Sermon: Super(Natural) Devotion
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47
Date: April 24, 2016
We are continuing with our Super(natural) Heroes series this morning. And as I was preparing these messages, I did some research and I was shocked to learn that there are so many Superheros. One article I read claimed that there have been stories (mostly in comics) about as many 30,000 superheroes down through the last 160 years or so. Of course many of them were one and dones. They never caught on. In 1960 a writer by the name of Gardner Fox began to imagine what would happen if several formed an alliance and so the Justice League was born. In the more than 50 years of existence, various Superheroes have been a part of the Justice League but the original members were: Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter, Superman and Wonder Woman. Of course, since the Justice League there have been other groupings. There is the Fantastic Four and the Avengers which seem to be all the rage today.
And I share all of this with you because as we consider this scripture from the second chapter of Acts, Jesus’ plans for the newly transformed Superheroes known as the Disciples is becoming clearer. It has always been Jesus’ plan that these Disciples, once they received their Supernatural powers, would unite together in a justice league called the church and together then they would have the power to save the world. Now think what a variety of personalities that Jesus had called together to give form and substance to the church. There was Peter. Quicker to act than He was to think. Spontaneous. Then there was John. The thinker. The intellectual. And then there’s Thomas the skeptic. And Matthew, the tax collector. The analytical one. And on and on. Each Disciple bringing to the group their own distinct personalities and intentions. For three years on the road, Jesus primary task had been to mold these 12 individuals into a community that with the indwelling of Holy Spirit would become the church that He had envisioned that long ago day in Caesarea Philippi when He had essentially planted the vision of the church in the hearts and minds of the Disciples. But from the very beginning, Jesus knew that one of the supernatural gifts that the Spirit would need to give them is the gift of Supernatural Devotion to God and His church. And so Luke tells us that as they emerged from the Upper Room after the coming of the Holy Spirit, they “devoted” themselves to the Church. Now don’t underestimate the power of that word devotion. The more accurate translation of that word into English is total devotion. For a Disciple to become a Superhero they must be supernaturally devoted, totally devoted, to Christ and His church. I said a moment ago that by some estimates there have been stories about 30,000 superheroes written. These were those who met the three criteria of becoming a Superhero that I talked of last week. Remember they were that Superheroes are not born superheroes but rather through some supernatural event or moment they are transformed. And secondly that superheroes are given supernatural power or powers through which they (and this is the third and most important criteria) use to save the world. But here’s the thing. In my research I discovered that there have been many more super villains than Superheroes. Which makes sense when we consider that many superheroes do battle with several super villains. Batman alone has the Penguin, and the Joker, and the Riddler and Mr. Freeze. And don’t forget Catwoman. Last week I said that what makes a Superhero a true superhero is not the Supernatural moment in which they are transformed, or the supernatural power they are given. No what completes the transformation is the desire to use their powers to save the world. You see super villains also have that moment of transformation and they have supernatural power, but they choose to use the power to destroy the world rather than save it. Faith that saves the world all comes down to where your devotion lies. Think for a moment about the story that Matthew tells about that day in Caesarea Philippi when Jesus proclaimed His vision for the church. Caesarea Philippi was, of course, Pagan territory. It was not a place where Jews would normally go. But King Herod, who many believed was the personification of evil, had killed John the Baptist and word had come to Jesus that the King was wanting to “talk” with Jesus. In other words, Herod had sent his soldiers to Galilee to find Jesus and arrest Him and bring Him back to Jerusalem to have a conversation with Herod which would probably end up with Him losing His head as John had. And so Jesus had taken the Disciples and basically fled into the region of Caesarea Philippi which was north of the Sea of Galilee and was controlled by Herod’s brother Philip who felt he had been cheated out of the throne and so Herod and his representatives would enter that region at their own peril. And Jesus went there to escape basically. Now imagine what the Disciples were thinking. They must have been thinking it was over. They were on the run. Herod would not follow them there but neither would the crowds. So, they thought, Herod, the evil King, had won. And they camp at a place that was known as the Gates of Hell or the Gates of Hades. (Show picture). This is what it looks like today. A huge cave, with the remains of a Pagan Temple just to the side. It was named the Gates of Hell because it was believed to be the entrance into the underworld, where evil lived. You see, I believe that Jesus took them to that spot, fleeing from the one that many believed to be the personification of evil, to the Gates of Hell itself, to help them understand the nature of the evil they would face if they continued to follow Him, the evil that would seek to destroy the church, and around the campfire that night, He talks to them about being totally devoted and He says to them “NOW who do you think people are saying I am? After John’s death, after Herod’s threats caused us to run, to disappear. After the seeming triumph of the forces of evil. Who do you think they are saying I am now?” And Peter says essentially “It doesn’t make any difference what they are saying. I believe you are the Messiah. The Son of God.” And Jesus says: “That’s right Peter. The things of this world did not tell you that. And in spite of the events of these days, you still believe in Me, and no matter what evil that might emerge through that horrible gate, as long as you remain devoted to me, I will someday build my church on your faith and courage.” Jesus knew that if Peter continued to follow Him that the world would become increasingly hostile towards His profession of faith in Jesus, and would eventually nail Him to a Cross for believing and professing Jesus as Savior. And so for Peter to remain faithful it would take complete devotion to Jesus through His church. And the same is true for Disciples today. More and more the world is becoming hostile towards the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the day is coming when faith will require our total devotion. And so the Spirit comes and burns the supernatural power of devotion into each of their hearts. And suddenly the things that Jesus had said about devotion began to make sense. For instance He had told them that “where your heart is that’s where the things you value will lie.” “And greater love has no one but that they lay down their own life for another.” Disciples are supernaturally devoted, and if the church is going to stand against all of the evil that the world will conjure up from it’s very bowels, we must be totally devoted to Christ and His church and so, to one another. Now let me try to illustrate what that means. (Show Pie Chart). Look at this what I am calling the Supernatural Hero Devotion Chart. It is a chart that measures where we are on the total Devotion scale.
