Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 30 2023

Posted on May 5, 2023, 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 30, 2023

Fourth Sunday of Easter 

Acts 10:1-17, 34-35
Matthew 9:36-37

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Sermon Text:

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

One of my favorite parts about the Easter season is hearing pieces of the story of the early church and its development. Because we live in the time that we do, we sometimes forget that as people who are not culturally Jewish, we weren’t always included in God’s promise of life in Jesus.

In the story we read last week about Cornelius and Peter, the revelation of that promise for all people shifted dramatically because it became clear that it includes Gentiles. And today’s reading continues that mission when Saul, also known as Paul, and Barnabas are formally commissioned and sent out.

[1]Their commissioning was initiated by the Holy Spirit, and confirmed by the community as it listened to the Spirit and responded in faith.

And what that, along with Paul and Barnabas’ experiences, reinforces is that it is God’s Spirit who is guiding the church throughout Acts.

By the time we get to today’s story, Paul and Barnabas had already been to several other cities. And they attracted new believers, and also some strong opposition among mixed crowds of Jewish and Gentile people. But in Lystra, the location of today’s story, the people react very favorably – almost too favorably.

Lystra is in modern-day Turkey, in an area that was familiar with the Roman gods but not with the God of Israel. So, the people recognized that what Paul and Barnabas were doing had divine origins, but they credited their power incorrectly and their response very quickly became idolatrous.

But just as quickly, Paul and Barnabas said, “Stop!” And they used the moment to turn the people toward the one true God. And they did it in a way that the people could understand. Instead of telling them about salvation in Jesus and its history and relying on Scripture – which they knew nothing about, Paul talked to them about the goodness of the natural world and all that they received from it.

And he told them that those gifts and all that sustained their lives didn’t come from “worthless” idols but from the “living God” who made heaven and earth and all that is in them. And the people’s hearts were open to that message.

[2]But as the apostles continued to share the Gospel, what was most important is that they understood that they weren’t acting by their own power, but by the power of the Spirit. They understood that their mission was always God’s mission – that God called them to it, sustained them in it, and that it was God’s power that was made visible in the signs and wonders that they performed.

[3]Their job, then, was always to give glory to God. Anytime the people receiving the good news started to attribute the power of the gospel’s ministry to the apostles, the apostles themselves had to have the clarity and faith to return glory to God alone and instruct their listeners to do the same.

In other words, the apostles’ proclamation throughout Acts was: to God alone be the glory. They were able to proclaim this because of their relationship to God and to one another in the faith community.

Those relationships helped them stay attentive to God’s voice in their lives, and helped them remember always that God was the source of who they were and what they did.

One of the comments I frequently hear is, “if only God (or God’s Spirit) spoke to us as directly today as when the apostles were alive.” Because, as we read these stories about the early church, it seems like God doesn’t work like that anymore. And that people today don’t have the awareness of God or the relationship with God that they once did.

But God does still speak to us that directly. There’s just a lot that competes for our attention.

In our personal lives, that competition is work or school or after-school activities or vacations or the next binge-worthy show on TV or the drive to have more things or the best things. In the church, it’s things like worship attendance or how many members we have on the rolls or how to bring more people in.

And with all of that competition, God’s voice – at best – takes a back seat. And sometimes it gets drowned out altogether.

And when that happens, our relationship to God starts to fade and we stop listening for God’s voice. And eventually we start to forget that God is the source of who we are as individuals and as a faith community because the other things have taken over.

In the summer of 2007, the “17-year cicadas” hatched in Chicago, where I went to seminary. If you’re not familiar with them, cicadas are a type of grasshopper common to that area, but there’s a variety that hatches in mass every 17 years. So, if my math is correct, they’ll be hatching again next year.

I wasn’t in town that year when they first started hatching. But the afternoon I arrived back there, I was stuck in traffic on one of the expressways. The windows in my car were all the way up, I had the a/c on, and the radio turned up so that I could hear it above the fan.

But even with all of that, I could still hear the high-pitched hum of the cicadas drowning out almost everything else.

When I think about the things in our culture, in our lives, and in our church that compete against God’s voice, I think about them as being like a constant hum that tries to overtake our lives. They’re always there. And as people of faith, the way we push back against them is to remind ourselves and one another that God is the source of who we are.

When we live with that in our hearts, it affects how we approach everything and everyone. It strengthens our relationship with God and with one another in our congregation or whatever faith community we’re a part of. It helps us be attentive to God’s voice and God’s call to us.

As individuals, remembering that God is the source of who we are helps us recognize that first and foremost God calls each of us to share the good news of Jesus. And that that good news is made visible when we treat one another with love, respect, understanding, compassion, mercy, and grace.

As a church, remembering that God is the source of who we are helps us recognize that one area of ministry is not more important than another, that our collective mission isn’t solely to bring in more people because our collective mission is God’s mission. And that whatever it is that God calls us to do is for the sake of the world, not to make ourselves feel good or look good.

Remembering that God is the source of who we are keeps us from saying, “Look at what we’re doing. Isn’t it great?” and instead say, “Look at what God has helped us be able to do.”

Remembering that God is the source of who we are helps us remember to whom we pray, and to whom we give praise. It helps us remember that our proclamation is always “to God alone be the glory.” Alleluia! Amen.

[1]Section on Paul and Barnabas in Lystra:

[2] Section on Paul and Barnabas in Lystra:

[3] Section on Paul and Barnabas in Lystra: