Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Reaching Out, Inviting In and Getting Arrested


Acts 16
May 6, 2018

This is a great story and I could have picked up on bunches
of different themes, but I wanted to get you
out of here before Bob Evans runs out of biscuits,
so I had to narrow it down to a few.

So just to remind everyone,
our theme is Reaching Out and Inviting In.
We’re looking at these stories and talking
about how we’re called to the same things
that the first Church was called to.

Now, usually, when we think of reaching out
as a church, or evangelism, most of the time we think of
people knocking on doors and asking strangers,
“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior”
and having the door slammed in our face not an inviting prospect.
And I think that Lutherans are very uncomfortable
with this prospect because it doesn’t seem genuine,
and I have to agree. But then we opt for not doing anything
which isn’t a good answer either.

But as far as ringing doorbells, Paul and Silas and the others in Acts
don’t do that kind of reaching out,
nary a door was knocked on,
what they do much different than  that.
There’s a lot more to it. (You might want to knock on doors after this)

First thing I noticed is that in the process of
their work, Paul and Silas get arrested.
Not that I’m suggesting that,
but it’s not out of the question either.

Now, if you look at it, they don’t get
arrested for being Christian or for preaching –
those things weren’t against the law.
They were arrested because the
message of Jesus itself was disruptive
to the narrative of the world.

The message of Jesus, just by
its very nature, rocked the boat of society,
challenged unjust systems –
like the enslavement of this girl.
And it made people uncomfortable and angry.
Paul and Silas had basically shut off the
income stream of the people
who had enslaved her,
that makes people mad and they had them arrested.

So when some people say that Christians
should just be praying and worshipping
and doing acts of mercy and kindness ,
and not be involved in issues of justice, or politics,
or shouldn’t be rocking  boats in the real world,
or confronting the powers of the world,
I give you this story, and many others from Acts,
and other places.

Now that’s a plug for the Nehemiah Action
tomorrow, but it’s certainly true.
Just by sharing Jesus message of equality
and liberation and justice  were doing
something radical and controversial.

Paul and Peter and a lot of the other
characters in Acts spend a lot of time
on the wrong side of the law,
on the wrong side of political power,
and a lot of time in prison
for much of this whole book.
Again, not because preaching was against
the law, but because the content of their
message was disruptive.

And this boat rocking doesn’t end
for Paul and Silas after they’re in jail.
It just keeps on going.

So Paul and Silas have made the wrong people angry
and now they’re in prison
and while they’re there, they prayed and sang -
I could go off on a tangent on how
they prayed and sang and comforted
the prisoners they were being held with,
how that in itself is reaching out,
but there’s more impressive stuff to come
and I want to get to it.

As they prayed and sang,
the very unexpected happened:
There was an earthquake and shook
everything and all the prison doors were opened.

Now they could have just taken this opportunity
and ran away and left the jailer
and the other prisoners there, but they did not.

For them every situation is a
an opportunity to reach out.
Paul and Silas put their freedom
and their comforts second and
saw that the most important part was
their connection with the people
that God has put in front of them.
They reached out with God’s love.

The jailer was ready to off himself,
because he knew he would probably
have been jailed himself for letting
everyone leave, but Paul and Silas
and the rest of the prisoners, they stayed.
They told him not to kill himself because
they were all going to stay with him.

This was impressive, the jailer was touched
and knew that this was not just some smart
idea, there was a larger work at hand here,
and when the jailer asked them how to
get in on this whole thing, they told him: Jesus.
Paul and Silas didn’t make this situation happen,
God was already at work in the world,
and they were just looking for where
God was at work and where they could
live out the way that Jesus had shown them.

Many of us will not find ourselves in this kind of
situation in our lives -- we will not be held as political prisoners
and have an earthquake jar our cell doors open.
But God is still at work in our world every day.
Jesus is  doing great things right before our eyes
our job of evangelism is to recognize
Jesus’s work in this world,
be a part of it if we can and let people know its Jesus.

