Sunday’s sermon: This is the Greatest Show

The Kingdom of God

Texts used – Isaiah 41:8-13; Philippians 4:4-9




  • I want to invite you all into my brain for a moment this morning. (Buckle your seatbelts!) As I go through my days, I am always on the lookout for sermon illustrations or inspiration.
    • Video or picture posted on Facebook
    • News snippet (print, digital, television … whatever)
    • Interaction with someone (don’t worry … if it’s you, I’ll ask your permission before using your life in public like that!)
    • Song
    • Movie
    • Children’s book (one of my favorites, as you know)
    • I keep a digital file in my Evernote account of all the different illustrations, sermon ideas, or other worship ideas that spring up from day to day, and when I need something, I’ll frequently comb through what I’ve compiled to see if anything fits.
    • Enter “The Greatest Showman[1]
      • Loosely (very loosely) based on the life of circus innovator and pioneer P.T. Barnum
      • Hit theaters Dec. 20, 2017
      • About a year ago, my mom brought both the DVD and the disc for the soundtrack to our house and said, “You’ve gotta watch this movie, and the boys are gonna love this music!” And she was right. On both counts.
        • Watched the movie → LOVED it!!
        • Boys fell in love with all the songs on the soundtrack
      • And as I was listening to that soundtrack over and over and over (and over and over and over!!) again in the car, I was on that same sermon-material-alert that I always am. And one song would come on, and I’d think, “Well, that’d preach. I could pair it with this text.” Then the next song would come on, and I’d think, “Well, that’d preach. It goes along really well with this story or that psalm.” Then the next song would come on … and you get the picture. It didn’t take me long to decide that the whole soundtrack needed to be a sermon series … so here we are.
        • Going to spend the summer with some great music
          • Sometimes talking about the storyline of the movie
          • Talking more about the lyrics themselves than about exactly where and how they fit into “The Greatest Showman” plot per say
          • Not necessary to have seen the movie because we’re going to be talking more about the songs than anything à we’ll listen to the song + you’ll have the lyrics so you can follow along
        • So let’s get started! “This is the greatest show!”
  • [PLAY “The Greatest Show”[2]]

