When we go about the work of ministry purely in a natural state of mind and heart, without listening to the Voice of God’s Spirit, it’s so easy to get discouraged about the apathy we notice around us.
But when we awaken to the reality that God is always at work in, around, and among us, we are energized by the eternal, spiritual reality that we do what we do because God desires to gather to himself an eternal people.
In the passage from Acts coming up on the sixth Sunday of Easter (May 21), we are reminded that our readiness to share the gospel is our part of a partnership in which God’s Spirit is already paving the way for it in the hearts of our hearers.
Remember that ministry leadership is a partnership between you and God. But God is the one supplying all of the power, all of the energy, and all of the results. What you supply is simply the humble willingness to be his instrument.
Keep your hands open and surrendered to the God who is doing great things all around us!
Lectionary Sermon Starters
For Sunday, May 121, 2022
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Over and over, throughout the gospels and the Book of Acts, we see a divine dance taking place.
It’s a partnership. On the one hand, God’s Spirit is prompting people to become spiritual seekers. These seekers begin hungering to know more about God’s plan for the redemption of all that is lost.
On the other hand, the disciples are busy, in obedience, spreading the good news wherever the Spirit directs them.
Paul and his companions traveled to Philippi. And at the same time, God’s Spirit was preparing the hearts of the people of Philippi to hear and receive the gospel.
In particular, God had been nudging the heart of a woman named Lydia. She was a businesswoman, a “seller of purple” according to Luke. And being a businesswoman no doubt made her the envy of other women in the city. She also must have had tremendous influence inside her own household, evidenced by the fact that they all followed her to trust in Christ.
In this story is the spectacular assurance that 1.) God is always working in the hearts of people to prepare them for receiving the good news, and 2.) God is always with us when we go forward to share the gospel with others.
Human beings are obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure. This can lead to all kinds of problems when we seek joy in the wrong places. We try to fill our need for joy with pleasures that last but a moment and which bring consequences that might follow us for the rest of our lives.
God knows our need for joy. He created us with the capacity to experience joy. And he met our need for joy by providing Himself to us as the ultimate blessing.
The psalmist wants all of the nations to experience the gift of God’s blessing, so he writes a song that includes all the nations and invites them into the promise God had given long ago about joy being granted to those who seek it in the right place – a relationship with him as our Creator.
Why, exactly, do the nations get to be glad in the presence of God?
- Because God blesses. That is, he pours out his peace and his joy to satisfy us abundantly.
- Because God saves. And God wants his saving power to be experienced by all people.
- Because God judges with equity. We know nothing but imperfect, corrupt systems damaged by the very existence of sin, selfishness, and human rebellion. But God is willing to judge righteously and fairly.
When I read this psalm and see the diversity of people, animals, and all of nature praising God, I keep thinking of the question, who gets to worship?
And the answer, of course, is that all are invited, all are included, and nobody gets left out. God’s vision for worship, from eternity’s perspective, is that we are all together praising his name.
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John’s apocalyptic vision isn’t about an escape from earth to heaven. It’s about heaven coming to earth. It’s about the complete redemption and renovation of the city and the culture as we know it.
Whenever we make the Revelation purely about some distant, future fulfillment, we remove its real power to create in our hearts today, here and now, a hunger for the divine presence and blessing in the world around us.
John spent chapters 17 and 18 telling us about Babylon, which likely refers to the corrupt and oppressive religious, political, and commercial systems of the world we know now. And John’s audience would have thought of two institutions, in particular, to which John might have been referring:
- The Temple, meaning the religious establishment as it had evolved since the times of the prophets. Religion, even monotheistic Judaism, had been corrupted by the selfishness of its own leadership.
- The State, meaning Rome, which ruled over all of its regions with a heavy hand and crushing any rebellion or move toward freedom.
Chapter 19 brings us the ultimate solution to a corrupt world as John introduces the victorious rider on the white horse who will overthrow those dark powers and systems.
Notice that, in this passage, the city of God comes to earth. And as heaven comes to earth, a whole new set of values guide the way God rules and reigns over the culture.
All that is dark today will be replaced by nothing but light. The nations will walk in the light of this heavenly city. It’s always been God’s plan to rescue the entire human race including people from every ethnicity (nation).
God’s vision is for the world in which we live now to be redeemed and renovated and filled with light. His vision is of a culture that welcomes all and treats everyone with care, compassion, respect, and dignity. It’s a world where no one is left out and no one is looked at as less.
