Darkness to Light

The following is the sermon manuscript I used on November 12, 2017, the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction

Sermon Text – Acts 26


Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And that brings a world of darkness into the light.

This is unbelievable news for governors, like Festus. This is terrible news for self-pious kings like Agrippa. This is spectacular news for repentant murderers like Paul.

The light exposes the dirt on the finery worn by kings and princes. But it is the hope of freedom for the prisoner in a cell.

The light lays bare the nakedness of emperors. It shows that the pursuit of justice has a price tag, that doing the “right thing” – or even the legal thing – comes about only if it’s politically convenient. The light shows the blindness of those in power to the sufferings of those not like them. For those who exalt themselves, the light shows that they are dying.

But for those made to see by God, the light clothes the humble in righteousness. For those made captive by oppression – or even those made captive by their own sin – the light shows the path of escape through the prison walls. For those who wish to escape sin and death, the light shows the One who has conquered both.

This is the contrast that’s on display in this scene. Paul, a prisoner of two years, has already managed to survive one governor, Felix. He is a governor who – as we learned at the end of chapter 24 – has kept Paul in chains for political convenience. He wanted the Jews to owe him a favor, so he kept a man he knew was innocent in prison.

Now Festus is taking charge. And like many people new to a position of worldly power, he wants to clean house – or at least act like he is. The veterans among us remember what it’s like to get that new commander come in – you know, the one who’s going to change everything and turn the unit around? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but they always think that they will. That is Festus as we saw last week at the start of chapter 25.

But Festus’s power is only partial power; it’s a worldly power. Festus is supposed to be the shimmering light of Roman might in the province of Judea, but to the Jewish people he is only a representative of the darkness of empire and oppression. He was the darkness of the prison cell of captivity.

So Festus – like every governor of Judea before him – needed a faux light to keep the darkness of rebellion against the empire from rising. He needed a proxy king, and that king was Agrippa. Like all of the Herods before him, Agrippa was a king in name only, a king whose only really powers were the token powers given to him by the Romans. To them, he was less than a proxy; he was a tool that lacked the real light and might of real power. To the Jews . . . well, at least Agrippa was a Jewish king.

So the end of chapter 25 that sets up the scene in our chapter is comical. Here in the audience hall of a fake king, an unwanted governor stages a theatrical display in order to prevent a rebellion and keep his job. But they do it with such pomp! Here they are in their beautiful robes, countless attendants addressing their every need, a parade of soldiers in their finest uniforms standing guard, and the prominent men of the city fawning for their approval.

Governor Festus needs Agrippa to appease the Jews and maintain power. Agrippa knows that the only, limited power he has is on loan to him from the Romans. Yet both love basking in this light of their own making, the light reflected off the shields and helmets of their guards, the light reflected by the expensive rings that signal their “authority.”

Sisters and brothers, the fake light that they put on display before Paul was darkness. Where is their finery, now? The shields and helmets of their soldiers are not just blemished, not just rusted, but after 2000 years they have all crumbled to dirt in Caesarea. Their rings were stolen long ago from their tombs and have been melted down a thousand times since then. Their clothes and their flesh have long since rotted away. The jaw bones they used to offer fake praises to one another are now dust.

In Luke’s gospel, his first volume before writing Acts, Jesus says these words: “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.

We are in a rare season when things that have been hidden for years are coming to light. Since the movie producer, Harvey Weinstein, was publically accused last month of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, dozens of other men have been accused of similar crimes. Many of these horrifying acts were kept secret for years and decades by fear and intimidation and money and power and abuse of the legal process. This isn’t completely new or something that pertains only to the entertainment industry. Politicians – from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump and now to Roy Moore – have had similar claims made against them.

The light of the gospel will reveal all that’s kept hidden in darkness. Today, tomorrow, and ultimately on the day of judgment – everything that’s been hidden will be revealed.

For those who love the light, the revealing of things that are hidden is a joyous time. It’s a time of justice. It’s a time of redemption. It’s a time of healing.

But if you and I are honest with ourselves, we all know those areas of our lives that still love the darkness. And for us in those areas, the revealing of what’s hidden should not bring us comfort – it should literally scare the Hell out of us. It doesn’t have to be a place of sexual immorality. But we all know those places and parts of our lives that are in rebellion against the light of God.

And, indeed, what’s scarier, there are places of our rebellion that we are too blind to see. Times when we harm our neighbor, neglect our spouse, abuse our bodies, chase after idols. In a kind of twisted logic, many of the men being exposed now didn’t even realize they were doing anything wrong at the times they did it. And like them, we so often find convoluted ways of justifying our own behavior to ourselves, pushing us so far into darkness that we cannot even see the acts we commit as sinful.

That’s the story of Paul. Paul thought he was pursuing the light when he was murdering Christians and persecuting Jesus himself. Paul thought his zealousness, his “raging fury” was righteous and good. But he was only an agent of darkness, a pursuer of evil and death . . .

. . . until Jesus knocked him down.

Until his exposure to the true Light of the World literally blinded him. And in his physical blindness suddenly all of his sins became as clear as day! The faces of those he had handed over to be murdered now no longer looked like the faces of blasphemers and heretics – they were the faces of the children of the very God he claimed to love.

Yes. Of the King and the Governor and all of their finery, nothing of them remains visible to us today. Only the light that was shone through their prisoner remains.

Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And that brings a world of darkness into the light.

Paul had the appearance of a prisoner to a world filled with darkness. But in reality, he was the only free man in the room. And his mission was to show the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the world – to the Gentiles and to the Jews. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead undid the basic structure of a world made dark by human sin. The sin of Adam, that had plunged the whole world into darkness, was undone. Sin had brought death and through the cross and through the empty tomb Christ had conquered both!

Do you believe the prophets?” Paul asks Agrippa. “Are you sanctified by faith in Jesus?” was the message Paul was given by Christ to preach. Those who love the darkness respond in sly words like Agrippa’s. “You would persuade me to be a Christian?” This is not the statement of a person on the verge of belief. It is a joke from a man who is power who is used to prisoners groveling before him, begging him to have mercy. To Agrippa he himself was the master of life and death – as much as the Romans allowed him to be anyway. And here was Paul trying to convince Agrippa that the king’s life was in the hands of the executed criminal, Jesus.

Yes, those who are in darkness respond in sly words like Agrippa. Or they respond with disbelief, like Festus. “Paul. You are out of your mind!” There are fish in deep parts of the oceans where darkness makes complete sense. They have learned to survive and even thrive without the light. So, too, is the condition of much of humanity. To them, like the fish of the deep ocean – the light makes no sense at al.

The analogy of salvation that describes the sinner as someone drowning in a deep ocean – and the gospel as a life preserver thrown by Jesus – is completely wrong. Apart from Christ, we are not struggling swimmers.

We are dead at the bottom of the ocean.

And Christ is the one who swims to the depths to pull our lifeless bodies up. He fights the currents downward for miles. He himself drowns. And he himself becomes the life preserver. He himself pulls our lifeless bodies up to breathe new life into our lungs.

To us who have been saved by Christ, there is still much darkness we see in the world. There is so much, it is difficult for us to bear. Paul bears it in his chains. He bears it in the memory of his sisters and brothers who were being killed. We bore it last week when we saw dozens of our sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus gunned down on what should have been a peaceful Sunday morning of worship.

Where was God in the midst of such tragedy? Where was the light in such unbelievable darkness perpetrated by a man who loved the darkness?

The cross tells us that wherever we are gunned down, Christ has already been gunned down with us. The cross tells us that whenever we are a prisoner, like Paul, Christ has already been made a prisoner for us and with us. The cross tells us that wherever we suffer and whenever we face the darkness of death, there is no darkness we can enter that he has not entered into first.

And the light of his empty tomb has obliterated the darkness. As John says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” As Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. Take heart. I have overcome the world. Behold! I make all things new.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.

It All Ends with Jesus

The following is the sermon manuscript I used on October 22, 2017, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction

Sermon Text – Acts 22:20-23:12


It all ends with Jesus.

Whatever our citizenship is, whatever our understanding of religion is, whatever our lives are – as Christians, they all end with Jesus.

This is the life of Paul. This is the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is the movements of the Holy Spirit in Acts – every journey, every interaction, every detail mentioned, every authority challenged, every death, every sermon, every affliction, every triumph, every painful episode, every miraculous convert – they all meet their end, the very destruction of what they would be in themselves, as well as their very completion, the very fulfillment of what they are in the person of Jesus Christ. Nothing remains standing that does not serve him, and that which serves him echoes into eternity forever.

It all ends with Jesus.

Paul knows his end is Jesus. When we had last left Paul, he had just completed his third missionary journey. He had left Ephesus, a place where he spent three years ministering. Then, he set his eye on Jerusalem. Luke, the author of Acts and the gospel named after him, sets up this parallel. Jesus in Luke 9, sets his face toward Jerusalem, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up.” Jesus knows he heads there to die. In Ephesus, Paul also sets his face toward Jerusalem. He does not know what will happen there, but he has many people predict it for him. He knows that it will not be pleasant. He knows there is likely to be imprisonment, torture, possibly even in death – and there are a few points on his journey back where he is reminded of this by other people, some of them prophetesses. But Paul sets his face toward Jerusalem, because that is where the Holy Spirit is leading.

He knows he won’t be welcomed there. The Jewish people, of which he is a part, have been conquered for hundreds of years. They have seen three empires tear down their temples, destroy their religious artifacts, destroy their history, attempt to eradicate their very identity. They are afraid of the nations outside of Israel, they are afraid of Rome, they are afraid of losing their identity and their religion. And Paul is heading back there as someone who has told the Gentiles that they can worship the Jewish God – the one true God – without having to become Jewish. Paul has dedicated his new life in Jesus by pronouncing the good news that the Messiah has come. But they do not see this event as the fulfillment of their dreams of a world where God rules through Israel. They only see the destruction of their ancient, sacred traditions – the destruction of their very identity.