  • They say the opening song for a movie sets the tone, and this one does exactly that: it sets a tone of excitement, a tone of wonder and grandeur, a tone of incredible feats and transcendent promises.
    • Strong music
      • Driving beat
      • Intense, boisterous chords sung by powerful, projecting voices
    • Music to get your blood pumping and your imagination running wild
      • Strong theme in the movie → imagination running wild … and where that running might take you (for good or for ill)
    • Music to stir and inspire
    • Music which leaves no doubt that what you are watching is, indeed, “The Greatest Show”
  • And that excitement, that exhilaration, that passion and purpose are how we should feel about our faith, too.
    • How we should feel about participating in and sharing our faith
    • How we should feel about God
    • God and the Kingdom of God should truly be our “Greatest Show”
      • Not a hard concept to grasp in the midst of those awe-inspiring moments of life, right?
        • Breathtaking sunsets
        • A cool, quiet morning on an impossibly-still, calm lake
        • Serene moment out on the green
        • One of my favorites: the riotous explosion of color when the wild phlox start blooming in a week or so
        • Achingly beautiful strain of music
        • Utter joy and delighted abandon in a baby’s giggle
        • Quintessential twist and tangle, push and play of words in your favorite song or poem – the way those words fit together **just right**
        • In this incredible world, we are surrounded by reminders of how truly amazing and bless-full and mind-blowing this world is, and as people of faith, we see God and hear God and thank God in the humbling and heart-rending face of that beauty. In those moments that steal our breath away, it’s easy for us to lift up our hands and our voices and praise God as “the greatest show,” right?
      • But what about the dark moments? What about the ugly moments? What about the mind-numbingly mundane moments?
        • See the majesty of God … in the minutia and frustration of filing taxes?
        • See the beauty of God … in the infuriatingly endless column of red tail lights as you sit in traffic?
        • Hear the splendor of God … in your last argument with your co-workers, friends, spouse, parents, children … or whoever it was you last fought with?
        • It is in these basic and banal moments of life that we need to cling to our conviction that God is indeed our greatest show, even when we can’t see it … hear it … recognize it.
    • Purpose of our OT reading this morning → reminder of how truly great God and God’s Kingdom are
      • Speaks of God’s protection and shelter and strength
      • Speaks of how humbling and honoring it is to be one of God’s people
      • Speaks of ultimate reassurance and courageousness that we find in God – text: “Don’t fear … don’t be afraid … don’t fear”[3]
      • Makes it clear that this is God’s doing and God’s doing alone – text (God speaking to people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah): You whom I took from the ends of the earth and called form it farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant; I chose you and didn’t reject you: Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. … I am the Lord your God, who grasps your strong hand, who says to you, Don’t fear; I will help you.”[4] → In this, there is no mistaking human action and capacity with God’s unfathomable nature. God is the one who did the choosing. God is the one who did the calling. God is the one who did the strengthening. God is the one. God is the one. God is the one. Not us. Humans are secondary actors in this text because ultimately it is God’s show, not ours.
  • Song also speaks to the excitement and enthusiasm, the eagerness and the openness that we should have about the Kingdom of God
