Sermon: Supernatural Heroes: Claim Your Title
Scripture: Acts 22:12-16
Date: June 19, 2016
In the Superhero world, names are very important. They serve as titles to announce to the world not only who the Superhero is, but also they are a reflection of their super powers. And for many of the main Superheroes, their name has been a recurring plot line and even evolves in time. For instance, in some of the early Superman story lines, he starts out as the Superboy, and then, as he ages, he becomes Superman. Whether Superboy or Superman, it is a title that he earned because he did all those super things. Spider-Man is so named, not because he was bit by a spider but because of his spider like qualities. Often Superhero names are earned based on the things they do, the powers they have and use.
And if we think about it, we earn many “titles” in the course of our lifetime. Titles can be so very important. (Show video clip). Well most titles are important. Some of you, for instance, have just completed many years of studying, and school and hard work to earn the title of high school or college graduate. Those who are doctors know the hard work that you did to earn that Title – the right to be called Doctor. And the same is true for Lawyers and teachers and nurses and engineers and many other professions represented here today. You worked hard for your title.
I spent three years in Seminary and went through a rather extensive ordination process, so that in 1982 I could be ordained and receive the title of Reverend.
When we are promoted at work we often receive a new title. When we move forward in school we are given a new title. We often earn titles that are based upon the skills and abilities we use in life.
We say when teams win championships they have earned the Title. The members of those teams used their athletic abilities to win the championship. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers play tonight for the title of NBA Champions and the Pittsburgh Penguins earned the title of NHL Champions.
Often times the titles we are given reflect the things we’ve done. Our accomplishments. Superheroes are often given specific titles based upon the things they have done.
But then there are those titles we are given that we haven’t earned, but rather are expected to live in to. I can remember the day that Anna was born. Soon after she made her entrance into the world the nurse placed her in my arms and said to Anna: “Here’s your Daddy.” And of course my beautiful little girl smiled at me as if she understood what the nurse had said.
Now I’m told she couldn’t have smiled at me but I know what I saw and you’ll never convince me otherwise. But I had really not done anything to earn the title of Daddy. It’s not really a title based upon biology. And for more than thirty years now I have been trying to live in to that title. Before that, there was husband. 39 years ago when Dr. J.T. Harmon said, “I now pronounce that you are husband and wife” I really had not done anything to earn that title other than convince Karen to give me a try and every day for the last 39 years I have tried to live into that Title. Before that there was son. And along the way there have been other titles that I have been given that I had to live into. Friend. Partner. Many of the titles we are given define not who we are but who we will hopefully become. They challenge us to be more than we currently are. When Jesus called those first Disciples, he did not call them based on who they were or what they’d done but rather who they could become. The Book of Acts is all about Disciples living into their Spirit given titles.
For many years Tommy LaSorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was one of the most successful managers ever. LaSorda’s main skill was that he was a master motivator. He did not always have the most talented players, but he was able to get their very best out of them. And one of the tools that LaSorda used was bestowing a title or nickname on a player that was just the opposite of the way they lived. The greatest example of that was a slightly built pitcher by the name of Orel Hershiser. Hardly a name that struck fear in opponents. And when Hershiser came to the Dodgers as a rookie in 1983 he had all of the pitches that he needed to be successful. But, in LaSorda’s estimation he lacked the temperament to be a great pitcher. He was too timid. He was afraid to challenge batters. So LaSorda gave him the title of Bull Dog and convinced Hershiser that to be successful he needed to live in to that title. He needed to be a bull dog on the pitching mound. And Hershiser went on to become a dominant pitcher in the major leagues. In 1988, he won the Cy Young Award, the National League’s most valuable player award, and the MVP of the World Series when he pitched in every one of the Dodger’s four victories. He once said that he spent his entire career trying to live into that name that LaSorda gave him as a rookie – Bull Dog.
