Saturday, May 23, 2015

That's the Spirit!

That’s the Spirit!                                                                                 5/24/15
Leviticus 23:15-22, Acts 2:1-24
Final Sermon in the Path of Discipleship Series
Pentecost Sunday

A teacher or coach might see a member doing something positive, and encourage that person, saying “That’s the Spirit!”   They mean that the person’s behavior is a positive expression of the group’s values or message.

Christians will look at an event or outcome that was surprising and say that God’s hand was present in the outcome.  Believers might say in those situations “That’s the Holy Spirit!”

Today is Pentecost.  It is a unique day in that Pentecost is a biblical feast described in the Hebrew Scripture, and we remember this day on the Church Calendar because of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples.  Jesus said that he would send the Holy Spirit to his followers:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).

Pentecost comes from the Greek word for “Fifty”, and the feast is 50 days after Passover.  In the Bible, it is called the Feast of Weeks.   In Jewish Tradition, it is a day to commemorate that God gave Israel the law at Mt. Sinai.  Leviticus does not mention the connection between the feast and the law. Pentecost is listed in a chapter telling of the “appointed feasts of the Lord”, the “sacred assemblies”.  These include the Sabbath, Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, FirstFruits, Weeks, Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles.  These feasts tell the story of the Lord’s salvation for Israel.  Christian Scholars point that the feasts also point to Jesus Christ, and his life a fulfillment of all the law and feasts were meant to be.

Most of the feasts in Leviticus have some common elements.  Sacrifices and gifts are offered to the Lord as a sign of God’s provision.  These gifts are to be the first of what is received, reminding the people that God is our priority.  In Leviticus, the smells of the sacrifices produce an aroma pleasing to God, and God commands the people to observe these feasts as “a lasting ordinance throughout the generations, wherever you live”.  So, while we do not observe them all today, they are important to God, for they point the people to God’s past and future work.   The Feast of Weeks also includes a reminder to the people to be kind and just, by sharing parts of their harvest with those who are hungry.

So the disciples had all gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Feast.  With the building of the Temple, the great feasts were observed by going to Jerusalem.  The disciples are alongside fellow Jews from throughout the world to celebrate the feast, with those nations listed in Acts 2.  It is during the Feast of Weeks, that the Holy Spirit comes and fulfills the words of the Lord.  If they had thought they were gathering to remember God’s giving of the law, they now experienced the coming of the new covenant by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul would later teach, the law ultimately shows us how we have fallen, but “The Spirit gives life” (II Co. 3:6).

The Scriptures speak of a scene that caused a stir:  violent winds, people hearing multiple and familiar languages at the same time, something that looked like tongues of fire resting of the heads of disciples. 

The result of this unique moment is a classic divide of interpretation.  Believers, having encountered God in a new and powerful way, contemplate the meaning:  “What does this mean, they ask perplexed and amazed.  Others are dismissive:  They are just drunk.  What about you?  What do God’s works stir within you?  Are you dismissive, or inquisitive?

Peter uses faithless and dismissive reaction to proclaim the good news.  The Spirit’s coming is what God intended.  Also, the Spirit’s coming is because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Are you old?  Good, dream dreams.
Are you young?  Good, see visions.
Has God poured his Spirit upon you?  Good, prophesy.
Male and female, prophesy.  Tell the wonders of God.  Speak of God’s power.  Help everyone call upon the name of the Lord.  Those that do will be saved.

We will be saved because of Jesus Christ.  Peter tells his Jewish brothers and sisters gathered that Jesus, Jewish himself, had come from God.  He did miracles, wonders and signs.  The audience already knew this.  And they also knew that the powers that were had put Jesus to death on a cross.

Peter teaches that God knew this.  He knew beforehand.  It wasn’t surprising to God, in fact, it was God’s set purpose.  God raised him from death.  God freed Jesus from the agony of his sacrifice.  Death could not hold back innocent blood.  Impossible. 

This is why the Spirit, Holy Spirit, had come.  Jesus, alive, needed witnesses.  He gave his life to bring people back to God.  The Holy Spirit is God’s deposit, guaranteeing our future with the Lord. 

It wouldn’t shock me if you wondered as we read the morning Scriptures:  Leviticus?  Wave offerings?  The Spirit coming as little flames of fire above people’s heads?  What is going on?  This doesn’t seem familiar and we don’t know what to do with this.  But Pentecost is important.  It was on that day that the Church grew by thousands, and moved its message from Jerusalem to a world wide message.  The Spirit would live in people’s hearts.  All who put their faith in Jesus Christ would receive the Holy Spirit.