Here’s an example just this week in the news

You heard about the two men who
were arrested in Philadelphia because
they were in a Starbucks meeting someone
for a business deal and they hadn’t bought anything
and the worker got suspicious and the manager called the cops
and oh yeah, they were black.

They spent 8 hours in jail.
Just for waiting in a Starbucks which we all have done.
This was terrible and unjust and infuriating
and everyone could have doubled down on this
and been defensive and outraged and gotten a piece for themselves
out of this outrageous injustice.

Now, even though this was terrible and outrageous,
right from the beginning, lots of good things were happening:

It was great to see the 
other white people in the store
standing up for these 
men who were being arrested.
It was great that someone else videotaped,
and released the video for all to see.

It was great that Starbucks 
didn’t just blame the manager,
And fire her and think 
that they solved the problem,
but they have taken some great action,
even to the point of promising to close all their stores
for one day to have training on unconscious racial bias by their workers.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson:
Jesus Way at Work in the World

But the best thing happened this week,
the two men who were the targets of Starbucks
and the Philadelphia police, who could have rightfully leveraged
this event into a personal windfall for themselves,
This week decided to settle with the City of Philadelphia
for $1 for themselves, plus a $200 thousand dollar grant
for high school entrepreneurs, a grant that they will help manage.

And I say to you, this is has got Jesus written all over it.
Were all these people Christian? I don’t know
But like Paul and Silas, they took Jesus way and path.
They took the door that was opened for them
and they used it for other people,
they didn’t just run out, they didn’t just forget about the others.
They got  justice, not just for them but for more.
They reached out with the freak opportunity that came their way.
That is God working through them.
Jesus Way working in this world.

Now If I was in Philadelphia, I would give money to that fund.
I would support it, I would want to get involved in what they were doing, right?
Well, we have our own stuff here where God is working every day.
We have food pantries, Justice Actions, children’s programs, school programs,
Juvenile Justice Circles, care packages, houses being built,
there’s an endless list that doesn’t ever make the news.
God is working all around us, sometimes it’s clearer when its far away.

We live in world of captives literally and figuratively.
A world where doors are being shut all the time.
And most of us here have freedoms –
freedoms created by our privilege, our incomes, our status in society,
Our citizenship in this country, we have freedoms,
and as Christians we have  freedom that we have gained from Christ,
from knowing we’re loved and that death doesn’t have a hold on us.
  
Those prison doors have been opened for us,
not by our own doing, but by some crazy occurrence,
and the question that we have as Christians,
As followers of Jesus and the body of Christ
is what do we do with these freedoms?

Do we just run out of the prison and just claim our own freedom?
Do we escape with whatever we can get for ourselves?

Or do we wonder what God is doing here?
What project is Jesus working on? How can I get involved?
How can I reach out with God’s love , share our freedom
with others, and invite them in to what Jesus is doing?

Christian freedom is not about taking it for yourself
and making laws that give you more privileges and protections,
it’s about giving it away for others.
Being part of God’s plan for the world.
This is the way of the cross, the way of Paul
and Silas, the way of Peter, this is the Way of Jesus.
That is real power. Being a part of the project which is the Kingdom of God

The short story is that Evangelism is this:
Jesus is at work in the world, and we want to be a part of it:
We welcome the outcast, love our enemies,
talk to strangers , we stay awake to the world around us.

We join in God’s work  and we follow the teachings of Jesus in
all the disruptiveness that comes
that comes naturally in Jesus message and Way,
and when we get the opportunity
have the courage to tell people, “That was Jesus.”

Not ringing door bells not just saying Jesus, but doing Jesus.
Being a part of God’s grand project.
Opening doors in a world that has them closing everywhere,
Disrupting the narrative of the world
disrupting politics as usual in Christ’s name, and giving God the glory.
This is what the Church is called to do.
It’s not easy work, but it is great work, the best work, it is blessed work.
It is good to be the Church,
It is good to be the risen body of Christ.

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