Sermon: Unleash The Supernatural
Scripture: Acts 20
Date: June 26, 2016
Well we have come to the final message in this SuperNatural Heroes series. For the last several weeks we have been talking about the powers that the Holy Spirit places in us when we experience our own Pentecost. So we talked about powers of Super(Natural) disciples like courage, and authenticity and boldness, and witness. (Show chart) All of them moving us towards that place of total devotion.
So I have been contemplating how to best end this series. We have been spending most of our time in the Book of Acts, thinking about Pentecost when the Spirit came and gave all of these powers to the Disciples to use to build the church and make disciples. In other words, save the world. And we have said that when the Spirit comes into our lives we receive those same powers. But in order to become Super(Natural) Disciples we must first say yes to the presence of the Spirit and then last week we talked about the need to claim the powers, claim the title of Disciple for ourselves. So is that all that it takes to be a Super(Natural) Hero, a Super(Natural) Disciple? Well, I believe that there is one more step in our becoming Disciples. I believe that to be a Super(Natural) Hero, a Super(Natural) Disciple, we have got to unleash the Super(Natural). We’ve got to unleash the Holy Spirit into our world. Let’s think about our Superheros for a moment. We started out talking about Superman and we talked about all of the powers that he had. Flying, strength, speed, Xray vision. But here’s the thing – it really isn’t the super powers that make Superman a Superhero. His powers are meaningless unless he is willing to use them, to unleash them, to save the world. As we read through this amazing Gospel of the Holy Spirit, we find a great many examples of the super natural power of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself in the ministry of the apostles. So I thought perhaps I should end the message talking about some of those. In the 5th Chapter of Acts, for instance, Luke tells us that People brought the sick into the streets, and laid them on the beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by and all of them were healed.
There are many stories of healing that we could focus on. Or we could talk about the story Luke tells in chapter 20 about Paul’s stop in Troas. And he was preaching and got carried away and went on to midnight. Now those of you who think I preach too long, you need to pay attention to this. And sitting in a window was a young man by the name of Eutychus. Now he had hung in with Paul for the first several hours, but then, as some of you are want to do, his eyes began to get a little heavy and finally could fight it no more and he fell asleep and he fell out of the window, onto the hard ground below. (Luke says he fell three stories just in case we had any illusions that he was not killed in the fall). And so Paul pauses in his sermon, goes to where Eutychus was laying, and the text says he: threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him and he brought him back to life. Now at that point you might have thought Paul would have called it quits, rested on the miraculous display of the power of the Holy Spirit. But Paul was filled with the Super(Natural) Power of Proclamation and so he went back in and he preached for another few hours, until daybreak Luke says. We could talk about the Disciples unleashing the power of resurrection.
Or we could talk about the day that Paul was shipwrecked, and bitten by a viper, and survived both and then going to the Governor’s house and heals his father who was “very sick”. All on the same day. The Super(Natural) Power of the Spirit unleashed through Paul. It seems like miracles were everyday occurrences in the post Pentecost church.
So here’s my question, Why aren’t miracles everyday occurrences in the church today? After all, Same God, Same Lord, Same Spirit, Same immense needs – so why do we not see the evidence of the Spirit unleashed in lives today. Is it because the Holy Spirit is no longer present and active in the church today? That Pentecost only came to those first Disciples? That these Super(Natural) powers began and ended with the original Disciples. That the Book of Acts is just a work of history, not really an instruction manual for how we are to live our faith today. We can’t heal people. We can’t bring people back to life. And you may be shocked to hear me say this, but those who say those things are right. We can’t heal people. Even the best doctors among us can’t heal people. God is the source of all healing whether in this world or the next and He uses Super(Natural) Heroes like doctors and nurses and EMT workers to be His instruments. Our role in healing and other miracles is unleashing God’s Spirit in people’s lives. For God to be fully at work, for His Kingdom to come, for the sick to be healed, and lives to be restored and souls to be saved like they were in the early church as told in the book of Acts, Super(Natural) Heroes are those who unleash the Super(Natural) power of the Holy Spirit. But how do ordinary disciples like you and me unleash the Super(Natural) and in doing so become Super(Natural) Heroes in today’s world?