Individually, we can know that we will belong to God, forever.  The Holy Spirit lives in our heart through faith.  Paul writes:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.  And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come”  (I Co. 1:20-22)

As a congregation today is a very important day.  The Church does not observe the Feast of Weeks, nor any of the festivals in Leviticus.  Ultimately, we say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross took the place of our need for a sacrificial system.  But that the Apostles were present that day, observing it, and within that observance, the Spirit came.  There are lessons within the feasts.

  1. Do what God says.
  2. Put God first.
  3. Do those things which please God.
  4. Proclaim a sacred assembly to those around you.
  5. Stop regular work when it is time to commemorate what God has done.
  6. Commemorate wherever you live.
  7. Don’t take everything for yourself, share and share some more.

Ultimately, these lessons are the reasons the church exists and are all acts of our call to worship God.  So when we practice these lessons, the Holy Spirit, already in our hearts through faith, might come to the congregation, even in surprising and unexpected ways.  But when the Spirit comes, those who believe know what to say:
“That’s the Spirit!”

Friday, May 15, 2015


Togetherness                                       5/17/15
Acts 2:42-47, John 15:1-17
The Path of Discipleship:  Sermon 11

Our family was talking about ticks, their purpose and why the Lord has seen for them to exist.  I was preparing my wise thoughts, looking to that great day when we will see God’s light more clearly. I started to say:  “Someday, I am going to ask God...” when I was interrupted by my daughter, who with shockingly accurate listening skills responded:  “Daddy, you don’t have to wait to talk to God, you can talk to God now”.

You can talk to God now. 

Thursday, the River Church pastors gathered at a restaurant to discuss some topics, and we prayed before the meal.  After we were done meeting, and a few of us were leaving, a kind looking woman came up to us and asked if we were all part of the same church.  She started to quote how nice it was to see Christians working together, that this is what the body of Christ should do, and when believers gather together and love one another we bear witness to the world of Jesus Christ, as he prayed we would.  This person, from Philadelphia, was meeting a friend from North Jersey and Titusville was middle ground.  We shared another moment or two, and then left with the thought that it was highly unlikely that we would see each other again in this life, but that the joy of eternal life awaited us, and we’d look each other up in heaven, remembering this encounter.  We would be together forever in the kingdom of God.

Togetherness in God’s kingdom

We are nearly complete with looking at the Path to Discipleship Map.  Next week, we will conclude during Pentecost Sunday with a call to take at least one step in our discipleship during 2015.  The Map we’ve used has 99 possible steps to take, with more that could easily be created.  We want to move from Christian faith as a tourist experience, to a life where we are familiar with God’s ways, and close to the Lord.  In a word, we want to experience togetherness.

Discipleship is being a follower of Jesus Christ.  Disciples gather for public worship alongside other disciples.  In my daughter's words, we can be together with God, and talk with God, now.  In our friend’s words, we have the Lord’s good promise that we will be together forever in God’s kingdom.  A good future awaits us.  On this final Sunday of Easter, we proclaim that good future comes to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The allegory that Jesus teaches about vine and branches provides such helpful image.  .  A metaphor teaches about something new or unfamiliar by comparing it with something known.  A simile uses words, “Like”, or “as” to make a comparison.  Metaphors and simile’s compare one subject, or one thought.   Allegories are figures of speech that are extended metaphors, all the details and multiple characters all contribute to the story.   If you notice in John 15, Jesus isn’t like a vine.  He is The true vine (please notice the I am, which is a reference to the name of God)  We are not like branches, we are branches that find life through the vine.   Jesus does use simile elsewhere, for example, “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”.  Here, the story is that our Christian life needs to remain in Christ.

There are three characters in this allegory:  Jesus is the true vine, providing life giving nutrients to the branches.  We are the branches whose purpose is to bear fruit.  God is the gardener that oversees that the branches are connected to the vine.

