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Requirements/Responsibilities of Christians

02 May

I shared with a friend that these past couple of weeks have been one of interesting comments and conversations with people. Hopefully, all of these have been fruitful to some extent.

I often preach on the gospel text, but I think it is more valuable to understand the early “Christian Church” in light of our Acts of the Apostles (“Acts”) text and how that translates into our time and place.

I have said that this Easter season is a time of learning how to live in the world post-Resurrection (of Christ) and for us the post-Ascension (of Christ).
How do we carry on the ministry and mission of Christ without Christ at our side? 

I have been sharing that the core 12 disciples are hidden away in dark rooms, not proclaiming the Word of God as Christ had instructed. Honestly, the core 12 were still relatively hidden away in Jerusalem during this passage.

While the core 12 were essentially hidden, the deacons (servants) emerged and remain an option for serving the church today. Pastors are ordained into the ministry of Word (preaching) and Sacrament (baptism and Holy Communion), while deacons are consecrated into the ministry of Word (preaching) and Service (to the community).

Philip was a deacon fulfilling his vocation (calling) and responsibilities by traveling where the Spirit was leading in order to proclaim the Word and in Service to the people. While serving, Philip encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch who is significantly different from him. An eunuch is a person who has gone through a process of castration/sterilization often in the biblical era as a requirement for their employment, which this Ethiopian Eunuch would have been so required as the head of the treasury of the Queen.

This passage is POWERFUL because at its time there was a debate about ‘how Jewish must a follower of Christ become in order to follow Christ’. Christianity was NOT a religion or denomination at the time, but rather a radical sect in Judaism known as ‘The Way’. The Way was getting glances from more traditional Jewish sects/communities because of the radical teachings of Jesus the Nazarene.

Why is this important?
This debate continues throughout the whole of the Acts of the Apostles (“Acts”) AND according to Jewish law an eunuch (castrated/sterile persons) would not have been permitted to worship in the temple; therefore he was disqualified from worshipping this God who he had traveled to Jerusalem to worship, who he was seeking through reading the scriptures, and who he desired to know and understand.

SO, when this eunuch reaches water and asks Philip the question ‘what would prevent me from being baptized?’ The answer for the Jewish community, in accordance with the Hebrew Bible and its law, would have been ‘you are an eunuch’.

BUT… the whole of the Christian story is that those boundaries have been destroyed.
{For more further insight see “Boundaries Destroyed by Divine Love” 2015}.

Thankfully, Philip cannot find a reason to not baptize this foreign eunuch and ushers in a new ‘Way’ of being in God’s world.

This in an incredibly powerful story AND it still has implications for us today.

There remains a question about WHO can be a Christian?
Hint: Everyone (again see, “Boundaries Destroyed by Divine Love” 2015).

What is the requirements for being a Christian?
Hint: Follow Christ and His teachings

And then my question: What is our responsibilities as Christians?
Hint:
“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to DO JUSTICE, and LOVE KINDNESS, and to WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.” (Micah 6:8)

During one of those conversations this week, I was speaking with another ordained clergyperson (not Lutheran) who said they think the problem with our world and declining church attendance/members is that young people (code for millennials, which I am a millennial) is that we do not FEAR hell.

Admittedly, I took issue with the statement because fear can be a powerful motivator, BUT it is not a healthy motivator. (I prefer love, grace, and inspiration personally).

This clergyperson quoted that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom”
(Psalms 111:10a and Proverbs 9:10a).

I am not denying that the scripture exists, BUT here is the importance of understanding the scriptures in their context and traditional languages (Psalms/Proverbs were Hebrew). The term often translated “fear”, especially as the “fear of the LORD”, is not an accurate translation. Instead of fear meaning ‘to be scared” it is more accurately to be in ‘awe’, ‘reverence’, or ‘great respect’. THAT is a completely different thing.

 

 

In our 1 John 4 scripture, the word FEAR does mean “to be scared”, but notice the passage. I spoke about this passage briefly last Sunday (Becoming a Good Shepherd), because John is further building upon the foundation that we are called to love another. We are so called because (1) God first loved us and (2) we show that love to and through our neighbors. John teaches that we cannot love our neighbors without God (and God’s help) AND we cannot love God if we are unable to love (and serve) the persons standing next to us.

Our 1 John 4 scripture reads:
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us… There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4 12, 18-19)

In my opinion, this is one of the most powerful passages in the whole of scripture because it speaks to the power of LOVE, which we will hear more about next Sunday.

BUT, the scriptures imply that FEAR means a lack of LOVE.

 

We, humans, are great at establishing boundaries.
We, humans, are great at dividing ourselves.
We, humans, are great at being fearful of those that are ‘different’ from us.
We, humans, are great at protecting our ‘comfort zones’…
but that is NOT the vocation and future we are called into.

Difference does NOT necessarily equal division. 

We, humans, are called to ACCEPT and LOVE difference.
We, humans, are called to BREAKDOWN BOUNDARIES we let divide us.

It is not easy, but quite challenging.
It is a process, perhaps not completed until the moment of our deaths.
It is the realization of PERFECT LOVE.
It, again, is not easy.

Unfortunately, we (humans) take scripture out of context and historical context to manipulate it for our own means and to justify the worse of our actions. For example, using the Psalms and Proverbs to motivate one by fear instead of love, grace, and inspiration.

C.S. Lewis wrote:
“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, that is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. We must not use the Bible as a sort of encyclopedia out of which texts can be taken for use as weapons”.

As I said, we too often use scripture out of context to justify our fear and hate, to justify our divisions and prejudices, and to justify the order and comfort zones we have created for ourselves.

This week, I want us to ponder a common phrase of my internship supervisor, who often found himself in tension with other people due to his teaching and preaching. He frequently said:
“Keep in mind that Jesus was often in trouble but it was ALWAYS for being ‘too’ inclusive and NEVER for being exclusive”. 

Let us ponder that in light of  “perfect LOVE casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). Amen.

Note(s):
I apologize if this sermon seems less structured or aligned with the title.
I do not preach with a manuscript and was being lead in a slightly different direction in that moment.

Therefore, this manuscript has been more heavily edited for clarification purposes. 

 

Scriptures were Acts 8: 26-40; 1 John 4: 7-21; and John 15: 1-8.
Originally preached at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN).
 
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Posted by on May 2, 2018 in Sermons

 

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