    • Excitement and enthusiasm – lyrics: Buried in your bones there’s an ache that you can’t ignore / Taking your breath, stealing your mind / And all that was real is left behind / … It’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open / It’s a preacher in the pulpit and you’ll find devotion / There’s something breaking at the brick of ever wall, it’s holding / All that you know / So tell me, do you wanna go?[5] → song speaks of a night at the circus as an eye-opening, life-altering, mind-blowing experience = our belief that the Kingdom of God is also eye-opening, life-altering, and mind-blowing
      • God’s wisdom and guidance = eye-opening
      • God’s grace and forgiveness = life-altering
      • God’s unconditional love and radical welcome = mind-blowing
    • Hear that life-changing goodness and radical welcome in our NT reading this morning, too
      • All about rejoicing in the goodness and mercy and peace and grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit – text: Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad![6]
      • All about rejoicing in the utter, mysterious, immeasurable nature of God as the source of all the blessings around us – text: From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.[7] → all of these blessed and beautiful things come from God
    • Hear that radical welcome in the lyrics, too
      • Line: Where the lost get found in the crown of the circus king
      • Repeated line from chorus: Where the runaways are running the night → “the runaways” = those who have been cast out, marginalized, told they’re “no good” … these are the ones running the night, making this show what would eventually be tagged “The Greatest Show on Earth”
      • Goes with theme of the movie → everyone is special and treasured and deserves to be celebrated, no one is “outside”
      • Goes with theme of Jesus ministry → ministry of a man who ate with sinners, lepers, outcasts, women, “the unclean” as well as legal experts, Temple leaders, and those in power
  • Finally, in terms of the Kingdom of God, we hear what scholars and seminary professors like to call the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.
    • Concept that speaks to our belief that the Kingdom of God is both already here among us and is coming again whenever Christ returns
      • The “already” of the Kingdom of God → our mission: We believe that the work that we do, the love we give, the forgiveness we embody, the hope that we cling to, the light that we share … all of that is part of the Kingdom of God here on earth – that that Kingdom is already here. We are already a part of it, and we are already working to grow that Kingdom in beauty and grace and welcome.
      • The “not yet” of the Kingdom of God → speaks of our hope and belief that Christ will return one day to fully accomplish God’s purpose here on earth
    • Song: It’s everything you ever want / It’s everything you ever need / And it’s here right in front of you / This is where you wanna be[8]
    • It is a statement both of faith and of hope – faith in what God is already doing in the world today and hope in what is to come.
      • See this in our Scripture – Phil: Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.[9]
      • See this in the movie, too → Even if you haven’t seen it, this won’t spoil anything, I promise. As you can probably tell from the song, the movie begins with a scene from an incredible circus – elephants, performers, acrobats … the works. It’s big. It’s flashy. It’s elaborate. It’s dazzling. It is, undoubtedly, the Greatest Show! But soon, that scene fades to reveal that, at least at first, it’s nothing more than the highly extravagant daydreams of a young boy gazing in a shop window at a red suit coat with gold trim and long tails.
        • Can’t be seen (except in that little boy’s mind)
        • Can’t be touched
        • But the hope and the belief are there nonetheless. And even through the hardships of his young life, P.T. Barnum’s dream couldn’t be taken away from him. He had hope. He had vision. And he had tenacity. And with those, he became the Greatest Showman. So when it comes to our faith, do we have hope? Do we have vision? Do we have tenacity? Do we truly believe that this faith that we live, this God that we love and serve, is the Greatest Show? Amen.