The vine/branches allegory teaches about being together with Jesus, being close to him, having fellowship with him. What insights do we find for our living?
1.       pruning is not punishment, but rather an exercise that leads to more fruitfulness.
Sometimes, our immediate reaction is to think that any difficulty is a punishment from God.  But God looks at our lives in a very different way:  He will make the one who bears fruit more fruitful.  There are growing pains that accompany this further fruitfulness.
2.       Branches need to remain in the vine.
3.       You cannot bear fruit if you are not connected to the vine.
4.       Remaining in the vine means more fruitfulness.
5.       There is a simile for not remaining in the vine.  The one who does not remain is LIKE a branch that is thrown away and withers, such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 
This simile provides a warning:  remain in God, or your life will become like the thing you don’t want.  If you don’t remain, it is similar to a branch that has broken off and withers.  What do you do with that which is useless?  Jesus doesn’t say, the one who does not remain will be thrown away.  He says the one who does not remain is like a branch that would be thrown away.  We can easily misinterpret this and blame God, but the reality is the verse explains the result of what happens when we chose to not remain..  It is simply a matter of fact.
6.       Prayer, and answered prayer, is the natural result of remaining in Christ.
As my daughter reminded me, you can talk with God now.  You can talk with Jesus and lay before him your requests.  When you are close with Jesus, and are talking with him, it is hard to focus on things that he wouldn’t want.  Being close to him makes you want to think like him, and prayer then becomes what God wants, not what you want.  One thing that God wants is a prayer that he will answer. 
7.       God is glorified when we bear fruit and show ourselves to be disciples.
This map is an effort to help us take intentional steps to becoming better disciples.  God receives glory when we bear fruit and show who we are.  Showing yourself to be a disciple is a natural as your business card identifying the company you work for or your hat displaying the team you root for.

There are two commands that come from Jesus after he introduces this allegory.   First, remain in Christ’s love (Vs 9). Second, love one another (Vs 12).  Fellowship means staying close to God, and close to God’s people.

The story of the church’s behavior after Pentecost provides for us a picture of all that the church could be.  This passage is a favorite among people who read Acts.  It is similar to thinking about the happiness of a relationship when it first started.  This description paints a happy picture, and we want to stay in that picture.  The history of the church is not one that has always lived out the wonderful descriptions of Acts 2, though faithful and fruit bearing congregations should have, at least, several of these dynamics as practices and values.

Four expressions of devotion are practiced by the early church:
1.       Devotion to the Apostle’s teaching
2.       Devotion to the fellowship
3.       Devotion to the breaking of the bread
4.       Devotion to prayer
At our core, this is who we should be:  following the teachings of Jesus Christ preserved by the Apostles, following together, meeting Jesus Christ through Lord’s Supper, and praying.  There is nothing shocking here.  Though congregations could also do a review to see if what they are doing/hope to do, fits into one of these core devotions.

What is the result of the early church devoting themselves to these four cores?
1.       Everyone is filled with awe
2.       Apostles did wonders and miracles
3.       The believers were together and had everything in common.
4.       They sold the temporal to give to anyone who had need
5.       They met everyday at the temple for praise and prayer
6.       They broke bread with glad and sincere hearts
7.       they praised God
8.       they enjoyed the favor of the people
9.       the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

There is so much to be said for this passage.  But the takeaway feel is this:  it is so simple.  There isn’t rocket science involved here.  Fellowship gives birth to life.  Fellowship grows branches that bear much fruit.  Our fellowship is with God and fellow believers.  As John writes in his first letter:

Our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ (1:3)
“If we walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purified us from all sin” (1:7)

As I was writing this sermon, a bird was calling in the distance:  My mind had tuned out its sound, classifying it as too familiar.  But that doesn’t take away the reality that it was calling, and that the calling was beautiful.  The Bird spoke.  If I didn’t hear it, I was the one missing out.   I hope that we don’t miss God’s call to us.  Like the bird’s sound, it is quite beautiful, simple, and, if we are paying attention, consistent.  It is a call to be close to the Lord, and close to the Lord’s people.  This is the best fellowship, and it will bear much fruit.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Serving One Another

Serving One Another                          5/10/15
Isaiah 58, Mark 10:35-45
The Path of Discipleship:  Sermon 10

Two Wednesday’s ago, about 7 o’clock in the evening, I was in front of the television when I heard a vehicle stop in front of the school.  I knew this because of the loud country music which made its way into our home all the way from the car radio.  I assumed the van had stopped because someone was using the crosswalk.  Much to my surprise, the driver put the van in park, walked to the back, opened the hatch, took out a garbage bag and threw the garbage bag over the school fence, with this bag landing smack dab in the middle of the play area.  He then drove away.

I was shocked.  It threw me in such a way that I didn’t know what to do.  As he drove away, the simplest thought came seconds late:  go get the license plate number.  Apparently, the television had made my mind more numb than I realized.

In the next few minutes, a whole wave of thoughts rushed through me.  Surely, this must have been a crazy person, so it was probably just trash.  But what if it wasn’t?  What if he was a mad man?  What if there was something harmful in the bag?  Should I call the police?  Well, I decided on calling our school board representative, and after his assurance that he would come take a look, I tried to get back to normal.  But it was such a unique experience in life that it took me about an hour to stop thinking about this bag.  Sure enough, when I woke up the next morning, the bag was gone, and the world was still moving.  So I moved on as well.

Until this past Wednesday evening, around 7:30pm, I heard music once again from a stopped vehicle.  “Oh no”, I thought, as I jumped out of my seat.  Sure enough, it was the same man and the same van.  And the same man in the same van threw another garbage bag over the school fence. 
Gifted with wisdom and experience from the week before, I ran out of the house onto the porch.  I raised my voice at the driver.  “What are you doing throwing garbage?” “Stop throwing garbage on school property”  I was loud enough that my wife came running down the stairs.  But the man just drove away.  I saw him put his turn signal on and go down Railroad Avenue, and I secretly hoped he wasn’t turning around to come give me a piece of his mind.  Though if he was, I was ready.

Well, I called the school board member, who then called our good mayor, who also happens to be in law enforcement.  I saw our Mayor pull into the school yard a few minutes later.  He proceeded to walk toward the garbage bag, and as I came walking over, he asked “Ken, is this the garbage bag you saw the man throw?”

“Yes”, I replied.

It was several copies of the next day’s edition of the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper.


Have you ever had one of those moments where a flood of different thoughts and feelings came over you at the same time?

I felt very, very small.
I felt a laugh of relief come over me, and that in God’s great sense of humor, I now had a story that I will repeat in sermons the rest of my earthly days.
I felt the grace that came from our kind Mayor as we chuckled.
I felt stupid at all the anxiety and wasted thought and energy:
Why didn’t I just go over last week and see for myself?

In hindsight, the obvious answer, so simple, had eluded me.  I had let it elude me through my reaction.

During Lent and Easter, we are learning about the Path of Discipleship.  Focusing on classic expressions of Christian living, we want to move from being tourists to being tour guide leaders as we invite others to follow Jesus Christ.  The columns on our map are part of an invitation to take some steps in 2015.  Today’s theme is from the Serving column.

Serving is similar to my conclusion from the newspaper incident.  The simplest answer is often our next step as Christians.  Serving one another, and serving the Lord, is so simple.  Why does it elude us?  Why do we let it elude us?

In Isaiah 58, we find three waves of if/then logic.  The first wave is found in verses 1-9.  Isaiah reasons with the nation:  If you are doing these things…you shouldn’t, as he then lists several unhealthy behaviors. If you are doing these things, Isaiah reasons, then you should do this.   And if you do this, then here is what I will do, the prophet promises on behalf of the Lord God.  The second and third waves are a bit simpler, “if you do this, then I will do this”, God covenants through the prophet.

“If you are doing this”
Isaiah, and more importantly, the Lord God, see some problems with the behavior of Israel.  If you are doing these things, you are not in a spot of spiritual health. 
  • If you say you seek God but forsake God’s commands
  • If you tell God you’ve done something, but accuse him that he didn’t see it.
  • If you acknowledge that you are humble, but that God hasn’t noticed.
  • If your fasting is accompanied by quarrelling, strife and fisticuffs
If these things are what you are doing, it is important to ask
“Is this what God wants?”
“Is this too small of a way to live?”

But if you find yourself in this state, you can get out:  If you are doing these things, then here is what you should do instead:
  • You should loosen the chains of injustice
  • You should untie the cords of the heavy yokes people bear
  • You should share your food with the hungry
  • You should provide poor wanderers with shelter
  • You should clothe those who have no clothes
  • You should not turn away from family

In the grace of the Lord, if we live righteously, God has said ‘then this will happen’
  • Your light will break forth like the dawn
  • Your healing will quickly appear
  • Your righteousness will go before you
  • God’s glory will be your rear guard
  • You will call, and God will answer “Here I am”.

