Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pulpit preview - Acts 8

I don't know how many sermons I've heard from Acts 8. Many. And rightfully so; it's a magnificent chapter of the Bible. But ironically, though I've heard every one of these sermons "in church," every one of those sermons came from the latter half of the chapter regarding how a man became a Christian while traveling on his way back to his home country. What makes that ironic is that few people who heard such sermons weren't already Christians. Talk about "preaching to the choir!" To be sure, there's a place for such, but there should/must be balance.

What deeply disturbs me though is that I have never heard a sermon "in the church" or out that dealt with the first half of Acts 8 - a story of how a Christian became re-entangled in sin and was headed for hell, but was rescued from perdition (Simon; Acts 8:5-24). Wow - talk about a story folks who "go to church" ought to rehearse with each other often! And rehearse it with you as I've been rehearsing it with myself is precisely what I plan to do tomorrow morning, God willing. In the meantime, I can sum things up no better on this passage than did my favorite preacher, William Willimon. Pointed, powerful and true!
"What do we make of an evangelism, which, while including even the Samaritans, does not hesitate to exclude those like Simon who do not fit the lifestyle or theology of the community of the Spirit? In a time when the community was fighting for its very life, it fought not by reducing its witness to the lowest common denominator, a catchy slogan fit for a billboard or bumper sticker, but rather by building walls about itself, by carefully defining itself, and by rebuking and excluding those like Simon who did not change their heathenish lifestyle and attitudes. Rather than baptizing the status quo or resorting to mushy affirmations of popular practices ("Even though I disagree with some of Simon's techniques, he does draw a lot of people, and he does a lot of good"), the church demands repentance (8:22).

"We will leave the interpreter to find his or her own examples of 'simony' in the church today. It should not be too difficult - in a world of television evangelists, 'super churches,' and politically powerful preachers - to think of someone who like Simon projects himself as 'somebody great' and equates the gift of the Spirit with worldly standards of power and success." (William Willimon in his book Acts [John Knox Press, 1988], pp.69-70)