So let me tell you what has been happening to Paul since we saw him last week. When we saw him last week, he was in Jerusalem, summoned there for a conference with the leaders of the mother church in Jerusalem, in about the year 50 AD. About five years have elapsed and in those five years Paul has been everywhere in Greece and Turkey and all over the Mediterranean region. I counted twenty places that he passed through or visited for some period of time.
He spent some time in Athens, in Greece. That was a very sophisticated city, if you might remember, full of Greek philosophers and teachers, and Paul had several conversations with some of them about the host of Greek gods and goddesses they had. And they had gods of other cultures – Roman gods and goddesses and Egyptian gods and goddesses. There was a temple or a shrine or an altar on almost every street corner to one of their gods or another. Paul said to them, “Why do you have these gods that are made of wood or stone or gold or silver, and why have you built these shrines for these gods that are dead? I know the living God. From one ancestor that God made all of human life, and the world and everything in it. The true God isn’t a statue of some kind, made of silver or gold or wood that you can hold in your hands. The true God doesn’t live in shrines made by humans. The true God is a living God. And if we search for that God, we will find the real, living God. And,” said Paul,(and this will get him into trouble) “now is the time to turn from your gods of silver and gold and wood and stone, and turn to the living God.” He said that in Athens and he probably said much the same thing wherever he went. Because everybody around that area worshipped the same Greek and Egyptian and Roman gods and goddesses. That’s what happened in Athens.
Most of those five years, Paul’s been in far Western Turkey, and the principle city there is Ephesus – just across the Aegean Sea from Athens. It’s been a hard five years for Paul. Everywhere he went, he talked about Jesus, and almost everywhere he went he met serious trouble because he talked about Jesus. Twice he’s been attacked by the leaders of the synagogues, and twice he escaped in the nick of time before he could be attacked. Once he was forced to leave town in the middle of the night. He was arrested and put in jail -- held in chains, and through it all, feared for his life. He’s covered over 3,000 miles by ship or overland in a day, of course when any kind of transportation was very tricky, as we have talked about.
And now this story for today, which takes place in Ephesus. A man named Demetrius was a silversmith there, and he earned his income from making silver statues of the goddess Artemis. Ephesus was known to be the home of the goddess Artemis, and in fact her temple there in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Now Demetrius noticed that business was slacking off a bit. People weren’t buying his silver statues of Artemis and he blamed Paul for that (rightly or wrongly) and he aroused the other silversmiths in Ephesus against Paul. He warned them that their livelihoods were in danger, and that the reputation of the great goddess Artemis was in danger, and if they weren’t very careful, her very temple would be in danger. And he incited all the silversmiths and in fact the entire city against Paul. (Which wasn’t at all the first time that something like this had happened, as we talked about last week.) And before you know it, there’s a whole mob of people shouting in the streets in Ephesus. Some of them are shouting one thing and some of them shouting something else, and most of them not sure why they were there and what they were shouting about. And then before you know it, they are filling the huge amphitheater in Ephesus – which held 25,000 people - all shouting angry slogans – for about two hours of that. Paul’s friends advised him not to go near the mob in that amphitheater, and so did officials in the city of Ephesus. And in the end, the only thing that saved Paul from the mob was the sanity and calm speaking of the City Clerk. And Paul once again, said a fond goodbye to the members of the church in Ephesus, and was on his way back to Greece. Where maybe he would be a little safer for a day or two.
He writes about this all in a letter he wrote to the church at Corinth in Greece. He says, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sister, about the hardships we suffered. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. God delivered us from such a deadly peril and will deliver us.”
Now that was Paul in Turkey in about the year 55 or so. Speaking eloquently about Jesus everywhere he went. And very often in danger because of it. And speaking about the how God was with him in those very dangerous times and how God saved him again and again.
And now let me say this to my beloved congregation of Jesus Christ at North Kent Church:
There are times when we speak out also, because we are also followers of Jesus, and we speak in his name. We do that carefully, and with a great deal of prayer and thought ahead of time, and with the support of others. We take a long hard look at Jesus, and we see his priorities, and what he was passionate about, and when we see things happening that would hurt Jesus, or anger him, we do speak out. When we see that seniors are being mis-treated, we speak out. When we see that the disabled are not being cared for, or not being cared for well enough, we speak out. When we see that children are being neglected or not being loved well enough, we speak out. When we see that the needs of the poor are not being addressed, or not being addressed well enough, we speak out. When we see that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, we speak out, just like Jesus did about that very thing. When we see that laws are being enacted that would make Jesus angry, or that do not honor God, we speak out. We overcome our fears and our shyness and we speak out. We do that peacefully and prayerfully. We speak out because we are followers of Jesus. We stand in the company of his servant Paul and because we are the Children of a living God who made and loves the entire world and wants justice.
And more than speaking out, sometimes we take action. This congregation is so very good at taking action on behalf of those whom Jesus loves best. I am so proud to be your temporary part time pastor as I watch what you do for the ones whom Jesus loves best.
So let me give you this assignment: think about the places you are and the people you know and the issues that are in front of you, and the news of the world you hear. And think about how you may respond to all that, in Jesus’ name.
And as we do that, we are confident of the power and protection of God around us, just as Paul was. And we ask God to bless our speaking and our acting and we step out and speak in Jesus’ name.