Serving God and one another involves doing what is right.  If you’ve found yourself trapped, then do what is right, and do what is right before you, and God’s goodness will be with you.
God’s healing will be as beautiful as the light of dawn.  God’s road will be a walkway of righteousness that you can follow.  God’s glory will be your security and protection.  And instead of 58:4, where the prophet teaches, “You cannot fast as you are and expect your voice to be heard on high”, instead of that, you’ll hear God’s yes.  You will hear God’s answer and his declaration, “Here am I”.

This first wave speaks to us an essential lesson:  Not on your terms.  You cannot serve God and others on your terms.

The second wave invites us to leave the yokes of oppression, to stop with the finger pointing and malicious talk.  Spend on those who need it, and satisfy those who have been oppressed.  If you do these things, then I will do this:
  • Your light will rise above the darkness
  • Your night will become brighter than noon
  • The Lord will always guide you.
  • The Lord will satisfy your needs and strengthen your frame
  • You will be like a well watered garden, a never ending spring
  • You will rebuild the ruins and raise up foundations that have fallen.

What glorious work the Lord does when we say yes to him.  This second wave teaches an important lesson:  We often know what to do.  For example, it isn’t rocket science to stop talking maliciously.  Just stop.  Stop today.  Stop right now.  And don’t go back.

The third wave in the chapter beckons us to stop breaking the Sabbath, to stop doing only as we please on the Sabbath.  If we honor the Lord first, if we keep his day honorable, if we give honor by not going our own way, doing what we want and speaking idle words.  If/then.  Then this is what the Lord says he will do:
Then you will find joy in the Lord.

This chapter closes with authority:  The mouth of the Lord has spoken.  If we have done wrong, but turn and do right, then the Lord has promised to work in delightful, life-giving ways.

The disciples, especially James and John, sons of Thunder, wanted God on their terms:  “Teacher, we want you do for us whatever we ask”. 

Have you ever engaged in a conversation where the first words spoken immediately tell you ‘this isn’t ending well’.  Servants of God would say the opposite of James and John, “Lord we want to do for you whatever you ask”.

Jesus accurately called the disciples on their response.  They had no idea what they were asking.  When we commit to serving God, we are open to hearing God’s voice, God’s call, God’s way.  When we serve one another, that is, care for those who are in our lives, the best and most honorable way we know how, we are open.  But when we commit to our agenda, to self in unhealthy ways, we can’t see.  We can’t see the simple and clear. 

Scripture declares:
If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives  generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.  (James 1:5-6)

The call to serve one another is quite simple.  We can hem and haw, we can struggle and resist, we can plan alternative routes to attempt to find what we want.  We can waste time and energy and thought.  This is what I regretted about the garbage story.  I gave my time away, when in hindsight, I should have just gone over and checked the bag out.  What a waste!

The call is simple:  be like Jesus.   “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus has already done the work of salvation, but not everyone has received the message.  Therefore, serve one another in love, so Jesus may be pleased, and the good news might get out, and that Christ’s message of salvation might take root in people’s lives. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Govern Meant

Govern Meant                                     5/1/15
Mark 3:13-15, Acts 1:12-17, 20-26, Acts 6:1-7
The Path of Discipleship, Sermon 9

Rev. John Ames, main character in Marilynne Robinson’s amazing story Gilead, tells his son:
Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday.  It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain.  You can feel the silent and invisible life.  All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.

Perhaps, this is what God meant when he talks of government:  Perhaps the most important thing we do is what we don’t do:  trample on what is beautiful and good and from above.

Speaking about the Messiah, Isaiah describes:  He shall be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  (9:6-7)

During Lent and Easter, we are looking at a Map of Discipleship, which contains specific steps for us to take in 2015.  We want to move from our Christian faith as a tourist experience, to that of deepening participation.  The name Christian, implies we follow, are a student of, the teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Today’s column that we are considering is Governance.  It might be at first glance, the least inspiring of the columns, because it is filled with words undergoing transition, like “Membership”, “Moderate” and “presbytery”.  But these words are not unvalued.  Membership is declining in groups across the spectrum, but the importance of a public commitment to a group should be given more weight. 

We learn in Acts that when the church needed new leaders, it prayed, and God took care of them.  So we should be cautious to disparage things like membership, and leadership within the congregation.

What does it mean to ‘govern’?  The roots come from the Latin word which meant ‘to steer’.  To govern means to “exercise continuous sovereign authority over” and to “control and direct the making and administration of policy”.  A tertiary definition, “is to control the speed of”.  Sovereign, by the way, is supreme excellence”.  So when we speak of God as Sovereign, we acknowledge that God is supremely excellent.

