October 9, 2016 – 21st Sunday after Pentecost
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Grace and peace to you as you live in the assurance of God’s love, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So what is your defense? How would you defend your actions as a Christian if a crowd of people had come against you because of a deceitful lies and the police had arrested you and now you are standing before them in defense of your actions. That’s where we find the Apostle Paul this morning in the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. The evangelist Luke tells us: ‘And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: [22:1] “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”  And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet.’ (Acts 21: 40 – 22: 2)
We always need to be ready to make a defense of our actions as Christians, that’s what God tells us through the Apostle Peter as He says to us, “ But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3: 14 – 16)
Today as we read about the actions of the Apostle Paul we can learn a lot about how to defend ourselves when our faith in Jesus Christ is questioned. The first thing that we can learn from the defense that the Apostle Paul made is to speak to the crowd or person in their own common language, to get their attention and to hold their attention. The second thing is to explain your actions as a Christian by explaining how God has been working in your life from the beginning. Remember what God tells us through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, He says to us, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:1-7)
Before God came into our lives we were dead in the sins and that was true for the Apostle Paul also. So the Apostle Paul begins his defense from the beginning of His life and tells us, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” (Acts 22:3)
Like the Apostle Paul I would begin my defense as a Christian at the beginning of my life, because a few weeks after I was born I was reborn in by Baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In that Baptism God wash away all my sins and gave me the Holy Spirit to work in my life. My faith and trust in Jesus Christ started in my baptism like many of you and when I was young I was educated in God’s Word through my parents, by many faithful Sunday School teachers and through many pastors, like Pastor Roadie, Pastor Harold Reise and others teaching me in conformation classes and Bible classes a greater knowledge of God’s Word and love for me.
The defense of our faith doesn’t come from what we do but what God has done in us through the Holy Spirit working in our lives through His Word and Sacraments. The Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Oh, we don’t always listen intently to what God wants us to do in our lives. That was true for the Apostle Paul and for me, even now at times. The Apostle Paul went about persecuting the Christians until Jesus got a hold of his attention. Pastor Reise and many others told me that I should be a pastor but my answer was always, “That’s not what I want to be, I’m going to be a teacher and a coach.” For me it was what I wanted to do, a very common excuse for many of us. So what excuse have you made for not following the direction that God has shown you He wants you to go in your life?
God was working in the Apostle Paul’s life even when he wasn’t looking for Him or wanting Him in his life. That’s also true for many of us, yet God through the words of Isaiah reminds us, “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making? or ‘Your work has no handles’? 10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” 11 Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?” (Is. 45:9-11)
Each of us have been formed by the Hand of God to be His special child. Our defense as a Christian may be different in words then that of the Apostle Paul but the same God is at work in our lives just a much as He is in the Apostle Paul’s or me. God by the hand of the Holy Spirit through His Word and Sacraments is molding and forming you and me into what He needs us to be, as we let God’s Word be in our hearts and minds and soul then the Holy Spirit is at work in us. For the Apostle Paul to move in the direction that God wanted him to go it took Jesus appearing to him on his way to Damascus, for me it took the death of my younger brother David and his wife, Sandy, asking me to speak about David during his funeral and through many prays and tears I asked what the Apostle Paul asked, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord gave me the words to speak just like He guided the Apostle Paul and just like He will guide each of us in our times of need. Yes, God wants to work through our prayers and His Word in our lives so that we can share the Good News of His love with all the world just like the Apostle Paul did.
What’s our defense when we are put in a situation where we have to defend our faith in Christ Jesus? It’s found in the simple words of God working in our lives each and every day. It’s found in God guidance in our lives, even when it doesn’t make since to our human logic. It’s not easy and sometimes, in this cruel and violent world, when we follow God’s guidance it causes us pain and suffering, but God is always works it out for the best in our lives and the lives of others so that we can shared the love, grace and mercy of God with them. Oh, we might never have to be chained up and jail for our faith, but as we let God work in our lives we will have to defend our actions and God will be there to defend us. Remember, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Jn. 3:16 – 18) God is defending us and will always be there in our defense.
What can we learn from this weeks reading in the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Acts of the Apostles? That God wants to work in our lives to give us not only a peace and hope that the world is looking for, but a defense our actions done out of love for Him and all that He has done for us. That defense is found in God’s Word and Sacraments, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives through them. Remember what God says this through the Apostle Peter to us, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3: 13 – 16) Our defense as a Christian is as simple as sharing how God’s love, grace and mercy is working in our lives every day. So share it with others so God can go to work in their lives so they too can have the hope and love of God in them, which is our greatest defense. Amen.