Summary: "Paul begins is ministry and those who have walked in darkness begin to see a great light. God's Kingdom is expanding.
Acts 13:1-3, 14:8-18 “Expanding the Boundaries”
May is soon upon us, the month of graduations and new chapters in the lives of people. Walking across the stage and receiving a diploma or degree is the end of years of effort. It is also the beginning as the graduates get out of their robes and step into a life with a new purpose, a new mission and expanded boundaries.
In today’s text we see the Holy Spirit’s movement to expand the boundaries of the Christian faith. In reading the story of Paul and Barnabas, we catch glimpses of how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives today.
CALLED BY THE CONGREGATION AND THE SPIRIT
The story takes place in Antioch, which was one of the first Gentile cities that that Christian church was planted and took root. It was a diverse congregation with Jews, Gentiles, Mid-Easterners and Africans, rich and poor. It is in the fellowship of believers that the Holy Spirit moved in order to send out the first missionaries to the Gentile world.
Our attention turns naturally to the individuals: Paul and Barnabas. These two men are not the focus of the story, though. The main actors of the story are the Holy Spirit and the congregation. The idea of being missionaries to the Gentiles was not originally Paul or Barnabas’. The idea came from the Holy Spirit through the leadership of the congregation.
We understand that we have been called at the time of our baptism. God announces that we are God’s children, new creations, and people who have been filled with the Holy Spirit. We are people who have been commissioned to let our lights shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to our father who is in heaven.
Based on our baptism, the congregation calls us to serve. Some people receive the call to serve as members of the council, others VBS or X-Stream Kids teachers, and still others as musicians and tech table “techies”. These people are set apart and commissioned to serve in their various callings. The congregation supports them in prayer and encourages them in their ministries.
All of us have been called at the time of our baptism to be God’s witness; God’s shining lights in a world of darkness. We go about our daily lived not just as individuals, but also as members of the body of Christ—people called by the Spirit and the church to serve.
SENT BY THE CONGREGATION AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
In Antioch the congregation prayed and fasted. The congregation then laid their hands upon Paul and Barnabas, blessed them and sent them out. The Holy Spirit was in, with and under all of these actions—empowering Paul and Barnabas for their mission.
When Paul and Barnabas began their missionary journey they did not do so as merely two men with a little wanderlust. They were extensions of the congregation at Antioch and the Christian Church.
The church continued to pray for Paul and Barnabas and to support them. Paul identified himself as a tent-maker. He supported himself to a great extent, but it is entirely possible that the church supported them financially, also. Whatever the situation, Paul and Barnabas were not alone. The Holy Spirit was with them as were their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In a few months we will send twenty missionaries to Rock Point, Arizona and the Navajo Evangelical Lutheran Mission. We will lay our hands upon them and commission them to this ministry. The Holy Spirit will empower them to accomplish their tasks. They will travel to the Navajo Mission as representatives of our congregation and of the church. And during the time they serve, they will be surrounded by our prayers.
When we leave this sanctuary and enter into the world we do so empowered by the Holy Spirit. The prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ surround us. Together (each in our daily lives) we make an impact on the lives of the people around us and the community of Surprise.
SUSTAINED BY THE CONGREGATION AND THE SPIRIT
Paul and Barnabas did not have an easy time in their missionary journey. Before this story of their time in Lystra, they were run out of two towns. They suffered rejection and ridicule. Later when Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth he will recount the beatings, ship wrecks, imprisonments and hardships that he endured. When we ponder all that Paul and Barnabas went through we wonder how they could have endured and continued in their missionary efforts.
The endured because the Holy Spirit was with them. They persevered because their mission was surrounded by the prayers of the church; their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Since its beginning, Desert Streams has had prayer partners uplifting us and surrounding us in prayer. We have in the neighborhood of 350 individuals from 20 congregations representing 7 denominations on 3 continents. When our missionaries travel to the Navajo Evangelical Mission seven members of Grace Lutheran Church in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin will join them. Every Sunday Grace has prayed for Desert Streams for eleven years.