Pastor's Sermon
May 2, 2021
Acts 16:11-15
 
Confirmation Sunday
Rev. Matthew C. Rauh

 
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Partners in the Gospel!

 
     11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
    13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
 
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®, ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblia, Inc. Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide.
 
     National Geographic Society—cable television—your local softball team.  Which of these describes church the best?  The National Geographic Society is more than subscribing to a magazine.  It is a society you join.  You pay your subscription and you get a membership certificate stating you are an official member.  Is much expected of you?  No, not really.  They don’t know if you read their magazine or not.  It doesn’t matter, I guess, as long as you pay your yearly subscription fee.
     Some think church is like the National Geographic Society.  They join and get a membership certificate, but they think little is expected.  They don’t even have to go to church or read their Bible as long as they pay their dues. Yet, they are still proud of their “membership.”
     Some think church is like cable or dish television.  Cable offers us more channels than we can imagine.  But this is “passive” entertainment.  You don’t interact.  You don’t do anything except sit there and be entertained.  If it doesn’t keep your attention, just keep flipping through the channels until something does.
     Some consider church “passive” entertainment.  They don’t want to interact; they just want to be entertained, and if something in church doesn’t catch their attention, just flip around, maybe from church to church, until something does.
     Ever played in the local softball league?  People play because they want to.  It is totally voluntary.  Sure, they get something out of it like some nacho cheese or a round of beer after the game. But they join because they want to play and not just sit on the bench.  You don’t mind taking extra time for practices because it helps you play better. You may even schedule vacations around tournaments.
     Churches are more like local softball teams.  You go to church because you want to.  Yes, you get a lot out of it—sins forgiven, guarantee of eternal life in Christ, prayer, ways to worship—but you don’t want to sit on the bench; you want to participate whether singing hymns, serving at a meal or on a committee, mowing the lawn, teaching Sunday school.  You even schedule your week around church.  You don’t mind practice to improve your faith because it helps you and the church.
     Do you want to just sit on the bench?  We pray you want to play on your team.  Today we see that we are partners of the gospel. 
 
I.  Becoming partners of the gospel.
 
     Today we meet Lydia.  From her we learn that it is the Lord who makes us partners of the Gospel.  
     Normally you would think that it was by chance that Paul met Lydia.  But in God’s kingdom nothing is by chance.  Read the verses before our text.  Paul did not want to go to Philippi.  He wanted to visit other cities, but we are told the Holy Spirit kept him from going to these places.  How?  We don’t know.  Maybe it was in a dream.  Maybe it was natural, like border guards refusing entrance, or an avalanche.  We don’t know how, but Paul recognized it as the Holy Spirit preventing him.  So he finally went to his hometown of Troas, unsure what to do.
     In the night, God gave Paul a vision to cross the sea to Macedonia.  Feeling unleashed, he got on the first boat in the morning. Destination:  Philippi. 
     Philippi was an interesting city, but not a very good place to start a mission. Paul usually looked for an existing Jewish synagogues on his journeys.  That makes sense.  They believed in God.  They were looking for the Messiah.  They know their Bibles.  All Paul had to do was share the gospel and overnight a Christian church appeared with a place of worship and people to help.  But there was no synagogue in Philippi.  All Paul could find were a few women who met by the river for worship.  It is there he found Lydia.
     Do you see how God intervened in history so Lydia could hear Paul tell her about her Savior?  Do you think you are any different?  I like to watch the American Pickers on the History Channel.  They roam the countryside looking for old, rusty things forgotten in someone’s barn.  They find a broken bike, but they pay big bucks for it because they know someone will pay even more to buy it from them.  The bike by itself is worthless.  But it has value to someone willing to pay big bucks for it. 
     It is not by accident you are here today.  By ourselves we are worthless to the Lord.  Born in sin as sinners, we can’t offer God anything.  We are junk worthy for the junkyard.  But the Lord wants us and he has put a price on us.  He exchanged his own Son for us so we may belong to him. Robed in Christ, we are sinners who are also saints with a place in God’s heaven.
     Someone may spend a thousand dollars on a rusty bike, but what good is it if no one finds that bike?  God sent pickers out there to find you.   He used history and politics and so on so one person tells another about Christ all the way down to you.   He used your parents, this congregation, believers in another part of the world, so you may hear the gospel of Christ and believe.  It is because of the Lord alone you believe and are saved, but also thank God he sent pickers like your church and parents to make that possible.  Wow!  All for you.
     
