Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity”

 

Wesleyan Roots: “Scriptural Christianity” #4

A Message on Acts 4:23-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Nov. 11, 2018

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Acts 4:23-31 (NRSV)

 

After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, 25 it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:

 

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,

   and the peoples imagine vain things?

26 The kings of the earth took their stand,

   and the rulers have gathered together

       against the Lord and against his Messiah.’

 

27 For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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.

 

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Today I want to start off by telling you about a young man who grew up in California as the oldest of three sons. He loved his family and he loved football. He was good at football, real good, and he led his high school to a championship. He started looking at colleges and secured the last remaining scholarship to Arizona State University in 1994.

 

This young man excelled as an outside linebacker and during his junior year helped the team go undefeated. He was good in the classroom as well, completing a degree in marketing in three-and-a-half years with a 3.85 GPA.

 

After graduation the young man was drafted in the 1998 NFL and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals. In the NFL he moved over to the position of safety and was very successful. He even turned down a 5-year, $9 million offer from the St. Louis Rams simply out of devotion to the Cardinals.

 

In May of 2002, eight months after the 9-11 attacks, this young man turned down a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals and instead enlisted in the U.S. Army, trading the cleats of a football player for the boots of a soldier. His younger brother gave up a professional baseball contract and enlisted with him.

 

The young man saw combat in the first invasion of Iraq. After that he entered Ranger school and graduated as an Army Ranger in November 2003.

 

He was deployed to Afghanistan and, on April 22, 2004, was killed. Initially it was reported that he was killed by enemy combatants but later it became known that he had been killed by “friendly fire,” gunfire from our own forces.

 

The young man’s name, if you haven’t guessed it by now, was Pat Tillman. It was a sad situation. Tillman is considered a hero and was awarded many military medals after his death for his service. He made many sacrifices to serve his country.

 

I bring that up today because today is Nov. 11, what is known as the traditional Veterans Day. It was first known as Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. It’s easy to remember because the armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, exactly 100 years ago today. (The year was not 1911, but 1918.)

 

In 1947, after World War II, it became Veterans Day, a national holiday to honor all those who have served in the military. It’s common to confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day but the two are different. Memorial day honors the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in military service. Veterans Day honors all of those who have served in the armed forces.

 

Now I have a lot of preacher friends that believe Veterans Day to be a secular holiday and that it shouldn’t be recognized in a worship service. Obviously, I don’t believe that. And the reason I don’t is that I believe there are some strong parallels between the willingness as a soldier to put oneself in harm’s way for others and the call we have as Christians to sacrifice our lives for others.

 

In the scripture we read from the book of Acts we find Peter and John rejoining the disciples after being in prison. The Jewish religious leaders had become exceedingly upset with Peter and John for saying that the people they were healing were being done in the name of Jesus Christ and that Jesus offered resurrection to those who believed.

 

The religious leaders were frustrated, but the disciples had developed such a large following, about 5,000 people!, that the leaders were kind of intimidated. Plus, they didn’t really have any charges that they could bring against them. After all, it wasn’t illegal to heal people.

 

So after Peter and John had been held in jail overnight, the religious leaders called them in and chided them, telling them to cut it out and don’t be talking about this Jesus business anymore. Now you would think that Peter and John would say, “Okay,” and then go out and be a little bit quieter about Jesus.

 

But no. With incredible boldness they told the religious leaders that they couldn’t do that, and even got a little snarky with them. “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

So the religious leaders release them, reluctantly, and Peter and John rejoin the disciples. That’s where we pick up the scripture that we read today.

 

The disciples went boldly before the religious authorities, people who had political power over them, and they didn’t cow-down before them.

 

In a way they were like soldiers, but soldiers of love instead of soldiers of war. Their Commander in Chief was Jesus Christ and their orders were given in the Great Commission: go and make disciples.

 

In his sermon “Scriptural Christianity,” John Wesley talked about how during its early years the Christian movement took off and spread, even though those early Christians were persecuted and many gave their lives.

 

“They ‘approved themselves the servants of God, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours; in perils in the sea, in perils in the wilderness, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness’ (2 Cor. 6:4ff.). And when, having fought the good fight, they were led as sheep to the slaughter, and offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith, then the blood of each found a voice, and the heathen owned, ‘He being dead, yet speaketh.’”

 

Listen to how many military terms Wesley uses in that last sentence: “fought the good fight,” “sheep to the slaughter,” “sacrifice,” “service,” and “blood.” Even though Wesley was not a military man, he uses those terms to describe the early Christians.

 

In reading his sermon in terms of today’s world, I think it’s good for us to reflect on how we, as Christians, are willing to live out the great commission. Are we fighting the good fight, are we willing to give our give our lives as “sheep to the slaughter” if necessary so that others may come to know Jesus as their savior? What kind of sacrifice are we making? What acts of service are we willing to do? And, heaven forbid, are we willing to shed our blood if necessary so that others may come to understanding the power of the blood in Jesus?

 

And are we willing to pray what Peter and John prayed in the scripture we read today from Acts? “And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

 

To often we are passive Christians, which should be an oxymoron, or a phrase that contradicts itself. We are afraid to speak boldly about Jesus Christ because it isn’t politically correct. Someone might get upset with us. We might hurt someone feelings.  So we sit, quietly, the “frozen chosen,” while so many in the world around us live their lives without a savior. “Someone else will do it,” we say. “I’m not good at talking to people.” “I don’t know what to say.” “It makes me uncomfortable.”

 

Any veteran of the armed forces will tell you that being a soldier means doing what is uncomfortable, doing what is necessary for the success of the mission. As Christians, we are called by Jesus Christ to do things that are uncomfortable, to do what is necessary–in love, of course–for the success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to go and make disciples.

 

So my challenge for you today, in recognition of Veterans Day, is to be a soldier for Christ. Be willing to follow Jesus, our Commander in Chief, whose orders are to go and make disciples. Be willing to make sacrifices in service to others, speaking boldly like the disciples and facing challenges without fear.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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