4th Sunday of Easter – C LSB #’s 857, 851, 848
Text – Acts 20:35
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
IN THIS WAY
Upon entering a little country store a stranger noticed a sign, posted on the glass door. It read, “DANGER! BEWARE OF DOG!” Inside, he noticed a harmless old hound dog sound asleep on the floor near the cash register. So he asked the store’s owner, “Is that the dog folks are supposed to ‘beware’ of?” The proprietor answered, “Yep, that’s him.”
The stranger couldn’t help being amused. “That does not look to me like a dangerous dog,” he chuckled. “Why in the world did you decide to post that sign?” The owner replied, “Because, before I posted the sign, people kept tripping over him.” It seems that even a useless old guard dog will from time to time slow people down if they happen to trip over him.
Would people say that’s the kind of Christian you are? Do you want people to trip over you & only then discover that you are a watchdog for the Lord? Or, would you rather be alert & ready to point people to the true life that exists in Jesus Christ alone? How would you describe the life you lead as a follower of Jesus? Are you a sleepy old hound dog?
Those can be difficult words to consider. They challenge us & can easily be taken as offensive. Yet, the words of St. Paul also challenge you & me to be something more than a lazy old hound dog when it comes to following the Savior of the world. Long before the apostle Paul, the prophet Isaiah had some very challenging words for the kings & prophets of Israel:
“For the leaders of my people – the Lord’s watchmen, His shepherds – are blind & ignorant. They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping & dreaming.” (Isaiah 56:10 NLT) That’s rather harsh, isn’t it? Then, Isaiah goes into more detail: “…They are ignorant shepherds, all following their own path & intent on personal gain. ‘Come,’ they say, ‘let’s get some wine & have a party. Let’s all get drunk. Then tomorrow we’ll do it again & have an even bigger party!’” (Isaiah 56:11-12 NLT)
It’s clear why God took the Promised Land away from the people of Israel. He’d blessed them beyond measure & they forgot how much they needed Him. Continued blessings would only have driven them further away. Discipline was now required if they were ever to return to their Lord. Sadly, that return never happened, in spite of many tears from the Apostle Paul.
God sent His only begotten Son, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, to take the place of the failed son – Israel. The prophet Isaiah wrote that Yahweh also sent His prophets to act as guards who would do more than sleep like lazy hound dogs. They should warn the people, & they should pray without ceasing for them such that God would get no rest:
“On your walls, Jerusalem, I will set watchmen who will never be silent all day & all night. You who remind Yahweh, don’t take any rest. Don’t let Him have any rest until He establishes Jerusalem & makes it a city that is praised in the world.” (Isaiah 62:6-7 AAT)
Don’t let God rest until heaven is established – that is the message of Isaiah the prophet. St. Paul picked up on that OT theme with his words in the book of Acts: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Jesus wasn’t simply talking about giving money. He was including blood, sweat & tears. Money is easy; you write out a check or get out your phone & pay with an app. Being a child of God is not all fun & games! Satan is attacking us from the outside through the culture & the media. He is attacking from the inside, through the church & through your own heart.
Not all of us are called to the office of pastor, but each of us is called to love our
neighbors as ourselves. Have you noticed – that is extremely difficult to do? If you haven’t noticed, you have not been trying! Our sinful nature is supremely selfish & always, naturally, looks out for number one! Once it realizes that eternal life is gift that cannot be earned, then it determines to keep all of our heavenly Father’s gifts to itself.
We don’t love our neighbor in order to earn our way to heaven. We love them because we already have heaven. Today we celebrate Mother’s Day because it is very difficult to raise children even without teaching them anything about Jesus. Once you start trying to lead them to a relationship with the Son of God, then the devil really gets busy.
St. Paul describes the work he’s urging us to as being similar to running a race. The course I trained on at seminary ended with our dormitory at the top of a hill. If I was not nauseous by the time I got to that “finish line” I knew I had not pushed myself as much as I could have. Can you see how that relates to what St. Paul is urging us to do?
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, …‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” In the verses leading up to this, Paul gives a general description of the sufferings he endured in order to help the weak:
“…with tears & with trials… testifying both to Jews & to Greeks of repentance toward God… the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment & afflictions await me. …after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”
In the reading from Revelation, one of the elders described the results of the spiritual battle on earth by saying to the apostle John:
“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes & made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God… & He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, & He will guide them to springs of living water, & God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (7:14b-17 ESV)
Becoming a mature follower of Jesus is a process the Holy Spirit works in us. It’s a process that, because of the effects of sin, involves difficult & time consuming work – not work to become saved, but work that the saved do because God’s Spirit has made us new in Christ Jesus. Paul used to persecute Christians. Then, he suffered in order to save them.
If you are a child of God, you are no longer simply 100% pure lazy old hound dog. You are now, also, at the same time, watchmen who will never be silent all day & all night. There was a man named Joseph Campbell who studied & compared mythologies from many cultures. His most well-known work is his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
His studies led him to believe that heroes undergo a personal transformation during their journey. In every hero story, the hero starts out missing an important quality, usually humility, self-confidence, or a sense of his or her true purpose in life. To succeed, the hero must recover, or discover, this quality. Every hero story tells of a journey toward vast personal transformation.
A Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr has noted that hero stories inspire transformation in us all because they call us to transformation. That describes well what St. Paul is calling us to in the 20th chapter of the Book of Acts. He is calling us to continue the transformation begun in us, which will be completed in us, by the Holy Spirit.
The following is an old story, yet, it illustrates well the results of God’s work in us. “Ann Shindell, a victim of a series of paralyzing strokes in 1971, did not allow her condition to prevent her from doing what she could to rescue a drowning 81-year-old man.
Sergeant Sam Howe took the report where she stated that she heard the man gurgling & then saw him sink to the bottom of the pool. So she jumped in & pulled Mr. Winter up, & kept his head above water until she could call for help. Mrs. Shindell, a resident of Phoenix, can talk some & walk only a little bit, but she didn’t let that stop her. One of the board members, at the community where she lived, said that Mrs. Shindell is a tremendous person with a matching personality who is working hard to overcome her paralysis. He stated:
“Most people would have given up, but she really works at her therapy, her exercises & her swimming.” She couldn’t yell the word “help,” but she could yell. She couldn’t be expected to rescue the drowning man, yet she did, because the courage of compassion had compelled her to act. And she did not shy away.”
She was more than just a sleepy old hound dog. When the Holy Spirit offered to work His transformation in her, she did not say, “No.” Instead, by the Lord’s power working through her, she served her neighbor.
As you are one of God’s sheep, you too will hear His voice & follow Jesus. Yes, you are still going to sin. You are still going to fail. There will be times when you say, “No.” However, the child of God does not celebrate those times, but grieves over them. The good news is that, even when you fail, Jesus promises, “No one will snatch you out of His hand.” Amen.
Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to give You gladly, freely of Your own. With the sunshine of Your goodness melt our thankless hearts of stone till our cold & selfish natures, warmed by You, at length believe that more happy & more blessed ’Tis to give than to receive. Lord of glory, You have bought us with Your lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice. Give us faith to trust You boldly, hope, to stay our souls on You; but, oh, best of all Your graces, with Your love our love renew. Amen. LSB 851:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet