I apologize for missing you for a brief while recently.
I had a great time recently, pinch hitting for Pastor Chuck Sabin at his church, Zion Lutheran in Newberg. Full of light, music and sweetness, I enjoy going there. I delivered a sermon on Acts 19: verses 11-20, about Paul besting seven exorcist brothers, sons of Sceva, who tried to copy what Paul did, casting out devils in the name of Jesus Christ — but who failed miserably and were beaten up by the possessed man. Paul had to do what these seven copycats couldn’t.
I pointed out that Paul had been a miserable sinner who, prior to his conversion, was an ardent persecutor of Jesus and his followers. But now Paul was inflamed with Jesus’ divine love and it was his power that allowed Paul to work wonders that others couldn’t.
I asked people to look around the church and imagine what it might be like if Paul had not played his part. Without Paul, a conduit of skill and energy would not have existed to spread the Christian faith across the Mediterranean basin, essentially evangelizing the civilized world. This corner lot of Newberg would probably not have had its church there.
In a way, Paul was equipped to expand a faith across the civilized world. He was a Jewish teacher. He was also a Roman citizen. He had the gift of public preaching, the gift of healing and was pretty feisty himself. He was a businessman; he knew the seagoing world and its routes. He was a tentmaker. He was extremely literate and wrote the letters that power most of our New Testament writings. He was an observer of the times, with political acumen he could negotiate the boundaries of the many territories of these ancient days.
Metaphorically, in his role as a master of tents and sails, he created dwelling places for new churches — he harnessed the winds of the Mediterranean to allow him to sail to the edges of the Roman Empire. In many ways Paul was God’s secret agent and was the greatest evangelist because his words still spill out of his letters and preaching to bring Jesus’ name to the world, translated into all the languages we have.
The impulse that drove Paul was what? Perhaps at first it may have been the terrifying knowledge of his own, wicked involvement in the persecution of his own master Jesus and all the new followers of Jesus. But Jesus loved Paul, and in the experience of divine love and forgiveness Paul was remade. Nothing is more earth-shaking than being loved and forgiven. Many of us know this.
It isn’t our own inherent virtues that make us open to Jesus’ love. Jesus loves us and forgives our sins because that is who he is.
I pray blessing on each and every one of you in Eastern Oregon and beyond. May you all receive and know the love he has for you, and may you live in that love all the days of your lives. Blessings and healings in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org