Acts 13:1-3; 14:8-18
(watch here: https://youtu.be/-xIHylSRGoo)
1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
8In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ 18Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Our reading reminds me of the one about a man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy street. Suddenly, the light turned yellow just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone. While she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects. He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally…I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Believe it or not, the world judges us as Christians by what we say and do. As followers of Christ, we are expected to behave and believe in accordance to how Jesus lived and what he taught. And the world tends to regard Jesus as nothing but a peaceful, loving healer and teacher. Certainly not someone who would be combative and hostile the way that angry, tailgating woman was. Of course, Jesus had his own moments disruptiveness and combativeness but the world is more interested in lifting up his great sacrificial love instead. Jesus would never get caught behind the wheel screaming and furiously honking at a law-abiding citizen, or so the world wants to believe. It’s an expectation thing. And we, as his faithful disciples, are held to those same expectations of love and mercy and compassion.
Adhering to the world’s expectations of us isn’t what I want to focus in on this morning though. No, I suspect that woman really is, for the most part, a loving, merciful, compassionate person as suggested by all the signs on her car. She simply had a momentary lapse of character and allowed her frustration to get the better of her. She wasn’t being truly authentic to herself or to Christ within her. As a Christian, she should have been understanding and loving towards the man especially since his caution may have prevented any harm or accident. If only she had stayed true to her better nature…to her true self…to her higher self, she could have avoided the whole fiasco down at the jailhouse. You see, there is great value in authenticity.
Say what you will about the apostle, Paul, he always had an authenticity to himself. Even when he was persecuting Christians before his conversion he was committed to it. He felt it was his duty as a loyal Roman citizen to persecute anyone who defied the Roman empire. But Jesus doesn’t oppose earthly governing authorities. He opposes the abuses of such authorities, particularly when they claim priority over God’s authority. Jesus only wanted the Roman and religious authorities to recognize the proper chain of authority with God reigning supreme over all earthly authorities. Perhaps Paul better understood this in his conversion on the road to Damascus. Nevertheless, he was changed into faithful believer and follower of Christ, so faithful that he went on to become one of Christ’s most effective apostles. Again, he was authentic to who he had become.
In our reading for today, we heard of an encounter that Paul had with a man who was born unable to walk. With the help of Christ within him, Paul managed to heal that man. The amazed crowds began claiming Paul was Zeus, the god they knew and worshipped. But Paul adamantly refused such a title and took the opportunity to share about our God. He was true to himself as a follower of Christ and true to the power of Christ within himself. In other words, he was an authentic Christian. His authenticity didn’t manage to persuade the crowds against offering up their sacrifices but it did help to get God’s Word out there. And we know from Isaiah 55:11, God’s Word “shall not return to [him] empty, but it shall accomplish that which [He] purposes, and succeed in the thing for which [He] sent it.” And what is the purpose of God’s Word? To transform the hearts and minds of its hearers. It may not have transformed those crowds as Lystra but it was put out there and eventually transformed the entire world. All because of Paul’s authenticity to himself and to Christ within him.
Last week we explored the importance of giving witness to the redeeming love of Christ as seen in the witness of Peter to the messengers of Cornelius. Witnessing requires a great deal of authenticity. If you can’t be true to yourself or to Christ within you, there is no way you can be an effective witness. You have to know yourself and you have to know Christ if you’re ever going to become a faithful witness. You have to know how God’s Word transformed your life, not the lives of those around you. How has the love of Christ transformed your life? Who are you as a faithful disciple of Christ? What is the love of Christ within you? We must answer these questions if we can ever hope to be genuine witnesses. We must be authentic witnesses if we’re going to have any success in building God’s kingdom.
Of course, answering such questions can be intimidating because we have to become vulnerable. What if people don’t like us because of our witness to Christ and Christ’s love in our lives? We can take comfort in knowing we’re not alone in this hesitancy. Paul offers us strength in his witness as we hear in his first letter to the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (2:1-5) It doesn’t take the right words to witness to Christ, it just takes your words. Who is Christ to you? That’s all the world needs to hear. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2:15) We ought not be ashamed of who Christ is to us. We are loved by him…he loves us! And what a joy it is to be loved! I love being loved by him. It means that he will be with me no matter where life takes me. It means he will lift me up when life pushes me down. It means he will protect me from those who want me harm. What a gift to be loved by him!
As we continue through this season of Easter, let us seek to become more and more authentic witnesses. Authenticity is a value our world is appreciating more and more these days. People need authenticity in their relationships and institutions. So let us be true to ourselves and to Christ within us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.