God is with us, that God will always be with us, that God will empower us, God will strengthen us, God will transform us to become the people this world needs us to be…people of hope, people of grace, people of justice.
June 19, 2022
“We Are The Church . . . Let’s Act Like It”
Act With Courage
Acts 21: 1-14
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Acts 21: 1-14
When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus, and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey, and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea, and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the gentiles.’ ” When we hear this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”
Act With Courage Acts 21: 1-14
In our text for this morning, we hear a little bit more about Paul’s journey. As we have shared before, this has not been an easy journey. Not only because Paul didn’t have Google giving him directions but also because of what Paul has encountered along this journey. Along Paul’s journey, he has been run out of town. He has been jailed. He has been questioned. He has been doubted. He has been disrespected. But he has kept going along his journey, sharing the Good News.
As we talked about last week, that takes perseverance, but it also takes courage because at any point along this journey, Paul could have given up. Paul could have walked away. Paul could have said it was too hard and ignored his call.
Even after receiving the news about what awaits him in Jerusalem, Paul still decides to continue the journey. When the other disciples warn Paul, when they caution him to go to another town, Paul simply says, ““What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
As I have reflected on these words from Paul, I kept coming back to the why behind his statement. I have come to realize that Paul shared these words with the other disciples not because Paul is glutton for punishment. Paul shares these words; Paul keeps going along this journey to share God’s Word because Paul ultimately knows how the story turns out. Paul knows that no matter what, this world will not have the last word.
You see, Paul is not the same person he was at the beginning of his journey. When we first met Paul, he had a different name. He had a different purpose. He had a different understanding of who God was, who Jesus was. Then things changed. Paul was changed. That person Paul was, has been changed by the power of the Gospel.
In that transformation, Paul’s eyes were opened, his heart was opened, his mind was open to what God was doing in the world to bring about healing and wholeness for all of God’s people. And in that transformation, Paul also realizes just how dangerous this message really is. Paul realizes that this message will not go unchecked by the powers that be. After all, look what they did to Jesus when he started talking about grace and love, when he started talking about the Kingdom of God coming to fruition here on Earth.
Not only that….look at how we are introduced to Paul, then Saul. We are told in Acts 7… as the crowd is stoning Stephen… “witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” This is quickly followed up in Chapter 8 with: That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”
Paul out of all the apostles knows just how dangerous the Gospel message really is. Paul knows that the powers that be will do anything to try and stop it because once he was the powers that be that tried to stop it. Now please don’t hear me say that I am advocating that we all be martyred for our faith. What I am asking is why as people of faith do we expect the powers that be to treat us any differently than how they treated or received Jesus’ message when we speak up, when we speak out for justice, for the forgotten, for the dismantling of the oppressive systems in our world.
Not once in our sacred story are we told that being a person of God would be easy, that it would be comfortable, that we would never experience any difficulties along the way. What we are told is that God is with us, that God will always be with us, that God will empower us, God will strengthen us, God will transform us to become the people this world needs us to be…people of hope, people of grace, people of justice.
Or in the words of one of my favorite spiritual guides, Brene Brown: “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
Over time, this definition has changed, and today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.”
I would add in faith terms, as people of faith when we speak honestly and openly about who we are and whose we are regardless of how wrong this world tells us we are is also the definition of courage.
As I have reflected on Paul’s response to the other disciples when they told him what awaited him in Jerusalem, I realize that Paul’s words hold me accountable in my own faith, forcing me to reflect on the many, many times I choose comfort over conviction, to wonder how things might have been different if I only had the courage in that particular moment to speak up, to speak out. As I have reflected on Paul’s response to the other disciples when they told him what awaited in Jerusalem, I realize that too many times, I have tamed the Gospel message to fit my wants rather than inviting it to open my heart, open my mind, open my eyes to where God is at work in our world.
I’m not going to stand up here and pretend that I have all the answers nor am I going to pretend that I get it right when it comes to discipleship every single time. What I am going to do is share that unfortunately, like Paul, we as people of faith know what awaits us on our journey to share the Good News, to bring about healing and wholeness to all of God’s people. What awaits are people who have turned away from the grace of the Good News because the world has offered them a more easy way out. What awaits us is a culture that does not hold the church or organized religion in high regard…again most of that is our own doing. As people of faith, we know what awaits us on our journey to share the Good News. What awaits us is a reality which is constantly changing, a reality which is asking us, challenging us to name why we as the Body of Christ are even relevant any more in this day and time.
To all that awaits us which is expecting us to fail, to all that are hoping we will get too discouraged to continue on this journey to share the Good News, simply this reply…We shall overcome because we know how this story ends. Love and light will always have the last word. May it be so.
See Theology Tuesday for Sunday, June 19, 2022 – Act Eith Courage Acts 21: 1-14.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.