Why? Have you ever gotten that question from someone who is of the world?

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1 Fit to Be Tied Acts 21: 7-16 Why? Have you ever gotten that question from someone who is of the world? I have, and not just because I am a minister. But just because I am a believer. Why? Why do you bother spending an hour in worship each week when you could sleep in? Why do you give your energy to the work of the church when you could certainly channel your energy elsewhere? Why do you give your money, your hard-earned money to the church (of course, my hardearned money comes from the church, but they don t seem to understand that) when you could spend it on yourself? And why and this may be the ultimate question why do you care? Why do you care about the people out there who have needs? Why do you care if people are hungry, homeless, lost and confused? After all, it s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Every one for himself or herself! And if someone doesn t have, well, it s not your fault. I suppose you could say that, to a lot of people, the Christian faith is a mystery. A mystery built on sacrifice, love, and grace. The people of the world just don t understand it. Which leads us to this passage from Acts concerning Paul. After his missionary journeys, Paul had set his sights on Jerusalem. He had been in Ephesus for quite a while, then came down the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and ended up in Caesarea, staying at the home of Philip, one of the first deacons. And while he was there, a prophet named Agabus came up from Judea. And he did something rather dramatic. He took Paul s belt from his waist, and tied up his own hands and feet with it. And then he pronounced: The owner of this belt will be tied up by the leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem and given over to the Gentiles. Which, as we read further in the Book of Acts, is exactly what happened. Of course, Paul s companions tried to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem. As if they could. Paul had already been through plenty. Imprisonment, beatings, left for dead after suffering a stoning. He knew the leaders of the Jews were not going to throw a tickertape parade for him when he arrived and give him the key to the city. He probably even had a good idea that the outcome of his journey would be an execution in Rome. But there was no way he was not going. He could have headed back to his home in Tarsus. He could have lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity. After all, he had already done plenty. Someone else could have taken the reins and finished the job he started.

2 But, as mysterious as it was to those around him, and maybe as mysterious it is to those of the world in our time, he chose the road of sacrifice. To pay the cost. Even if it was his life. Does that make sense? I mean, speaking on behalf of the people of the world, what good does that do? Why sacrifice? Time, talents, energy, money, self? And for what? And the answer to the people of the world is this, even if it mystifies them: There are people out there who hurt. People who are broken. People who are addicted and not just to opioids, but addicted to the greater poisons of hate and fear and worry and doubt. People whose lives are empty and have no idea where to go to so they can be filled up. Paul never questioned the purpose of his ministry. Never had second thoughts. Never sought the road most traveled by the one more comfortable, convenient, and constant. Come to think of it neither did Jesus. Jesus had plenty of opportunities to have second thoughts, maybe even third, fourth, and fifth thoughts. Back off, Satan said in the wilderness. Come back to Nazareth and live out a peaceful life, said His brothers. Stay away from Jerusalem, the disciples said as Jesus headed to Bethany after the death of Lazarus. And that cup God wants you to drink? Pour it out on the ground in Gethsemane. Who needs a cross? And what about us? Which is really the message of this passage from Acts 21. What if we were tied up? What if our hands and feet were bound and we were handed over to the authorities? Would we go to Jerusalem anyway? Or would we listen to those who are stuck in the mystery of sacrifice, not getting the why of our actions? It sure would be easier! Safer too. Less costly. Lloyd Ogilvie, formerly the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California, wrote about a conversation he had with a colleague. Ogilvie commented that he had been down at the church at 11:00pm the night before. His colleague, making a good point, asked him: Oh, were there Christians gathered for worship, study, and service at that hour of the night? No sarcasm. Good theology. The church is not this building in which we sit. We don t go to church for an hour or so each week. The church is not the congregation of which we are members. And it is not the institution we call the Presbyterian Church USA. The church is anywhere and everywhere believers are, sacrificing themselves to fight the deep soul pain so many people are suffering. And the church is much more than the one hour or so we spend in this building. It is the other 167 hours in which we are doing something to bring the message of a sacrificial savior to those who need to be saved, and not just from their sins, but from everything that tears them apart. The church exists when we are willing to sacrifice ourselves that the Gospel might not just be preached, but lived. Because if it isn t lived, there is no church. And no sacrifice. And the way of the world wins. Sacrifice was no mystery to Paul. He embraced it.

