Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 21, 2024

Posted on May 1, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

April 21, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:1-9
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Mark 13:9-11

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We are still learning about the early church in our readings during this Easter season. But today, we’ve jumped way ahead from where we’ve been. In Acts, chapter 1, Jesus told the disciples that they would be his witness “in Jerusalem and in Judea and in Samaria, to the ends of the earth.”

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been reading about their witness in Jerusalem. Today, we’ve skipped Judea and Samaria, and we’re at the “ends of the earth” part. Peter is no longer in the story of Acts. From now until the end of that book, it’s all about Paul and his witness.

Up to this point, the story of the apostles’ witness to Jesus has been about Jewish Jesus-believers. People who have a strong connection to the stories, teachings, and traditions of Israel. But as Paul moves outward from that center, he’s encountering more and more Gentiles – which are non-Jewish people who don’t have that connection and history.

The other shift that’s happening here is the transition between the people who directly experienced the ministry of Jesus and the ones who didn’t. It marks the growth of the church as the tradition and stories are passed from one generation of disciples to the next. And, more specifically, it marks the transition between the ministries of Peter and Paul.

So, there are a few layers of things that are happening here.

The setting for today’s readings, Thessalonica, is a major trade city that’s in modern-day Greece. At the time Acts and 1 Thessalonians were written, it was part of the Roman Empire.

And when Paul and Silas arrived there, they went to a synagogue which, at that time, was most likely a small gathering of people and not a dedicated building for worship. The community is what mattered. And Paul and Silas gathered with this group of people for about three weeks to tell them about Jesus.

The NRSV, the Bible translation we use in our bulletin, doesn’t quite get it right when it says that Paul “argued” with them – at least, not the way we tend to define what it means to argue. He made a claim of faith and used scripture to support it. And the people gathered would have responded with, “Well, okay, but what about this?” And back and forth.

They had an honest debate and discussion about what Paul told them about the Messiah. A very common practice.

What happened later, the riot in the street, wasn’t about those faith claims. The accusations that the ruffians made against them have everything to do with Paul and Silas being a threat to the social order. And they’re not wrong. The good news of Jesus – the love, grace, mercy, and compassion that he taught – does turn the world upside down. It upsets the caste systems that the Romans and Greeks had put in place.

So, that reaction to the gospel is very definitely about politics – maintaining the social order. And the accusations that they bring against Paul and Silas echo the charges that were brought against Jesus on the night of his arrest.

And that tension didn’t just go away, but the gospel message was still received. Not by the people who caused the riot, but by others who turned away from the idols they’d been worshiping and toward the living God. It disrupted their lives in ways they couldn’t have imagined. And people noticed. Word got around about how much their lives changed – so much so that they became an example, a model, for others.

And that isn’t to say that it was easy. Jesus didn’t leave an instruction manual to refer to. The gospels weren’t written yet. But those believers took the testimony of Paul and Silas on faith and went on to form the early Christian community in Thessalonica.

And the letter that Paul wrote to them, giving thanks for them and encouraging them, is for us, too. We are among the many who don’t have direct experience of the ministry of Jesus. But we are the recipients of the witness of those who did. The witness that they bravely shared in a world that was unfamiliar to them. The good news that we now bear witness to in our life together as a congregation.

Like the apostles and the first Christians, we never know how the gospel will be received, but we’re still called to proclaim it. And when we receive others’ proclamation of it – because it goes both ways – we have a choice in how we respond to it. Because the good news of Jesus is disruptive, it changes our lives in ways we can’t foresee, but it is good news.

It’s what forms the basis of our congregation’s works of faith, and labors of love, and steadfastness in hope. The things we gather around and examine and consider and discuss and that guide us as a community. And that ultimately become the outward expression of our faith in the world.

And it isn’t always well-received. Sometimes it’s ignored. Sometimes it’s ridiculed. Sometimes it’s taken advantage of. And sometimes we’re able to shake all that off and keep going, but sometimes it’s hurtful. And even in those times, that doesn’t mean we stop our proclamation or witness.

Instead, we continue to come together and encourage one another and open our hearts to the disruptive good news of Jesus.

Yesterday, 20 people representing 5 of the 6 ELCA churches in our cluster gathered around a table to talk about what the future might look like for our congregations. For a couple of years now, we’ve been having conversations about this – specifically, about partnering and collaborating together in ministry.

We’ve already started doing that with things like the Tiny Home build last summer, game nights, helping Mt Si Lutheran while Pastor Krista is on sabbatical.

But we’ve also been thinking and talking “bigger” than that and asking the question, “What would it look like to come together – not as one congregation, but as one entity/one parish, with many sites?” It’s a model of church that’s radically different than what many of us are used to.

And as we’ve explored the answers to that question, they center around more effective witness of the gospel in our respective communities. Making the good news of Jesus, the love of Jesus, known.

We’ve formed subgroups to begin addressing the details, and more are in the process of being formed because there are a lot of moving pieces in each congregation that’s part of this. And as we talked yesterday, there was laughter and positivity and excitement and wonder about what all of this can become.

And there was also the acknowledgement that, for some, this will possibly be a fearful time. The word “scary” was used. And as I thought about it in relation to our readings, I thought, “Yeah, it’s gonna be disruptive” – in the sense that it will change us in ways we can’t foresee.

Because when we consider the works of faith, the labors of love, and the steadfastness in hope that are present in each of our congregations – the way they guide our respective ministries – we recognize the community that is formed in, and comes out of, the good news of Jesus. And that that community and its witness is bigger than any one of our congregations. And coming together as one to do that is exciting stuff!

As people who follow Jesus, we take on the message of the risen Christ as individuals and especially as a congregation. We take on the call to bear witness to it in our world through our words and our actions.

And when we embody and talk about the love, grace, mercy of Jesus in a world where those qualities aren’t the default setting, it’s often met with cynicism and sometimes even hostility because it disrupts the status quo.

The good news of Jesus is disruptive. It changes lives in ways that can’t be foreseen – even our own. And it forms the basis of our community’s works of faith, our labors of love, and our steadfastness in hope. It guides us and our ministry. And it opens our hearts to the possibilities that its proclamation brings. Alleluia! Amen.