Living the Gospel Story – Easter VII – May 27th 2001 at St. John’s Lutheran in East Oakland, CA
Living the Gospel Story – Easter VII – May 27th 2001
Acts 16:16-34 – Psalm 97 – Revelations 22: 12-14, 16-17,20-21 – John 17: 20-26
Today we heard another gospel story from the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke. Do you remember last week how I said that when we are doing the mission of Jesus Christ our Lord, then the same stories fill our lives the way they filled the life of Christ: Jesus is betrayed by a kiss. He has his feet washed by a woman, who dried them with her hair, and anointed him the Christ. Sometimes we are so familiar with these stories, we don’t realize how powerful they are.
The story about Paul and Silas is also a gospel story and we can see what magical music it adds to their witness. Paul is annoyed by a slave girl, whose spiritual powers are being used by her owners to make money. We should never use our spiritual gifts for that purpose. Paul drives the devil out of her. The owners take it hard and throw Paul and Silas in jail, after beating them with rods. Talk about suffering for the gospel! “They are given a severe flogging,” it says, and then with their feet locked into stocks, they are clapped in jail.
Did Paul and Silas moan? No, they felt like it for sure, because they must have been sore all over. But they started praying and singing hymns, to which the other prisoners were all listening.
Do you see the power of the Spirit? Do you see how they used rejoicing as an antidote to their suffering?
And when the earthquake struck, you would have thought they would flee. It was now easy to break out of the prison. No, in the spirit they even saved the life of the warden, who had helped to torture them.
This gospel story comes right out of the Spirit of God busy with changing the hearts of people. when Paul and Silas started singing in that hell-hole of a prison, it changed into a place of wonder through which people could enter the gates of heaven.
The warden recognized the promises of God, the life of promise Paul and Silas represented and he wanted to be saved. There is the warden and his family eating with the prisoners and washing and treating their wounds! Each are filled by a love from on high that was ready to lay down his or her life for the other. St. Thomas tells of transubstantiation. Could this be called trans-institutionalization? In any case their hearts made that prison melt into a church.
This love is at one with Jesus, the Son, who laid down his life for us; and the Father and Holy Spirit, who are inside each other, bound each to each in a heavenly circle of love capable of changing all our hearts and filling them with the same love.
Let us pray that the whole house of St. John’s Lutheran Church become such believers and such lovers of God! Amen.
A woman called on the telephone this week and asked, “Can we buy your church?”
“No,” I asid, “we worship in it.”
“Really?” she said. “The way it looks, nobody is there.” That was a blow. Do we look that way to the people who come by? I started asking questions about who they are and their ministry. They are only seven weeks old as a church. They meet in a park on 78th Street, going where the spirit leads them, witnessing in the street. They target the fellows selling drugs for conversion and their young men keep witnessing to them until they join their fellowship. She said that they had grown to be 150 believers in seven weeks!
Wow! You see how God’s arm has not grown too short to reach into our world, into the streets of Oakland.
I said, “we have a somewhat poor and depressed neighborhood and we have only gotten a few members over the years.”
“Poor and depressed?” she responded. “I’ve been doing evangelism in Haiti and you do not know what poverty is!”
I hope we send a delegation to them from our church and let their fire catch hold of our hearts and make them burn for the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of saving the lost. Let us start the gospel story of St. John’s. Let us start living it. We have to work in the day, because the night can come in which no one can work.
Prayer will get us there! Trinity Lutheran Church has done the healing service, starting it with prayer-warriors. They had 135 attend their anniversary service.
We have to get ready for Pastor Otto Bremer’s memorial service and we want to stand there and witness to Jesus Christ and the justice and peace he stood for.
Prayer will get us there! Christ will reveal our mission and the power of prayer will put us all into a living story of the gospel. Will it ever be exciting! Like the story of Jesus, like the story of Paul, like the stories of all the saints, who witnessed for Jesus Christ before us. Believe the gospel for us! Believe the promises of God! Prayer will get us there!
This summer our neighborhood is going to know that St. John’s is here. We want to have this place humming with vacation church school and day camp: humming, singing, and most of all living the new story of the Gospel, which is really the old story we have loved so well.
I wish I was a prophet, who could already tell you the story. But I can’t, because we have not yet lived it and witnessed it. But I can tell you how it will start: “One time there was a church, called St. John’s on 55th Avenue in Oakland….”