3 But there was a second mystery Paul embraced. A mystery that baffles the people of the world. The mystery of love. I suppose you could say that love is mysterious. Scientists have tried to define it by measuring its chemical makeup. Poets and painters and novelists and song writers have tried to define it. No one has. Besides, speaking on behalf of the people of the world, why should you love people you don t even like? Why should you treat someone else with something even akin to love just because they happened to buy the house next door? Or even sit near you in this sanctuary? Why should you make yourself vulnerable, open yourself up to being hurt, treat someone with dignity and respect even if they haven t earned it? When love often gets thrown back in your face, why should you put yourself out there in the first place? And I know there isn t a single person here this morning who hasn t had their love refused, rejected, damaged, decimated, or just plain thrown back in their face. Love costs. Ask Jesus. The very people He loved Judas Iscariot of course, but even His sort of loyal eleven broke His heart. He never stopped loving them. Paul, too, had his love marked returned to sender, no forwarding address. But what is the alternative? Shall we live with hate as our mantra? All that leads to is shootings in a church in Charleston and a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a music festival in Las Vegas and a school in Florida and a nightclub in Thousand Oaks, California. All that leads to is unforgiveness and fear and the thousands of other demons that come from hate. And you know what else it leads to? The kind of hate that we place upon ourselves. I can t give you the statistics, but a good portion of my counseling over the years has dealt with the fact that a lot of people, even those who go to church regularly, don t love themselves, can t forgive themselves. Can t love the one God made in His own image. That s why Jesus died. That s why Paul didn t hesitate to go to Jerusalem. And that s why we, as believers, are sent out into the world. To love. A child came home from school one day and told her mother that her English teacher was a Christian. How do you know? her mother asked. Her reply was: By her special smile and that look in her eyes. It reminds me of Jesus. Would the people we know say the same about us? Love was no mystery to Paul. He lived it. Which leads to the most important mystery of all the mystery of grace. Something the people of the world just don t understand. Either most people think they are not sinners at all in need of forgiveness or they figure they can work out their freedom from their mistakes on their own.

4 Or maybe they even feel that, somehow, some way, everything will be ok, no matter how they live. That grace is just a nice idea but has no impact on their lives. To be honest, I ve met a lot of people like that. They just go ahead with their lives with no thought of what might happen as they reach the end of their journey. Some of those people are even in churches. At a meeting I attended last week, a retired colleague of mine who lives in a retirement community made a comment that really struck me. He was speaking of how many of his fellow residents really don t seem to have any interest in what the final outcome of their lives will be. They seem content to live day to day, doing whatever they can to fill their minutes and hours, without ever considering the moment when they will have no more minutes or hours. When he speaks to them about faith, about God, about matters we would call religious, he gets a cold shoulder or a pointed reminder that their facility is supposed to be secular (even though it is not). He is struck by the fact that there seems to be no interest in the mystery of grace, that they don t want to think about the fact that there is something more God has been offering to them, something more to fill their minutes and hours than just what they think is important. Or to quote someone I knew who had lived his life in the church, but in his later years had stopped attending any services: I am spending my life at the altar of the New York Times. Why have so many people turned away from the mystery of grace? Why has the world rejected the blessing God has given? Why have people left the gift of forgiveness, the gift of mercy, the gift of undeserved love outside the door of their souls? It s like the message in Revelation 3:20; Behold I stand at the door and knock. Jesus is knocking, grace in hand, but too many people don t want to take the time to answer the door. Choosing instead to do it themselves. Paul tried to. He couldn t. And it was only when He bowed before the mystery of grace that he discovered why he couldn t. And that he didn t need to. He only needed to open the door. So what if he were bound up by his enemies and sent off to Rome? Which he was. He would live by grace. And grace alone. And die by it too if need be. And when the world asked him why, his life would show it there is no other way. And when the world asks us why, our lives must show it there is no other way. We ve tried; we ve all tried. But nothing else works. Ok, we may not get bound up hand and foot and sent off to our enemies, never to see the light of day again. And yes, we many want to have second thoughts and get as far away from whatever Jerusalem is out there. But what will the world be like if we do? grace. The world just doesn t understand the mystery of sacrifice. The mystery of love. The mystery of We don t either at least not entirely. But it is at the core on everything we call the Christian faith. To be in our lives the answer to all the world s whys.

5 Worship November 18, 2018 Call: Litany Assurance: Litany Children s Message: Power of prayer what is prayer? Talking to God. And He listens! Memory verse: Pray continually I Thessalonians 5:17 Prayer: Lord, when the world wants to know why we worship You, grant unto us the words we need to say to tell them of Your power and presence and peace. When the world wants to know why we serve You, grant unto us the words to say to tell them of Your love for all people. When the world wants to know why we trust You, grant unto us the words to say to tell them of Your steadfast support in our lives. When the world wants to know why we commit our lives to You, grant unto us the words to tell them that only by living with and by and for You can ever find meaning in our lives. When the world wants to know the whys of our lives, grant unto us the boldness to live as You want us to. Needs, etc. LORD S PRAYER

6 Pray continually. I Thessalonians 5:17

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