September 4, 2016 – Trials

Pentecost 16 September 4, 2016   Ps 37, Acts 23:1-11; 26:1-8; 26:19-29    Trials ************************************************* For the entire last quarter of the book of Acts – from somewhere in chapter 21 through chapter 28 – the apostle Paul is a prisoner – on trial or about to be on trial or in-between trials – all the way to Rome, where the book of Acts winds up with a dot-dot-dot-to-be-continued…kind of an ending… That’s really not an ending… We’re remembering today the trials of the early church…Following in the Way of Jesus who sets his course for Jerusalem, saying –  ‘We’re going up to Jerusalem’ –  where he knows he will be arrested, brought to trial, convicted without evidence of wrong-doing, condemned, and crucified. In the book of Acts, volume two of Luke’s gospel, the church continues the work of Jesus. Early on (Acts 4 and 5) disciples are twice arrested and brought  before the Jewish Council of Elders. The same Council that tried Jesus, then sent him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who sent him to Herod, governor of a next-door province – who sent him back to Pilate, who, with the egging on of a mob led by religious leaders, put Jesus on trial for the fourth and last time and sent him to the cross… Now, in Acts, disciples are brought before the same Council, where they too are interrogated – then ordered not to preach the gospel of Jesus risen from the dead. The first time they’re set free after a warning (Acts 4). The second time (Acts 5) they’re set free after being warned and flogged. Then (Acts 6 and 7) Stephen the evangelist is arrested, tried before the Council, stoned to death by a mob, while a young man named Saul holds the coats of those doing the stoning… But.… Young Saul meets the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and his world turns upside down. Soon Saul has a new name, Paul. Soon he’s known as the apostle Paul – bringing the word of Jesus to the world outside Israel. And just before where we’ve picked up in the story, what happened to Jesus and Stephen (with Saul’s approval) is now about to happen to him… As we pick up in the story, Paul has been charged with bringing a non-Jew into the temple. The charge isn’t true. But a mob’s trying to kill him. Roman military officials intervene, saving Paul’s life. But immediately then those who’ve saved him are preparing to torture Paul to find out what he’s guilty of. As he’s being strapped down to be flogged, Paul asks ‘is it legal to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t been condemned?’ (Non-citizens could be presumed guilty till proven innocent, but…) Once it’s known Paul’s a citizen – with rights and privileges not many Romans had – we have to go to plan B – and let the accused speak in his defense in front of accusers – again, the Jewish council. And – Notice how – in all of his four trial scenes – (the same number of trials Jesus went through) now in Acts closing chapters, we notice – how very little time Paul spends defending himself against specific charges. He does deny the charges, since they’re false....

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September 13, 2015 – A harvest of peace

Pentecost 16 September 13, 2015 (Psalm 19, Proverbs 12:13-22) James 3:1-18 A harvest of peace **************************************** In the beginning the heavens and the earth are called into being through God’s spoken word. And because we’re all made in the image and likeness of God – our words also have power to create worlds and universes… The problem is just that we humans seem to not always exhibit God’s pure wisdom in our speaking… (This might be an understatement…) Part of me wants to blame this on the election cycle and talk radio and talk tv and decline in civility. And probably all these usual suspects are guilty as charged. But when I remember history… It’s pretty clear that the patterns of lies, half-truths, slander, innuendo, and character assassination that we complain about often but take more-or-less for granted most of the time… Are not modern inventions. The ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, Paris and London, New York, Chicago, even beloved Boston… are all full of archival anecdotes of bitter speech and tongue-lashing of people made in the image of God… Even in church we’ve sometimes witnessed some of what James is talking about today. That’s why he wrote this letter to the churches. With the same tongue we bless God our Maker… and curse those made by our Maker in the likeness of God… This ought not to be so… The word of God tells us… But yes, more often than we’d like… The word of God in the letter of James, brother of Jesus, proves to be as up to date as the morning paper or the latest-breaking-on-line-news… As James teaches today on the power of the human tongue, the power of human words, to create the world we live in… And this power of the tongue is so powerful, James says – it’s like fire, spreading from small smoky embers of a camp fire… to become a raging forest fire… engulfing many miles of timber… So I’ve been thinking about forest fire as one of James’ chosen analogies… And since James cautions us about too many of us being teachers – teachers use their tongues more than most, and are often teaching the young and impressionable who are at-risk if the teachings bad – and since James includes himself as a teacher – saying “we (not you) who teach will be judged more strictly, and we (again not you but we) all make many mistakes” – and since James is applying this strong caution to himself – at the very same time that he’s using strong language to get our attention – therefore, it’s pretty clear James is exercising biblical poetic license – as he sings the treacherous-tongue-blues – with his mouth wide open. And as a teacher myself, who relies on words, I’ve been listening to James… And remembering my younger brothers, Sam and Eben, who both worked as fire-fighters with the Forest Service when they were younger. And I remember asking them about the fire-fighter’s technique of fighting fire with fire – pre-burning a section of forest deliberately, to take away fuel for the larger fire, and try to stop the main fire from spreading… And I went into my files, and found what youngest brother Eben wrote back to me, saying: “The essence...

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September 28, 2014 – The Lord will fight for you

Luke 9:28-36 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. Exodus 13:17-22, 14:5-14 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people…. When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon. As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you...

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September 8, 2013 – Pentecost 16

Philemon Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.    For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.  Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.   **** Pentecost 16  September 8, 2013     Philemon   ****************************************** The apostle Paul writes to a church leader named Philemon, somewhere in Asia Minor, sometime in the late ‘50’s or early ‘60’s AD.  Paul’s writing from prison, a place he’s well acquainted with – four of his New Testament letters (counting this one) are written from jail. Onesimus, the reason for the writing of this letter, is a slave, owned under Roman law by Philemon. Onesimus has met Paul in prison – maybe for the first time, or perhaps they knew each...

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