Some things have been happening in and around Jerusalem since Peter
and John healed a man who was lame from birth, back in chapter 4.
You may remember the apostles’ bold statement to the Jewish
council when they were released with a warning and told not to teach
or preach in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. They responded, “You
decide whether God would want us to listen to you or not. But we
cannot keep silent about what we have seen and heard.” A stirring
speech, and the Jews had no choice but to let them go. The very
next section in my Bible is titled, The Believers Pay for Boldness.
The rest of Chapters 4, 5, and 6 include stories of community with
the believers sharing their possessions; of service with them appointing
a group of seven men to coordinate distributing food to widows and
orphans. This group was headed up by a man named Stephen, who was
a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. But in the midst of this
good work, there is increasing pressure and persecution from the
Jewish authorities. Some of the apostles are arrested and sentenced
to death and released only because of visionary testimony by a Pharisee
on the Jewish council. Then members of the synagogue start false
rumors about Stephen, get him arrested, and have false witnesses
testify against him. Sound familiar? That is at the end of Chapter
6. Chapter 7 is a long speech by Stephen to the council in his defense,
which ends with him saying, “You stiff-necked people! You
are forever opposing the Holy Spirit just as your ancestors did.
You killed the prophets who foretold the coming of Jesus Christ,
and now you have betrayed and murdered him, too.” Stephen
pays for this boldness. He is dragged out of Jerusalem and stoned,
and those who did it lay their costs at the feet of young Pharisee
named Saul, who watched the whole thing.
When you pray for boldness from the Holy Spirit, you may end up
paying for it. It might cost your reputation, or your pride. It
could cost your freedom or your health or your life. That is a pretty
high cost; few if any of us will ever have to pay that to proclaim
our faith, but there are believers in Nigeria and Malaysia and North
Korea who have had to pay that price.
The apostles who saw Stephen killed were bold, but they weren’t
stupid. They scatter from Jerusalem, pursued by Saul, who was searching
house after house and dragging men and women off to prison. This
brings us to Chapter 8, and the apostle Philip, who has fled Jerusalem
south to city of Samaria. He is enthusiastically received because
he is casting out demons and healing the paralyzed and the lame.
There is a man named Simon who is particularly interested in what
Philip is doing: Simon was a magician by trade, and although his
magic was good enough to make a living, it was nothing like what
Philip was doing. Simon watched in amazement as the people of Samaria
believed in the good news of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and were
baptized. Simon himself came to believe and was baptized, and he
hung around Philip all the time, trying to see how Philip accomplished
the signs and miracles which took place.
Our text begins in Chapter 8 verse 14. Peter and John are sent
to Samaria because they have heard about Philip’s ministry
there. Peter and John lay hands on the new believers who were baptized
in Jesus name, and those believers receive the Holy Spirit. Simon
watches in amazement and says, “I want to buy that kind of
power. How much do I have to pay you to make it so when I lay my
hands on someone they receive the Holy Spirit?” Peter sets
Simon straight in a hurry. “You and your silver can go . .
. away. Did you think you could buy God’s gift with money?
You have no part in this power.”
I don’t know if you have ever bargained with God -- by that,
I mean if you have ever prayed that if God would just do something
-- like help you pass this exam, or get you that job, or let your
child live -- that you would do something for God in return: go
to church every Sunday, stop drinking, give $100,000 dollars to
the church. (I guess God hasn’t answered that prayer yet)
I have prayed prayers like that and I believe that God answers imperfect
prayers from imperfect people. But I agree with Peter, who made
it clear to Simon that the power of the Holy Spirit is not for sale.
As Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Spirit found out, power is
not for sale but it comes at a cost. The more I notice God at work
in the world, the more aware I am of answers to prayer, and that
they don’t necessarily make our lives simpler. I want to tell
you about some answers to prayer that I heard about this week: one
from a friend of mine, one from a member of this congregation, and
one from me.
Jackie is the friend who gave me a copy of “Draw the Circle”
this April. Eighteen months ago she was in an automobile accident
which left her with thousands of dollars in medical bills and a
lot of anxiety about driving a car. The accident was not her fault;
the other driver acknowledged this at the scene of the accident,
but changed his story when contacted by his insurance company. Jackie
eventually hired a lawyer, and in April gave 6 hours of testimony
in mediation. This May, she had a deposition where she was scheduled
to sit for cross-examination by opposing lawyers for 10-12 hours.
She was so anxious on the drive to Indy that she took her prayer
journal, and when she arrived early, sat down to write to focus
herself. The opposing counsel was late: they had discovered a discrepancy
in their case with the hospital bills. They decided to drop their
case against Jackie and pay all her medical bills. That was Day
40 of Jackie’s prayer challenge.
Grace Mishler has committed to the 40 Day Prayer Challenge at Creekside.
She is praying each day at 7:00 a.m., and has laid out a scarf (maybe
more than one) in a circle on the floor to remind her to pray. On
Tuesday morning at 7:01, she was praying for refugee children. At
7:03 the phone rang with an offer from the Conway Education Center
in Belfast, Ireland, offering her training to work for the protection
and safety of children. Grace will be in Ireland with her granddaughter
for 5 weeks this summer. Although Grace didn’t know it until
after she received the call from Conway Center, they are a half
mile away from where she will be staying: an easy ride by taxi or
I have been praying for our Community Ministry at Creekside, specifically
the recipients of our container gardens. It’s been a learning
process, and there have been some hiccoughs along the way, especially
in developing relationships with people whom we think would benefit
the most from vegetables they grow where they live. How do we identify
them and why should they work with us? There were a couple folks
who stopped by our planting day at Church Community Services on
May 18, just to see what we were doing. There was a man and his
mother who planted a container: she did not speak much English,
but he was clearly fluent in both English and Spanish. I called
him the next week to see how his garden was doing, but he didn’t
return the call. Last week I texted him, and asked about his garden
and another question. Here’s a bit of that conversation:
I don’t know where further conversation will lead; almost
certainly to places I didn’t expect when I sent that first
text. I believe that the Holy Spirit is at work here, and that scares
me a little bit, frankly., because any illusion I had of Creekside
being in the driver’s seat is (and should be) wrong. We can’t
buy the power of the Spirit, but it comes at a cost. Developing
relationships takes time. Working with people from varied communities
and cultures means learning different rules and expectations, and,
which takes some humility about our own. It will take financial
resources: feeding the widows and orphans in Jerusalem meant that
the disciples had to share what they had. And finally it will take
communication. Communication may be the greatest miracle of the
Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Acts 2 says that when the apostles were
speaking, all of those gathered heard the message in their native
language. Speaking is only effective if someone is listening. If
God is speaking, but we’re not listening, the power of the
Spirit is not going to do much for us. If we are not speaking to
God about the desires of our hearts or our dreams for this community
of faith, God can still act, but we won’t know it’s
an answer to prayer if we have not been praying. If we believe our
prayer has been heard and answered, we had better be listening to
one another to discern together what resources of time, energy and
money we need in order to go where the Spirit is leading.
Blessings to you this coming week. Please remember the Church of
the Brethren Annual Conference and the leaders who have been working
diligently to listen for God’s vision for our denomination.
Pray for those gathered that they may listen before they speak,
and speak in ways which build up the body of Christ. May you be
drawn by the Spirit into praise and service. Amen.