[2] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[3] Is 41:10, 13

[4] Is 41:9-10, 13.

[5] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[6] Phil 4:4.

[7] Phil 4:8-9.

[8] “The Greatest Show” written by Ryan Lewis, Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Warner/Chappell Music.

[9] Phil 4:6-7.

Sunday’s sermon: Jesus Had a Little Lamb


Texts used – John 10:22-30; Revelation 7:9-17 (embedded in sermon)




  • It’s a classic story of love, compassion, and devotion, isn’t it?
    • A little girl
    • A beloved companion
    • Separation
    • An epic journey
    • Rejection
    • And, in the end, a blessed, joy-filled reunion
    • Is it Disney? No. Tolkien? No. Harry Potter? Nope. Not that one either. It’s the story from a treasured, time-honored ballad. Sing it with me, friends: Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb. Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went, everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.
      • Lamb = Mary’s beloved companion → follows her to school → entertains Mary and her friends but to the detriment of their learning → banished from school by the teacher → waits for Mary and reunites with beloved friend at the end of the school day
    • A beloved companion … separation … rejection … and in the end, a blessed, joy-filled reunion. Hmmm … sounds a little like the story of the gospel doesn’t it? “Jesus had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb …”
  • Before we dive into our Scripture readings this morning, let’s talk about sheep a little bit. I mean, throughout the gospels – and especially throughout the gospel of John – Jesus frequently likens his followers “sheep.”
    • Descriptions uttered in protectiveness and endearment → Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd[1], speaks of worrying about a bandit coming to steal the sheep away, charges Peter to “feed my sheep” during one of his post-resurrection appearances[2]
    • Also used in parables – Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Mt[3]
      • Parable in which we hear that well-known phrase “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”[4]
      • Parable begins with the Human One (Jesus) enthroned with all the angels around him and the nations gathered before him → separates the people of the nations: sheep to the right, goats to the left → sheep = those who did give food, water, welcome, etc.
      • So time and time again, Jesus compares those who love and follow him to sheep in a positive, endearing sort of way.
    • So let’s talk about sheep! Full disclosure: I was preparing to talk about how they’ve made their way into popular culture (especially baby décor) as soft, fuzzy, adorable things while in actuality, they’re pretty dumb and smelly animals, and I was trying to figure out how to spin that in a way that didn’t sound … well … dumb and smelly. But then I discovered an article posted online by the BBC[5] a couple of years ago that talks about how sheep are actually both intelligent and complexly social creatures.
      • Beginning of the article: “Reputation: Sheep are stupid, defenseless and harmless creatures that mope about on hillsides doing not very much. They are good for two things: being eaten and producing wool. Reality: Sheep are actually surprisingly intelligent, with impressive memory and recognition skills. They build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and feel sad when their friends are sent to slaughter.”
      • Speaks of …
        • Sheep learning to recognize and remember 50 individual faces for more than 2 years
        • Sheep learning the way out of a complicated maze and being encouraged by the sight of fellow sheep at the end
        • Evidence in the way sheep’s brains are organized that indicates they may be able to differentiate different facial expressions in people and may respond to their own situations with some emotional activity
        • Sheep forming long-term emotional bonds – friendships! – and coming to the aid of their friends in times of need
      • And it cannot be denied that sheep are a staple of many cultures around the world. → used for wool (both within the culture and for sale or trade), for meat, for milk
      • So maybe it’s not so bad to be considered a sheep after all. “Jesus had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb …”
  • Back to our Scripture readings for today – Gospel passage first
    • Gospel context: passage directly following part of John in which Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd
    • Begins with quite the setting description: The time came for the Festival of Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple, walking in the covered porch named for Solomon.[6]
      • Festival of Dedication = still celebrated today, though we know it by a different name: Hanukkah
        • Origins
          • Syrians had conquered Jerusalem → forced people to sacrifice to Syrian gods while in control – burn those (blasphemous) offerings on the holy altar in the temple
          • Maccabean revolt defeated Syrian army and expelled them from the city → demolished the profaned altar brick by brick and replaced it with a new one which was then rededicated, hence “Festival of Dedication”
        • 8-night celebration
        • Explains why Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem
        • Explains why Jesus was in the temple
    • Text: The Jewish opposition circled around him and asked, “How long will you test our patience? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”[7]
      • Hear a bit of their desperation in this – Gr. “test our patience” = literally “keep our souls in suspense” → word for “keep in suspense” is kind of this odd word that means both taking up and removing, sort of an “in limbo” kind of word
