Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sermon, "Building Community: The Bold and the Faithful," Acts 4:23-31

Sermon 9/16/18
Acts 4:23-31


Building Community: The Bold and the Faithful


You might be surprised to know that years ago I used to be a regular watcher of daytime soap operas. It was something of a family tradition. My grandmother watched them, and my mother watched them, and I watched them - the same ones that they had watched. We were a CBS family, so that meant The Young and the Restless, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and of course, The Bold and the Beautiful. The Bold and the Beautiful centered around some families who were part of the glamorous fashion industry, and the plotlines suggested the being bold generally meant making sure that you could get your way, what you wanted, no matter the cost. I can still hear the theme song in my mind.
I will admit I had that soap on my mind when I chose our sermon title for this week: The Bold and the Faithful. As we continue our sermon series on Building Community, we’re following the early church, the first followers of Jesus as they figure out how to continue to share his life and message and call after Jesus is no longer physically with them. One of the recurring themes in the Acts of the Apostles is the theme of boldness. You’ll notice on your bulletin worksheet this week one of the action items is checking out exactly how many times you can find the words bold or boldly or boldness in Acts. Hint: It occurs more times in Acts than in any other book of the Bible by more than double. So what exactly does it mean to be bold according to Acts? As you might guess, it doesn’t mean working to get your way, what you want, no matter the cost. The book of Acts talks about boldness as a quality of faithfulness. What does it mean to be bold in faith?
The dictionary defines boldness as “showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous.” The word in the Bible certainly carries some of that meaning - risk-taking, courageousness. It also has the sense of freedom - a freedom of speech and action. Those who are bold speak and act with freedom and courage, despite possible risk or consequence.
Our scripture lesson from Acts today shows us the first chapter where the word bold appears. As chapter 4 begins, Peter and John had been preaching and healing in the temple. While they’re speaking, the priests, the captain of the temple, and some Sadducees come to argue with them. The Sadducees, a sect in Judaism that didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, were annoyed particularly that Peter and John kept preaching about Jesus’s resurrection. So, they have Peter and John arrested, and call them forward to answer questions in front of the rulers, elders, scribes, and chief priests. These leaders ask Peter and John about the source of their power, and Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks about Jesus to them. After Peter finishes talking, the narrator tell us that when the leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus.” They order Peter and John to stop speaking or teaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John refuse. The leaders are worried about punishing the disciples, because the crowd is pleased with the healing they’ve been doing. Stuck, they release them.
It’s then that we get to the beginning of our text for today. Peter and John report to the rest of the Jesus-followers. And in response, they all join together in prayer. We pray all kinds of prayers for all kinds of reasons, and that’s good. We’ve talked about before and I’ll say now again - we can and should pray to God about anything. Praying is conversation with God, and God wants us to share our whole hearts with God. But I’m particularly touched by the prayers of Peter and John and their friends. They pray first with knowledge about what has just happened to Jesus, just a couple of short months before this: When Jesus went up against the religious and political leaders Herod and Pilate, he was arrested and beaten and tried and executed. So Peter and John and the others know very clearly that the risks they are taking by engaging in the same kind of behavior are also high.
What they ask for from God in light of their situation is not safety though, not protection. No, they pray for boldness. They ask that they may speak and act with boldness, that they might share the good news of Jesus with boldness, so that people will experience God’s healing, signs and wonders, and come to know Jesus. Luke tells us that God answers their prayers. The last verse of our reading for today says, “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the word of God with boldness.” That boldness carries them through all sorts of encounters that come their way as they do the work of sharing the message of Jesus.
I wonder - what is your prayer to God in light of how you want to share the good news of Jesus, the good news of God’s grace? What is your hope for this community of faith, and how have you been praying for God to equip you and prepare you in response? When you look at our congregation, when you look at Gouverneur, when you see the people around you and think about how you wish they experienced Jesus at work in their lives, what is your prayer to God, what hopes are you sharing with God on behalf of the hope you have? Are you praying - will you pray with me for God to give us the resources we need to share the message of Jesus that we treasure? Will we ask God to make us bold disciples, speaking and acting and loving and serving freely in the name of Jesus?