All of that, to say this. Super(Natural) Heroes aren’t given titles based on what they have earned, but rather they are given Titles to live in to. Several weeks ago we talked about a man named Joseph, from the Island of Cyprus, who heard Peter and the others preaching and teaching in the Temple and said “Yes” to Christ as His Lord and Savior. Remember, he went back to Cyprus and sold all of his property and then came back to the Temple and laid the proceeds of the sale at the feet of Peter so the church could use the money to help the poor. And remember we said that God bestowed a new title on Joseph. From that moment on he was known as Barnabus, which means encouragement. And for the rest of his life, Barnabus worked to live into that title. And we said that scripture is filled with persons who were given new titles by God along with the challenge to live in to it. For example, Abram’s title was changed to Abraham which means Father, even though it would be many years (after Abraham was better than 100 years old) before Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. But he was still known by the people as the father of the nation, Father Abraham. Abraham lived into title. Or consider the story of Jacob cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright and the ensuing conflict, culminates with Jacob on the shore of the Jabbok river ready to cross over and meet his brother in the morning. Now this is such a great description of the kind of person that Jacob was. He was all alone because he had sent his whole family and his flocks and herds on ahead so that Esau might take out his anger on them, perhaps even kill them as ill gotten gain, but spare Jacob’s life. And while he waits in the night the Lord comes to Jacob and they wrestle all through the night. And scripture says that the Lord could not wear out Jacob, so he touched him and dislocates his hip and then he gives him a new Title. He calls him “Israel” which means great nation. From a rogue and cheat to a great nation. It was a title to live in to. And, of course, Jesus gave Simon a new title, based upon his profession of faith. “You shall be called Peter (which means “The Rock”) and upon your faith I will build my church.” Certainly that was a title that Peter would have to live in to, because though he professed his faith that day in Caesarea Philippi, there were certainly days after that when his faith was anything but rock like. It wasn’t really until the Spirit came at Pentecost, that he truly claimed the title of Rock. So I think there are three things that we see about the titles that God gives to Supernatural Heroes, Supernatural Disciples, as we move through the Book of Acts.
The first is that there is more to the titles that God gives than just a name. God’s titles call us to be more than who we are. So Joseph’s Super(Natural) Hero Title becomes “The Encourager”. Peter goes from being volatile and unpredictable, impulsive to “The Rock”. And as we read through the story of the early church in Acts, we see that the Disciples are given new titles. Their old title of Disciple meant “learner, student” but after Pentecost they are called by a new title, the title of Apostle, which means “Sent”, of course, reflecting their mission to go into all the world making new Disciples and baptizing them in Jesus name. And they spent the rest of their lives living into that title. In one of his letters to the Corinthian Church Paul calls them Super Apostles.
The titles that God gives to disciples reflect the mission to which they are called through the coming of God’s Spirit into their life.
And so secondly, Super(Natural) Heroes don’t earn their titles, they are given them when their lives are filled with the Super natural powers of the Holy Spirit.
For the Disciples, it was Pentecost when they received the title of Apostle. For Barnabus it was coming to the church and professing his faith for the first time. For Peter it was acknowledging publicly that Jesus was his Lord and Savior. And I would suggest that even Jesus was given a new Title at His Baptism. Because up to that point everyone, including John the Baptist, had been talking about the Messiah and the Savior who was coming. But when Jesus emerged from the waters of Baptism, remember the Dove descended upon Him, symbolizing the coming of the Spirit, and the voice of God says this is “My Son.” Jesus is given a new title and He steps out of the river Jordan and spends the rest of His days living into that title. Baptism is that time of God claiming us. Claiming us as a part of His family. At Baptism God gives each of us a new title. He claims us as His child. His Son. His Daughter. In fact, this thought was so prominent in the early church that it became standard practice that at Baptism everyone was given a new name – a Christian name. One of the early saints of the church, Balsamus, wrote this in his journal: “By my paternal name I am called Balsamus, but by the Spiritual name which I received in baptism, I am known as Peter.” Which brings us to the scripture for today. In terms of the Book of Acts, we are skipping way ahead. Two weeks ago we thought about Chapter 9 and now we are at Chapter 22. But in terms of the story of the early church we have not moved ahead at all. Two weeks ago we talked about Ananias saying “Yes” when Jesus called on him to go to Saul of Tarsus, and we are still at that place. But that was more about Ananias and his response to God’s call. But this time the story is told from Paul’s perspective. Luke writes this in the 22nd chapter, beginning with verse 12:
Acts 22: 12-16