      • Also hear some challenge in their words – Gr. “plainly” (“If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”) has all sorts of interesting connotations: speaking plainly and openly, yes, but also publicly, with boldness and confidence, with courage and fearlessness, and speaking joyously → So those who have surrounded Jesus to ask him this question – “Are you the Messiah?” – have done so both to get answers for themselves and to pressure Jesus into making some sort of public pronouncement … the kind of pronouncement that would surely get him arrested and convicted of blasphemy.
    • Jesus’ response = typically evasive → Throughout the most of the gospels, Jesus doesn’t really admit to being the Son of God or the Christ. He lets other people say it for him. He acknowledges it when it is proclaimed by disciples and banished demons alike.
      • John’s gospel = a little different → a little more forward and blatant in its theological proclamations
        • Written roughly 100 yrs. after Jesus’ death → plenty of time for that “Messiah/Son of God” theology to develop
      • Text: Jesus answered, “I have told you, but you don’t believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you don’t believe because you don’t belong to my sheep.”[8]
    • Meat of today’s gospel text = Jesus brief discourse on eternal life and protecting the sheep – text: My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never die, and no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them from my Father’s hand.[9] → This is the promise of the good news of the gospel, right? This is the good news that we cling to and proclaim even in the midst of the grief of funerals – that the Kingdom of God awaits us “on the other side,” an eternal life of protection and joy and unconditional love in the presence of God.
  • And this is where today’s New Testament text comes in. – [READ REV TEXT]
    • First, let’s talk about Revelation as a whole for a minute.
      • Lesson one: Revelation, not RevelationS (singular, not plural)
      • Historically one of the older books of the New Testament – written even before the gospel of John, probably closer to the time that both Matthew and Luke were writing their gospels from 60-70 C.E.
      • In terms of literary genre, Revelation is apocalyptic literature: a singular vision given to one of the disciples → Throughout his ministry, both before his crucifixion and resurrection and after, Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God coming. We have to understand that in the disciples’ minds, that meant coming imminently – like, within their lifetimes. They believed the end was near, and that was the message they passed on.
        • E.g.s
          • Jesus in Lk: “Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”[10]
          • Paul in 1 Thess: The Lord himself will come down from heaven with the signal of a shout by the head angel and a blast on God’s trumpet. First, those who are dead in Christ will rise. Then, we who are living and still around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air. That way we will always be with the Lord.[11]
        • Fairly popular literary genre at the time → many other “apocalypse”s written, both concerning Christian faith and concerning other faith traditions at the time as well
        • Genre full of veiled imagery, metaphor, and allegory → not meant to be read literally, historically, or as something to be decoded like a Biblical tarot card reading
          • Scholar: The role of revelation, akin to God’s answer in the final chapters of the book of Job, is to stress the puny nature of human understanding in the face of the transcendence of God, to stress the ultimate victory of God’s righteousness and to urge the need for those committed to the ways of God to continue in the narrow way that leads to salvation.[12] → So it’s about delivering hope in the midst of desperate, destructive, desolate times. It’s about bringing the good news in a powerful, evocative way to a people in the throes of great darkness.
            • John’s revelation (today’s text) = imparted in time of great political and cultural upheaval: Jewish uprisings, Roman sieges, the destruction of the temple → Into this fracas, John dispatched this cryptic and mystical vision fraught with meaning and promises of something better to come.
    • And part of that promise is what we read today – text: Then one of the elders said to me, “Who are these people wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he said to me, “These people have come out of great hardship. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Lamb’s blood. This is the reason they are before God’s throne. They worship him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them. They won’t hunger or thirst anymore. No sun or scorching heat will beat down on them, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”[13] → This is John’s image of hope that the words that Christ spoke to the Jewish leaders in our Gospel passage this morning will indeed come to pass – that those who have fought the good fight, who have run their race despite obstacles and harassment and persecution and even death, that those who have lost all for the sake of their faith … that these will indeed not be snatched away from the hand of God but will spend their eternal days worshiping and praising at the feet of God in heaven. And that, friends, is indeed good news. “Jesus had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb …” Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Jn 10:11-18.

