Acts 26: 15-18 Paul – talking about his experience on the road to Damascus — 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
For several weeks we have been working with the Book of Acts of the Apostles. This is a key book in the New Testament. At the very beginning of Acts, the coming of the Holy Spirit is the transformation and empowerment of the disciples of Jesus to be bold in the sharing of the good news of the Resurrected Christ.
The book of Acts is the history of the birth, the founding, and the spread of the Church from Jerusalem to Rome. It also records the transition of the Church from being almost exclusively a Jewish institution into becoming a Gentile and an international institution. Consequently, it records the transition of Christianity from a Jewish religion into an international faith. The Gospel of salvation is for all because Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
This review of Acts each Sunday is vital to Pleasant Grove UMC. We are in the process of experiencing a major challenge to our congregation. Look around and we see how fewer folks are worshiping with us. Certainly, we have some viewers on live stream, but our pews are becoming more sparce. Increasing age and death has had a prevalent effect on us! However, we are up to the challenge. Our purpose has always been since 1868 to share the good news of the Risen Christ to the community that surrounds us. That message is more prevalent now than ever before. As our nation becomes more polarized, we must speak boldly about our faith. Increasing age and death does not have the final say on our future.
Paul is absolutely firm as we read in Romans 8:38– 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
During the past weeks, we have seen that some of the attributes of a powerful Christian witness for PGUMC is creativity, perseverance, courage, and acceptance. We embody these attributes. It is important that all of us step up and share the good news of the Risen Christ by our actions, our prayers, and our presence. It is so easy to slip backwards. The pandemic has taken its toll of attendance and financial issues. But we are faithful followers of the Risen Christ, and we can overcome this time in our history.
We start this morning in the last few chapters of Acts, where the Apostle Paul was explaining the commission God had given him. In it, we see some important truths about Jesus’ role as the ultimate light. Paul was telling the story of how God confronted him on the road to Damascus. Paul – talking about his experience on the road to Damascus — 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. 16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
Paul explains what the Lord told him when He blinded him on the road to Damascus. Paul was turned from his own darkened thinking to seeing the light of Jesus Christ. Now, God was calling him to share that light with others, specifically with the Gentile people. Remember, Gentiles were non-Jews and during the time of Paul – the Greek and Roman god mythology was prevalent in the Middle East.
What is noteworthy for our purposes this morning, however, is how God described Paul’s mission. Paul, was being sent to the Gentiles so that they might open their eyes, turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. If they did this, these Gentiles would receive forgiveness and a place among God’s people. This was a hefty mission for Paul, and a pretty amazing promise for the Gentiles.
God tells Paul something we may not realize—the world we live in is a world of darkness. The darkness of evil is pervasive. The light of hope and goodness sometimes seems dim.
We have looked at several of the benefits of the light of Christ coming into the world, but today we see that the light of Christ drives away evil.
Paul has become a faithful witness to the light of Christ to the world. He has endured beatings, rejections, and criticism. He has been in prison and in this chapter, he is headed to Rome for his final witness about Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Faithful witness to the end means not only telling the good news, but, like Paul, appealing for people to respond to the good news of Jesus in faith.
Witnessing is telling our story – complete with all of our flaws and failures. Complete with some successes and complete with your doubts. Being honest. You’re telling them the news that only through Christ how your life has changed.
For Ann and me, our experience of faithful witnesses to the love of God and the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ came through our longtime experience with the Church of the Saviour in Washington DC. We came to know Gordon and Mary Cosby, the founders of the Church. They lived a life of mission and outreach to people in need. They always shared what the Risen Christ had done to make them changed people. Through prayer and study, lives were changed. The Gospel spoke to everyone and to Ann and me. We became permanently changed people.
We here at PGUMC are witnesses —- Claudia writes cards and notes of love. Emmalie prays for us, for the church and for the future. Lula writes poems. Doris does food pantry, Steve shares good news that he is involved in. Helen and Tim witness to the movement of the Spirit in the emergence of Methodism and the Strawbridge Shrine. Margarete and Sara showed enduring compassion to Sharon and Vola —- oh the list goes on — The Smiths support The Youth for Christ. PGUMC shares the emerging ministry to the community with The Gathering Table. Bonnie shares healing ministry, Nikki the ministry of gardening. Leuvene and Denise the ministry of laughter and hope. Beth’s ministry is music, Ed’s is creating works of wood, Jennifer technical skills with the computer. Linda sews dresses and shorts for the children in Haiti and makes superb spaghetti sauce. All of us have talents that can be used to share and reflect the love of the Risen Christ.
I have found over the years as a pastor and becoming a deeper committed Christian that the being a witness to the power of the light of Jesus, comes from several very basic aspects — prayer — scripture – and community. Many times, the witness of God’s power gets overridden by the current event that has happened to me. But, then upon quiet reflection, the Light of Christ is again shinning brightly. The calendar is relentless— every day is a new day. The day we had difficulties is in the past. –The Light of Christ causes us to look forward with hope – even if death is imminent. “Nothing can separate us from the power of the Living Christ”
Thanks be to God!