Though Paul goes to the temple, makes a vow with fellow Jews, and attempts to demonstrate to the people in Jerusalem that he is truly one of them – they reject him. Some Jews who came from Asia where Paul had been preaching – devout people who were trying to maintain their identity in the midst of a foreign, oppressive people – tell the crowd in Jerusalem that he is not one of them, he is not one of the faithful. So, they arrest him. The text follows his arrest, up to and including our passage today, is Paul’s attempt to give an account of a life that ends with Jesus. And time and again, Paul is cut off by people who are unwilling to listen. He is stopped short by people who reject the truth about Jesus and therefore reject the truth about who Paul is.

The passage for today gives us two encounters – Paul with the political leaders and Paul with the religious leaders. It is bookended by martyrdom, by witnesses to Jesus unto death. The place we start with in 22:20 is actually the end of Paul’s attempt to tell his conversion story, his literal Damascus road experience, by recounting the event that first introduced him in Acts: the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose execution Paul approved. It ends with people making a death vow for the very same reasons Stephen was killed. The political, the religious, the life lived in faith – they all end, they are all completed, they are all fulfilled, in Jesus.

Paul – the man who was so zealously against Christ, he approved the killing of Christians – is now the man sent by Christ to the hated gentiles. This is enough in 22:22 to get the crowd to scream for his blood. The gentiles mean the Jew’s destruction – there is no getting around it in their eyes. The Christ was supposed to come to subdue and conquer the gentiles, not convert them.

Or so they thought.

What Paul was saying was ridiculous and very dangerous.

Paul is still at the temple, still in chains, right off of making his vow that he had hoped would convince the people that he was one of them. But at this point, Paul is so closely identified with Jesus that, like Jesus, the crowd rejects one of their own. They demand he be taken away. The Romans are confused. They don’t know what to make of all of this. So, they decide to get the truth out of Paul in the only way a Roman soldier knows how to get the truth out of anyone. They want to torture him. They want to flog him until his back is bloodied and he explains what is going on.

But Paul has a trick up his sleeve. He is not only a Jew, but a Roman citizen. He would certainly have had to prove it – impersonating a Roman citizen was a very serious crime – but he was indeed a citizen, and that granted him certain protections. Namely in this case, his citizenship allowed him to be protected from being tortured when he wasn’t being charged with any crime! Paul is not ashamed of his citizenship – he uses it whenever it is advantageous.

But this is the key point is this – the end of his citizenship is Jesus.

Paul in Philippians tells us Christians in plain language: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our primary citizenship, our ultimate citizenship, is not an allegiance to any country or any flag but to the Lord Jesus Christ.

So what are we to make of our earthly citizenship? Like Paul, I am not ashamed of my earthly citizenship. I am not ashamed that an American flag flies on my front porch, or that the American flag that was in my office while in Afghanistan is now framed and hung on the wall end of my dining table (with a quilt of the Last Supper at the other end!). When I hear the national anthem, I stand, face the flag, and put my hand over my heart.

But I count every aspect of my citizenship as loss compared the abundant riches of the citizenship I have in heaven with Christ Jesus my Lord.

The end of my American citizenship, if it is to have any benefit at all, has to be in Jesus.

Notice how Paul uses his citizenship in this passage – it is to make sure that he gets to Rome. He’s not afraid of some whips – he’s been shipwrecked already. He’s not afraid of the crowd – he’s been stoned almost to death. No, the use of his citizenship is singular. It must serve the gospel of Jesus Christ.

An American might say “America first.” But a Christian who is an American citizen must never say that because Christ must always come first. And service to Christ can never mean using your citizenship for selfish gain. Any use of that citizenship must be for the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot simply say that America is the greatest nation on earth or even that it will be great again (especially if what we mean by that is that this has to be the very best place on earth to live in order to fulfill our selfish desires). If we have been blessed in America, for Christians that blessing can only have one purpose – to aid in the advancement of the Kingdom of God. But instead of understanding our citizenship this way – as only having any merit when it finds its end in Jesus – how often do we, like the crowd in Jerusalem, use our citizenship to silence the voices of those who disagree with us, the voices of those who have been oppressed by our government, the voices of those who do not have the same skin color as us, the voices of those who protest – even those who protest the very symbols and rituals of our country that we hold dear

Sisters and brothers, I love my earthly citizenship. But unless it finds its end in Jesus Christ, unless it is a tool used by the Holy Spirit for the advancement of the Gospel, it is an idol that needs to be destroyed.

All of our citizenship ends in Jesus.

And all of our religion ends in Jesus too.

The Romans, even though they concede Paul is a citizen, are still trying to get to the bottom of this commotion. They take him to the same council that condemned Jesus. Paul again attempts to answer for himself, only to again be met with violence. Seeing that there is religious division in the group between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, between those who hope for a resurrection and those who don’t, between those who are overly spiritual and those who are overly worldly, Paul inserts a piece of doctrine to cause division. “I am on trial because of the resurrection of the dead.”


If you want to get a bunch of Baptists and Presbyterians fighting, talk about infant baptism. If you want to get a bunch Presbyterians and Lutherans fighting, talk about the Lord’s Supper. If you want to get a bunch of Protestants and Catholics fighting, talk about the Church. If you want to get faithful Jews to fight in first century Jerusalem – talk about the resurrection of the dead. Paul did that. And it doing that, Paul spared his life for another day so that he could talk about the gospel.

Of course, the real problem is that what Paul means by saying, “I am on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead,” shatters everything both the Pharisees and the Sadducees believe. When he says he has hope of the resurrection of the dead – something the Sadducees reject – he means that the resurrection of the dead has already started – something the Pharisees reject. It has started because Jesus rose from the dead, and any hope anyone has of rising from the dead has to come from a hope that Jesus rose from the dead!

All of our religion must end in Jesus.

I love being Cumberland Presbyterian. I’ve only been in this denomination for two years, but I’ve found a welcome home among people who I am truly convinced are led by the Spirit and follow Jesus. But resting on the fact that we are Cumberland Presbyterians will not advance the Kingdom of God one inch. Nor will it proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to one person. It will not. How often do we rely on our history? How often do we say that, “My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather was a Cumberland Presbyterian?” How often do we remind ourselves that, “My family has been coming to Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian Church all my life.”

Religion is a good thing. Jesus was religious. Paul was religious. Paul had just finished a week-long religious ritual at the temple when this whole mess started. But all of our religion must end, must find it’s completion in Jesus.

“Are you Cumberland Presbyterian? You do well. But even from the ashes of the log house of Samuel McAdow could God raise up Cumberland Presbyterians.”

Derek recently changed and simplified our mission statement as a church: Worship Christ. Grow in Christ. Serve Christ. All of our worship, all of our growth, all of our service –  everything that we do must be centered around Jesus Christ.

Because the entirety of lives find their end in Jesus Christ. The bookends of the passage for today are deaths – the death of Stephen and the foreshadowing of the death of Paul. At the center is a word of encouragement from Christ himself: “The following night [after the Paul was with the council], the Lord stood by him and said, Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.‘”

Our whole lives are find their end in Jesus Christ because our whole lives exist to be testimonies to Jesus Christ and not to ourselves. From a worldly perspective, this is the beginning of the end for Paul. He is on the road from Jerusalem to Rome where he will die. But in reality, he has already died with Christ and been raised with Christ.

I have been deeply saddened by so many in our community who have been afflicted with cancer in its various, evil forms. And just this week, I found out that my own step-mother has developed what is most likely ovarian cancer, possibly stage four. I’ve only heard my dad cry twice in my life – once was at my wedding, and once was this week. They are praying for and expecting a miracle. We are praying for and expecting that God will use this as a testimony – a witness to the powerful workings of God in Jesus Christ.

But while visiting with my dad and my stepmom on Thursday, we had a brief, frank conversation about death. My stepmom is strong in her faith, and she spoke confidently that if it comes to that she will be present with the Lord Christ. We are not praying for that, we are praying that she would be healed completely so that she would be able to testify to God’s goodness many years from now. But in that frank conversation with her, one truth was evident to me: however this cancer ends, it ends in Jesus.

The word “martyr” means witness. Paul and Stephen were martyrs, and in their deaths they were witnesses to Christ. We will see them again with the Lord, when we are face to face in the flesh. And a thousand, thousand years from now we will all still be singing praises to the Lamb who was slain.

And all things find their end – and their beginning – in him.

We who are gathered here today are witnesses to Jesus Christ. Regardless of what we are suffering or enjoying this morning, we have been buried with Christ and risen with him to newness of life. And our whole lives – today and any tomorrows the Lord gives us – are testimonies to him, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.


Word, Water, Spirit, Touch

The following is the sermon manuscript I used on October 1, 2017, the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction


Sermon Text – Acts 18:24-19:10


The Holy Spirit of God is not tame. And that should humble us.

We are at a transition point in Acts, one that begs us to consider what it means to be instructed by the Scriptures, what it means to be baptized in the name of Jesus, what it means to be touched – to be in fellowship – with our sisters and brothers in Christ. At the center of this three-fold working of water, word, and touch is the Spirit of God pointing us to Jesus in power. The Scriptures are important, but if the Spirit does not use the Scriptures to point us to Jesus, then we have no knowledge. Repentance and baptism are important, but if it is not done with the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, it is not a holy moment, a sacred moment, a sacrament. The intimacy of community is important, but if that intimacy does not come from shared, humble communion by the Spirit in the name of Jesus, it is not a congregation.