II.  Being partners in the gospel.
 
     God twisted things around so Paul could preach the gospel to Lydia.  But Lydia wasn’t the only one.  There were other women there.  Later a Roman guard and his family would believe and a few others. Then there were people in other towns like Berea, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, a whole world.  And Lydia understood that.  That is why she became a partner in the gospel ministry.
     “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.  When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.”
     Yes, the Lord opened her heart so she may believe.  But he opened her heart to respond.  Immediately, Lydia began sharing the gospel in her own way.  She first made sure her entire household was baptized. Then she invited the apostles to stay with her so they didn’t have to spend money on a motel and fast food.  Then she opened up her home for worship.  Our church has 1955 on its cornerstone, and this is our third building.  Next year we will celebrate our 150thanniversary.  I know St. Paul’s was daughtered by several neighboring Lutheran churches.  I don’t know if they started worship in the log church by the cemetery, or first worshipped in someone’s home until they built the church.  In Lydia’s day they worshipped in private homes, and she offered hers.  This meant added work for her.  She probably had to clean it more often, buy food, more inconvenience, but these things did not matter because Lydia was doing anything she can to help spread the gospel.
     I did a little research on the Minnesota Twins.  When you watch them, you see a few players playing baseball.  But did you know it takes over 1,600 people to put on a baseball game?  You have 40 players, but you have one manager, seven coaches and 11 staff for the coaches.  The front office has 181 people including eight vice presidents.  Over 1,400 workers prepare the field as they mow, clean, make and sell the food.  So when the pitcher throws the first pitch, there are over 1,600 making that possible.
     Sure, it was Paul and a couple companions who walked into Philippi that day.  But they were not alone.  Behind Paul you had believers in a dozen or more congregations praying, donating time and money.  You had folks opening up their homes, telling their friends, cleaning, preparing food, worshipping, and so on.  So when Paul walked into Philippi, he had hundreds and thousands of fellow believers from all over the world making it possible. 
      This is how God’s Church operates.  Yes, some are called to be pastors and teachers.  But behind each called worker is an entire congregation, maybe several or a whole synod, and believers throughout history, all who contribute in some way.  
     To our Confirmands.  You will get a fancy certificate for confirmation.  You will become official, communicant members of this congregation. But don’t just be proud of your membership, and don’t be happy sitting on the bench.  Remember my big speech at the beginning of the school year?  I said that these confirmation classes are to prepare you for confirmation.  They prepare you for taking Communion.  Do you remember the other part?  Yes, they are to make you are ready to take your place in the worship and work of your congregation.  We pray all those passages we read and the message of Christ our Savior opens your hearts to respond.
     I imagine all of those who put on a Twins game do so for many reasons.  Some do it to get paid; it’s a job.  Some enjoy what they do.  Others are hoping to get recognized like in the hall of fame.  Why serve the Lord?  Is it for pay?  We don’t pay you for ushering.  I doubt if teaching Sunday School means anything on a resume.  But there is one big reason.  The Lord opened up Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel, and that really is the only reason we serve the Lord here or anywhere.  Like branches connected to the vine of Christ, fruits will come from Christ through us.  We serve to thank God.  It is done really not for ourselves, but to God’s glory.  
     Paul wrote a letter back to this congregation in Philippi a few years later, I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”  I can imagine Lydia listening to that letter, and her heart filled with joy.  May the same be said of you.  Welcome to your gospel ministry.  Amen. 

Funeral Service - April 30, 2021


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