There is true equality.
There is true fairness.
There is true justice.
We have the privilege of seeing John’s glimpse into this kind of future world, and we have the responsibility of doing all that we can to usher it in today.
We get to flip the tables. We get to reform all of the systems – religious, commercial, and political – that currently keep people down and keep people out. We get to contribute to the world around us out of our wisdom and our heavenly values.
Jesus came and represented God among the human race and personally observed our absolutely desperate need of an Advocate. A Comfortor. A Counselor who would walk alongside us through the hills and valleys of life.
Jesus saw a people both accused and condemned and had compassion toward us all.
Our inner voice has often been trained toward self-condemnation. The voice of the enemy, the Accuser, certainly echoes this condemnation. And we are surrounded by far too many voices ready to issue condemnation as well.
But Jesus makes a promise that the Advocate, the Holy Spirit will come to remind us and to teach us about the message Jesus came to deliver.
And what is that message? It’s a message of love, hope, peace, and forgiveness of sin. It’s a message of redemption.
To be a Christian is far more than going to church and trying to behave in a morally righteous way. To be a Christian is to walk in step with God, to be a lifelong seeker of the Way of Jesus. And Jesus didn’t leave us blind and aimless on our journey toward this kind of life. He sent us the Advocate to come alongside us for the entire journey.
Our responsibility is to seek the Spirit daily and to remain open to whatever God wants to show us about Jesus and his Way.
We need a guide, and God himself is that guide in the present form of the Spirit who indwells his people.
Jesus asks one of the craziest questions of the paralyzed man near the Pool of Beth-zatha (or Bethsaida).
Do you want to be made well?
And our initial thought is almost certainly, “Well of COURSE I want to be made well! I’ve been here for 38 years just waiting for my moment!
But Jesus asks anyway. And I think there is a huge ramification of that question.
We’re all broken because of sin. We all bear its marks and suffer its consequences. We’re all lame, in some sense, because of our tendency to go our own way and do our own thing. And sadly, so many of us will never come to grips with our own spiritual poverty.
We’re so protective of our own righteousness that it’s difficult for us to understand our own weaknesses, but it is only through the recognition and acknowledgment of our weaknesses that healing ever really begins.
Interestingly, the man doesn’t answer the question directly. Instead, he resorts to blaming others. When we see people who are in desperate condition and unwilling to face the reality of their own responsibility in the middle of it, we often write them off as unworthy of our help. But Jesus helps anyway.
Perhaps Jesus knows that we who are broken, wind up doing broken things and remaining in cycles of brokenness because we are, in fact, broken and in need of healing.
And in Jesus, there is always, always hope!
Creative Sermon Series Ideas from MinistryPass
My favorite resource for sermon series and message ideas, complete series graphics, and video bumpers (but NOT full notes or sermon outlines) to get you started is MinistryPass! Each week, I’ll feature a series I would recommend checking out for the upcoming season of the church year. This week:
From the Description:
This four-week series uses the fruit of the Spirit as a test for spiritual maturity and potential growth. When looked at as a cohesive list, the fruit of the Spirit describe Jesus himself. And as one star forms an even more majestic picture with other stars in a constellation, so the spiritual fruits listed in Galatians 5 form a grand picture of Christlikeness.
Books, Links, and Resources for Pastors and Church Leaders
I also want to share helpful and encouraging resources each week including articles I’ve read, books I love, and practical tools for leadership. This week:
- Joshua Reich hits the nail on the head in his post, The Things That Sneak Into the Heart of a Pastor.
- Dale Hull writes for Pastors.com about Why You Should Launch Mental Health Groups at Your Church.
- Lifeway Research offers another insight from recent polling suggesting that Apathy in Churches Looms Large for Pastors.
- Here’s a practical piece from Business Insider offering 9 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Semi-Retirement.
- BOOK: A modern classic in discipleship, N. T. Wright’s Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship.
- Ron Edmondson reads our minds as he writes What to Do When Your Head is About to Explode with Ideas.
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Coaching for Pastors and Leaders
When a leader grows, the world gets better. Healthy teams, led by healthy leaders, create healthy organizations! Whether you’re going through transition, walking through discouragement, or pressing onward enthusiastically, I’d love to have a conversation with you about what leadership coaching can do for you and your church or organization.
Also, if your church needs help with communications, website design, social media, or marketing with paid ads to reach newcomers, that’s what I do full-time now and I’d love to help!