Wordle: FCC Ministry Summit

This summer Pastor Nancy is offering sermons on topics chosen by the congregation in an “Everything You Always Wanted to Hear in a Sermon about but Were Afraid to Ask” series. Questions cover all types of issues: biblical texts, theological issues, Christian practices, and more.

On Sunday, June 6, we began exploring our first question, “What is the destiny of humanity?”

We watched the creation and destruction of a Buddhist mandala:

We considered the story of the call of Moses in Exodus 2:23-3:15. At the burning bush Moses encounters the God of compassion, a God who reaches out to be in relationship with humankind. And yet at the same time, Moses experiences God as holy other, powerful, awe-inspiring. The story is at its core the mystery of the God who is unknowable and yet seeks us out.

What is the destiny of humankind? To walk in the way of the God who saves and the God who calls.

Rather than offer stock answers to questions of faith, the hope is that this sermon series will facilitate more conversations among our folk.

Listen to the audio of the sermon here.

sabbath sermon pic
Using Wordle, here’s a visual picture of my sermon notes on Matthew 11:25-30; Psalm 23; and Isaiah 30:15, 18.

Welcome!

This summer we’re taking a close look at the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Rather than be understood as a single sermon delivered by Jesus, it is helpful to think of the Sermon on the Mount as a distillation of Jesus’ teachings, pulled together by the writer of Matthew’s gospel for a late first century (80-100 CE) Christian community. Here, in 3 short chapters, we find what a group of first century Christians felt was the core of Jesus’ teachings.

In Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount comes near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has called four disciples and has been making his way through Galilee. Along the way he has taught in the synagogues, healed the sick, and proclaimed the good news of the God’s kingdom.

Now, Jesus heads up the mountain; his disciples in tow. He sits down and begins to teach them.

For the next couple of weeks we’ll look at the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. This link has two versions of the passage; one from the English Standard Version and the second from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Take some time this week and read through them. Perhaps even read them out loud to yourself. Compare multiple versions with each other.

What stands out in the text for you?
Are these words comforting? disturbing?
What questions come to your mind as you read the passage?

Read the text here: Acts 25:23—26:33.

Before Paul makes the move to Rome, he first is brought before King Agrippa (Herod Agrippa II, the last Judean king before the end of Jewish rule in 70 CE). Agrippa expresses curiosity about Paul, and thus Paul is given the chance to make one climatic speech defining his ministry in front of the Roman authorities. Paul the prisoner; Paul the itinerant preacher; Paul the part-time tentmaker makes the case for Christianity in front of the King, his wife, and the Roman governor. It is a full-blown speech, created by Luke as a model for believers in Luke’s time who might be facing difficult circumstances and hostile responses by the authorities.

Here Paul comes face-to-face with power and privilege. First, he is met with intellectual curiosity (Agrippa). Soon the response includes a concern about Paul’s sanity (Festus), and then finally turns to skepticism and aloofness from all three present.

Let me write a bit about Agrippa’s response to Paul’s question in verse 27, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa answers, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” The Greek is a bit ambiguous. Rather than a serious question, it’s more likely a witty retort, something along the lines of “You think you’re going to make a Christian out of me in such a short time?” (see L.T. Johnson, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 439-440 as well as Boring & Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, p. 458). The “to be a Christian” phrase has the connotation of “making” a Christian or “performing the role” of a Christian.

Paul takes Agrippa’s reference to “a short time” and builds upon them, “whether short or long…I pray that…all would ‘perform my role.’” Perhaps Paul is suggesting that he doesn’t want bystanders to the faith but active witnesses such as he is.

The exchange ends with the assessment that Paul might have indeed been set free had he not appealed to Caesar. If Paul is hoping for an open and fair hearing before Caesar, he might have checked out the reputation of Emperor Nero first. Nero was known for many things, but rationality and fairmindedness were not among them (for starters, rumors abound that Nero’s mother Agrippina poisoned his uncle Claudius so that Nero could take the throne at age 16; what goes around comes around as eventually Agrippina would be murdered reportedly upon order of her son, Nero.) Hmmm…maybe Jerusalem and Caesarea aren’t that bad of venues after all!

Read the text here: Acts 25:1-22.

Two years have passed, and Paul remains in prison in Caesarea. Within a few days of accepting the post the new governor, Festus, travels from Caesarea to Jerusalem and meets with the Jewish leaders there. The leaders ask a favor of Festus, that Paul should be moved to Jerusalem. At this point the narrator lets us know there is yet another plot against Paul’s life; this time not by a vigilante group, but by the chief priests and other key leaders themselves.

A move of the prisoner does not occur, but Festus does agree to reopen the case. We are given a summary account of the proceedings. Paul remains confident he has not transgressed Jewish law, and he insists that he is not disloyal to the emperor. Sitting in prison for two years may have convinced Paul that he has little chance for a fair trial in Caesarea or in Jerusalem, and so he plays his final card: an appeal to Caesar. Such an appeal may save him from illicit violence at the hands of his religious opponents in Jerusalem as well as remove him from the political maneuverings in Judea.

The next move in the story has Festus, a Gentile non-Christian, giving his understanding of the conflict and Paul’s role in it. There is no mention of any threat to Roman stability or peace, rather Festus describes the charges as being religious disagreements. Festus then relates a version of the early church’s kergyma , its proclamation or preaching, “…about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive.

Here Festus serves to underscore the writer’s main point: this is an internal religious conflict between two Jewish factions. The followers of The Way, the members of those early Christian communities, are in no way a threat to the Roman Empire.

Read the text here: Acts 24:1-27.

Paul is now in the hands of the Roman governor Felix in Caesarea, the provincial capital of Roman Palestine. The High Priest has brought along a hired gun, Tertullus, a prosecuting attorney (literally a rhetor, e.g., rhetorician) to argue the case against Paul. Tertullus follows common legal protocol, first by the expected flattery of the judge and then moving to make his case against Paul. Felix is described by Tertullus as a benefactor to all the people bringing peace and reform to the area. This may be more than a slight exaggeration, for the historian Josephus describes the time under Felix’s rule as turbulent with revolutionaries causing continual unrest (see Spencer, p. 228).

Paul, on the other hand, is depicted by Tertullus as a plague (meaning dangerous to the public welfare), a disturber of the peace, a ringleader of a sect, and a defiler of the Temple. Of primary concern to any Roman governor would be a security threat to the empire, a disturber of the Pax Romani.

The next step in the legal process would be for Felix to interrogate Paul in public. Instead Felix sets aside the trial proceedings and questions Paul privately. Paul disputes any charge that he is the instigator of any trouble in Jerusalem. He worships the God of Israel; he had come to Jerusalem to worship; and to give alms and offerings. Paul has done nothing to disrupt the Temple or threaten the public.

Felix has knowledge of The Way and is a married to a Jewish woman, and for a moment it seems that he might be persuaded to release Paul. But after some delay, his true colors are revealed. Felix does not free Paul, but keeps him imprisoned. His motivation? According to the writer of Acts, a mix of greed, fear, and political gain.

Over the course of two years, Paul and Felix speak together, but Felix is unmoved by Paul’s sharing of the gospel. Felix has knowledge of The Way, but his own personal greed and ambition keep him from embracing the faith. At the end of two years Paul should have been released. According to Roman law a citizen could not be held longer than two years without a verdict. As a last act of political expediency, Felix hands Paul’s case over to his successor. Paul’s ultimate fate remains unclear.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.