[2] Jn 21:15-19.

[3] Mt 25:31-46.

[4] Mt 25:35.

[5] Harriet Constable. “Sheep are not stupid, and they are not helpless either,” from BBC Earth. Apr. 19, 2017, accessed May 11, 2019.

[6] Jn 10:22.

[7] Jn 10:24.

[8] Jn 10:25-26.

[9] Jn 10:27-29.

[10] Lk 21:27-28.

[11] 1 Thess 4:16-17.

[12] Christopher C. Rowland. “The Book of Revelation: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 505.

[13] Rev 7:13-17.


Sunday’s sermon: A Change is Gonna Come

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Texts used – Psalm 30; Acts 9:1-20

I’m definitely new to this audio recording this, folks … and this week, I forgot to hit record. Hopefully I’ll have audio back next week. My apologies.

  • All right, y’all, you have a yellow insert in your bulletins this morning. I’m going to ask you to take out that handout, and we’re going to take a little poll. We’re going to play a little game of “What do you see?”
    • 1st image: What do you see?
      • High contrast image of a woman’s face (a la Katherine Hepburn)
      • Silhouette of a man playing a saxophone on a windy day
    • 2nd image: What do you see?
      • Young woman wearing a flowing veil and turning her head away
      • Profile of an old woman with a large nose and a head scarf
    • 3rd image: What do you see?
      • Duck
      • Bunny rabbit
    • Final image: What do you see?
      • Line of men passing under an arch, one carrying a heavy book
      • Skull
    • What you see in these images depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? It depends on your point of view, on the particular attitude or way you perceive it. Perspective can be a funny thing, can’t it?
      • Convincing – How many of you only saw the opposite image after it was described to you? (Only saw the saxophone man when I told you about him? Only saw the old woman in the headscarf after I described her?) → Since our perspective is based on our own point of view, our own experiences, our own research, our own understanding, our own base of knowledge, it’s pretty easy to convince ourselves that our perspective is “the right way,” isn’t it? “Of course it’s the right way … it’s the way I’ve been doing it! And I’m certainly not about to go around doing things the wrong way on purpose, right?” My perspective is right precisely because it’s mine.
        • Dangers of this: our own perspective often doesn’t leave wiggle room for growth or expansion, new ideas or new experiences or new data → perspective can be a pretty limiting box sometimes
          • Can sometimes act like the blinders on a horse of falcon à limit the flow of information to our brains to keep up from seeing the whole picture
      • AT THE SAME TIME, perspective = fluid → If we do actually let that new information in, sometimes our perspectives can change. They can grow. They can even do a complete 180°, causing us to reorient ourselves to a whole new way of thinking … doing … believing … being.
        • Ill. images → now that you’re aware of both possibilities for the images, sometimes you see one, sometimes you see the other, right? Even crazier: sometimes you see both at once!
    • Now, with the shifting of which image you see, perspective is a silly thing, right? Something fun and funny to share with your friends. And admitting you see one thing and not the other isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t say anything about your character. People won’t judge you for it (hopefully!). Changing your perspective and saying that you see the other image instead – or even that you see both images equally – isn’t going to cause some fundamental shift in your life. But there are plenty of other places in our lives where we cling desperately to our perspectives and what they say about us, about our family, about our culture, about our convictions, about our faith. These perspectives are the pillars on which we build our sense of self. They are foundational in discovering and rediscovering who we are, how we interact with the world around us, and what we believe. So what happens when those perspectives start to shift?
  • Paul’s story in Acts = dramatic example of a perspective shift
    • Begins life as a Pharisee → learns under Gamaliel, one of the most respected and also one of the most religiously strict Pharisees serving on the Sanhedrin (Jewish council) at the time
      • Clearly had an “up and comer” reputation among Jews and non-Jews alike
        • Present at the stoning of Stephen (1st Christian martyr, 1st person killed for his faith after Christ death and resurrection) – Acts 7: Then they dragged [Stephen] out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. … And Saul approved of their killing him.[1]
        • Today’s text: The Lord instructed [Ananias], “Go to Judas’ house on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias enter and put his hands on him to restore his sight.” Ananias countered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man. People say he has done horrible things to your holy people in Jerusalem. He’s here with authority from the chief priests to arrest everyone who calls on your name.[2] → So Saul’s reputation most certainly preceded him.
    • Crucial to exercise caution in this moment
      • Caution not to villainize Saul
      • Caution not to villainize Judaism in the process
      • Amy Oden, Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at St. Paul School of Theology in OKC: It’s important to remember that Saul sees himself as the good guy trying to protect the faith. Saul loves God and wants to stamp out anything that, in his view, dishonors God. In this case, that means the Jews in the movement around Jesus. … He sees Jesus’ followers as those within his own faith needing rescue from their error. … As far as he is concerned, this is not a matter of going after people just to persecute them, but rather a correction of “Jews gone bad.” Saul is the classic example of the devout person who is so determined to do good that they are blinded (literally!) to the destructive consequences of their purity campaign. He does much harm as he is trying to do good.[3] → Saul didn’t do what he did because he was evil. He wasn’t some religious sociopath bent on destruction for destruction’s sake alone. Before his experience on the road to Damascus, he was doing what he thought he needed to do to protect his faith and his culture.
