Sermon 1/25/2015 Epiphany 3

Pastor Peter Walther
Epiphany 3
January 23, 2015
Acts 13:1-5 : God’s Ministry for Us
    The idea of world missions can sometimes feel disconnected to us.  Unless we have some type of personal connection to a foreign mission field, the idea of evangelism seems distant to us here in Appleton, Wisconsin.  We see the videos on the WELS connection of the missions in Zambia which have become full functioning congregations and even have a seminary to train the local men to be pastors.  God has richly blessed them.  Or, we look at certain Asian countries where the bible classes and church services held in the home are filled to capacity and Christianity is spreading like wildfire.  God has richly blessed them too.  But, it still seems a little distant and disconnected, doesn’t it?  It may seem like foreign missionaries are out in the trenches fighting real battles while we sit here in mainland America. 
    Sometimes, I forget our heritage as a congregation and even our heritage as a church body.  We wouldn’t be here if were not for missionaries.  We have come from a historically German church which had sent over German pastors to start churches and to teach people about God’s Word.  We wouldn’t be here if were not for the teachers at our school who continued to teach God’s word in spite of changing curricula or changing times or even changing teachers.  We wouldn’t be here if it were not for parents, who brought their children up in the Word of God in spite of changing societal views.    Sure, Africa and Asian missions seem so far off, but we really are a foreign mission here in Appleton, Wisconsin.
    For the early Christian church, the number of Gentiles becoming Christians was growing. These missionaries, who were ethnically Jewish but Christian, struggled with understanding how to relate to those who were significantly different from them.  What happens when the neighborhood changes around our church?  How do we relate to people of different backgrounds, of different political views, of different races, or of different socioeconomic statuses? This concept of mission work around our church has always been a concern and will always be.  And it should be! It makes me happy that we want to take God’s Word to the people around us.
    Unfortunately, sin gets in the way of ministry.  Our own personal sin ruins our relationship with God.  It ruins our relationship with one another here in the congregation.  And Satan laughs as he sees that sin corrupting our lives.  By nature, we don’t have the heart for ministry.  By nature we are self-serving, impatient, critical, rude, unloving, and spiritually disinterested.  Why would I want to share anything with people that I don’t know about or could care less about or are maybe scared to talk to?  You can see, even in the phrasing of that question, how Satan convinces us not share God’s word!  We are not worthy of the calling that God has given to us to share God’s word!
    When these early Christian leaders were looking at these new Christians, they obviously knew there were some major differences in physical appearances and backgrounds, just as there are major differences between the people you are sitting next to here in church.  There was no possible human solution to bring people together and on the same page.  Just look at how country leaders attempt to come together for peace talks.  It never works out!
    It can only be through the work of the Holy Spirit that hearts and minds can be changed.  Look at Saul! He was a Pharisee who had thought he was doing God’s duty of killing Christians. And, look how the Holy Spirit changed him from resistance to God to an incredible leader and missionary in the Christian church.  The Holy Spirit brought unity in Christ to sinners, who no doubt faced disunity, disagreement, and conflict.  Let’s be honest, with different opinions and views, working together with people can be difficult and can make ministry difficult.  However, when working together to spread the gospel, we see how God watched over this new Christian church body and how he has watched over our congregation.  Our purpose is to work together for God and His purposes, not ours, because we have been called to a new way of living.  
    Looking back at these verses, we may question why these verses are even important to us.  After all, it seems like rather routine administrative church work.  But think about it this way, if it weren’t for what happened in these verses, we wouldn’t exist as a congregation in Appleton.  We wouldn’t be Christian.  Here, is where it all began.  Here is God’s promise of spreading the good news about a Savior to the gentiles, and not to just the jews.  This was God sending his messengers out to the world who had never heard of Christ, let alone the true God.  The message would be passed from person to person, from Europe to Appleton.  These Christians in our lesson were sure of God’s promises.  They were committed to God’s word and committed to sharing that word.
    There are lots of ways to share God’s Word.  There are different kinds of service and different callings for us Christians.  The calling that we see here in our lesson that sticks out is the full time Public ministry.  Paul and Barnabas were called to serve people with God’s Word.  We as a congregation are committed to God’s Word and to sharing it on a public level as a church too.  It is a privilege that we as pastors have with our congregation as we give sermons and lead bible classes.  Our congregation is also blessed with Sunday School teachers and day school teachers who teach God’s Word. 
    But there was another type of ministry that we see in our lesson.  Look at the last sentence.  What does it say? John was their helper! Now this wasn’t John who wrote Revelation.  But we see in the previous chapter that he is named John Mark.  He was a cousin of Barnabas and would later write the Gospel of Mark.  He was a helper and an assistant.  We aren’t necessarily sure of what John Mark’s work was.  Mark wasn’t in the public ministry at this point.  But he was vitally important as he supported the spread of the Gospel. Some think that John Mark was a great person to teach the children about Jesus as Paul and Barnabas spoke with the adults.  He would also have been great for administrative work.  And, Paul and Barnabas would not have been nearly as efficient in their job if it wasn’t for John Mark.
    Our congregation does so much more than the public ministry.  It is you! It is every Christian who has been called by the Holy Spirit to follow Christ. You have been called through the Word and through Baptism.  You don’t necessarily have a call into the public ministry, but God wants you to conduct your own private ministry.  You can let your light shine in whatever service you provide, whether it is sharing your faith with a co-worker or cleaning the church.  We would not be as efficient at our job in the public ministry if it wasn’t for you. 
    But, service isn’t about promoting yourself and saying, “Look what I did!”  No, we always remember the goal of God’s kingdom: to share God’s word and to win as many souls as possible.   When we keep our end goals in mind, we see the importance of our ministry, both publicly and privately.  We are privileged to be God’s helpers in spreading the word.  I know you all experience the same pain and the same difficulties that unbelievers face in this world.  But you have hope. You have joy because you know what happens after this life.  So many people don’t have that same hope or joy, which is exactly why we want to share the life giving message of the gospel with everyone that is hurting or even those who are craving more than what their shallow religion might give to them.  
    I’m not saying ministry is easy.  I’m not saying someone will be converted on the spot.  Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, saw the dramatic effects of the gospel.  When mass amounts of people believed and were baptized, he would usually record those.  However, we don’t really see that in our lesson maybe because ministry was slow.  Sometimes, the outcome of our evangelism efforts is not immediate.  We may not see it for years! But we continue to have patience and we put our trust in God because it is in His time and according to His will.
    We often look only at the human side of things, the labor, the money, and the time to do the work. That’s why Luke continued to repeat himself in this chapter that it was the Holy Spirit who was sending them out and was working faith.  We always need that reminder that creating faith is not our work but it is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowered Paul and Barnabas just as much as He empowers us to share God’s Word.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are nothing.  We are blindly walking through this life.  But with the Holy Spirit, we walk together, unified with one purpose, to share God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit may have even used you in outreach without you even knowing it, simply by you living your faith and letting your light shine.  
    We are truly undeserving of the task God has given to us, both on a public ministry side and on the private.  But the same grace that God has shown to us motivates us. It empowers us and it strengthens us.  You may not think that we are in a foreign mission setting.  But we really are.  There are people in this neighborhood that don’t even know we exist, which baffles me.  That idea seems pretty foreign to me! We have a heritage of mission work.  We, the members of St. Paul, have taken God’s word to the people of Appleton for almost 150 years.  Each and every one of us have the privilege of doing mission work in our every day lives.  Let us continue our rich heritage as a mission congregation, sharing God’s Word with works of service, publicly and privately! Amen!