Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
November 8, 2015
Barring unforeseen circumstances, this will be the last sermon I will preach on Acts this year. It’s been a long journey as we’ve watched the early church grow from a small group hiding in Jerusalem to significant movement reaching into the Gentile world. Sometime next year, I will return to the book and we can start traveling all over much of the known ancient world with the Apostle Paul. Until that time, we’ll be exploring other parts of God’s word.
Today, in our text, we come to the place in the story where Paul takes point. From here on out, the story is about what God is doing through Paul. We must always remember, this is not a story about Paul but about what God is doing. God uses Paul and Barnabas and others to fulfill his mission. It used to be common to speak about “the mission of the church,” but that is incorrect. It would be more correct to speak of “the mission of God.”
As followers of Jesus, we don’t work in a vacuum nor are we freelancers out on our own. We are to be doing God’s work in the world and in today’s text we see an incredible example of this.
Two things that I find interesting about Acts, which we’ll see here, are the number of individuals and locations mentioned. Although Peter was in the forefront in the first half of the book and Paul eclipses him in the second half, neither of them did much “free-lance work.” They almost always had a side-kick. Jesus starts this when he sent the disciples out two-by-two. A lot of the names in Acts are of people we know little or nothing about, but the preservation of their names remind us that this movement isn’t the work of just one or two individuals. The church has been equipped by all kinds of people. It’s not just the pastor or the pastor and elders that are important. All of you have a role to play and the excessive dropping of names in Acts emphasizes this.
The mention of the places (somewhere I read that there are over 40 cities referred to in Acts) shows the movement of God’s Spirit throughout the first century world as the church spreads. We are reminded that we are not on own here in this building, but that in addition to the power of God, we are a part of a church that spreads the globe!
Another thing to look for in our reading this morning is the causal slip from Saul to Paul. While he was dealing with the Jewish population, he was known by his Hebrew name, “Saul.” But as he is sent out to the Gentiles, he goes by his Roman name, Paul. Let us now listen for our text of the morning. Read Acts 13:1-12
Do you remember the childhood rhyme with movements which I am sure most of us sang in Vacation Bible School or Sunday School when we were younger. It goes like this: “This is the church, this is the steeple, turn it over and see all the people…. Church really isn’t a place, with or without steeples, it’s the people and we gather in a place for prayer and worship and are then sent out into the world to live as disciples. The task of being the church belongs to us all. There are no solitary Christians.
Last week in my e-newsletter, I featured a diagram I’d seen. I hope you saw it and are reading my e-news as I try to put some things into each issue that helps us know what it means to reflect the face of Jesus to the world. I can’t take credit for this diagram and am not sure who created it, but it reminds us that we don’t just go to church, but we are the church! We don’t come here to pick up our weekly dose of religion. Instead, being the church means we leave worship to live out our discipleship in the world. When you get home this afternoon, ask yourself, “What have I done for Jesus this week?” Or more importantly, what will I do for Jesus in this coming week?
There are two things we learn about the church in our opening verses of this text. First of all, the church isn’t led by just the pastor. There are prophets and teachers and they are from all over the map. Barnabas, whom we’ve already met, who was from Cyprus. Simeon called Niger, who may have been from Africa. Lucius is from Cyrene. Another dude works in Herod’s court. And Saul, who is listed last, almost as if he was an afterthought, whom we learned back in the 11th chapter that Barabbas had fetched from Tarsus to help him work with the Christian community in Antioch. Lots of leaders and committed disciples makes for a good and strong church.
Secondly, we see that this is a Christian community that worships together. One of the most important things we do is worship! This sets us apart from Kiwanis and the Red Cross and other organizations that do good deeds. We worship Almighty God and that’s important. Notice that it is in worship—not in some kind of planning meeting—that the church is moved to send out missionaries.