Now remember that when the Spirit first called on Ananias to go to Saul, he was reluctant to go. Quite frankly, he was afraid of Saul. Because Saul was known by many titles. In fact, the name Saul was one of mixed images. The first King of Israel had been named Saul. And King Saul started out well. By all accounts he was a big and strong man, a powerful presence. Saul was a warrior. Just the kind of King the Jews were waiting for. Jewish parents who named their children Saul did so because they hoped that their children would grow big and strong and powerful. But King Saul also was known as the King who backed down to Goliath and the Philistines, giving rise to the boy King David. And eventually, of course, he betrayed David and tried to kill him. And when Saul died some said he was insane. The warrior who started out for God, now against God. And, of course, Saul of Tarsus started out as a man of God. In His own words a: “Hebrew of Hebrews”, a Pharisee. And he was convinced that by his actions against the Christians, he was standing up for God. But through his actions, he earned other titles. Saul why are you persecuting me? Persecutor, the Rabbi – Saul had become the enemy of God. Ananias no doubt knew all of those titles and that’s why he was afraid to go. But notice that the first thing that Ananias does when he greets Saul is change his title. No longer enemy. No longer powerful warrior. Persecutor of the faith. No, Ananias calls him “brother”. “Brother Saul – Jesus has sent me to welcome you to the family.” And for the rest of his life, Saul, worked to live in to that Title. At first it was a great struggle. The other Apostles were reluctant to embrace him as a brother. And the church remained afraid of him. They struggled to forgive him for the things he had done to their friends and fellow believers. You see, the titles that the Holy Spirit bestows upon us are usually ones that run contrary to our previous nature. They say to us that what we were before, no longer matters. Before the Spirit came upon Saul he was a hater and a persecutor, an enemy, but now Ananias says you are a brother. The titles we hold before we meet Christ are no longer important. We go from sinner to redeemed, saved, to son or daughter, brother or sister, in Christ. When Luke tells the Story of the Prodigal son, we sometimes miss the title change that is really the central point of the story. Remember when the prodigal returned home he said, “Father I have sinned against God and you. I am no longer worthy to bear the title of son.” In his eyes he had earned a new title. Call me servant. Slave. But no longer your son. I don’t deserve it. But remember what the father says, “We must celebrate because my son was dead, but is alive again.” The father bestows new life. A new title. “Brother Saul” is not just a new title – it is an offer of new life. When God gives us a new title – it is an invitation to start living into a new life. As we read on in this 22nd chapter we see that Ananias gave Saul two other new titles that day at the house of Judas. First he tells him that he is God’s “chosen one”. The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will. You see, Saul had started out on the road to Damascus believing that he knew what God’s will was – the destruction of the People of the Way. But the light of the Spirit lifted him from the darkness of human will and gave him the title of Chosen One of God. And Paul spent the rest of his life seeking to discern God’s will in all things. I believe that when the Spirit comes to us, indwells us, we too are given the title of “chosen” because Super(Natural) Heroes spend a life time seeking to discern God’s will. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. There will be many times when we will fail in our discernment. When we will allow the will of man to overshadow God’s will for a season. Saul would later write that sometimes he still does the very thing he hates. He gives in to his will rather than God’s. We spend our life time “living in” to the titles that God gives us. And then Ananias gives Saul an additional title. It is the title “witness”. “You will be his witness to all people.” Perhaps of all the titles that the Holy Spirit gives to Super(Natural) Heroes, that of “witness” is the most important. Jesus says of Disciples: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
If the Kingdom of God is going to advance to the ends of the world, if Jesus Christ is truly going to be introduced into every life, God needs Super(Natural) Disciples to be His witnesses. To proclaim His name. To tell His story. When Saul tells his story in the 22nd chapter, he has been arrested. The crowd demands to know why. Who is the witness against Saul that led to his arrest. And in essence Saul says, “I am the witness who caused these men to arrest me. Here’s my testimony.”
Which leads to the final point and that is that Super(Natural) Heroes must claim their titles. Paul did that at Baptism. I love the way that Paul tells the story. He tells us that Ananias comes and gives him the title of Brother and Chosen One and Witness, but apparently Saul hesitates. He’s not sure he wants to give up his old life. After all he was an important man, respected by both the Jews and the Romans. He held a place of privilege and prominence. And he had been convinced that he had an important mission in life. That he was righteous in his persecution of the Christians. Now in an instant all of that had changed. He wasn’t sure he was ready to embrace a new life. And so look what Ananias says: “What are you waiting for?” What more do you need to convince you? The shining light. The voice of Jesus. The temporary blindness. The miraculous healing. A sworn enemy coming and calling you brother. What’s it going to take to convince you Saul? “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized”. Claim the new life Christ is offering. Claim your Title. And Saul did just that and in doing so claimed his titles. Brother, chosen one, witness, and in time, Paul, which means “man of humility.” And in this 22nd Chapter of Acts, Saul, now Paul, is reflecting on a life time of “living into” those Titles that he’d been given.
And here’s the thing he would want us to know – when the Holy Spirit comes to us, when we experience our own Pentecost, and we say “yes” to His presence, then we too are given new titles. We’ve talked about some of those in the last few weeks. (Show Chart). Courageous, Authentic, Bold, Witness, Totally devoted disciple. So say yes, rise up, claim those titles for yourself and be Baptized (or remember your Baptism) and then start living into your Spirit given titles today. (And celebrate the new life that Christ has given you when he broke bread with His disciples and said, take eat, this is my body, my presence, which is being broken so that you might live whole forever with me, and took the cup and said drink from this cup and be cleansed of your sins forever. Every time you do this, claim the life, claim the titles I have given you.). So let me ask you now – What are you waiting for? All you Super(Natural) Heroes – come and claim your title today.