Monday, May 27, 2019

Sermon: "It's the Little Things", Psalm 67/Acts 16:9-15 (May 26, 2019)

(I decided to try recording my sermon on my phone this week, so of course my mom called me right in the middle of preaching 😂 Lesson learned: make sure ALL alerts are off before worship! Enjoy this sermon with its brief comedic interlude...)


I don’t know if you noticed, but this week’s scripture readings are a pretty dramatic change from the previous several weeks. For most of Eastertide, we’ve been reading long, dramatic stories of epic visions and miracles in the early Church. We’ve seen Peter’s vision inspire the inclusion of gentiles in the Christian movement; we’ve seen him bring a woman back from the dead; we’ve seen Paul transform from a persecutor of Christians to one of their greatest leaders, thanks to a significant team effort; and of course, we’ve seen our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, conquer death itself. But today, we have two brief readings, merely seven verses each. And not only that; they’re kind of…boring. I mean, after a month of dramatic transformations and resurrections and triumph, we get—what?—a song reiterating what we already know about God and a story about Paul chatting with some ladies? Um…no thank you. Can we get some more miracles and crazy visions, please?

The truth is, these mundane scripture readings aren’t just tedious for you—imagine trying to figure out how to make God sound awesome while talking about this snooze-fest for 10-15 minutes. This is why I don’t like preaching on the Psalms in general; it just feels like they’re rehashing the same handful of ideas over and over again: “God is awesome,” “Help us, God,” “Thank you, God,” blah blah blah…Sure, it’s important stuff, but come on! It gets stale after a while. We all KNOW that the goal is to “make God’s way known upon the earth” and to “let all nations know about God’s saving power”; let’s stop twiddling our thumbs and get to the good parts! We’re ready for some ACTION, right?

We’re products of a world that prioritizes that which entertains us and absorbs our attention. We want to cut out the parts that we find boring or uninspiring and skip right to the parts that excite and thrill us. We assume that THOSE are the things that have the greatest value. That’s what we’ve been taught through our secular media consumption, after all. Reality TV shows often have a disclaimer at the end stating, “Portions of this program not affecting the outcome of the show have been edited or cut”—presumably because they’re too boring. If you buy a DVD or Blu-Ray Disc, the menu will almost always include a category called “Bonus Material” or “Extras”, which inevitably contains scenes that were filmed, but subsequently cut from the final movie because the pacing was too slow, or it didn’t advance the plot enough, or it just wasn’t that compelling. Even though these scenes may have helped us understand the character’s motivations better or given us a better sense of plot development or provided important context, they got the ax. If it’s not keeping you on the edge of your seat, it doesn’t deserve airtime. That’s the reality of the world we live in, and most of us have bought into it to one degree or another.

This story about Paul and Lydia probably would have been on the cutting room floor if the book of Acts were made into a movie. It’s missing all the most important parts of compelling storytelling—emotion, tension, suspense, conflict, action…It almost sounds like a toddler with no dramatic sense recounting their day to a parent: “God telled us to go to Macedonia an’ we goed there on a big boat, an’ we stopped in Philippi an’ then we went to the river cuz we wanted to pray, an’ there were some ladies there an’ we talked to them, an’ there was one lady, Lydia; she liked God too, an’ then we baptized her, an’ then she telled us to stay in her house, so we did.” Riveting stuff.

And yet, the theological historian who wrote the book of Acts chose to include this story. Wedged conspicuously between the dramatic tales of the Jerusalem council (a turning point in Christianity) and Paul’s imprisonment and miraculous escape, Lydia’s story somehow made the cut. Our historian understands that, as much as Hollywood might disagree, the Bible was never intended to be an epic drama or an action film. It wasn’t written to enthrall or amuse us; it was written to instruct and guide us. Sure, some of the stories are memorable and compelling, but that’s not why we read it. We read it for what it can teach us, what we can learn about how to live as a disciple of Christ. Not what it can offer as a form of entertainment.

Of course, that implies that stories like Lydia’s have something to teach us. Which, let’s be honest, doesn’t seem all that likely. But then, 2 Timothy tells us, “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”[1] So there must be SOME value to this story, something for us to learn from it.

Even though this particular moment in Paul’s ministry may seem dull to us (and probably to Paul, for that matter), I’m reminded that there’s always another way to see things. Paul may have seen his unplanned conversation with the Philippian women as merely an inconsequential layover on his way to Macedonia, but for Lydia, it was a life-altering exchange. Scripture tells us that she was already a “God-worshipper”, but through her brief interaction with Paul, she was moved to become baptized and fully devote her life to God. In fact, she jumped into her new life of faith with both feet—she immediately offered Paul and his companions lodging, giving what she had without expectation of reward. While the rest of the world may see this story as fodder for the cutting room floor, I imagine that for Lydia, this moment would have made the highlight reel.

It may seem counterintuitive when we’re talking about such weighty subjects as eternal salvation and relationship with God, but the reality is that it’s the little moments that often make the biggest difference, even if we never realize how much of in impact we’ve made. The “small talk” with an acquaintance that turns to “big talk” when you mention that you’re a Christian. The moment you take to answer a child’s question. The task that you see needs doing around church, so you just step in to get it done. The off-handed invitation for your neighbor to join you in worship next week. The consistent commitment to making sure that all the small details of worship or fellowship are taken care of so others don’t have to worry about it. These things may seem like minutiae, but this is discipleship in action.

The most meaningful parts of discipleship don’t always lie in those attention-getting moments where you change a hundred lives at once or boldly defend the faith in the face of powerful antagonists. That would be an exhausting way to live! Even Jesus didn’t do ministry like that. Sure, he preached to enormous crowds and openly performed miracles…but he also had one-on-one conversations with those who sought him out, he healed people privately, and he spent time alone with his closest family and friends. Although he changed more lives that we can count, Jesus’ ministry wasn’t focused on large-scale impact. It was more about transforming lives one at a time, bit by bit, through his patience and love.

A day in the life of a disciple isn’t always glamorous or thrilling. More often than not, it’ll feel routine, keeping things going as always, waiting for something to happen. But if we do it right, it WILL change the world, one person, one chore, one conversation at a time. So today, I want to say, “thank you.” Thank you to those who take their job as a Christian seriously, even when it’s boring and makes you want to fast-forward to the fun parts. To those who lead us, even when the meetings go too long. To those who teach us, even when your students get antsy and distracted. To those who organize us, even when the details seem completely overwhelming. To those who care for us, even when we resist it. To those who welcome us, even when our interactions are brief. To those who clean up after us, even when we don’t realize that you’ve done it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We sometimes talk about “the gifts of the Spirit” as if they’re magical powers that God has given each of us. But sometimes, the most important gift is just a willingness to be where you’re needed, to go where you’re called, to wade through the banality of life just because someone has to do it. I give thanks to God for those of you whose gift is to step in where you see a need, and for those of you who will choose to answer God’s call when it comes. We can’t all be action-movie Paul, converting thousands of gentiles, writing scathing diatribes to entire cities, and escaping from prison. But we CAN be the Paul that Lydia met that day by the river, willing to do ministry in the quiet places, in the unexpected places, in the inconspicuous places, where we may not get the glory or the accolades, but where we find God just as surely as in scripture or the sacraments. May our lives be full of these boring moments, because it’s through them more than anything that we show Christ’s love most clearly. Amen.


[1] 2 Timothy 3:16-17, CEB.

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