April 17, 2016
I wonder how many of you have ever been to a Billy Graham crusade. I went to my one and only one in 1996 when he came to Charlotte. I was in Newton at the time. Months ahead of the crusade we had received letters and emails inviting us to bring a group to the event…
At FPC we decided to take our youth group on youth night and it was quite a night in the Panther’s stadium… It was a rainy night and seating was first come, first serve.
When we arrived you could tell this was a big, big event… crowds like those going to a Panthers game gathered… There was energy and excitement… we couldn’t wait to see Billy Graham… There was the singing before he came… and it was inspirational… then Billy Graham spoke… he reminded me of a loving grandfather… an elder statesman of religion… and I don’t remember what he said exactly, but it was a message of love… and it included the basic message he had given in every crusade that God loves you, Jesus died for your sins, you are forgiven and won’t you give your life to Jesus.
Then there was the invitation… Just as I am.
And people came down the aisles to give their lives to Christ. Regardless of where you fall on the theological spectrum, you have to be impressed anytime someone responds with their heart and is led by God’s grace to make a commitment… to turn their lives around… to seek to follow Jesus as Lord and savior.
The passage today brought that experience to mind because I bet Paul and Silas would have loved that kind of reception when they went on their missionary tours.
But as you noticed, for example in Thessalonica they seldom received that kind of reception… Instead, Paul spends three days arguing in the synagogue with mixed results… Some respond, some do not.
Some become angry and with the help of ruffians, form mobs and the riots begin. Imagine that being covered on the evening news … arguments leading to riots.
The authorities start a house to house search and when the come to Jason’s house—Jason being thought to have harbored these Paul and Silas — they arrest Jason… and when he and some believers are hauled before the authorities, did you hear what their accusers said?
“These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…”
Troublemakers come to town. Everyone is upset… the Jews, the city officials— letters to the editor, editorials in the paper… people saying all because of Paul and Silas coming to town on their missionary trip.
I am always humbled by their mission trip stories… remembering that line I heard long ago, “Wherever Paul went there was a riot, wherever I go they serve tea”
So what was it that caused those city riots? What was the message that stirred people up so much they wanted to hunt down the believers of Christ?
Well, here it is that turned the world upside down: Paul believed God was doing a new thing in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And it was more than personal conversion… and it was more than a way to get to heaven. Paul believed that God was in Christ… acting through Christ… to bring the kingdom of God… heaven to earth.
People like Paul had been saying, that there is another king named Jesus. Guess what?! The powers that be don’t like the competition! He was saying, it is Jesus, not Caesar… not the President…not Hillary… not Ted… not Bernie… not Donald… to whom they give their first allegiance…. Christ before country…Christ before your political party… Christ before even own special or personal interests …
Christ came first for them… because they God was going to do a new thing in Christ for the sake of the world. Christ was the hope for the world worthy of their allegiance… and this, they believed. was good news for the world… except for those in power… those who had something to gain by keeping the status quo.
They were upset… angry… that these Christians were turning the world upside down.
But Paul and the others kept on preaching because they believed that God was doing a new thing in Christ… God was going to change the world through Christ and those who follow Christ…He was going to bring to the world his own brand of peace, love, joy and justice…
Back in the 1970s there was a popular singer known as Mama Cass and when I was reading this passage one of her songs came to my mind from over 40 years ago…we sang it in youth group a thousand years ago in the 70s… and I am thinking Paul would have liked the song. Do you remember it?
“There’s a new world coming
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a new world coming
This one’s coming to an end
There’s a new voice calling
You can hear it if you try
And it’s growing stronger
With each day that passes by
There’s a brand new morning
Rising clear and sweet and free
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me
Yes a new world’s coming
The one we’ve had visions of
Coming in peace, coming in joy
Coming in love…
Paul and the Christians had that kind of vision for the world… they had a vision that God’s new world would come in peace, joy and love and justice… and the voice that was calling… that you could hear if you try… was none other than the voice of the crucified and risen Messiah—Jesus Christ. This Christ was not only going to save us from our sins, but the world from itself.
Every now and then we get a glimpse of that kingdom, don’t we?
Sometimes through very special people like the Mother Theresa who in their work proclaimed that in God’s kingdom the hungry are fed… who at great personal sacrifice lived among the poorest of the poor…
Sometimes through the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who returns to Germany in the time of Hitler to proclaim that there is another King—and it is not Hitler… It got him killed.
I think of Martin Luther King Jr… and his “I have a dream speech”… dreaming of justice not only for one race but all races… It got him killed.
I think of my friend Roland Perdue… who was preaching in the 60s about integration and elders coming to him and saying that he had to stop preaching like that or they wouldn’t pay him… and he told them, You can’t do that because I preach for nothing… You pay me for all of the other stuff… But by God, I preach for nothing. I’m sure that went over well in the church!
