What We’re Up Against – October 18, 2020
Psalm 91, Acts 4:23-35
October 18, 2020
We’re going a little farther in Acts today. Acts is the story of the earliest days of the Church. And I think in some ways, what was happening in those days is much like what we are facing today in our Covid crisis. What I mean by that is that this all new to us. And it was all new to them. In a lot of this, we’re learning as we go. And they were, too.
At this point, Pentecost had happened, in Chapter 2 of Acts. Then, in Chapter 3, Peter and John had healed the lame man at the Temple gate. And after that, in the beginning of Chapter 4, they were arrested, tried, threatened, and released. And now today, they had gotten back together with the other believers, and they did two things.
First, they took an assessment of what they were up against. They acknowledged the oppression and harassment they had gotten from the religious leadership. And I’m sure they wondered where that would go. And second, they prayed for strength to speak up and tell the world the good news that the Messiah had come, and he had come for all the world! And their prayer is a large part of what we read today.
Now, this is not a part of the story that we talk about all that much. But it stood out from the page as I read it this week. (Actually, it stood out from the computer screen!) I think maybe we should give it some consideration. It seems to me that maybe we need to do those same two things. We should take assessment of what we’re up against in our world, and then we need to pray for the strength we need, as we face the world, and as we strive to be God’s messengers here in this place, in these times.
Think about it. What are we “up against” in our world? Well for one thing, we’re up against a microscopic enemy that has changed our world more than anything in many of our lifetimes. Of course, many things have changed our world – like computers and internet and social media. And we can argue the positive and negative of those things. But the socially distanced world of the coronavirus has changed how we do everything – including Church. And as I’ve said, I’m happy for the technology that has allowed us to stay connected. And I was reluctant at first! Preaching to a cell phone felt weird! But, after I gave it a chance, I embraced it fully! And it seems to me that we’ve got to continue to reach out to the world in new ways. And many of those will continue to be electronic ways!
I was thinking that maybe this current crisis has given us time to think about some of the other things we’re up against as the Church. For one thing, we’re up against the new world of the 21st century. Many of us have lived most of our lives in the 20th century. I have! When I write checks – which, in this century, I don’t do very much anymore – but when I do, too often I start out writing the year as “19…”
But that’s changing. Every year, there are more and more of us have lived most of their lives in the 21st century. And the 21st century has been different in so many ways. And the 21t century has not been too kind to the traditional church. We are now in the post-modern age, which I’ve talked about a lot. And I remember a talk I heard in the late 90’s about the new century that was coming, and how it was going to affect the traditional church.
“It will be,” the speaker said, “an age of great spiritual awareness.” And he was right. But, as he said then, it will be non-traditional spirituality that will increase. People will come to understand more and more that they are spiritual beings. And they will embrace that, but not in traditional ways. And he was right! That is the case today. Many other forms of spirituality are rising all around us. And the traditional church has really not known how to respond to that. [Too often we have relied on tried and true formulas of faith that negate other people’s spiritual journey. And once you negate someone’s experience, you no longer have the chance to win their hearts!]
We’ve got to show that world that we still have a significant message, that God himself has come to earth. And if you think about it, that’s the same message these early disciples had to give. God had entered their world, and the world would never be the same?
We’re also up against the changing values of this world, values that are no longer based on the Judeo-Christian values and teaching that dominated much of our thinking most of our lives. We have to show the world that there is great value in the ways God has traditionally taught his people to be. We have to show the world our faith in a God who wants us to have joy and happiness in this life, and that that’s the basis of the guidelines for living he has given us. They are guidelines we need in order to have that joy and happiness.
One more thing we’re up against. And frankly, and this is frustrating and sad to me! We’re up against those who have a negative view of the church and all that it stands for. And that negative view comes either from their own past experience, or from a tainted view of what they think the church teaches. We’ve got to show them a better view! And that’s up to all of us!
And we have to be very, very careful here. Because sometimes a person’s negative view of the church comes from their observations of church people’s lives. And sometimes we church people have fallen back on statements like “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” – as though that excuses behavior and attitudes that are a bad witness to the world around us.
This is hard to say, folks! But we have to know that, at any time, we might be the only Jesus someone else ever sees! And if that doesn’t convict you, if that doesn’t increase in you the dedication to “live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” then you’re not hearing this clearly enough!
I think this is one of the ways the church has failed to answer the serious questioning of the post-modern, spiritual age. Too many people, in their spiritual searching, have looked at Christians and said, “If they don’t care, why should we care.” That’s the image in some people’s minds that we’re up against.
And please understand, I’m not talking about us here. I’m talking in general terms here. I’m talking about images people have of Christians. Unfortunately, people get the worst impressions from the worst people. And then they paint the broad picture with the narrow brush of their worst impressions! We need to counteract those negative images by giving them positive images of the church.
Does this all sound like a tall order? It should! Because it is! We need to be the people God calls us to be! And that isn’t easy. And we need his strength to do that! And that’s the second thing the disciples did in our story. They prayed for strength to be God’s people in what would become very trying times. And they didn’t know what was ahead of them! We do, because we can look back on history. I often say that we know more than the people in the stories knew. We know what was happening, we know who Jesus was, we know what it all meant. Well we also know what was ahead for these people. They did not. And some of it would not be pretty!
In some ways, we’re like them in that we don’t know what’s ahead of us, either. But we can move forward with God’s strength! We can move forward with his spirit in our hearts. And we can take courage, and we can live in joy! And we can move forward keeping in mind the old saying, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the one who holds the future.”
So, I ask you to join me in prayers for the Church, as they did. As I’ve said here today, this new age is not an easy age for the church. We need to be aware of what we’re up against. We need God’s strength. We need to feel his spirit guiding us, inspiring us, indwelling us. We need to feel the joy we have, being part of his kingdom. We need to know the peace he gives. And that alone is one of the greatest things we can show to this world, a world that is searching desperately for peace. If you don’t believe me, just watch your TVs for the number of commercials out there for sleep aids, antacids, and anti-depressants.
So, the disciples prayed for strength, “and when they finished their prayer, the place in which they were gathered was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
God is with us, too! We are his people! We have that same spirit within us!
Eternal God, help us to be the people you call us to be. Grant us your strength to live for you in these challenging days. Help us to know your peace in our lives no matter what the circumstances. Help us to live in your light, that the world may see your light in us. For we pray in the name of Jesus, the light of the world, Amen.