At the extremes in this passage are, on one end, Apollos and twelve newly baptized. On the other end are the unbelieving people of the synagogue at Ephesus. In the center are Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul being worked by the Spirit to overturn worlds. At one end are people who are close to the kingdom in fullness; at the other, people who think they are close push themselves further away. At one end, people who have knowledge – who really do have an understanding of the truth – humble themselves to receive more accurate instruction; at the other, people who think they have knowledge allow their stubbornness to reject the truth at the cost of their salvation. The Holy Spirit is at work, moving where the Spirit wills to move. Those who are following the Spirit follow further. Those who are rejecting the Spirit push themselves further away.

When we last left Paul, he was in Athens. He was in the middle of what’s known as his second missionary journey – that’s in the book of the maps there at the end of some your Bibles. He’s been moving up from Antioch in Syria, the place where the first Christian community outside of Israel was visited by the apostles, northwest up into modern-day Turkey and into Greece. Athens is not too far from the port city of Corinth, which you may remember from the letters Paul wrote to the church there, where Paul meets Priscilla and Aquila. This is the missionary couple who had fled to Greece from Italy as refugees when the Roman emperor Claudius was persecuting the Jews in Rome. In Corinth, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila all make tents. All three preach the gospel. And all three sail from Corinth east across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila to return to the place where this missionary journey started – Antioch in Syria – and the passage today marks the beginning of Paul’s third and final missionary journey before he is imprisoned and sent to Rome to die.

Derek and I have been leading you through this story, this history of the book of Acts by describing it as one Act of the Holy Spirit revealing the person of Jesus Christ to the whole world through many movements of the apostles and disciples, advancing the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. Derek and I have counted 85 such movements through the highly scientific process of counting ESV section headings. If you’ve been counting along with us, and I know you haven’t because even I had to look this up on the worship plan we made, these are movements 59 and 60. The geography is important – it marks real places where real people lived who were saved into a real community of Christians by the very real Holy Spirit in the name of the very real, resurrected Jesus Christ. The movements are important, because it involved real disciples proclaiming the real good news in real time periods of real history. The movements involved real work, real danger, real sacrifice. But the numbers of the movements or the geography aren’t what I would ask you if I were to quiz you on this book. I would want you to remember the number one – One Actor, the living God. One Lord, Jesus Christ. One Act, the spread of the gospel to the world.

And the Actor is not tame. The Spirit of the living God moves us, not the other way around. And this should humble us.

We all have that friend on Facebook – some of us still have that friend in the real world. That friend who is as stubborn as the day is long . . . but not just stubborn – wrong and stubborn. Boy did last year bring these folks out! I don’t care who you voted for, you know what I’m talking about. And I don’t care what issue you take today, what side you take (or if you take any side at all) – from Trump to the National Anthem at a football game to the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico – you know that friend of yours who is absolutely wrong and no matter how much you try to convince him he’s not going to change his mind on it!

Especially not on Facebook where it’s easy to forget that the person who’s arguing with you in a flesh and blood human being with hopes and fears and wants and dreams just like you. People are stubborn. We’re especially stubborn when we think that we’re right about something. I joked about giving a quiz earlier, but chances are if I did give a quiz, and you got some answers wrong, some of you would argue with the question! I know because I’ve done the same thing before!

At heart, we all have what’s called a confirmation bias. So many of the things we’re convinced we’re right about, we’re only convinced because we’ve only looked at sources that confirmed what we already thought was true. We only look for evidence that we want to find, and if we do find evidence that’s contrary to what we think is true, we often dismiss it before we understand it.

We must value the truth and hold that truth does mean something – I’m not arguing for the opposite of that or for relative truth. But what I am saying is that you may be wrong. I may be wrong. And we all need to be corrected.

This confirmation bias doesn’t happen just in secular culture or politics. We celebrate this month the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the movement started by Martin Luther that led to Christian groups to move away from the Roman church. In that time period, something like 30,000 Protestant denominations have started. That’s 30,000 groups that differ in either doctrine, history, or geography – or some combination of the three. For us and our sister denomination of Cumberland Presbyterians, it’s a separation that started as segregation because of race.

The Holy Spirit does not move in 30,000 different directions at once. We do. And while there is much to celebrate this month about the Protestant Reformation, there is also a lot for us to be convicted about, too. We are not a humble people, willing to listen to instruction by the Spirit. Instead, we prefer to argue, to split, to sue, and to separate.

No, the Holy Spirit of God is not tame. And that should humble us like it humbled Apollos.

Apollos was an educated man who allowed refugees to teach him the Scriptures more accurately. As a man, he was a Jewish leader – and in that very patriarchal society he learned from a woman and her husband who had a better understanding of the Scriptures than he did. He was a bold, passionate man – but, like Jesus, he did not see humility as something that made him weak. He was led by the Spirit, and he had surrendered himself enough to know that the Spirit was leading him into community. This was not just Apollos and his Bible, and his only interaction with other people was not simply telling them how wrong they were! The result of his humility was greater boldness! The result of his humility was greater intellectual prowess! But these things were only tools used by the Spirit to convince people that Jesus is the Christ. Only the humble allow themselves to be moved by the Spirit in this way. Only the humble can be convicted by the reading of the word in the presence of community and find a changed life to God’s glory.

The Holy Spirit of God is not tame. And that should humble us like it humbled the twelve in our passage who were baptized.

Notice, I did not say re-baptized – that’s not what’s going on here. There is no magic formula. The reason their first baptism was insufficient (good as it may have been) was not because of the pattern of a ceremony, but because of a person. They were baptized in repentance that led the way for Jesus. Now Jesus had come. And they needed to share in his baptism. They needed to share in his death. They needed to share in his resurrection. And they go humbly.

In quiet humility, they are led by the Spirit through Paul into baptism. The result of their humility is boldness – they receive the Holy Spirit in power. In an echo of the twelve apostles at Pentecost these twelve foreign disciples are touched by the Christian community in the hands of Paul. They speak in tongues, and they prophesy.

Too often, we get this so wrong. We think baptism is about us. I see people who were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit get re-baptized all the time. This may seem like an act of humility – someone is admitting that they themselves or someone else didn’t get it right the first time. I confess that I cringe whenever I hear someone tell a newly baptized person, “Congratulations!” or worse, “I’m so proud of you!” In this lack of humility or faux humility we make baptism about us! Brothers and sisters, baptism is about Jesus. That’s why, and it’s the only reason why it has any affect at all! The difference in this text is in the name of the community into which the person is being baptized. It has nothing to do with the people being baptized. And if you are ever tempted to doubt your baptism, do not look to yourself, to the age when you received it, or to the one who performed it. Look to the name that was pronounced over you – look to the name of Jesus.

Do not be stubborn, like the people in the synagogue. Do not reject the Holy Spirit and find yourself isolated from the touch of the community, the water of your baptism, the word of God proclaimed in the congregation. Instead, as Paul proclaims in Philippians 2, look to Jesus and in humility learn from him:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.


The Kingdom through Tribulations

The following is the sermon manuscript I used on September 3, 2017, the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction

Sermon Text – Acts 14:19-23

“…Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I doubt that’s anyone’s favorite Bible verse.

Derek and I are cynics at heart – that’s probably why we get along so well. We’d probably be full-blown cynics if not for the gospel. And part of that natural cynicism for us is a running joke about how people – including us, I don’t think Derek and I are exempt – pick their favorite Bible verses. We tend to pick the verses that only have aspects we can easily perceive as positive. We tend to pick the verses that we can easily take out of context and affirm what we already believe (or affirm what we already want to happen). We love Jeremiah 29:11, right? “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Even though the “you” in that verse should be read as “y’all” – plural. And the y’all should be read as “the people of Israel.” And the “plans for welfare, future, and hope” should be read as “plans for welfare, future, and hope fulfilled by Christ!” – not “plans for wealth, a good career, and a loving spouse.”)

Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible, Acts 14:22 is definitely in bottom third when it comes to favorite verses. If the verses of the Bible were picked like the NFL draft, this is a seventh round pick right here. Don’t get me wrong in all of this – if you have a verse from God’s true and perfect word that reminds you of the peace you have in Christ and encourages you to live your life in obedience to him, do not let me take that away from you! But we need to be reminded, often, of the full scope of God’s word for us, the full counsel of the Bible. Indeed, we probably need to be reminded more often by the verses and parts of the Bible we don’t like than the ones we do. The verses we love and the verses that make us uncomfortable are both equally God’s true word written for us.

Because regardless of whatever verse you might have picked to be your “life verse” – Acts 14:22 is a pretty good candidate to be Paul’s life verse: “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” But not because he picked it! Remember, Paul was the one causing the tribulation! He approved of the stoning of Stephen; here we see Paul stoned himself. He traveled many miles to kill Christians; here we see others travel many miles to kill him. The victimizer has become the victim. The persecutor has become the refugee. The enemy of Christ has become his disciple and apostle. The reversal is as clear and as shocking as what Jesus said to Ananias at Paul’s conversion: “…he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Or as Paul puts it in his own words in 2 Corinthians:

“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little….But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that….Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul’s life showcased his own weakness to demonstrate the power of Jesus Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit within him. It was not a prosperous life, as the world understands prosperity. It was not his “best life, now” as we normally think of it. It was not a first century version of the American dream. No, his life was a dream and a hope of the eternal Kingdom of God.

Acts 14 is the conclusion of Paul’s first missionary journey – the first intentional attempt by the apostles to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. And, as has been a characteristic of Acts all along, wherever the disciples of Jesus go they are met with two reactions: many come to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and others violently reject the name of Jesus Christ. These are the two reactions that remain to this day.

Paul and Barnabas have sailed from Antioch in Syria – where the first church outside of Israel was founded and where the disciples were first called “Christians” – westward to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and up into what is now modern-day Turkey. From there they go into another city called Antioch, Antioch in Pisidia, and then they start going further Southeast.

