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Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Good News is for All Who Will Hear (Acts 16.9-13, Galatians 3.7-9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
May 17, 2015 (Confirmation Sunday)
Text: Acts 16:9-13; Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:7-9

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: worship team
Hymn of Praise: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" (Getty/Townend)
Confirmation Song: "Now You Make it Your Own" (Dawson/Austell)
Offering of Music: "One Faith, One Hope, One Lord" (Courtney)
Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Song of Sending: "Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone" (Tomlin)
Hymn of Sending: Rick Bean, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

This month we are talking about Good News. I believe that more than ever we need to hear good news, and God does not disappoint. This story [the Bible] is full of God’s Good News; we just don’t always read it or learn it or remember it as such. In today’s scripture texts we have in story form and in theological form one of the great answers to the question, “What is the Good News?” I want to look with you at that story and that theology, then talk briefly about what that means for you and me.

Where in the World is Macedonia?
(Acts 16:9-13)

In Acts 16, Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia appealing for help. In general, the world of Paul’s day was ruled by the Roman Empire, but still dominated by the remnants of culture from the preceding Greek Empires. And Macedonia had been at the center of that, home of Alexander the Great and site of the famed Mt. Olympus of the Greek gods. If ever there were a place for the Good News to be proclaimed outside Jerusalem, Macedonia was it.

And, in fact, Paul was fresh off the significant confrontation recorded in Acts 15 with the “Jerusalem Council.” This was the group of Jesus’ disciples and followers kind of governing the early church IN Jerusalem and the question at hand was whether and how non-Jews might become Christ-followers. Should they hear the news of Christ at all? If so, should they be circumcised and follow Jewish food rules? After that groups of disciples made some significant decisions about this in Acts 15, it is noteworthy that Paul followed a fresh vision to take the message to the heart of Gentile culture and power.

It is easy for us to take for granted or simply miss the significance of this. The earliest Christians were Jewish people who understood Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah. It was not at all obvious or clear to them that the message was to be carried abroad, despite Jesus’ own command to do just that. But it was Jesus who was being more authentic to his Jewish roots than his first disciples. He understood that God’s heart was for the whole world and that God had spoken that intent in the scriptures, even back in Abraham’s day.

Good News to Abraham
(Galatians 3, Romans 1, Genesis 12)

One of the misconceptions about the Old Testament is that it is just the story of the people of Israel, but as precious as those chosen people are to God and in those scriptures, they are simply the focal point for God’s larger story of creating, loving, and redeeming – rescuing – the world gone astray. And there is no clearer place to see God’s intention to the world through a particular people than in God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 12. There God comes to Abraham, calling him to a new home and country and vows to bless him, give him a name and descendants, and land. And summing all that up, God says what is quoted in our Galatians text for today: “In you all the families of the earth (the nations) will be blessed.”

And so in that same text in Galatians you have Paul describing this covenant with Abraham as God “preaching the gospel (Good News) beforehand to Abraham. God’s intent from the beginning was to love and provide salvation – deliverance, rescue, healing, and restoration – to all who would hear. And the Old Testament scriptures are full of those stories of Good News for outsiders, whether law-breakers like Moses, David, and those sent into Exile or women and ethnically other like Ruth, Rahab, and the people of Nineveh. And it is PRECISELY the Good News that God pursued, accepted, and called people like that to be a part of what He was doing in the world, such that Moses gave the Law, Ruth and Rahab became part of the lineage of King David and his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth; and the people of Nineveh turned to the Lord.

Galatians 3:9 brings this back around with this powerful summary: “So then those who are of faith (those who listen and believe) are blessed with Abraham, the believer.” Whether the prostitute Rahab or the Moabite Ruth or the murderer Moses or the adulterer David or the Samaritan divorcee in John 4 or the Macedonians of Paul’s vision, the Good News of God’s redemptive love and action is for all who will hear, all who will listen and believe. That is the “blessing for all the people of the world” that God spoke over Abraham.

For All Who Will Hear

And that brings us to today and to you and me. First, Confirmation is just this; faith is something you have to hear for yourselves and one of the reasons we have Confirmation is to make sure every child that grows up in our church has the opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News with the ears of developing adult minds and hearts. What a blessing that these students have done just that!

And for these four who have grown up in the church as well as for any of you who have gone to Church for a long time and when all those Christian ways of talking and doing things have kind of become habit, it can become easy to think that the Good News is just for you. Perhaps it’s not a conscious thought, but there is kind of a sense that you have earned God’s blessing; or maybe that there might be some folks, some outsiders, who don’t really deserve God’s blessing. You know – you’ve got to get yourself cleaned up to come into God’s presence or God’s house. It’s easy to start thinking that way.

And if we start thinking that way, we start to ignore and discount and even turn away the Rahab’s and Ruth’s who may have heard a little Good News and want to check things out.

OR, if you or I really mess up – if we really stray from what is right – we might conclude that God is done with us, that God only uses smart, clean, nice, together kinds of people for His work. But then we might start to ignore or discount or even turn away a Moses or David or Peter or divorced Samaritan woman – the same one who went, despite her shame, and got her whole town to come out and meet Jesus.

Here’s what I’m getting at: it’s not enough to believe that there is Good News that God would have us hear and know. Part of the very essence of that Good News is that it is not limited to an insider crowd or based on the goodness of those who hear it. Rather, it is Good News because it is news of God’s great, healing, and redemptive love that is extended to all who will hear it. That means it’s for every one of you – not based on whether you are good enough for God, but based on whether you will accept God’s declaration of desire for you.

That is the weight of this Good News; and it needs to sink in. Did you hear it? God’s declaration of healing and redemptive love is for you if you will hear and receive it. It is not based on your merit or performance or niceness or church attendance or purity or lack of any of those things; it is for all who will hear it. Do you hear it? God loves you.

For all who have, who have been blessed with Abraham, the believer, it is also a reminder that God’s love extends WAY beyond these walls and relationships on the same terms. It is for all who will hear – out there – and we are privileged to bear that Good News. When Paul caught the vision, he responded immediately. How will you respond?

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