Evensong 11/9/05 Acts 20:17-38
AC 20:17 From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. 25 "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32 "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " 36 When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
Whose diary do you think I am reading from?
Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne's. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John's. Deacons said "Get out and stay out."
Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude's. Can't go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else's. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.
From the diary of John Wesley.
From today's reading from Acts I would like us to consider perseverance. That believers are to persist in their commitment to Jesus, whatever their circumstances, knowing that God is on their side.
Paul refers to persevering despite opposition. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.
Wherever he went Paul expected opposition. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.
Paul persevered in the mission that God gave him. 24b the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. This included teaching in public and in people's houses, verse 20, and to Jews and Greeks, verse 21, i.e. Everybody.
Whilst not everyone is called to such a ministry. We are all called to serve God in some capacity, and we are all called to be witnesses of what God has done for us in Christ.
Paul commissions the elders, or senior leaders of the church at Ephesus. He says that they must persevere by being shepherds of the flock or church God has given to them. This includes being on guard against false teachers.
This was an issue for the early church. It is an issue for the church today. Clergy who hold traditional views on sex are currently being persecuted in parts of America. 37 members of the clergy have been deposed in Brazil. They had sought alternative oversight after their Bishop pushed the gay agenda. In Connecticut six priests are also faced with deposition. Their Bishop has, it is alleged, illegally seized church property, records and bank accounts.
How are believers to persevere?
32 "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
This prayer of blessing places these elders into the care of God and the teaching about his undeserved favour shown through Jesus' death for us on the cross.
We can know the presence and protection of God through His Spirit who lives within every believer. We can learn about the love of God to us through the Bible. These things will build believers up, making them more like Jesus. Sanctify them, setting them apart to live for God. Giving an inheritance, the prospect of being with God forever with new, perfect resurrection bodies, serving and worshiping God forever. That is the goal of Paul and of every believer.
24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
On March 6, 1987, Eamon Coghlan, the Irish world record holder at 1500 meters, was running in a qualifying heat at the World Indoor Track Championships in Indianapolis. With two and a half laps left, he was tripped. He fell, but he got up and with great effort managed to catch the leaders. With only 20 yards left in the race, he was in third place -- good enough to qualify for the finals. He looked over his shoulder to the inside, and, seeing no one, he let up. But another runner, charging hard on the outside, passed Coughlan a yard before the finish, thus eliminating him from the finals. Coughlan's great comeback effort was rendered worthless by taking his eyes off the finish line.
It's tempting to let up when the sights around us distract us. But we will finish well in the Christian race only when we fix our eyes on the goal: Jesus Christ and his word to us.