        • Not so different than the Crusades undertaken by the Church during the medieval period
        • Not so different from the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century
        • Not so different from the young man who decided that it would be okay to go into a synagogue in Poway, California on Wednesday and start shooting Jewish people because, according to his own words, Jewish people were guilty of everything from killing Jesus to controlling the media and deserved to die[4] → That young man was part of the Orthodox Presbyterian tradition – an ultra conservative branch of the Reformed tradition that broke off from mainline Presbyterianism in the 1930s.
        • Hear it in this short back-and-forth reading written by Rev. Roddy Hamilton, pastor at New Kilpatrick Parish Church in Scotland[5] – READ DIALOGUE: Saul-Paul Acts 9 reading
  • You see, friends, it’s all about perspective. But as we said earlier, perspectives are fluid. They’re flexible. They can change. And we know that God loves to reach down into our lives, stir them up, and bring about change, don’t we?
    • Hear it in our psalm for this morning
      • Speaks of changing situations – text: You pulled me up; you didn’t let my enemies celebrate over me. LORD, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. LORD, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit.[6]
      • Speaks of growing in faith – text: You who are faithful to the LORD, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! … Because it pleased you, LORD, you made me a strong mountain.[7]
      • Speaks of changing attitude – text: You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.[8]
    • That’s the whole point of our NT story this morning → God reaching down into Saul’s life and changing his perspective – text: During the journey, as [Saul] approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,” came the reply. “Now get up and enter the city. You will be told what you must do.” Those traveling with him stood there speechless; they heard the voice but saw no one. After they picked Saul up from the ground, he opened his eyes but he couldn’t see. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind and neither ate nor drank anything. … Ananias went to the house. He placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord sent me—Jesus, who appeared to you on the way as you were coming here. He sent me so that you could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly, flakes fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. After eating, he regained his strength. He stayed with the disciples in Damascus for several days. Right away, he began to preach about Jesus in the synagogues. “He is God’s Son,” he declared.[9] → Talk about a 180°! God reached down into Saul’s life and brought about a drastic shift in perspective … but in doing so, God didn’t change the essence of who Saul was. He was still learned. He was still dedicated. He was still passionate. God just set Saul’s feet on a new path and said, “Go. Do. Preach. Pray. Believe.”
  • Friends, I cannot preach these words to you this morning without a heavy heart because just yesterday, we lost just such a prophet and change-maker in the life of the church – someone who took a dramatic shift in her own faith perspective and used it to open the hearts and minds of so many people who felt long-since burned by the church.
    • Rachel Held Evans
      • Began life as an evangelical Christian – struggled with a tradition that devalued her contributions and her voice simply because of her gender along with many of the other exclusionary teachings she found in that tradition
      • Tried to leave the church but just couldn’t quite leave it behind entirely
      • Ended up coming back as a voice for love and inclusion and beauty in the messiness of our faith journeys
        • Wrote a number of books
        • Engaging speaker
        • Blogger and event organizer
        • Advocates for those too-long abused by the church: LGBTQ+ folks, people of color, and most certainly women (especially those who grew up in more conservative, repressive traditions like her own)
      • After a brief and unexpected hospitalization, Rachel died yesterday. She was 37 years old. She left behind a husband and two young children. And she left behind a motley, stunningly diverse community of people who are devastated by her loss because through her perspective – and especially through the change in her perspective – she showed them God’s love in a way that was accepting and expansive and genuine even in its doubts and questions and faults. God inspired and emboldened Rachel to shift her perspective, and through that change, so, so many others found the courage to shift their perspectives as well.
        • From Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church: But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished—proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! … But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t off a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.[10] → It’s all about perspective, and sometimes, perspectives have to change. But sometimes in that change – messy and painful and challenging and ugly as it might be … sometimes in that change is the truest place that we can find grace. So be on the lookout, friends, because a change is gonna come. Hallelujah. Amen.

[1] Acts 7:48, 8:1.

[2] Acts 9:11-14.

[3] Amy Oden. “Commentary on Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]” for May 5, 2019 from The Working Preacher, Accessed May 2, 2019.

[4] Julie Zauzmer. “The alleged synagogue shooter was a churchgoer who talked Christian theology, raising tough questions for evangelical pastors” from The Washington Post, Posted May 1, 2019, accessed May 2, 2019.

[5] Roddy Hamilton. “Dramatic Reading: Acts 9” from re:Worship blog.

[6] Ps 30:1-3.

[7] Ps 30:4, 7a.

[8] Ps 30:11-12.

[9] Acts 9:3-9, 17-20.

[10] Rachel Held Evans. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.  (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2015), XXX.