Now I have divided the pie into four pieces for simplicity sake, but in reality there are probably a lot more pieces that each one of us deal with. But this first piece, the first quadrant, is a place of very low devotion.
When I was a kid, my mother would always try and make for me my favorite cake for my Birthday. It was called a Tunnel of Fudge Cake. And in theory it was exactly what it sounds like it would be. It was several layers of chocolate cake with white icing between each layer and then the center hollowed out and filled with a chocolate fudge filling and then everything covered with chocolate icing. So when she took it out of the oven, she would stack the layers and then carefully hollow out the center and fill it with the chocolate fudge and then ice it and decorate it. But the problem was that as it sat on the counter waiting for the celebration to begin, the fudge would prove to be an insufficiently sturdy center, and so the cake would start to lean to one side. And the longer it sat, the more it leaned and all of the fudge and icing would settle on one side leaving very little cake on the other side of the plate. And so if you got a piece from leaned to side, your piece had lots of cake and icing and fudge and decorations, but if your piece came from the side that was leaned away from, there was very little substance left to the cake. Well that’s how it is with our Pie.
If you are stuck in this first quarter, you have very low devotion and there isn’t a lot of substance to your faith. No fudge, no icing, no decorations, very little cake.
But here’s the thing. I have labeled this piece as low devotion because I am comparing it to the devotion of the early church and the Disciples who were transformed by the Holy Spirit. We won’t find any Supernatural Heroes in this quadrant on our chart. But we will find Supernatural Villains here because the reality is that all of us are devoted to something. And this is where evil is most active because evil is always trying to place in our lives other objects for our devotion. (Show Chart again). It is here where faith dies. And it is true in other areas of our lives too. Because when there is a void in our lives, evil will always seek to fill it with something else that becomes the object of our devotion. This is the place where relationships die because if we are not devoted to our spouses or families, something will come along to fill that void and relationships break down. And this is where we get in trouble in our jobs. And in school. And in life, in general. It is the realm of addictions to drugs and alcohol and other instruments of pleasure. So perhaps rather than labeling this as a place of “low devotion” we should really call it a place of misplaced devotion. Is this where you have been spending your time?
Well let’s move on. The second quadrant as we move around the chart is the place of reluctant devotion. Half hearted devotion. I came across a list of the most prominent superheroes listed by the decade in which they first emerged. And I was surprised to find that this one from the 1980’s was not on the Superhero list. (Show clip of The Greatest American Hero.). But the more I thought about it the more I realized that the Greatest American Hero never really rose to the status of Superhero. And there were two reasons I think for that. First, his power was not in himself but was in the suit that he wore. And secondly, he was never really committed to the whole idea of saving the world. He always had to be dragged into it. You can’ t have a half hearted Superhero. There is no place in the world for reluctant superheroes. And Jesus knew that there could be no place in the church for reluctant disciples. Half hearted Disciples (Show Chart). For Disciples who are on the fence between low devotion and total devotion. John, in His Revelation, says to the Laodicean Christians, “You are neither hot or cold in your faith. You are Lukewarm and if you persist, I will spit you out of my mouth.” You see, it’s not that people who are at this point on the scale are not devoted at all. It’s just that their lackluster devotion leaves them where they can take faith or they can leave it. They don’t care enough about the world to try and save it. They are ok with just letting it go. A theologian once wrote that the greatest threats to the church are complacency and indifference. Now I don’t know about you but I have spent way too much of my life stuck in this place.
And then the third quadrant is a place of high devotion but the problem is that people who are at this place in there faith are devoted to a lot of different things. (Show chart) We are pulled from thing to thing and place to place. We are always on the move but yet we never feel as though we have arrived anywhere. Our Supernatural Powers are diluted and pulled in so many ways, that we never feel as though we’ve made a real difference anywhere. Our motives are good. But we are often left unsatisfied that we have really made an impact anywhere. If churches aren’t careful, they can get stuck in this place on the chart. Trying to do so many things, minister in so many ways, that they never really make much impact in any. Disciples, Supernatural heroes, are those whose devotion is undivided. Their eyes are always on Christ, and they are totally devoted to saving the world by making Disciples for Jesus Christ. I believe that this is the most dangerous place for us to get stuck in on our journey and the hardest to move beyond. Because there are a lot of good things to become devoted to. Our families, our jobs, our friends, school activities. None of those are bad things until they keep us from being totally devoted to Christ and His church. They take our eyes off of Jesus. Jesus tells us that we can’t serve two masters. That we must choose one or the other in which to place our devotion. By definition, total devotion is just that. Now that may seem to be a hard lesson in the midst of our ultra busy lfe, but I believe that’s what this passage from Acts is talking about. When the Spirit came, they totally devoted themselves to Christ and Church.