It is important to understand that the sending out of Saul and Barnabas isn’t the church’s idea; this idea comes from God through worship. What we do here is important and we need to take it seriously for we are to be listening for God to speak. That’s what happened in Antioch.
But you know what, I bet there were people in the Antioch Church saying, “Hold on, we can’t let them go. They’re our best preachers, they’re the glue that holds the church together. Who is going to make the coffee, unlock the doors, mow the grass or shovel the snow when they’re gone?” As humans, we are pronged to self-centered tendencies. We think about ourselves first, but in worship where we focus not on the self but on God (it’s not what I’m getting but about what I’m offering God), visions of something greater can arise.
I am sure there were those who wanted to keep Saul and Barnabas in Antioch, but the Spirit was so strong within the group that they realized God was doing something new… So in verse 3, we learn that after fasting and prayer, they laid hands of Barnabas and Saul, just as we do in the ordination of elders.
In verse 4, a shift changes as the two newly minted missionaries are sent out on what will become known as Paul’s first missionary journey. The two travel together, leaving the continent for Cyprus where it appears they were joined by John. Notice the detail, the names of towns mentioned, that Luke throws into the narrative. They travel to Seleucia where there was a port and from there they sail to Salamis, a port on Cyprus and then they began to hit the synagogues. It is important to remember that at this time, Christians didn’t see themselves apart from the Jewish faith. Since there were Jews all over the Mediterranean and Paul and Barnabas were Jews, it was natural for them to seek out the synagogues. The three of them travel across Cyprus, preaching and telling the good news.
At Paphos they encounter a false prophet (we’re given both of his names: Bar-Jesus and Elymas) and an official named Sergius Paulus. This government official was interested in their message but Bar-Jesus, the false prophet, was doing everything he could to keep the man from learning about Jesus. Perhaps he was fearful he might lose his standing with one of authority, as we have already seen and will see later in the book of Acts that those in the magic trades were fearful of the rise of Christianity.
At this point, Saul begins to be referred to as Paul and he rebukes the man. The government official knew that he was blind but wanted to see and ironically, the magician who opposed Paul’s message finds himself temporarily blind. This reversal of fortune for the magician helps convince the proconsul of the power of God.
One of the things we learn at the end of the reading, and we’ve seen this many more times in Acts, is that when there is successful evangelism, the work of the Evil One quickly follows… Nothing worthwhile is easy and that goes for building a church. There will always be those in opposition to what God wants us to be doing. Often, there is a self-interest involved: the magician who loses a prestige and a client, or as well find out later in Acts, the silversmiths in Ephesus who fear losing their market for small replicas of idols. There are always those who will challenge what God is doing through the church. But we are not to live by the word of naysayers, but by faith. By faith, the church in Antioch knew that they had something that other people needed so they were willing to take a risk and to send out missionaries… What are we willing to risk to further God’s work in the world?
You know, the mission field is at our door. There is suffering all around us, even within our mist. The church is to be there to speak God’s word of hope, of peace, of joy, and of love. We’re there to feed the hungry (which we do through the missions we support) as well as to ministry to those with abundance yet suffering from a different type of hunger. Our Stephen Ministries is an example of this! We are there to offer a glass of cold water to one who is thirst but also to offer hope and eternal water to one who is lost. We are there to visit those in prison (as John Vergoz is doing today) but also to visit those whose lives are imprisoned by bars of their own makings and are in need of hope. As a church we are to be a beacon of light to the world and each and every one of us have opportunities to do this when we encounter people in our daily lives.
Next Sunday is consecration Sunday and I hope you will be here to help us celebrate and to eat a good meal together in fellowship. I hope you have been praying the prayer we’ve said the last two weeks—asking what God wants to do through us. Listen for the Lord. If God is behind us, as we see here in Acts, and there will be challenges, but God is going to see that things work out in a way that will further his work in the world. Are we listening? Are we ready? Amen.
 Luke 10:1
 Acts 4:36
 Acts 19:23ff.