4th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 709:1, 3, 5-6, 353, 937
Text – Acts 20:18-19
And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility & with tears & with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.”
HUMILITY, TEARS & TRIALS
Think for a moment, about the absolutely most humiliating thing that has ever happened to you. Do you bring that up very often in conversations? Have you worked at forgetting or even denying that it ever happened?
Serving others is difficult enough as it is, given that our ego prefers to be served. Yet, in this text from the book of Acts, Paul comments on his service to God by saying it was with all humility & tears & trials.
Some people are only willing to serve others if they get credit for it, but even if we are uncomfortable with getting credit, neither do we want to be humiliated in our service. And serving with tears & trials isn’t especially welcome either.
St. Paul knowingly served under all of those circumstances, yet he’s not bragging. Rather, he says these things to encourage people who will find themselves serving under similar conditions. Across all of world history, serving with humility, tears & trials is the norm for Christians, but here in the US, we’ve had circumstances that were anything but the norm.
People growing up in the United States, during the 20th century, were not all believers in Jesus as Savior. However, practically all US citizens received training to think from a Biblical worldview. They generally agreed on what was right & what was wrong, on specific roles for men & women & children. Christian beliefs were respected even if they were not adhered to.
Though the term didn’t exist then, it was completely out of the question that anyone would even try to cancel someone for teaching the things that Jesus taught. For example, the Word of God makes it perfectly clear that human existence begins with conception. Human accountability for sin begins at that same point. Regarding every human being, God created specific individuals, each one in a unique relationship with their heavenly Father. And He creates them as male & as female right from very genetic level.
For years now, scholars, politicians & all manner of leaders, have been trying to, & succeeding in, deconstructing that society. They’ve been tearing it down, tearing it apart, & tearing into a million unrecognizable pieces. And not all of their inspirations were wrong. The racism exemplified by the KKK that needed to be attacked & deconstructed.
The sexism of the 20th century USA was damaging & confining in ways that were not unlike slavery in some respects. Men & women, of all races, should have equal opportunities for education & service according to the vocations that our heavenly Creator gives to us individually.
In spite of its obvious & serious faults, the United States has provided equal opportunity in far greater ways than probably any civilization prior to it. The devil is now, in the 21st century, orchestrating its destruction. The tragedy of it all, is that a huge percentage of our population is buying into it.
Research has suggested that today, only 6% of self-described Christians have a true Biblical worldview. So it’s pretty safe to say that non-Christians do not in any way look at life through the teachings of Jesus. In that context, serving the Lord with all humility & with tears & with trials will become much more commonplace in the next ten years.
St. Paul, & Jesus too, do not want us to become discouraged. In order for that, however, we need to see our calling in realistic terms. No more rose-colored glasses or pietistic views of what it is to be a child of God. Satan is waging war against us & against the kingdom of God. The nation of Ukraine has no more illusions about the intentions of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation.” He is waging war & killing tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens. The war that Satan is waging on all of humanity is even more serious than that. To top it off, our sinful nature, even that of Christians, gladly works with him.
As Paul so aptly put it, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV)
Given that reality, it’s no wonder Paul’s service to the Lord was with all humility, tears & trials. He wasn’t only at war with Satan & the world’s unbelievers. Paul was at war with himself. You & I live with that same reality, & passing on our faith in Christ to others will become marked, more & more, by all humility, tears & trials.
One way the devil tempts us today is to believe that being a Christian should be easy & without struggle, no humility needed, nor tears & trials. We see that in people who are insistent that sermons should be a time for happy talk. There’s enough depressing stuff going on in life that they don’t want to hear about it in the worship service.
In a sense, they want to live their Christian life with their head in the sand. However, as Paul faces the elders of the church in Ephesus, for what is probably the last time, he turns to the future, facing imprisonment & afflictions, but that is not what concerns him. What does is that he remain faithful in the ministry the Lord has given him – unto death.
The future of the church in Ephesus too is dark. Those new people of God will be attacked by both foe & traitor. The elders must therefore be alert & vigilant in the exercise of their office, as Paul has been in his. He’s given the Word of life to them fully & faithfully. His predictions for the church at Ephesus provide a pattern for many of the problems & issues we face today. The solution to the problems at Ephesus is the love & power of the work of Christ on the cross. Daily, Jesus brings us life & salvation & strength for victory despite the problems around us. God’s Spirit gives peace of heart & mind so we can rest at night from the labors of our day. This victory, however, is not on the world’s terms, but on the terms of the kingdom of God. It is never in our own power that you or I run the race. It is always & only God’s mercy & forgiveness, through which He constantly restores us, that enable us to continue running the race, in spite of humility, tears & trials.
Serving God is normally anything but a glorious life. We see that here every day in the child care program. There are no TV news crews showing up to tell our story to the world. It’s similar for workers in nursing homes where people literally go in order to die.
In a way, child care & nursing home workers are following in the footsteps of Jesus who laid down His life for us. Humility is something that our sinful nature never aspires to. It can only be learned as a gift from Jesus. The world would rather not take humility, tears & trials seriously. These song lyrics give us a tongue in cheek view of the world’s opinion of humility:
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror ’cause I get better lookin’ each day. To know me is to love me. I must be a hell of a man. Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doin’ the best that I can.”
That was a hit song back in 1980, for a singer named Mac Davis. In so many ways today, our culture seems to have lost any sense of humor. Might we guess it has something to do with having lost any sense of humility & need for the mercy of God? Every single one of us has a tremendous need for our Lord’s mercy. He offers it to us freely, with no strings attached.
Humility receives mercy. Pride does not. So, the next time you remember that most
humiliating thing that ever happened to you, give God a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s one of the most precious gifts that Jesus can offer to you. He earned it for us while hanging on the cross. Amen.
Jesus came, the heavens adoring, came with peace from realms on high; Jesus came to win redemption, lowly came on earth to die; Alleluia! Alleluia! Came in deep humility. Jesus comes again in mercy when our hearts are worn with care; Jesus comes again in answer to an earnest, heartfelt prayer; Alleluia! Alleluia! Comes to save us from despair. Jesus comes to hearts rejoicing, bringing news of sins forgiven; Jesus comes with words of gladness, leading souls redeemed to heaven. Alleluia! Alleluia! Hope to all the world is given. Amen. LSB 353:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet