Sermon 17 April 2016: “Don’t play the victim.”

Text: Acts 17:1-9

The Bible often includes a list of “firsts”: Adam and Eve and the first Sin, God sending a flood to destroy the earth for the first…and last time, Israel’s first king, the building of the first temple, and of course, the first time God took on human flesh – that guy Jesus.  And I think today’s account in Acts could be labeled “he first passive-aggressive act recorded in the history of the church.”  You would think that the healthy thing for the Jewish leaders to do would be to go to Paul and raise their issue with him.  But no, rather they simply bypass all that, hire a bunch of ruffians to drum up some bogus accusations, and thus causing a lot of problems for Paul and Silas. There’s two things about passive-aggressive behavior that always seem to be true:  one, it usually happens because people feel threatened, and two, very rarely is it simply the intended targets that get hurt: everyone suffers.

It was all about a fence.

A small church outside of my hometown has a cemetery next door to it.  And for years, the same fence has been maintained around it.  It’s getting weathered, but overall, the fence is intact and when damage does happen, members of the congregation to take it upon themselves to fix it up.  A few months ago, two members of the congregation felt like the fence needed to be replaced with a white plastic version, which would be much easier to maintain and upkeep.  So they went around to the other members of the small congregation and started asking, “wouldn’t it look great if we had a new fence, one that was easier to maintain?”  Despite their enthusiasm, they didn’t get the response they hoped for, and so the two members had one side of the fence replaced so that people could see “that it looked good” and that they would then vote to replace the whole thing. Of course, it caused a problem.  A few others objected, upset that these two had made such a decision on their own.  Two factions formed, words were traded, the pastor was called, and eventually it led to a congregational meeting in which more words were traded, feelings were hurt, and a split vote to keep the fence in its original state won out.  However, the damage was done: prior to the meeting and vote, there were a lot of “parking lot” conversations, hurtful things said, and persuading to one side or the other.  Former members and family members who lived far away who were still members were called for the vote.

All because of a fence.

I think so often in the stories of the Bible when one group is being marginalized and attacked we like to place ourselves in the role of the victim.  We like to place ourselves in the role of people like Paul and Silas and all those who “heard the gospel” and chose to follow them.  I know I’m guilty of that….but if we’re being honest we’re more like the Jewish leaders, with a need to be right and to be in control.  When something challenges that, we feel threatened, and we act out of that.  Yet, the victim never lashes out in a frontal assault.  They tend to lash out in passive-aggressive behavior.  Recruit some ruffians.  Replace just a section of the fence.  But the damage often gets done just the same….and it leads at best to hurt feelings that tend to linger and at worst it completely destroys the sense of community we love and cherish.  People get caught in the crossfire, and no one wins.  And indeed, to serve the god of passive-aggressiveness is to serve the god of death.

Yet the Jewish leaders who were so jealous towards Paul and Silas heard the same good news as all the others: “This is Jesus, the Messiah, who I am proclaiming to you.”  The good news of Jesus is for them, despite their jealousy, despite their passive-aggressive behavior.  And Jesus is for you and me just the same today.  In Jesus, this is the God who says despite our backhanded, passive-aggressive tendencies, “You are mine and I know what you can do and be.  By grace you have been saved….live free from your jealousy, your fear, and turn away from that which destroys and kills: serve me; serve the God of LIFE.”

So what about that little church near my hometown? Healing comes slowly, but in the end, the desire is for healing is there, and they’re slowly figuring it out – TOGETHER.   We know that our Redeemer lives; let us live free from our fear that kills and destroys and be gathered up in God’s grace – TOGETHER.  Amen.

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