Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
If it were not for the book of Acts, there would be no reason for the New Testament Bible Atlas in the back of your Study Bible. The book of Acts is a sort of Travelogue, and the Rick Steves host for this travel adventure is the Apostle Paul.
Think of some of your travel adventures. You make plans, perhaps you contact a person you want to visit, you consult a map, you check on transportation, save up some money (or get a new credit card) and then you pack up and head for your destination. I’ve always been kind of blown away at the lack of preparations for Paul’s journeys. Some prophets and teachers in the Church in Antioch prepare for Paul and Barnabas’ journey by praying and fasting. Those are not typically on my list of preparations before I head out on a trip. The word from God leads them to set apart Paul and Barnabas, so the leaders lay hands on them. According to the commentary on Working Preacher, this is our human way of participating in the movement of the Holy Spirit. We lay hands of blessing on people as they begin their work.
Today’s story is very unique among Paul’s travails. Usually he heads off to the synagogue and preaches there until the leaders are ready to tar and feather him and throw him in jail. Here he starts off with a healing instead. (Maybe he should have tried this a bit more often!) The local people can’t believe their eyes. They think Paul and Barnabas are gods come down to earth. There is a sort of slapstick quality to this part of the reading. Paul can’t understand what they are saying, he an Barnabas a being swept away in a parade to a place where the people are preparing a parade and sacrifice to honor them as a gods.
Paul is able to stop them just in time. He has to think on his feet. He calls the people to worship the living God who made heaven and earth and to leave these silly gods in the dust. A major theme of the book of Acts is that of witness. It picks up from the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel of Luke. Here Paul does a new thing. Nature, it turns out, has been witnessing to the goodness of God all along. God has been feeding them and caring for them.
Paul might have been thinking of Psalm 104 (one of my favorites.)
You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
This witness is all around us, and yet it is easy to miss. Even with this great speech Paul is barely able to keep the crowd from offering sacrifices to him as a god. I guess the other lesson from this text, is that there is a God, who made heaven and earth, and Paul is not it.
Quotes for the Week
“There’s beauty everywhere. There are amazing things happening everywhere, you just have to be able to open your eyes and witness it. Some days, that’s harder than others.” Sarah McLachlan
“Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.” Pope Francis
“The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.” N. T. Wright
Life isn’t something you possess. It’s something you take part in, and you witness.” Louis C. K.
Lesson Acts 13:1-3 & 14:8-18 (NRSV)
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
8 In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth.9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed,10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. 11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. 14 When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; 17 yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Questions for the Week
What is one of the best travel experiences you have had? What made it so memorable?
Where do you see God active and working in the world?
In what way have you been sent by God to be a witness?