“Ten Years of Listening to the Spirit”
Acts 4:5-12
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
April 26, 2015

  

The saying is that no good deed goes unpunished.  It seems like when we try to do something good, it backfires.  This is what happened to Peter and John.  Their practice was to go daily to the temple.  On the day before the events in today’s passage, they came upon a beggar asking for money.  Peter told him he had no money but what he did have he would give him, and he reached out and lifted him to walk in the name of Jesus!

 

It kind of reminds me of the saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”  Peter and John could’ve given him money for the day’s provisions, but, instead, they restored his health, so he could provide for his lifetime.  But, then things went off track.  The witnesses even thought Peter healed in the name of Jesus, thought Peter did it of his own power.  Then the temple officials were upset because of the commotion and preaching about Jesus of Nazareth, and they arrested them.  The day after the arrest, Peter and John were hauled before the high priest and the high priest’s family!

 

Instead of eliciting praise that a crippled man was healed, there was misunderstanding, confusion, suspicion, and an authoritarian crackdown.  Why?  We find the answer to this question in the first question of the religious interrogators.  “By what power…do you do this?”  There is a shift from the original issues of healing, God’s mercy, and resurrection.  Now the issue is power!  Notice what questions they didn’t ask.  What is the meaning of these things?  How did they happen?  Instead they asked “where did you get the power to do this?”  And, who authorized you to do and say these things?”

 

Power was introduced into the events.  It was introduced for reasons of control.  The religious authorities jealously protect their franchise on the religion.  They wanted people to be prayerful and faithful.  But, they had to do this in the proper way following the dictates of those in charge.  Their approach was in direct contrast to the early church and the outbreak of the Holy Spirit, a Holy Spirit that could not be contained within the “normal channels!”

 

Another key issue here is the institution’s response to the Spirit.  Is it responsive or curved in on itself?  Political and religious authorities tend to set themselves up as the only legitimate broker of what people need, and they defend that authority.  Inevitably the Holy Spirit breaks in and breaks down that position.  Rome forbid slaves to marry, but the Christian Church, listening to the Holy Spirit, upset that by encouraging and honoring the slave marriages.  Jim Crow laws excluded African-Americans from participation in public life, but the Spirit raised up religious leaders to challenge those laws.

 

The temple authorities were not interested in the Spirit; they were interested in the temple authority as a be-all-end-all.  By what power and authority did you do this?  That is to say, “If you want to do religious business in this down, you have to do it our way!”

 

God called United Presbyterian Church into existence ten years ago.  Sincerely, we have wanted, and still want, to be open and sensitive to the Holy Spirit, AND respond to the Spirit’s movements.

 

Two congregations came together, Highlands and Southminster, to form United Presbyterian Church in March 2005.  We are ten year’s old!  Two friendly congregations came together to form a new family.  Like all families there were some instances of friction as there are when you bring people together who are passionate about their congregation.  But, that is a positive and not a negative.

 

The Spirit seemed to be calling us to improve upon the solid foundation of warmth and move to a deeper level – hospitality and fellowship.  Hospitality – making people feel welcome and comfortable.  The question was asked, “How uncomfortable are you willing to become to enable someone else to become comfortable in the presence of God?”  I first thought about that when Diane and I were looking for a new call after serving the congregation in Pennsylvania for 20 years.  We travelled to a neutral church that had a contemporary service, and that church questioned why and do you really have to do that?  The pastor said something like this….  To the traditionalists, if singing a contemporary song would enable your daughter or son to enter into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, would you do it?  To the young people, if singing an old-standby hymn would enable your mother or father to enter into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ, would you do it?  How uncomfortable are you willing to become in order that someone else might be comfortable in the presence of God?

 

The Spirit of God led us to become, not just a friendly congregation, but a welcoming, inviting congregation.  Fellowship – celebrating the diversity of God’s people.  The Holy Spirit moved us to look out over our members and friends with God’s eyes.  We saw women and men, working people and retired people, white people and people of color, Welsh and Ghanese, and much more.  We saw a glimpse of heaven and began celebrating our heritages and the whole people of God.  Heritage Sunday was born and different languages were spoken in worship, ethnicities and nationalities highlighted, and songs from different traditions sung.  Agapé Picnics started where we worship and picnic together.  The talents of God’s people celebrated at Casey, Friends and Family and French Horn concerts.  Cruises that raised money for mission causes in our community sailed into the life of United.  People love sports and we celebrated God’s gift of sports and all you learn in sports as we celebrated Sports’ Sunday.

 

United is alive well and vibrant because the Spirit of God has fallen afresh on us!  Our fervent prayer is that it is a continual daily experience, so that we are always more interested in the movement of the Spirit than we are in protecting our turf.

 

Last fall, Nick Ball and I went to a seminar about the Baby Boomers. We learned a lot!  Baby Boomers are retiring daily in record numbers.  They are the ones who were involved in social activism in the 60’s.  They have a wealth of experience.  Retired, they have time on their hands.  They want their lives to count for something, and they want to make a difference.  They have their questions and challenges too.  What do they do with the rest of their lives?  What does the 2nd ½ of their marriage look like?  They are the largest generation for binge drinking!

 

We are working with our Baby Boomers to develop new opportunities for them and boomers in our community to improve our community, grow spiritually, create new opportunities for fellowship and making new relationships.  A by-product of this new opportunity for boomers could be church growth – although that isn’t our prime motive.  Our prime motive is to praise God and attend to the promptings of the Spirit.

 

One of the joys of being with you here at United has been your openness and welcoming attitude toward people that feel different.  You have fully embraced God’s embracing you, and it causes you to embrace others.  I remember the first scholarship student we had in our choir.  She came complete with tattoos everywhere you could see and piercings.  Would she be accepted?  Yes!  Yes!  After leaving here she had a role in a musical at Daytona State, and a number of us went to see our students perform.  I remember how happy she seemed that we came and sought us out to tell us.  You make people that feel different feel accepted.  Just as you feel accepted by God.

 

We live in a changing world where laws directed at differently oriented people and same-sex couples are crumbling.  Such discrimination, like discriminations of the past, have been propped up by misunderstandings of scripture.  The result is that there are a lot of people outside churches that would like to be inside churches, but, because they feel different, feel excluded.  They are spiritually hungry!  They want to be fed!  There is an opportunity to meet those people in a bible study in a home or homes with United being a safe place for them to test the waters of a congregation to experience God’s love in the special way that only communities of faith can give.  Although this approach may result in church growth, its primary focus would be on having people continuing to grow in the life-changing and freeing love of God!

 

We are entering a time of transition – a time of transition for you and for me.  There is no doubt that a church’s pastor has an impact on the life and ministry of a congregation, but a pastor is only one part of it.  There are two other “its.”  The biggest “it” is God, and the bigger “it” is you!  In the ten years together, Diane and I have done what we could do because you have done what you could do and the Holy Spirit did the rest filling in the cracks and being the glue that made it all come together.  One “it” moves on and the biggest “it” and the bigger “it” remains.  What an exciting time it is for United to step into the future and explore under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit United’s ministry.  Whether it is the opportunities I’ve highlighted with Baby Boomers or the disenfranchised or things that have not been thought of but are in the mind of the Holy Spirit, it will be an exciting time!

 

The excitement comes when you are more interested in the movement of the Holy Spirit than you are in protecting your turf or maintaining the status quo.  As it is in Christian faith, you change and grow or stagnate and die!  But, the God who calls us to life is not stagnate and bursts through with new life.  Happy Birthday United!!!  And, many more!!!