This week we have been watching the Ken Burns documentary on Jackie Robinson… and saw how the kingdom broke through through people like Branch Rickey, whose Christian faith created a hunger to do something about segregation… to change the world… He as good Methodist was haunted by memories of something that happened decades earlier… He had been coaching at Ohio Wesleyan, and they were playing Notre Dame… He recalled during that trip, that the teams only black player, Charles Thomas, was denied a room in the hotel. Rickey asked if Thomas could sleep on a cot in his room… and the clerk agreed.
Later that evening, he saw Thomas sobbing and rubbing his hands, saying: “Black skin. Black skin. If only I could make them white.” Rickey said the scene haunted him. I vowed that I would always do whatever I could to see that other Americans did not have to face the bitter humiliation that was heaped upon Charles Thomas…”
Years later that opportunity came and he brought Robinson to the Dodgers…
Rickey challenged Robinson to reach deep into his Christian faith…telling him he would have to basically live as Christ asks us to live… to turn the other cheek… not fight… not retaliate… That would be the way for the new world to come… the kingdom…
It would not be easy for him… being the first black player in the major leagues… he was ostracized… criticized… people protested… it was divisive… One player, Dixie Walker circulated a petition protesting Robinson’s presence in the field and the club house…
One person refused to sign. Presbyterian, Pee Wee Reese…. Another Christian proclaiming the new world coming in Christ… Everywhere Dodgers went, fans and opposing teams booed and shouted insults at Robinson…
The story is told how early in the season, the Dodgers were playing an away game… likely in Cincinnati… Players started heckling Reese for being a southerner and playing beside a black man… they were shouting obscenities at Robinson… Reese didn’t answer or even look at them.
Instead, he walked over to Robinson and put his arm around his shoulder and began to talk to him. Robinson later said that it was the gesture that changed everything… There is a statue of that moment in Brooklyn’s minor-league MCU Park.
Rickey, Robinson, Reese— driven by their Christian faith, they changed America… by living out the ut the revolutionary and world changing words of Jesus…
And what about us? I see that kingdom break through all the time around here… You can see it if you try… whenever and wherever you are working for peace, love, justice and to bring joy… there you will see it. Sometimes it looks like someone speaking to a stranger who is looking for a friend… It looks like actually doing what Jesus asked us to do: forgiving others… even enemies… feeding the hungry, caring for the sick…
Sometimes it looks like KOALA, tutoring the neighborhood kids… working with children during the week… or it looks working with people from our neighborhood in a variety of ministries… or down at the Helen Wright center… or in Guatemala…
Sometimes it looks like working in a Garden and speaking to people from the neighborhood… sometimes looks like taking a meal to someone just out of the hospital… or bringing a meal to the church for a funeral…
Can you see what I’m talking about? The kingdom of God is breaking through all around us… you can see it if you try!
Our calling, as Christians and the church, is to keep proclaiming that kingdom among us here and now… today… That’s why God put us here! Our job is to be the hands and feet and mouths of the one who has called us here to be his body on earth… Our business is to work for Christ as surely as so many of you work for presidents of banks, managers of stores, principals of high schools…. Our business is to commit ourselves to the work of the Christ with as much passion as some would work on a political campaign… because following Jesus is not simply personal… it is political in the sense that when the kingdom comes it changes the world.
Our call to listen to Christ, to follow Christ and to turn this broken and busted world upside down for the sake of Jesus Christ who wants only what is best for this world. He loves the world that much.
That is the work of every Christian, but today, let me say that that is especially the work of those God has called to lead the church… whether it be a pastor (a teaching elder)… or a ruling elder… such as we have here today.
So today, as we install and ordain officers, I close with a simple charge… that I recommend for every Christian here… but as leaders I offer it especially as a charge to them: You are called to lead the Kirk in proclaiming the new world order brought to us by God in Jesus Christ… The decisions you make should not be only what is best for the Kirk… but what is the decision that honors Christ…
The church is the body of Christ in the world… the reason we are here is to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom of peace, hope, love and joy… And if we are to do that faithfully, I have a simple charge:
Listen to the voice of Christ above all other voices (even the voices of your fellow members) … this is harder than you think… because there are many other voices trying to drown Christ out… so listen hard… listen to Christ who is always teaching us the ways that are faithful to God’s vision for the world (and not our own personal preferences)
Follow faithfully… follow faithfully as best you can… especially when the going gets tough… remember how Paul and Silas remained faithful against great opposition. Faithfulness is not to be underrated!
Finally, trust… trust that in the midst of whatever challenges we face, God is with us… to support us, to challenge us and to correct us. It’s not all up to us… and that is the good news… the Holy Spirit will guide us.. help us… comfort us… encourage us… Trust the Spirit.
So this is what I want you to do: Listen to the voice of Christ, Follow faithfully and Trust in the Holy Spirit. And you too may see the new world of Christ coming among us. Amen.