“What Can Happen Because People Watch Us” Acts 16:25-34

The Book of Acts chronicles the history of the early Church.  From the time of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, through Pentecost and the conversion of a zealous Pharisee named Saul, Dr. Luke continued to record how the gospel was being spread, largely because of persecution. Saul/Paul was selected to become the missionary to the Gentiles, those who were not Jewish, which expanded the gospel to the known world.  Paul took three missionary journeys sharing God’s love and establishing churches.  Our New Testament Lesson this morning takes place while Paul and Silas were on the second missionary journey.  Paul wanted to visit those new converts to Christianity and see how they were doing.  Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy encountered some Jewish women who were worshiping God near a river in Philippi.  Paul told them about Jesus; a specific woman named Lydia was singled out as a seller of purple, meaning that she was a person of means.  Lydia and her husband were baptized.  They created such a strong, quick relationship that the four missionaries were invited to stay with them in Philippi.

“Seeing our Blind Spots” John 9:1, 6-9, 13-22, 34-41

After deciding upon today’s sermon title, I googled “blind spot.” I was unaware of an NBC television show by that name. I also didn’t know that Blindspot is a company that produces window coverings, specifically blinds. Merriam Webster offers three definitions (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blind%20spot). First, a blindspot is an area around a car, truck, etc., that the driver cannot see. The Honda we bought back in September has an area which the rear-view mirror cannot reach; this is called a blindspot. Secondly, a blindspot is a small area at the back of the eye that is not sensitive to light; our peripheral vision becomes limited, because of the way our eye is created, thus preventing us from seeing a certain area. Finally, the tendency to ignore something especially because it is difficult or unpleasant becomes a blindspot for us; I hope that because of today’s sermon, we can see some of our own 


“Reputation Matters” Luke 14:1-14

It is no secret that the Pharisees did not like Jesus. He represented too radical a change for them. They only associated with people like themselves so that they could remain ceremonially clean; if they hung out with the outcasts whom Jesus attracted, they would not be able to participate in Temple rituals.
The word “Pharisee” actually means “separated one,” and they lived up to their name. They separated themselves from outcasts, but also they separated themselves from anyone who didn’t keep the Law as they did. The quest of their religion was to do the right thing and not do the wrong thing. On the surface, we might agree that their quest was noble, but in reality, they placed the keeping of their understanding of the Law to be above everything else. They regularly placed regulations and rules ahead of individuals and their needs.
For Jesus to have such an adversarial relationship with the Pharisees raises questions with this passage from Luke. Why would a leader of the Pharisees invite Jesus into his home, and why would Jesus accept the invitation?

“Today’s Lepers” Mark 1:40-45

In the New Testament, there was no person whom people avoided more than a leper. Although virtually obliterated in industrialized nations today, cases of leprosy continue to be reported in third world countries. As you probably know, the disease is a skin disorder. Ulcerated whelps form on the skin that can also affect the muscular and nervous systems. Mental decay is assured while the end result is usually fatal; it is also highly contagious. The pain from this dreaded disease is excruciating. I don’t know about you but when I am sick, I like to be pampered. If I’m not feeling well, I find comfort in the fact that someone can and does take care of me. Lepers did not enjoy this luxury. The source of their solace was people in the same boat disregarding their own suffering in trying to grant sometimes unreachable serenity.

“Where Would Jesus Go?” John 4:1-15

Years ago, marketers trended with bracelets, bumper stickers, hats, T-shirts, and other items with the letters “WWJD.” The initials represented the question “What Would Jesus Do?” and came from the classic book “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon, which was first published in 1896. It remains a question which I think we should ask, especially when faced with difficult choices or confounding dilemmas.
Today, I am beginning a sermon series which will hopefully complement the question “What Would Jesus Do?” We have heard today from two members of our Adult Spiritual Formation Team about their recent experiences at the Budget Inn. Among other responsibilities, this group directs “Wednesdays Without Walls,” a monthly opportunity to place faith into action by actually leaving the church campus and doing something for someone else by showing the love of God.

“Different, Same, All Need Grace” I Corinthians 1:10-17

We are all different. We are all the same. We all need grace. That’s the message of World Communion Sunday.
We live in a great big world. This summer, when Jennifer and I were fortunate to attend the Baptist World Alliance meeting in South Africa, I was reminded of how different people are. As part of the worship service on Saturday, everyone received communion which was led by the outgoing and incoming Presidents of the BWA. The outgoing president was a white Virginian John Upton; the incoming President is Paul Msiza, a black South African pastor. All around me receiving the bread and the cup were people of many nations; 80 countries were represented. Nigerian women wore their native dress. Many others from the African continent wore bright colors. Europeans, Asians, Australians, South Americans, and of course North Americans took the bread, the cup and remembered the death of our Savior. We were all reminded that Christ died for all, that we, even though we were different, were all the same, and that everyone was in need of God’s grace.
People were not sent to specific areas of the arena to receive communion. We were not separated by kingdoms, because only one kingdom mattered and that was the Kingdom of God. To my right was a lady from South Africa. Diagonally behind us were folks from South Korea. Australians were two rows in front of us; Germans and Austrians were diagonally to my right. Americans were across the aisle from us to the left. We celebrated God’s great love for us as a family. “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave his only begotten Son.” For God so loved all nations, that He gave his only begotten Son. This Jesus was not intended to be an exclusive Savior; he came for everyone. Different, same, all need grace.