Second Lesson: Acts 6:1-8
Sunday, April 19, 2013
So let me back track a bit, and remind you of story of Pentecost. The story happened fifty days after Easter and after Jesus had gone back into heaven. One hundred twenty of his followers were sitting in one room, grieving and trying to sort out the last three years of their lives with him. They were reading scripture together and praying together and remembering Jesus together. They were trying to adjust to the shock of his death, and trying to understand what his life had been about. They were remembering what he had said and done and trying to make sense of it all. Peter preached a very eloquent sermon that day. He talked about the events of Jesus’ life and especially about his shocking death and his amazing resurrection and ascension into heaven. He made the point very clearly that the Jewish religious leaders had handed Jesus over to be executed. But God had raised Jesus to life again, because God is stronger than death. AND Peter made the point that all of these shocking events were God’s plan in the first place, which they hadn’t really realized until they carefully read the Scriptures. And on that Pentecost Day, the church grew from 120 sad and grieving people to a church of 3000 energized, vibrant followers of Jesus. That’s what’s happened so far in the very brand new Christian Church.
And the next thing that we hear of Peter and his companion John is that they have healed a lame man who was sitting at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s the story that I told the children last week. Everybody standing around the temple that day was surprised and shocked at that, so Peter stood up and gave another eloquent sermon. This one time fisherman is suddenly becoming quite a preacher. He insisted again that the Jewish religious leaders had killed Jesus and he went on to add that he and John had healed this lame man in Jesus’ name and in the power that he gave them.
Well, those were dangerous words indeed. Those religious leaders had thought they were done with Jesus. They thought he was dead and gone and buried and out of their hair, and they had refused to believe any nonsense about his ever being seen again. And here these disciples of this Jesus are claiming he came back to life again in the power of God, and they are stirring up trouble right there on the steps of the temple. And performing miracles and healing people just as Jesus had done.
So they took Peter and John into custody and had a trial. In front of the very same judge who had tried Jesus, by the way. I do not envy Pastor Peter. Having to defend himself in front of the same judge who had convicted Jesus. It could have gone very badly indeed for Peter and John. Just as it had for Jesus. Once again, Peter defended himself in a defense that was really more like a sermon. He said, “Now let me get this straight here. Are we being accused of helping a man who was helpless? Is that really the charge?” In the end, the religious leaders threatened them not to talk any more about Jesus and let them go. But Peter and John went back to the others, and prayed for courage to do more healings in Jesus’ name and speak out even more boldly. Which they did.
And it was starting to be the same story all over again, as it had been with Jesus. People were coming from all over the country. They brought sick and disabled people and those with mental illnesses and put them out into the streets on cots and mats so that Peter and the other apostles could heal them in the name of Jesus. Which made the Jewish religious leaders furious. They arrested Peter and the others and put them in prison - again. But they escaped from prison, and kept on preaching – right in the temple. I do not envy Pastor Peter. I am not at all sure I would be so brave.
And in the meantime, the number of believers in the church is growing by the thousands so that now there are 5,000 of them, and they are all sharing everything they had, as we read about last Sunday. They are eating together and sharing food together and praying together and reading scripture together and some of them are even selling whatever property they had, and handing the money over to Pastor Peter and John, to support the others.
Except that there was this incident with Ananias and his wife Sapphira that we read about just now. They also sold some property and gave money to Pastor Peter, but they lied to him about how much they were sharing. And for their lie, they both dropped down dead on the spot. I do not envy that Pastor Peter. Two of his parishioners falling down dead in front of him because they lied.
So that’s what’s been happening to Pastor Peter since we saw him last.
And now here come some members of the congregation and they are complaining bitterly. They happen to be people from all these countries all over the Mediterranean region that that you saw on the map - from Greece and Turkey and North Africa. They are Jews, and they are brand new converts to knowing Jesus and believing in Jesus, and they are complaining. They say that somehow as Pastor Peter and the others are distributing food throughout the congregation the widows in their group are not being given as much food as the widows who have always lived in Jerusalem. There’s some racial tension going on here, and there are some financial management issues, and some bickering and a whole group of people in the church are not happy. I do not envy Pastor Peter. He’s dealing with a lot of conflict among the people he loves.
He must have been exhausted. He’s been healing people and preaching sermons and baptizing thousands of people. He’s been arrested for speaking out about Jesus and he’s been on trial and in prison. He’s watched people he loves drop dead in front of him. And now he’s asked to manage the finances and wait on tables and settle petty arguments among people who can’t get along.
So Peter and the other apostles searched for help. They realized that their primary job should be praying and preaching and teaching and baptizing and that others were well qualified to do some of the other work of the church. They chose seven men of good standing, wise men, full of the Holy Spirit, to serve beside them in the church. They placed their hands on them, and prayed over them and commissioned them to serve the church.
Later on this morning, in a few moments we’ll be electing Laura Weld to serve as a deacon in this church. She will serve beside all the other deacons and all the other elders as a leader in this congregation. It is the work of the Nominating Committee to pray and ponder and sit in front of God and discern elders and deacons for the church. These elders and deacons are to be wise, well thought of people with rich spiritual lives. They are to be trusted and trustworthy. And willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. At various times you have laid your hands on each of them and ordained them and prayed for each of them. They serve God with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. They are responsible for overseeing the church’s finances and making financial decisions. They oversee the Christian Education program, and coordinate the Mission programs of the church, and encourage the congregation to give generously and they plan worship along with the pastor, and hire new staff and take care of the buildings and grounds of the church. They care for those who are ill or in need of some kind of special care. They pray and ponder in front of God and they are being led by the Holy Spirit as they lead the congregation.
In the Presbyterian Church we follow the early church closely. We understand that the primary role of pastors is to preach and teach and lead the congregation in worship and in the sacraments. The current elders in this church are Cindy Delmont, Bonnie Tovey, Jev Venman, Mike Nelson, Hal Ringler, Mike Frampton, Sally Luidens and Sue Rabick. We understand that the primary role of the elders is to make wise decisions about the programs of the church and to lead the church as God leads them. The current Deacons in this church are: Kathleen Bell, Wendy Bennett, Lee Ann Frampton, Bob Delmont, Pat Dettmer, Stella Brown and Karen Ringler.
We understand that the role of the deacons is to serve the people of God. With kindness and compassion and care in times of illness or special need. The deacons in this church do a fine job of that, and today we are adding Laura to the list of gentle, humble servants of God who serve this church.
And your job, as members of the church is to encourage them in their work which is sometimes very difficult, and to support them in their decisions, and to pray for them often. And for your pastor and your next pastor. And in all of it, the Holy Spirit hovers over us in love and power. And we move into the future that God has for you.