What does the Scripture say about God’s plan for governing? 
God, in the creation story, makes male and female in his image in order to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air” (1:26).  This command was given before the fall of humankind, so I can only imagine what it was like for humans to rule when their intentions and actions were without sin.  It must have been amazing.  God’s desire for his creation was that men and women would rule the earth:  and this rule would be good.

With countless historical examples in mind, we might read into the text that ruling is a bad thing.  But by definition, it concerns matters of supreme excellence.  To rule the earth was a call from God for God’s glory.  Modern scholarship has attempted to move us away from harsh words like ‘rule’ and ‘lord’.  Attempts are made at renaming ‘the reign of Christ” and “the kingdom of God” with the word “realm”.  Realm, mind you, isn’t a bad word, just we don’t need to apologize for God the Lord, his rule is quite good.  And it will continue despite whatever the next terminology will be.

Abraham is given land and a promise.  Out of him will rise a nation.  They will live in the promised land.

Moses brings Israel out of Egypt and is given a law for the people.  The law will shape society, and provide justice and freedom to the people.

The lowest point in Israel’s history occurs in the Book of Judges, which were really tribal warriors, rather than a courtroom arbitrator.  During this period, it is written the tragic words, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”.  Supreme excellence was not the way of the land:  selfishness, and a lack of accountability, governed individuals, with little regard for anyone more than you.  Today’s world should read the Book of Judges with caution.  Their downfall was that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”.

Israel, later in its history, wants a King.  God had told them he would be their king.  But that wasn’t enough.  So Saul is made king.  Scripture says that God grieved that he had made that decision.

David succeeds Saul, and it is David’s line that will eventually produce the Messiah.

Throughout the generations, Israel endures multiple exiles by Babylon and Persia, and the Empires of Greece and Rome.  They make the best of difficult situations.  But they always do so with one eye on their coming Messiah.

Jesus proclaims that he is Lord.  His audience would have been shocked, for Caesar was the Lord, a son of the gods.  Now Jesus declares that He is the Lord, the Son of God.  This message is what shapes the rest of history.  If we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord, we shall be saved.  And the kingdom we enter is one where the Lord is the Good Lord. 

These ideas and verses from Scripture speak to humanity, and to that which is larger than a single congregation.   How are the passages chosen for today’s service helpful as we think how to govern ourselves?

Presbyterian structure for congregations include the Session (elders) and Deacons.  A Pastor is called a ‘teaching elder’, and the session members are called ‘ruling elders’.  Deacons are charged with looking out, and Elders charged with looking over.  And so the Elders should look broadly at a congregation, and the Deacons look to show specific care to individual within a congregation and community who are in need of a little support. 

There are lessons from both Acts passages for our role in governing a congregation.  In Acts 1, we see the church seeking guidance for how to proclaim the message of Jesus risen and ascended:
1.       The church prays when it needs new leadership, or guidance because of new opportunity.
2.       The church prayers came from men and women gathered together.
3.       Will Willimon writes:  “Everything that happens does so as a necessary fulfillment of Scripture and the purpose of God”. (Acts Interpretation series, pg. 23)
The lesson here is that all of our work should help fulfill, or be a response to what we know of God’s will in Scripture.
4.       Matthias is chosen through a combination of God’s ways—the casting of lots, and human thought.   

In Acts 6, we see the church considering adding gifted individuals to fulfill a ministry.
1.       Because the church is proclaiming its message, the disciples are growing in number.
2.       Change causes conflict.  A dispute arose challenging fairness between who received distribution of food.
3.       Why is it not right for the Apostles to wait on tables?  Is this work that is below a spiritual sent one?  I don’t think so.  But it is work that is different from what Jesus told the Apostles to do.  Mark writes that Jesus chose them to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (3:15). 
4.       The people that the Apostles call to do the ordinary work of food distribution need to have a certain dynamic:  They are to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit.  This confirms that all work of the gospel is important work.  Preaching and driving out demons and waiting on tables can all glorify the Lord.  And there are people out there to do that specific work.  And your work, what you are called to, can be a display of the glory of God.  Paul writes:  Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

As a result of people doing the work they are called to do, and not anything more or less, the word of God spreads.

This is good news:  for God is all powerful, and his rule is good.  Jesus is the Lord, and he is a good Lord.  Our job is to steer people toward the life of the Lord.  And also, not to trample on the grace that comes to us.  Biblically, that is what govern, meant.