The Sunday Sermon: Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020
Scripture: Acts 12:1-19a
Follow Your Path
Hello, Pewee Valley! Welcome back to LPTS campus and my little apartment. Last week, Pastor Joel announced that this would be my last Sunday with you as your Student Minister and that we would be bringing today’s message into the 21st century. Twenty centuries is a big jump!
I would like to go back, close to where he left off, and revisit a few of his points that are important to this week. Christianity was NOT POPULAR in the first century of the church. Rejection of the Gospel was rampant. Rejection of those who were different was rampant. The Apostles were putting themselves into jeopardy with every proclamation that all the peoples… of every nation… need only to repent to be forgiven, because God loves all and sees a path of God’s will for all creation. It was very scary and uncertain times.
Would you pray with me please…
We pause to pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, you who are our rock and our redeemer. AMEN
Now listen for the words of God from the book of Acts, chapter 12, verses 1-19a.
12 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.
6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.” Then he left and went to another place.
18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19a When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death.
The Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
Christians have moved on to not only threatening Jews with their presence, but to also threatening civil servants. James was killed for his beliefs and Peter was imprisoned, likely to be made into an example. Luckily, Peter was freed through the grace of God by his guardian angel who was sent to help guide Peter to his path.
As we leap forward into the 21st century, one would think that worldwide acceptability of Christianity had changed. Has it? There are a lot of Christians in North America. It is the national religion. How about other nations? Has the Word been spread?
Did you realize that there are over 260 million Christians that live in places where they experience high levels of persecution IN THIS CENTURY? That is 1 out of every 9 Christians. It is actually one of the biggest human rights issues of this era.
Like James, people are still being killed for their faith. Like Peter, people are still being detained without trial, arrested, and imprisoned.
From the World Watch Organization, data collected from 2018-2019, in countries that are on their watch list, indicated that 2,983 Christians were killed for their faith; 3,711 believers were detained without trial, arrested, and imprisoned; 9,488 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked; and women are more likely to be attacked because they are Christian women.
Currently, the top 5 on the world watch list are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan; but there are many more countries included on this list.
Like Herod, today’s authoritarian governments see Christianity as a threat to their power. Some of these countries also find Christianity suspicious because it is unlike their cultural or official majority.
For instance, in China, there are Christian churches that still have to meet in caves in order to remain safe. I do not know if they are still meeting in this time of COVID-19, but it helps me to put our current struggle into perspective. I hope that when we pray for our situation that we remember our worldwide brothers and sisters in Christ and pray for their safety and future as well.
I know that in my lifetime, I have not seen that level of personal persecution, but I have experienced oppression for being a woman and for even thinking about becoming a minister in the church. Like Peter, I chose to listen to a call that seemed like a dream, stand up from my shackles, and follow that voice into the unknown, knowing I was set on a path that was into the dark, undefined, yet undeniable…and a little scary.
My time with you, Pewee Valley, has helped me to reaffirm my faith and my calling. It has also made me realize that I have a lot more discernment to do. I appreciate every word of support and encouragement that you have given me–every hug, handshake, and high five…and for your trust. THANK YOU.
As with Christians of the first century to now, I encourage you to be open to be led by God. The path might be dark and most certainly unknown, counterintuitive, hopefully not dangerous, but as long as you are being led by the Spirit, that is what matters! Follow that voice.
God Bless you all.