God’s Gospel.
So, they sent out Barnabas and Saul to go beyond Antioch.
And, each Sunday, I send you out to an ever-expanding world of ministry opportunities.
When was the last time you opened your life to The Living God requesting that SPIRITUAL SPARK in your life to brighten the light of your witness or to strengthen your influence capacity?
BELOVED, DO YOU KNOW HOW WE GOT TO THIS STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO INCREASE OUR CAPACITY OF INFLUENCE IN THIS CITY AND BEYOND?
THIS IS HAPPENING BECAUSE YOU ARE LETTING YOUR LIGHT SHINE;
AS YOU ALLOW YOUR INFLUENCE TO BE GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD, YOU ARE LIVING MISSIONALLY IN THE WORLD.
AS YOU ALLOW YOUR CHARACTER AND MINISTRY IN DAILY LIFE TO BE SHAPED BY THE CHARACTER AND MINISTRY OF JESUS, YOU ARE LIVING MISSIONALLY.
To some extent, the history of the Church is a generation by generation by generation search for the SPARK of God that ignites the light of God’s mission within us.
In the words of Emil Brunner, “The Church exists by God’s mission as fire exists by burning.”
In the words of a social worker, “YOU ARE SOMEBODY EVERY DAY!” Amen & AMEN!