Paul and Barnabas preach at Iconium, but the people are divided and they are forced to flee the city. So they go to a city called Lystra to preach. There, instead of being forced to flee, the people think they’re gods! As Paul is preaching, the Holy Spirit heals a crippled man after Paul sees the man’s faith and tells him to stand up. So, as any good pagan would do if he thought he just met Zeus and Hermes in person, the town priest gets some oxen and moseys them out to the city entrance to make a sacrifice. Now the last person in Acts who was thought to be a god was King Herod, and when Herod failed to correct the people, an angel of the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms. So – rather than go through that – Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes and explain to people, “Hey, pay attention to what we’ve been saying. We’re not the living God!”

(That always bring me comfort as a preacher, by the way. Because when I want to get frustrated or wonder why it seems like some people just won’t listen, no matter I hard you try, I know it happened to Paul and Barnabas, too!)

But even with the second explanation, they still have a time trying to convince the folks at Lystra to, you know, not make sacrifices to them. That is until some people come from Antioch in Pisidia and the place they just fled from – Iconium. The folks from Antioch walked about 100 miles to stone Paul. And apparently this convinced the folks at Lystra, because they go from wanting to worship Paul to wanting to kill him in an instant! They stone Paul, think he’s dead, and leave him for it.

But Paul is not alone. Barnabas and other disciples – not the Twelve, but the new ones there in the town gather around him. And just as miraculously as the crippled man Paul healed in that same town, by the power of the Holy Spirit Paul stands up!

He enters the town again – because, you know, after you’ve been stoned almost to death you need a little bit of rest, right? But the very next day, he gets up and starts walking to the town of Derbe that’s about fifty miles away! My physical therapist wife would be proud. He and Barnabas continue to preach the gospel, and many are made disciples.

Now at this point in the story, it would be easy for Paul to keep traveling southeast to Tarsus, his home town. It also would have been easy for them to call it a day, keep going southeast by land and get to Antioch in Syria where this whole trip started. Not a bad first trip.

But the work is not done. The persecution they faced in these cities is the same persecution the new disciples face. When Jesus gave the apostles the command to evangelize, he said, “Make disciples.” He did not say, “Make converts.” Paul and Barnabas knew that to be a disciple of Jesus Christ meant a life-long commitment. It was something that required consistent day-to-day faithfulness – not just a one-time decision!

So, they go back. It was perfectly acceptable for them to flee as refugees from the persecution they were facing in those cities. Indeed, as we’ve seen earlier in Acts, this flight from persecution is how the gospel started to spread to the Gentiles in the first place! But now the Spirit is calling them back, back to the places where they almost died to preach to those who almost killed them. They comfort and encourage the new disciples – not by denying the harsh realities to which their new faith calls them – but by saying that the Kingdom of God is worth it. Christ is worth it for them to endure any kind of tribulation. Paul and Barnabas appoint elders to lead these new churches; they fast and pray over them. Then, they take the long, back-tracking route to where their missionary journey started.

“…Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.”

Those are true words of encouragement and peace. They may not seem like it – oh how we desire our creaturely comforts! We fail to see those words as encouraging because we often fail to see how many tribulations Christ himself endured. And more than that, we fail to see the Christian life as a call to enter into the tribulations of Christ so that we might also enter into the Kingdom of Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ! It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” Paul would go on to tell us. The old self must be put off for the new to be put on. We must be buried with Christ in order to rise with him to newness of life.

This does not mean seeking out tribulations. Whenever they can, Paul and Barnabas flee when persecution comes so that the work might continue. But what it certainly does not mean is that we abandon our faith, reject our hope, or hide the light of Christ within us. Life is frustrating enough. Ask the people in Houston! Ask one of our brothers and sisters in this congregation who is agonizing over poor health, or estranged family members, or mourning or preparing the loss of a dear friend. Calamity and disaster and disease and death will continue to strike in a world that remains in rebellion against the one true God.

The tribulations we face in the world are not signs that God is not sovereign – that God remains aloof or distant or not in control. Nor are they signs that God is a sadist – that God delights in killing people or sending natural disasters or is constantly trying to tempt us. God does not tempt us, as James tells us, and God does not delight even in the death of the wicked but desires that all should turn and worship him! No, these tribulations are signs that the world – though still under God’s sovereign control – opposes God because of the Fall and because of sin. “The servant is not above the Master,” Jesus tells us. If the world opposes God, and we are for God, then we can expect the world to oppose us. We can expect to face many tribulations. This is the reality for us who follow Christ. But Christ tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Notice how Paul, by the power of the Holy Spirit, handles these tribulations. He is wounded! But he does not hide himself in his wounds. He does not deny they exist – he takes rest when he needs it – and he does not suffer his wounds alone. He turns to the community, and the community surrounds him. He neither wallows in self-pity nor does he just “suck it up” and move on. He lives in recognition of his wounded-ness within the community, and by the power of God’s own Spirit, he continues moving forward in faith obedient to the command of God. He is weakened by his stoning, but his weakness is not something that stops him. Instead, it is the very thing that forces him to rely less and less on himself and more and more on God’s Holy Spirit so that he can proclaim that in his weakness the power of God is demonstrated! In his weakness, in his insufficiency, in his suffering through tribulation, in the scars he bears from the tribulations of his life he walks onward in faith – even back to places of danger.

As Paul would later tell the Philippians, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Everything that he was, everything that he had, everything that he wanted to be was stoned with Paul at Lystra. And so should it be for us. For the Kingdom of Christ is worth it. Thy Kingdom come. Amen.

Seeing in the Spirit

The following is the sermon manuscript I used on July 30, 2017, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction

Sermon Text – Acts 9:1-19a

There is at least one question our text this morning begs you to answer.

Do you see Jesus?

Every morning I wake up and I stumble to find my glasses. I hate it. When I was in the third grade, I remember wanting glasses so I could look cool like I thought my best friend at the time looked. Sure enough, in the fourth grade, I started having to sit closer to chalkboard. I had to go to the eye doctor, and I had to get glasses. Now, I can’t see the big “E” on the eye exam chart without them. I always say the same thing: “I know it’s an ‘E,’ but I can’t see it.” I can’t even see my glasses in the morning before I put them on! If I don’t put my glasses in the exact same place each night before I go to bed, I stumble around like an idiot trying to find them. I kind of want to go back and slap my third-grade self for making such a stupid wish!

My reality is that I cannot see without them. The world is so distorted to me without my glasses that I cannot function without them. I would be a serious danger to others if I tried to drive without them.

At the start of this passage, Saul is a blind man barreling down a crowded highway in a semi-truck. In verse one, he’s not physically blind – yet – but make no mistake: Saul is just as spiritually blind here as he will soon be physically. And dangerous. Yes, Luke chooses to introduce this famous apostle, whom we most often call Paul, Luke’s friend and traveling companion, the man who would go on to write half of the New Testament…as a murderer. Because that is who Saul is. His blindness is no excuse.

As we saw from a couple of weeks ago, he approved the murder of Stephen, and now we see him breathing murder. Like Cain (the first murderer who rose against his brother) Saul’s lungs are filled with the breath of hatred and death instead of the Spirit of life that comes from God. What makes it worse is that he has legal (and what he thinks is godly) justification for what he wants to do. There is no one and no conscience within himself to stop what him.

If you were watching this narrative as a movie or a TV show, you would think that the director was setting up Saul to be the great villain of this story. Here is the man whom the heroic apostles must struggle against and endure. Here is the one who is going to create some dramatic tension for us to see the great heroism and perseverance of these Christians in the face of the persecution.

But as Derek and I have said many times before, the apostles are not the heroes of Acts. Though church tradition has called this “The Acts of the Apostles,” there is no main character here other than the Holy Spirit. The great villain of Acts doesn’t become the great villain he’s set up to be! Instead, Saul defeated by the real hero of this book – Jesus – just as this villain’s persecution is about to get started in earnest. And he is defeated not by Jesus killing him (though certainly we should talk about this being the time that the old Saul dies and the new Saul in Christ is born). But Jesus defeats Saul by causing him to see.

The light of almighty God shines on him. And in that light, he sees that by persecuting Jesus’ followers, he is persecuting Jesus himself. And in that light, he sees that by persecuting Jesus himself he is murdering the very God he thought he followed. But this light that shines isn’t clear to everyone. We know from the details here and from the other places Luke recounts this story in Acts, Saul’s companions see the light, but they don’t see Jesus. They hear a voice, but it’s not clear that they’ve heard or understood the words. How is it that Saul saw Jesus?

One of the symptoms of severe sleep deprivation is hallucinations. One military school I attended is infamous for this, and there are stories of students trying put imaginary coins in trees thinking they’re coke machines. I have not had a Damascus Road experience quite like Paul, but I have had an I-85 experience. This might come as a bit of a shock to you, but I was a nerd in college. My poor college decisions don’t involve drinking and driving but driving after being up too many hours studying and writing. I remember one finals period when I drove from my home in Lanett to Auburn and stayed on campus two nights to try to finish everything. I had some periodic naps on couches, more 5-hour energy drinks than I’d care to admit to, and took a shower at the gym. When I had finally turned in my last paper, I started the drive back to go to bed. It normally took about 35 minutes. At four in the morning after being more or less awake for 60 hours, driving back felt like three hours. Thankfully, there weren’t many cars on the road, but the ones that were – I swear looked like space ships!