Today (at First UMC) we’re celebrating our RipIt Ministry. I still remember the first time I attended a RipIt class. It was hard, and the class ended with Amber (Ormasen) putting her feet on a chair and hands on the floor to do push-ups, which the thought of attempting made me literally laugh out loud, but I found that like those Planet Fitness commercials, it was a “judgment free zone” where people were more interested in building each other up and encouraging each other than in criticising or trying to one-up each other. RipIt started because of a vision Amber had for focusing on health and wellness, yes, but also a bold vision for sharing with the community how much we desired to have the church be a place they could call home, a place they could be welcome. I’m not sure how many people have come into this church building because of RipIt, but it is a lot. And I so appreciate the ways that RipIt folks continually step out boldly to meet challenges head on. Each month, RipIt folks donate their funds either to the church, or to someone or some project in the community that needs support. They host what has become the biggest fundraiser of the year to support the mission and ministries of our church. They’ve added components to connect with teens and with older RipIteers. Devotional pilates encourages people to connect health and faith in deeper ways. Folks in RipIt - long time attendees and newbies alike - are always inviting, inviting, and inviting people to be a part of the program, a part of events in the community, a part of things here at church, a part of each others’ lives.
I think about Judy (Bush) having a vision for a Blessing Box, a way for folks to get some immediate assistance if they find themselves hungry and with no place to turn. She shared her idea with folks here (at North Gouverneur) and Rick Tyler stepped right up to get the box built and installed and now it is already being put to use. I think about the Friday Lunch program, starting as a response to the ice storm. It’s been on my mind this week as I think about those impacted by natural disasters around our globe right now. Who could have envisioned where we’d be twenty years later, how the lunch program would impact our community in such positive ways? I think about the folks who are involved in the Kairos Prison ministry. For many people, the idea of going and visiting folks is a source of some anxiety or fear. But the scriptures call us to care with compassion for those who are in prison, and we can imagine how in need of a message of grace those who are in prison might be. It takes bold faithfulness to sign up, but I know the participants are ready to be bold because they so desire to share the love of Jesus with those they will meet in prison. What is your hope, your vision, your dream for sharing the message of Christ with our community?
Our bold acts of faith don’t all have to look the same. I don’t think of myself as much of a risk-taker. I’m not a thrill-seeker. There’s no way you could talk me into getting onto a roller coaster, for example. But I’ve been surprised sometimes to hear when others have interpreted some of my actions as risk-taking. I’ve driven cross-country a few times by myself, and loved my time traveling, and then been surprised to have people tell me that they thought it was risky, that they could never do that. Or I think about my mom. She probably doesn’t think of herself as particularly bold. And she’s definitely got a gentle, kind spirit. But if someone hurts someone my mom loves, or if my mom sees someone who is an underdog, who is getting mistreated - watch out. My mom will speak and act boldly on someone else’s behalf, no problem. Boldness, thankfully for us introverts, doesn’t have to mean extrovertedness. Being bold for God doesn’t mean you have to alter your personality in order to be faithful. If you’re shy or quiet and introspective, having a bold faith doesn’t mean you need to become the center of attention. And that’s because the source of our boldness isn’t us. Rather, bold faith comes when we open ourselves to God working through us. The source of boldness is the Holy Spirit. God’s breath filling us up. Knowing that God is with us always, that we have the very spirit of God dwelling within us, knowing that God will never leave us on our own - trusting in that frees us to be bold for God.
Peter and John and the others - they so wanted the world to know the Jesus they knew. They wanted so much for others’ to have their lives changed by knowing Jesus as they themselves had been changed. They would give anything for others to know Jesus like they did, to build a community of disciples of Jesus. What would you do? What will you pray? How much would it mean for you for the people in your life, the people in your home, the people in your community to experience the transforming, life-changing love of God we’ve experienced in Jesus?

May we who are gathered in this place pray for boldness in doing the work of God. May we feel this place shake with the power of the Holy Spirit! May our lives be transformed by the presence of God who helps us to speak, to act, to serve, and to love in bold ways that change lives, open hearts, and make disciples of Jesus. May we be the Bold and the Faithful. Amen.  

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