And so, Disciples, Supernatural heroes dwell in the fourth quadrant. That place of total devotion. Where nothing comes before Christ. And here’s the thing. We can’t do it on our own. That’s why Jesus gave us the Church, our league of Disciples and the Spirit gives us the supernatural power of devotion. Luke tells us that when the Spirit gave the Disciples that supernatural power, they became totally devoted to Christ’s Church, His teaching (studying the Word), fellowship (to each other), to worship (the sacraments) and to prayer. And what was the result of their total devotion. Many wonders and miracles were evident, they shared all of their resources – everything they had, took care of the poor and needy, met together daily in the church and their homes where they were in a constant attitude of worship, and they glorified God in everything they did. And when all of that became their witness, people were clamoring to be a part of the church – of the community. The world was being saved daily by these Supernatural Heroes. I pray for the day that St. Luke, that we, become that kind of community. We are a long way down the road towards that, but we still have a long way to go..
So how do we get there. Three things that we must do I think. First we must die to some things in this world. The Apostle Paul wrote: I die every day. But for me to die is gain, and to live is Christ. That’s total devotion. (Show chart). You see, I think that every step of the way, there are road blocks. Those things that seek to gain our devotion in the place of Christ. Some of those things are vile and ugly, easily recognizable. Pursuits of the flesh. Straight from Hell’s gate. We must die to those temptations. And then there are those things which are good and beautiful but they demand our time and attention and devotion in the place of Jesus. It’s not that we should never spend time in those things. But when we are confronted with the choice of the things of the world or Jesus, we must always die to the things of the world. Disciples make room for Jesus to live in us through everything we do.
And secondly, we must come together in community. Christ’s vision for His church has always been as a community of Disciples, Supernatural Heroes, bringing their Spirit given Supernatural Powers together to save the world. That’s what happened when the Disciples left the Upper Room after the gifting of the Spirit. They pooled everything. Imagine the power of a community of Supernatural Heroes who are totally devoted to serving and glorifying God. That’s the community of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts. And thousands, not one or two, or even forty or fifty as St. Luke averages each year, were added to the Community that very day. They had to go use the ritual baths at the Gates of the Temple for Baptisms because there were so many coming to Christ. Totally Devoted.
And finally, we must never take our eyes off of Jesus. If we can’t see Jesus in what we are doing, then we need to stop doing what we’re doing. If we can’t see Jesus in the things we are devoting our lives to, and see Him in our time and our pursuits in this world, then we need to stop and let the Holy Spirit to fill us once again. Our prayer when we rise in the morning should be This is your day Lord. Let me glorify you in the way I live it. Totally devoted. Keep your eye on the prize which is Christ Jesus and finish the race and claim for yourself the Crown of Righteousness. Though I have a long way to go in this, I have found it helpful to keep a couple of passages of Scripture swirling in my head at all times. Some call them life verses. But when life get’s out of focus, they help me refocus on Christ. One for me is from Isaiah 40: those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. And then the other is the one from Paul that I talked of earlier: For me to live is Christ, and to die (to self) is gain. What about you, do you have a verse that you can turn to when life get’s out of focus? That will keep your eyes on Jesus
Just as the Disciples went from the Upper Room, we need to go from this place and exercise our Supernatural Power of Total Devotion to Christ. And if we do, Church, then Christ will use us to save the world. But we must never lose sight of Jesus in the midst of the things of this world. Let’s sing about that for a moment, and then I have one more thing to say and we’ll go home, I promise.
Now I can look at some of your faces and see some skepticism about this idea of being totally devoted to Christ. You’re thinking there are other things in my life that I need to focus on. Like family. And jobs. And school. And I’m not saying that those things aren’t important. But here’s the thing. If you will give your total devotion to Christ, if you will make Him your first priority in life, then I promise you that all of those other priorities will be enhanced not diminished. A life of total devotion, lived supernaturally, opens us to a life without worldly limits. Unlimited blessings. Your family will be strengthened and blessed when Christ is the center of all that you do. You will thrive in the work place if Christ is at the Center of your career. And if you are still skeptical, let me leave you with a question. Where would you place Christ on this chart? When it comes to His relationship with you. Is Christ a low devotion person? Or is He half hearted toward you? Or do you get lost in the midst of a lot of other priorities? Or is Christ totally devoted to you? I would say that the fact that He was willing to die a horrible death on the Cross for me, puts Him off the chart in His devotion to me. And to you. Jesus Christ is totally devoted to you so that you can use your Supernatural Power of Devotion to save the world for Him.