Saul did not hallucinate this vision of Jesus. When Saul was knocked down into the dirt, he was snapped out of his hallucination to see reality. This was not some vision that was somehow separated from the “real” world we live in. No. Saul was given a glimpse of something – or should I say, someone – who was more real than the dirt on the ground he felt when he fell. John in his Gospel tells the story of the disciples who were gathered together in a locked room after Jesus had died. Suddenly, Jesus appeared amongst them – not as a ghost or a vision, but as a flesh-and-blood human being  who allowed Thomas to touch and feel his wounds. How did Jesus get in the door? The risen Christ was more real than the door and could not be contained or stopped by it!

So too, the risen Christ could not be contained or stopped by Saul’s hallucination of how he thought the world really was. The Holy Spirit opened Saul’s eyes to see! The others experienced a real event, but without the Spirit, they were more blind than Saul.

Do you see Jesus?

Sisters and brothers, everything that Saul did in the passage that was worthwhile and good – his obedience in entering the city, his praying, his fasting, his baptism, the breaking of the fast – was done because he had seen Jesus.

It’s not the other way around. Saul didn’t find Jesus by preaching Jesus, or suffering for Jesus’ name, or being baptized, or praying, or fasting. All of these things are very good, but they did not come first! Saul did not get baptized in a t-shirt that said, “I have decided!” No one told Saul, “Congratulations!” or “I’m so proud of you!” after he was baptized. Jesus saw Saul first and by the Holy Spirit, Jesus caused Saul to see him. That murdering Saul, who was killing Jesus all over again by sending the followers of Jesus to be killed was chosen by Jesus to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

No wonder Saul later wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Do you see Jesus? Squinting will do you no good – sisters and brothers, he is here in this place! He is here because he has promised to be where two or more are gathered in his name. He is here because he has promised and not because we’re so great apart from him. He didn’t say he would be here only if the hymns were ones we liked, or the people were people we liked, or if we thought the preaching was inspired or inspiring. He is the Lord who decides where he will and will not go.

He is here, whether we experience him or not, and the times when we don’t feel like we experience him in worship are the times we most need to be knocked down in the dirt! Those are the times we need to be blinded by his light! Those are the times we need to have the scales fall from our eyes.

So often, we try to chase after some worship “experience” where we feel close to Jesus and don’t see the Jesus standing right in front of us, calling us by name. We nit-pick.  We lose our contentment in the present Immanuel, God with us, because we become so focused on chasing experience or complaining about what’s not right that we fail to thank God for his very presence. We think what we do here is mundane. Not miraculous. Certainly far from the Damascus road.

But that distance is in our mind’s eye – not God’s. We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes. We need the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus.

And indeed he is here. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” If Jesus is so intimate with his disciples, so close to them that when they are faced with persecution and murder and death, he says that it is his own persecution and his own death – as he says to Saul – then how can we doubt that he shows up to what seems like an ordinary, peaceful Sunday morning? And if he is here – how can we do anything but fall to the ground, shaken by the light of his presence.

How can we not – like Ananias – see Christ at work in our sisters and brothers, especially those sisters and brothers whom we don’t like, whom we criticize, even those who have wronged us in the past. Paul had people Ananias loved handed over to be killed. And the first word Ananias says to Paul is “brother!”

Sisters and brothers, the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see Jesus. He has opened our eyes to see Jesus standing right in front of us, telling us that he will never leave us nor forsake us. He calls us by grace – not what we have done! Even the vile things we did this week cannot separate us from the reality of Christ’s presence with us now and always. Just as Saul later wrote: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Sisters and brothers, see the risen Christ at work here and in one another and be at peace. Amen.


The following is the sermon manuscript I used on June 18, 2017, the Second Sunday after Pentecost. It will vary in places from the actual sermon preached.

For more on this series, see our Introduction

Sermon Text – Acts 2:1-47

There is no Christian life that is not life in the Spirit of God. There is no Christian proclamation, no Christian witness, that is not the proclamation of the Spirit of God about Jesus Christ. There is no Christian Church growth that is not done by the Spirit and the Spirit alone. There is no Christian fellowship that is not fellowship in the Spirit of God.

Of course, as Christians, I doubt any of us would think these words aren’t true. At least, I hope not. We talk about the need for the Spirit. We nod our heads. We read passages in Scripture about the work and the importance of the Spirit; we hear a sermon or are reminded in the liturgy about the movement of the Spirit. For a time, we are briefly moved. Then we go back to whatever it was we wanted to do in the first place.

Because if we’re honest with ourselves – and I’m no different than any of you in this respect – we live most of our lives with only a passing acknowledgment of God’s passionate intimacy with us through the Spirit. I say I have a Christian life, but so often it’s a life in and for myself – not a life in the Spirit. You say you have a Christian witness, but most often the central proclamation of your life is about yourself! We say that Church growth comes only by the working of the Spirit of God – then we go back to planning our strategies as if everything depended on us. We say we have Christian fellowship, but little do we recognize that much of our fellowship doesn’t look all that different from any generic community organization – we have a common interest, a decent amount of concern for one another, and we generally enjoy each other’s company. Christian community was first founded when the Spirit descended on the Apostles in tongues of fire – we settle lukewarm. We fail to look at our brother or our sister and say, “The Spirit of God lives here!” We still look to a building to be the Temple of the Lord; we neglect to look at one another as the very place where God dwells on earth by his Spirit.

And that’s why we need to hear Acts 2 over and over again. We believe – or at least we act like – the Church was founded by us and is about us! Sisters and brothers, we need Acts 2 because we need to know that the Church – including this church here at Homewood Cumberland Presbyterian – was founded by the Holy Spirit and is about Jesus Christ.

Derek and I are preaching through Acts because we need to be reminded of this truth, too. Chapter one, which we heard last week, is the prologue for book. It sets the scene after Jesus’ resurrection and serves as the narrative transition from when Jesus walked the earth with the disciples to when the Holy Spirit founds the Church with the Apostles. Acts 2 is the lens through which the rest of the book must be read. The Apostles do many mighty acts. That’s why our tradition has named this book, “The Acts of the Apostles.” But even the Apostles would tell you they aren’t the main character. Luke, the author who wrote this as a sequel to his Gospel, doesn’t portray any one of them – or even them collectively – as the main character. No, the Holy Spirit is central to this narrative just as he is central to the life of the Church in all times and in all ages.

And that is why we are calling this sermon series “The Act of the Holy Spirit.” There are many movements of the Spirit in the actions of the Apostles throughout this book. If you’re keeping count with Derek and me, this chapter covers four, five, and six of eighty-five. (Those numbers aren’t inspired, so you don’t have to keep count. We calculated them through the highly technical process of counting the section headings in your ESV pew Bibles – you can just look at the ESV headings, and that will probably be easier!) Derek and I are operating under the premise that these eighty-five movements are all part of the one Act of the Holy Spirit – the establishment of Christ’s Church. It’s an Act that continues to this day and into this very place. And in order to begin to understand how the Spirit is moving in this time and place – in our movement here at Homewood – we must look to how the Act began.

And it began with the Spirit’s action. Take a look at the first movement we’ll be looking at today in verses 1-13 under the ESV heading, “The Coming of the Holy Spirit.” The Disciples are all sitting in the same room together in Jerusalem. But they’re not just twiddling their thumbs wondering what to next. Let’s remember that the Disciples have been told to wait by the resurrected Jesus in chapter 1. They are not held captive by indecision – they have made the deliberate decision to wait.

It is Father’s Day. And if being a father of a three-year-old has taught me anything, it’s that it’s not comfortable for us to wait. Will is appropriately named because his namesake characteristic is pretty strong in him. He’s going to let you know what he wants to do and exactly when he wants to do it. “Not right now,” is something he has little patience for, and “later” is concept he only vaguely understands.

But in truth, toddlers are better at waiting than us because they at least sometimes acknowledge that they’re not in control! They know they’re dependent on adults to provide for their every need or desire – that’s why they get so upset when they don’t get something! We have a more pernicious and deadly problem. We can sometimes trick ourselves into believing that we’re not dependent. What’s worse, we often slip into the false belief – either directly or tacitly – that God is dependent on us to get anything done in the Church. Jesus is off away somewhere, and we must be his hands and feet to get anything done in the world.

The truth of Pentecost – and the joyous freedom that comes from this truth – is that God doesn’t depend on any of us! God is going to accomplish what God is going to accomplish, and while we are invited to participate – indeed, commanded to participate – success or failure does not depend on our human action.

The disciples, for all their failures to understand what Jesus was saying in the Gospels, at least get this part right. They obey Jesus in this act of waiting. My good friend Adam Borneman – sage of practical theology and baseball that he is – gave me this wisdom as part of his charge to me when I was ordained, “Do not lead without first being led by the Spirit.” The path towards life is through Christ, and the path through Christ is led by the Holy Spirit. All other roads lead to death. Our churches are no exception to this rule.

It is true, and will always be true, that the Spirit of God is always ahead of us, leading us forward. In many churches that have seen decline, there is a frantic effort to find out where the Spirit has gone. New programs, new worship styles, new ways of appealing to the culture, new acceptance of old sins, a new preacher, a new youth director, a new worship leader – these are all appealing ways to find some quick fix for a dying church. Often in search of the new fix to old death, the dying church will say that it’s following the “new thing” God is doing in the Spirit. This kind of thinking ignores the truth that while the Spirit is indeed always ahead of us, urging us forward, the Spirit is also beside us and within us, telling us that the “new thing” Isaiah prophesied about is not an event but a person – Jesus Christ. The very Spirit of God speaks to us!

And the very Spirit of God speaks to us in our own language. When the Spirit comes in a mighty way to the Apostles, Jews from all across the world were in one place. They were there for the feast of Pentecost, a harvest feast fifty days after the Passover when Jesus had his Last Supper. And after the Spirit appears following a mighty wind and with fire, the narrative shifts –without any explicit description – from the tiny room where the Apostles were gathered to outdoors where the Jews and proselytes from many nations had gathered. And the very first thing the Apostles do when they are filled with the Spirit is proclaim the mighty works of God to people in their own languages.