And I think it’s that question that brings us to the scripture for today. But before we dive in let’s think a moment about the context. Paul is near the end of his third and final journey through the area of the Roman Empire we now know as Turkey and is planning to go back to Jerusalem, even though he knows that he will probably be arrested when he arrives. Now we know that on this last journey, Paul spent nearly three years in Ephesus. That was the longest that he stayed in one place on any of his journeys. He had developed a heart for the Ephesians. And Ephesus was a gateway to the world, a port city and a crossroads of many cultures. The Ephesians worshiped many gods and many things of man. Wealth, pleasures of the flesh. As well as things of Art and Beauty. It had taken all of his supernatural powers for Paul to establish a church there. He had done many signs and wonders among the Ephesians. And after he left Ephesus, Paul made his way down the coast to a town called Miletus. And apparently it was in Miletus that he decided he was going to return to Jerusalem. But before he sets out on that journey, he sends for the leaders of the Ephesus Church to come to Miletus because he wants to see them one last time. Now apparently, in Paul’s absence, the church at Ephesus had begun to wrestle with this question of: How, in the absence, of the Apostle Paul, can we continue to unleash the supernatural in the midst of a city like Ephesus? You see, the leaders in Ephesus had said “yes” and they had claimed the title of Disciple but in Paul’s absence they were struggling with unleashing their Super(Natural) powers. And so this scripture then is Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians but it is also the formula by which they can become, we can become Super(Natural) Heroes, Super(Natural) Disciples, and unleash the Super(Natural) Power of the Spirit in our community. And so, as I read this passage there are three things which every disciple must do and be in order to unleash the supernatural.
The first thing that Paul tells them is that to allow the power of the Spirit to be at work through them that Disciples must have Compassion for all people. Now, in Paul’s view there are two parts to that word compassion that we need to understand. The first part draws on the word commitment. We must be committed to God first and then to ALL people. Jesus was once asked what the greatest Commandment was and He said: Love God. But then He went on to say that there is a second: Love people. He made it clear that one can’t exist without the other. And humanity has always struggled when we have tried. We take loving God out of our culture and then we wonder why we struggle to love one another. Paul says to the Ephesians: You know how I lived the whole time I was with you. I served the Lord, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. Before we can unleash the Super(Natural) Power of the Spirit into everyone’s life, we must be totally committed to Christ. Everywhere that Paul went, his life was threatened. In one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the depth of his commitment: I have been in prison, been flogged, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods (or heavy sticks), once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day lost at sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger crossing rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have gone without rest; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. And besides all this, every day I have faced the pressure of my concern for all people. And why did he endure all of that. (show chart) Because he was a totally commited (totally devoted) disciple. Totally committed to God and totally committed to All people no matter what they did to him. He tells the Ephesians For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. It was Paul’s commitment to Christ that unleashed the Supernatural in Miletus and Ephesus and all the other places that Paul had been. And soon Jerusalem and Rome.
So commitment is the first part of the compassion and the second part of compassion is passion. Whatever he was doing in life, Paul never lacked passion. Commitment + passion = Com/Passion Paul tells the Corinthians that he gladly endured all of the hardships of faith because of his passion for God and for the weak and for sinners – indeed for all people. And to the Ephesians he says You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you and to both Jews and Greeks. He was passionate about saving souls, about making Disciples. It is impossible to know just how many lives Paul has touched down through the centuries because of his passion for people, and scripture and Jesus Christ. In more than thirty years of ministry, I have learned that those ministries that are truly impacting people and glorifying God, are the ones that someone or some group of people have a passion for. Kid’s Café, God’s Pantry, Wed.Comm, even worship here at St. Luke would not be impacting people’s lives unless there were those who have a passion for them. It is passion for God, and people and ministry and mission, that unleashes the supernatural. Churches that can match people’s passions with places of service and ministry will grow and thrive. It was Paul’s passion for the people of Ephesus, and really the people everywhere he went, that unleashed the Supernatural in him. Commitment and passion – compassion – that unleashes the supernatural. Disciples are people of compassion. So I’ve got to ask this morning, where does your commitment and passion lie? In worldly things and pursuits – or are you passionate about God and His people? . Are you ready to unleash the supernatural today?