There is a lot that can be said about the miracle of speaking in tongues here, but I know we all have Father’s Day lunches to get to, so I’ll keep a simple emphasis here: by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, the disciples speak in other languages, and the effect is that the people who hear do so in ways that they can understand clearly and intimately.

There is much benefit to learning another language. But hearing the truth of God spoken in the same accent your mother used when she sang you to sleep – that is deeply intimate. If you’ve ever travelled to a foreign country (whether you spoke the language and could get around or not) there’s something special about hearing someone speak your native tongue. For those of you who haven’t traveled abroad, you might have gotten a similar sense of what I’m talking about if you’ve been to a place like New York and, in the midst of the crowd, heard an Alabama accent. There is an instant bond, a feeling that someone knows something about you – or at least knows you in ways the other people around you don’t – even if you’ve just met.

“What does all of this mean?” the crowd asks the Apostles. The miracle of tongues at Pentecost is that God is intimate with us and tells us of his mighty works in ways that we can understand. He speaks to us in our own language. Have we ever paused to consider how miraculous it is that we can read the very words of God, inspired by the Spirit, in our native tongue simply by picking up a copy of Scripture! This is not common in the history of the world, but we have it here in our hands because of the movement of the Spirit in Church history! Like a nurse to a baby, God lisps to us, John Calvin says. God condescends to us, God comes down to us, to himself known. The Spirit indeed goes ahead of us, calling us outdoors toward proclamation, but never in way that leaves us lost! God does not play hide and seek with his Will, a mutual professor of both your pastors would say. God makes his will known, and God makes God’s will known in the words of Scripture and in the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

And as Peter proclaimed in his first sermon, God’s will is that we follow Christ. Look at the next movement of the Spirit in verses 14-41 under the ESV heading, “Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost.” We won’t have time to cover it all in detail and – in truth, who am I to add to the preached words of an Apostle preached on the day the Church was founded! But take a look at the subject matter – it’s all about God’s gracious action in Jesus Christ. What’s happening with the Apostles is spectacular – it’s so spectacular some are saying they’re drunk! Peter starts with a defense: “How can we be drunk, it’s 9 in the morning?!” Then he shifts his discussion to the might work of God. These are the last days, the days when God has poured out God’s Spirit. And the Spirit is not simply poured out on kings or prophets. The Spirit has been poured out on men and women, young and old.

People of God, you are prophets! You are not prophets in the sense that you can predict lottery numbers or the outcome of football games. But if you have been filled by the Spirit of God then you will prophesy. You will proclaim the truth of God to a world that’s not eager to hear it! You will pronounce the truth that God is acting in the world. You will proclaim future things – that God will set all things right.

You prophesy in the Spirit the same way Peter does. You prophesy – oh people of God filled by the Holy Spirit – by talking about Jesus. This Jesus, whom you and I crucified, is the same Jesus who has triumphed over death. This Jesus, whose death is the result of our sin, has been lifted up above all creation, sits at the right hand of God the Father in power, and is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

And to those gathered at Pentecost, that is a terrifying reality! The crowd asked, “What does this mean?” – and they got their answer. Make no mistake, whether the people in the crowd were present before Pilate and shouted, “Crucify him,” or not, Peter is implicating all of them in Jesus’ death. What would you do if the man you crucified was just declared King of all Kings and was coming back?

To start, you might ask the same question the crowd asked, “What shall we do?” How can killers – and we are, even though Christ willingly laid down his life – find pardon and grace and peace?

The crowd asks this question of Peter, and Peter responds not with judgment, but with grace. “Repent and be baptized.” Too often, we look at repentance as something we’d rather avoid. It’s like a new diet or an exercise plan – we know it’s good for us, but it’s too arduous to take up right now. Repentance here is pure joy. It’s walking down a dark trail, lost in the woods at night, and turning around to see the light of a fire that leads you back to camp. Luke has already talked extensively about repentance in his Gospel. In Luke 15, Jesus says that repentance is like the one lost sheep out of ninety-nine who is found by the shepherd. Repentance is like the one lost coin out of ten being found by a woman desperately searching for it. Repentance is like one lost, frivolous, and wicked son out of two being found by a Father who rushes out while he is a long way off not to chastise him but to welcome him in to a feast.

Repentance is about responding in faith to God, but it’s primary emphasis is on the God who finds. With blood still on our hands from the torture and death of God’s own Son, God finds us, washes our hands in the waters of our baptism, and fills us with his very Spirit. And not only that, God tells us that the promise for us is also the promise for our children. The promise for us is the promise for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. We are called into community.

And that is where the final movement takes us – to community – in verses 42-47 under the ESV heading, “The Fellowship of the Belivers.” This chapter begins and ends in community. There is no Spirit-filled life without community, and there is no true community without the Spirit. The repentance Peter proclaims is a repentance away from self and into community! The baptism Peter prescribes is a baptism that is the entrance into a community. Despite what you may have heard – baptism not about the individual being baptized. It is about God’s gracious action on behalf of the individual within the communion of saints.

And the community to which we are called is not a community manufactured, grown, or sustained by our human design. It is a community of love in and through the Holy Spirit. The community that comes out of the Pentecost sermon is a community so filled with love in the Spirit that they give to one another without compulsion. It is a community that recognizes their time, talents, finances, gifts, and everything that they have is not their own but belongs to a gracious God who offers provision for all.

This is the fellowship of the Spirit, the fellowship that is brought about by the proclamation of the Spirit in our own language, that communicates the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ, that prompts our joyful repentance, and that gives us entrance into fellowship with one another through baptism. This is where the loving and powerful Spirit of God leads us. Amen.

The Act of the Holy Spirit, Sermon 1: The Living Church


Acts is a book filled with the miraculous transformative power of the Holy Spirit. We see people who are working beyond human explanation. For example, Peter, who was once scolded by Jesus for not keeping his eyes on the things of God, is shown to be filled with the things of God and proclaiming with great authority the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the disciples are gathered together following the resurrection of Jesus, we see the first three movements of the Holy Spirit. These movements show us how the Holy Spirit gathers together the Living Church of Christ and empowers it to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world.

Movement 1: The Promise of the Holy Spirit
In John 14 and 16, when Jesus is talking with his disciples, he promises them that he will send a comforter. This promised comforter is the Holy Spirit. The first movement of the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to be in our lives. God never forsakes his promises to his people. God is trustworthy. What he says, he will fulfill. When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to us, it is God assuring us that he will always be with us. When we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, this is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:3 tells us that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. So, as you live your life, know that if you confess that Jesus is the Lord of your life, that the Holy Spirit has empowered you to do so and, therefore, you have had the promise of the Holy Spirit active in your life. The Holy Spirit is with you and is God present in your life.

Acts 1:1-5 demonstrates to us how we are to abide in the Holy Spirit. In every way, we are commanded to wait upon the Lord. God’s timing is not our timing. Our lives ought not be dictated by our plans and our aspirations. We await God. We await his will to be done. As we await, may we remember his promise for us. But we do not do nothing while we await. We pray. We serve. We welcome. We faithfully live to the glory of God. May we know that he is with us. May we not be distracted by the things of this world, but instead, may we see ourselves as God’s disciples and faithfully prepare ourselves for the work Christ has in store for us.

Movement 2: The Mission of the Holy Spirit
In Acts 1:6-11 we see Jesus proclaim to us that the work of the Holy Spirit is different than we expect. In our lives, we have to fight our urges to always be in control. We have to fight our urges to know every detail worked out in front of us prior to us demonstrating faithfulness to God. The disciples ask Jesus a question about the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan for his people. Instead of giving them the specific answer about when the restoration of God’s Kingdom will occur, Jesus responds with the ultimate “Don’t worry about it!” God the Father has fixed the time and season for his restoration of the Kingdom, but we do not need to be concerned with that information. Why would Jesus respond this way? Well, certainly Jesus wants us to trust God and know that it is his mission that we are on, but I can’t help but think about what those disciples would have done with that information. I was thinking the other day about this very point and wondering what I would do if I knew the exact time when Jesus will return. In a much more less important example, every year Cindy and I talk about how we need to be better prepared for Christmas. We talk about doing shopping early so we don’t run out of time, but every year we find ourselves running around on December 23 looking for presents for someone. We put off the work we said we should be doing and instead use the deadline of Christmas as a comfort. We say that we will have time to do it later. I asked myself, “If I knew when Jesus was going to return, would I put off what I should be doing? Would I procrastinate?” Jesus, in his words to his disciples, tells them and us to be about the work we’ve been given to do. The only thing we need to worry about as followers of Jesus is being a witness to Jesus Christ in the “Jerusalems, Judeas, and Samarias” in which we live. That is our task and vision.

A final statement on the second movement of the Holy Spirit–notice how the disciples have to be prompted to get busy with the mission of God. As the disciples watch Jesus ascend into heaven they stand amazed. I imagine that they are taking in everything about that moment. They didn’t want to miss a thing. But they stood amazed a bit too long. Notice in verse 11 how two angels had to ask them, “Why are you standing here? GET TO WORK!” We cannot allow the past glory that we have witnessed to prevent us from faithfully following Jesus where he leads us. We can become very comfortable with where we’ve been. We can take a great deal of pride in what God has done in our lives. And if we aren’t careful, this can distract us from what God is calling us to do now. God, have mercy on us when we allow the glory days of our past to cause us to live lazily in the present. May we be present in the mission of the Holy Spirit every day.

Movement 3: The Strengthening by the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit strengthens the disciples in Acts 1:12-26. The troubling actions of Judas Iscariot undoubtedly scarred the fellowship of disciples. Jesus selected twelve disciples to train for the purposes of living the mission of God. We know that Jesus had sent the disciples out two-by-two to preach in various cities in Israel. The void left by Judas was not ignored or over-looked. As the disciples were abiding together, they were consumed in prayer awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit. As these disciples prayed together, the Holy Spirit strengthens them by filling the vacancy left by the death of Judas.*

The community of God is a community knit together by God. God brings his people together and equips them to do the ministry he has given them. Many times we can think that we decide to go to church. We often times forget that God has brought us together as a church. Perhaps my favorite understanding of the church is that it is a community of people who never would have ordinarily come together if it were not for the action of Jesus. The relationships I have with the people at Homewood CPC have no other foundation than the foundation of Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, I serve Homewood CPC. Because of Jesus, our session works together. Because of Jesus, we exist on Columbiana Road. Our being as a church is grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ. Which makes the selection of Matthias as the twelfth disciple so important. The Holy Spirit strengthens the community of disciples by stitching together the family of faith. Matthias has always been there in the midst of the disciples, but now, it’s time for him to work.

We as a church have to always be ready to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. God strengthens his church by bringing his people together. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that God’s church grows. This leads us to understand that anyone who enters the church of God has a place in the mission of God. How welcoming are we toward our new neighbors and those who have found their way into our church each week? Do we see these lives as the Holy Spirit strengthening his people, or do we reject the strengthening of the Holy Spirit and neglect those God sends into his house? May we enlarge our understanding of who we are as a church and know that without God and his Holy Spirit, we are just another social club with no authority or purpose.

These movements of the Holy Spirit are important for us to see as they should drive us to prayer. Notice that in 1:14 that the disciples had devoted themselves prayer together as they were obediently awaiting the Holy Spirit. How do we fill our time during the “unexciting” times of life? Prayer is terribly absent in our current Christendom in America. I am not saying we don’t pray, but I am saying that the devotion to prayer in the church is severely lacking. Prayer is the language of faith. It is the understanding that we are not the final word or authority for what happens to us. It is the appeal and dependence on the God of the universe, who moves within his people in mighty ways. As Jesus taught us, may we ever be in prayer, seeking not our will for our lives or our will for what we think the church should be, but that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May we be faithful to God as he moves within his church. Amen.

*(Not to spend too much time discussing the details given in Acts about Judas’s death, but we must understand that there was nothing honorable about Judas’s actions in betraying Jesus nor in his death. In recent years, much attention has been given to the discovery of “The Gospel of Judas” and the message within it that implies that Judas was only being faithful to Jesus in his betrayal. One thing is clear in this recounting of Judas’s fate, it is that his actions, both betraying Jesus and in his taking of his life, are not honorable nor are they admirable.)

The Act of the Holy Spirit: A Sermon Series Introduction

The Acts of the Holy Spirit?

The main character of the Acts of the Apostles isn’t one of the apostles. The apostles preach, baptize, travel, heal the sick, and raise the dead. They are beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and martyred. We must learn from them. We rightly hold them in esteem for their faithful witness – often unto death. But this story isn’t about them.

This is the story of how the Holy Spirit founded the Church of Jesus Christ.

This is the story of how the very Spirit of God, the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, spread the good news of Jesus Christ “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Derek and I will be preaching through Acts this season after Pentecost. We hope to show you that the many spectacular movements of the apostles are one act of God by the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world.

We hope you will join us. We hope you will learn from the example of the faithful apostles. But most of all – we pray that you will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus Christ in everything that you do and everywhere that you go.


Some Notes First

Below, you’ll find what was the planned outline of our series in full. Reality changed it a bit. Before we get to that, it’s helpful to clarify a few things.

  1. This is the raw outline Derek and I developed for our use. We thought we’d share it with you, and we hope you’ll find it accessible enough. If you don’t, please comment, and we’ll try to clarify. (NOTE: This is not a historical record. Some special services were deleted. Most of the readings were shortened. Sometimes, chapters were combined. The preaching schedule was adjusted. We are leaving this here because it still serves as a good overview of this series, but it is not accurate in all of its details.)
  2. We highly recommend the new commentary by Willie James Jennings. We like it so much, it’s formed much of the structure of this outline, and you’ll see sections from Jennings below. In addition to reading Acts in between sermons, we highly encourage you to read Jennings along with us. (No, you don’t have to have a seminary degree to do it! He’s easy to read, relatively short, and powerful in his witness.)
  3. Derek and I identified 85 movements in the book of Acts that are part of the one act of the Holy Spirit. We did this through the highly scientific process of counting ESV section headings. These movements will form the basic outlines of our sermons. If you follow along with the sermons in HCPC’s pew Bibles (or any ESV Bible), you already have the movements written out for you.
  4. In addition to Sunday mornings, we’ll have three special times of worship in conjunction with our fellowship meals. These will happen about every other month starting in July.
  5. We’ll be posting sermon transcripts, manuscripts, and notes on this blog  in case you want to review (or if you miss a sermon). Why are we posting something written instead of a recording or a video? Well, the answer to that probably deserves its own post! The short answer? Derek and I believe that sermons are occasional acts. That doesn’t mean we believe that sermons should be done every once in a while! It means that there is something special about the occasion when the sermon is preached. The Holy Spirit is at work in a unique way on Sunday mornings when the faithful are gathered in community to hear the Word of God proclaimed. As helpful as they are – and Derek and I watch recordings of other preachers a lot! – recordings can’t replace the real thing. We hope that written records will help you recall what was said (or catch up) with the reminder that these aren’t substitutes for the real thing.

Series Outline – The Act of the Holy Spirit

(Trinity Sunday, 6/11 – Reign of Christ, 11/26)


Jennings: 1:1-4:37 “THE REVOLUTION IS HERE!”


Sunday, June 11 – Trinity Sunday 

(1st S.A. Pentecost; 10th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 1:1-26
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 1:1-12: “The Death of Nationalist Fantasy” (pp. 13-23)
    • 1:13-26: “Grasping for the New” (pp. 24-26)
  • Movements 1-3
    • Movement 1 (1:1-5) “The Promise of the Holy Spirit”
    • Movement 2 (1:6-11) “The Ascension”
    • Movement 3 (1:12-26) “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas”


Sunday, June 18

(2nd S.A. Pentecost; Proper 6 (11); 11th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 2:1-47
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 2:1-13: “The Sound of Intimacy” (pp. 27-32)
    • 2:14-36: “Speaking in the Spirit” (pp. 33-35)
    • 2:37-41: “A New Response” (pp. 36-37)
    • 2:41-47: “A New Reality of Giving” (pp. 38-39)
  • Movements 4-6
    • Movement 4 (2:1-13) “The Coming of the Holy Spirit”
    • Movement 5 (2:14-41) “Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost”
    • Movement 6 (2:42-47) “The Fellowship of the Believers”


Sunday, June 25

(3rd S.A. Pentecost; Proper 7 (12); 12th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 3:1-26
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 3:1-11: “A New Gaze” (pp. 40-41)
    • 3:12-26: “History in the Making” (pp. 42-44)
  • Movements 7-8
    • Movement 7 (3:1-10) “The Lame Beggar Healed”
    • Movement 8 (3:11-26) “Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico”


Sunday, July 2 – Communion

(4th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 8 (13); 13th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 4:1-37
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 4:1-37: “The Criminal Disciple Emerges!” (pp. 45-51)
  • Movements 9-11
    • Movement 9 (4:1-22) “Peter and John Before the Council”
    • Movement 10 (4:23-31) “The Believers Pray for Boldness”
    • Movement 11 (4:32-37) “They Had Everything in Common”


Jennings: 5:1-9:43 “THE STRUGGLE OF DIASPORA”


Sunday, July 9

(5th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 9 (14); 14th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 5:1-42
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 5:1-17: “The Death of the Sovereign Couple” (pp. 52-60)
    • 5:18-42: “The Unity of Suffering” (pp. 61-63)
  • Movements 12-14
    • Movement 12 (5:1-11) “Ananias and Sapphira”
    • Movement 13 (5:12-16) “Many Signs and Wonders Done”
    • Movement 14 (5:17-42) “The Apostles Arrested and Freed”


Wednesday, July 12 – Fellowship Dinner

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 6:1-15
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 6:1-15: “The Pain of Diaspora” (pp. 64-67)
  • Movements 15-16
    • Movement 15 (6:1-7) “Seven Chosen to Serve”
    • Movement 16 (6:8-15) “Stephen Is Seized”


Sunday, July 16

(6th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 10 (15); 15th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 7:1-8:3
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 7:1-8:2: “A New Storyteller” (pp. 68-74)
    • 8:3 (3-25): “The Scattering and the Saving” (pp. 75-76)
  • Movements 17-19
    • Movement 17 (7:1-53) “Stephen’s Speech”
    • Movement 18 (7:54-60) “The Stoning of Stephen”
    • Movement 19 (8:1-3) “Saul Ravages the Church”


Sunday, July 23

(7th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 11 (16); 16th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 8:4-40
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • (Cont.) 8:4-25 (3-25: “The Scattering and the Saving” (pp. 76-80)
    • 8:26-40: “A New Sight of Love” (pp. 81-89)
  • Movements 20-22
    • Movement 20 (8:4-8) “Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria”
    • Movement 21 (8:9-25) “Simon the Magician Believes”
    • Movement 22 (8:26-40) “Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch”


Sunday, July 30

(8th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 12 (17); 17th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 9:1-43
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 9:1-19a: “Disrupting Life” (pp. 90-94)
    • 9:19b-30: “The Diaspora in Faith and Fear” (pp. 95-97)
    • 9:31-43: “The Repetition of Jesus” (pp. 98-101)
  • Movements 23-28
    • Movement 23 (9:1-19a) “The Conversion of Saul”
    • Movement 24 (9:19b-22) “Saul Proclaims Jesus in Synagogues”
    • Movement 25 (9:23-25) “Saul Escapes from Damascus”
    • Movement 26 (9:26-31) “Saul in Jerusalem”
    • Movement 27 (9:32-35) “The Healing of Aeneas”
    • Movement 28 (9:36-43) “Dorcas Restored to Life”