And then Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that it is grace that unleashes the Supernatural. Watch this clip about the power of Grace (Scotties story) Now here’s the thing that Paul had learned about the grace that unleashes the Supernatural. Disciples are grace filled, but to truly unleash the Spirit in other peoples lives we must also be graceful. When we are saved and redeemed, we receive God’s grace. It is His gift to us. But to unleash the supernatural we must pay it forward, offer that grace to others. Paul started out for Damascus about as graceless as a human being can be. But then the Spirit came and filled him up with the Grace of God. The terrible things he had done no longer mattered. He was forgiven and redeemed and saved through Grace. But it wasn’t until “he got up and was baptized” and left the house of Judas to witness to all the world that he made that Grace known to all. Paul went from being graceless to grace filled to graceful. Disciples are grace filled people. But Disciples are also Graceful people. Gracefulness becomes our witness. Paul became a witness of God’s Grace working in and through him to save the world. His litany of trials and hardships is a powerful testimony of his commitment and passion, but Paul makes it clear that he doesn’t share his sufferings to boast but rather as a testimony to God’s grace – which brought him through every one of those challenges. Because of Grace he says I was once weak, but now I’m strong. When we offer grace in this often harsh and unforgiving world, we unleash the supernatural power of the spirit. So think about your life. Perhaps you’ve never experienced the grace of God – the forgiveness of God, the redemption of God, salvation – for yourself. Well, I can assure you that God has a gift of grace for you this very day. Are you ready to receive? Or perhaps you’ve already been a recipient of the gift of grace. But you are holding on to it for yourself, not willing to share it with others. You have been given these great Super(Natural) Powers, but you don’t use them. Maybe you are scared. Or maybe you feel unworthy to receive such a gift. Whatever the reason, we fail to unleash the power of the Spirit when we fail to share His grace. Who in your life needs to receive the gift of God’s grace? Or perhaps the better question is who in this world doesn’t need to receive God’s grace in their life? Paul says to the Ephesians Now I commit you to God and to His grace which will build you up and give you your place in God’s Kingdom of Grace.
Be people of Compassion and grace Paul tells the Ephesians.
And then the final thing that Paul says to the Ephesian leaders is that Generosity unleashes the Supernatural Power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a generous Spirit. It gives power to any who open their hearts and lives to it. It does not discriminate. It does not hold back. And likewise, Super(Natural) Heroes give God everything they have. They don’t hold back. Paul says to the Ephesians You know how I lived the whole time I was with you. I have not hesitated to proclaim to you all of God. You know that my hands have supplied my own needs and have provided for my companions. I have shown you by everything I’ve done that we must help the weak. Remember the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than receive. Paul is describing himself as all in – physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. He has not been swayed by the things and riches of the world, but has always kept serving the weak as his priority. His offering has been his whole self. In one of his later letters he talks about being poured out as an offering. We’ve said it before. Disciples are all in. When we are filled with and practice a Spirit of Generosity in all things then we unleash the supernatural. But the problem is that too many of us are hoarders. We hold onto our compassion. We hold on to Grace. You see, in sending the Spirit to us, God did not intend that we would hoard the Spirit. He intended for Disciples to give the Spirit away. When we hoard God’s gifts for ourselves, we fail to acknowledge that our God is a generous God whose blessings are without limit. Jesus was such a generous giver, that he went to the Cross – gave everything – gave His life for you and for me. Paul is telling the Ephesians that God blesses Disciples so that Disciples can be an even greater blessing to others. We’re more blessed when we give then when we receive, he says. The generosity of Disciples unleashes the supernatural power of the Spirit within us until everyone is blessed. Disciples bless others through their generosity. And secondly when we hoard God’s gifts for ourselves we are denying the blessings of God in our lives. We are afraid to give everything away because we think that God’s blessings are limited. The Supernatural Power of the Holy Spirit is limited only by our own lack of generosity. The more we give of ourselves the more power we receive to serve and bless others. Paul says to the Ephesians I have not coveted silver or gold or clothing – remembering that we must help the weak because Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give than to receive. It is that kind of generosity, giving all that we are, is what unleashes the Supernatural. I love the way that Eugene Peterson says this in The Message: Paul says I’ve done my best for you, given you my all, held back nothing. Now it’s up to you. The Holy Spirit has put you in charge of God’s people to guard and protect. God had such compassion for them that He thought they were worth dying for. And now I’m turning you over to God, whose Grace can make you what He wants you to be. And what is that? Well I am convinced that He wants each of us to be Disciples and I know His Spirit is here right now, just as sure as it was on Pentecost and He is calling each of us to be His disciples just as surely as he called Peter and his brothers on the shores of Galilee and Matthew from the tax booth and Saul on the road to Damascus. Calling us to be Super(Natural) Heroes, Super(Natural) Disciples, ready through our compassion, generosity and grace, to unleash the supernatural in our community. And if we do that then we will witness the kind of miracles that happened in the early church and more because miracles happen when the Holy Spirit is present and unleashed in people’s lives.