Sunday, August 6 – Communion

(9th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 13 (18); 18th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 10:1-48
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 10:1-23a: “The Revolution Comes to Us” (pp. 102-108)
    • 10:23b-48: “This Is What Intimacy Sounds Like” (pp. 109-114)
  • Movements 29-32
    • Movement 29 (10:1-8) “Peter and Cornelius”
    • Movement 30 (10:9-33) “Peter’s Vision”
    • Movement 31 (10:34-43) “Gentiles Hear the Good News”
    • Movement 32 (10:44-48) “The Holy Spirit Falls on the Gentiles”


Jennings: 10:1-15:41 “THE DESIRE OF GOD EXPOSED”


Sunday, August 13

(10th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 14 (19); 19th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 11:1-30
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 11:1-18: “The Transgressing God” (pp. 115-120)
    • 11:19-30: “The World according to Antioch” (pp. 121-124)
  • Movements 33-34
    • Movement 33 (11:1-18) “Peter Reports to the Church”
    • Movement 34 (11:19-30) “The Church in Antioch”


Sunday, August 20

(11th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 15 (20); 20th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 12:1-25
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 12:1-25: “The Prison Returns” (pp. 125-131)
  • Movements 35-37
    • Movement 35 (12:1-5) “James Killed and Peter Imprisoned”
    • Movement 36 (12:6-19) “Peter Is Rescued”
    • Movement 37 (12:20-25) “The Death of Herod”


Sunday, August 27

(12th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 16 (21); 21st S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 13:1-52
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 13:1-12: “The Unambiguous Spirit” (pp. 132-133)
    • 13:13-52: “Between Diaspora and Antioch: The Christian Cosmopolitan” (pp. 134-135)
  • Movements 38-40
    • Movement 38 (13:1-3) “Barnabas and Saul Sent Off”
    • Movement 39 (13:4-12) “Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus”
    • Movement 40 (13:13-52) “Paul and Barnabas at Antioch in Pisidia”


Sunday, September 3 – Communion

(13th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 17 (22); 22nd S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 14:1-28
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 14:1-18: “The Threat of Loss and the Promise of New Life” (pp. 136-137)
    • 14:19-28: “The Victory over Violence” (pp. 138-139)
  • Movements 41-44
    • Movement 41 (14:1-7) “Paul and Barnabas at Iconium”
    • Movement 42 (14:8-18) “Paul and Barnabas at Lystra”
    • Movement 43 (14:19-23) “Paul Stoned at Lystra”
    • Movement 44 (14:24-28) “Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria”


Sunday, September 10 

(14th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 18 (23); 23rd S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 15:1-41
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 15:1-33: “The Antiochene Body and the Jewish Body” (pp. 140-148)
    • 15:34-41: “The Risk of Trust” (pp. 149-151)
  • Movements 45-47
    • Movement 45 (15:1-21) “The Jerusalem Council”
    • Movement 46 (15:22-35) “The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers”
    • Movement 47 (15:36-41) “Paul and Barnabas Separate”


Thursday, September 14 – Communion; Holy Cross

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 16:1-40
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 16:1-8: “The In-Between Disciple” (pp. 152-156)
    • 16:9-19a: “A Tale of Two Women” (pp. 157-160)
    • 16:19b-24: “Ownership and Discipleship” (pp. 161-162)
    • 16:25-40: “Shaking the Prison Foundations” (pp. 163-168)
  • Movements 48-52
    • Movement 48 (16:1-5) “Timothy Joins Paul and Silas”
    • Movement 49 (16:6-10) “The Macedonian Call”
    • Movement 50 (16:11-15) “The Conversion of Lydia”
    • Movement 51 (16:16-24) “Paul and Silas in Prison”
    • Movement 52 (16:25-40) “The Philippian Jailer Converted”




Sunday, September 17

(15th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 19 (24); 24th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Se Sermon Text – Acts 17:1-34
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 17:1-15: “The Struggle between Text and Life” (pp. 169-174)
    • 17:16-34: “A Rhetoric of Desire” (pp. 175-177)
  • Movements 53-56
    • Movement 53 (17:1-9) “Paul and Silas in Thessalonica”
    • Movement 54 (17:10-15) “Paul and Silas in Berea”
    • Movement 55 (17:16-21) “Paul in Athens”
    • Movement 56 (17:22-34) “Paul Addresses the Areopagus”


Sunday, September 24

(16th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 20 (25); 25th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 18:1-28
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 18:1-11: “A Community in the Double Bind” (pp. 178-180)
    • 18:12-28: “A New Kind of Couple” (pp. 181-182)
  • Movements 57-59
    • Movement 57 (18:1-17) “Paul in Corinth”
    • Movement 58 (18:18-23) “Paul Returns to Antioch”
    • Movement 59 (18:24-28) “Apollos Speaks Boldly in Ephesus”


Sunday, October 1 – Communion

(17th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 21 (26); 26th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 19:1-41
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 19:1-20: “By Water and Touch” (pp. 183-187)
    • 19:21-41: “The City is Shaken” (pp. 188-189)
  • Movements 60-62
    • Movement 60 (19:1-10) “Paul in Ephesus”
    • Movement 61 (19:11-20) “The Sons of Sceva”
    • Movement 62 (19:21-41) “A Riot at Ephesus”


Sunday, October 8

(18th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 22 (27); 27th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 20:1-38
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 20:1-16: “The Journey of Jesus, Again” (p. 190)
    • 20:17-38: “Communion or Counterfeit” (pp. 191-195)
  • Movements 63-65
    • Movement 63 (20:1-6) “Paul in Macedonia and Greece”
    • Movement 64 (20:7-16) “Eutychus Raised from the Dead”
    • Movement 65 (20:17-38) “Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders”


Sunday, October 15

(19th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 23 (28); 28th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 21:1-36
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 21:1-14: “A Jerusalem State of Mind” (pp. 196-197)
    • 21:15-36 (15-40): “The Anguish of Diaspora” (pp. 198-201)
  • Movements 66-68
    • Movement 66 (21:1-16) “Paul Goes to Jerusalem”
    • Movement 67 (21:17-26) “Paul Visits James”
    • Movement 68 (21:27-36) “Paul Arrested in the Temple”


Sunday, October 22

(20th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 24 (29); 29th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 21:37-22:29
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • (Cont.) 21:36-40 (15-40): “The Anguish of Diaspora” (pp. 201-202)
    • 22:1-29: “Dangerous Speech” (pp. 203-205)
  • Movements 69-70
    • Movement 69 (21:37-22:21) “Paul Speaks to the People”
    • Movement 70 (22:22-29) “Paul and the Roman Tribune”


Sunday, October 29 – Reformation Sunday

(21st S.A. Pentecost; Proper 25 (30); 30th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 22:30-23:35
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 22:30-23:35: “Between Rocks and Hard Places” (pp. 206-211)
  • Movements 71-73
    • Movement 71 (22:30-23:11) “Paul Before the Council”
    • Movement 72 (23:12-22) “A Plot to Kill Paul”
    • Movement 73 (23:23-35) “Paul Sent to Felix the Governor”


Jennings: 22:1-28:31 “THE DISCIPLE-CITIZEN”


Wednesday, November 1 – Communion; All Saints Day

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 24:1-27
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 24:1-23: “The Political is the Theological” (pp. 212-214)
    • 24:24-27: “The Assimilated Couple” (pp. 215-218)
  • Movements 74-75
    • Movement 74 (24:1-21) “Paul Before Felix at Caesarea”
    • Movement 75 (24:22-27) “Paul Kept in Custody”


Sunday, November 5 – Communion

(22nd S.A. Pentecost; Proper 26 (31); 31st S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 25:1-27
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 25:1-27: “The Citizen-Disciple” (pp. 219-225)
  • Movements 76-77
    • Movement 76 (25:1-12) “Paul Appeals to Caesar”
    • Movement 77 (25:13-27) “Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice”


Sunday, November 12 

(23rd S.A. Pentecost; Proper 27 (32); 32nd S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Sherrad
  • Sermon Text – Acts 26:1-32
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 26:1-32: “The King and I” (pp. 226-232)
  • Movements 78-79
    • Movement 78 (26:1-11) “Paul’s Defense Before Agrippa”
    • Movement 79 (26:12-32) “Paul Tells of His Conversion”


Sunday, November 19

(24th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 28 (33); 33rd S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 27:1-44
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 27:1-44: “A Common Journey and a Singular Faith” (pp. 233-238)
  • Movements 80-82
    • Movement 80 (27:1-12) “Paul Sails for Rome”
    • Movement 81 (27:13-38) “The Storm at Sea”
    • Movement 82 (27:39-44) “The Shipwreck”


Sunday, November 26 – Communion; Christ the King

(25th S.A. Pentecost; Proper 29 (34); 34th S.I. OT)

  • Preacher – Derek
  • Sermon Text – Acts 28:1-31
  • Sections in Jennings:
    • 28:1-15: “The Gift of Hospitality” (pp. 239-241)
    • 28:16-31: “The Calling of Hospitality” (pp. 242-252)
  • Movements 83-85
    • Movement 83 (28:1-10) “Paul on Malta”
    • Movement 84 (28:11-16) “Paul Arrives at Rome”
    • Movement 85 (28:17-31) “Paul in Rome”




S.A. – Sunday After

S.I. – Sunday In

OT – Ordinary Time