Sweetwater Presbyterian

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Paul's Mission to Judea

Paul’s Mission to Judea

Jesus was always being tested by the religious leaders. They were always trying to get Jesus to say or do something so they could trap him and use whatever he said to get rid of him. Sort of like a good attorney in a trial who continues to banter a witness in order to get the witness to contradict themselves or say something out of order or just confess because they are tired. Jesus, of course, knew what the religious leaders were doing and often used their constant badgering to make his own point. Jesus was really good at what we called in education the ‘teachable moment’ - when something would happen out of the ordinary and you could use that moment to teach something. That is what is going on when Jesus is confronted by the religious leaders as they bring before Jesus a woman who has committed adultery. In Jewish religious law, anyone, male or female, caught committing adultery was to be stoned to death. So here we have this woman, brought before Jesus by the religious leaders to see what he would do. If Jesus said the woman was not to be stoned to death, the religious leaders could accuse Jesus of disobeying the law of Moses; if Jesus said to go ahead and stone her they could report Jesus to the Romans for promoting executions which only the religious leaders were permitted to do. So here is this woman, who there is no doubt is guilty, standing with the religious leaders who have their stones in their hands and ready to kill her for her crime, waiting to see what Jesus says. Jesus hesitates for a minute and then says, “OK. The one of you who has no sin, throw the first stone at this woman.” There is of course an awkward silence, and one by one each of the religious leaders drops their stone and leaves. It is now just Jesus and this woman. He looks at her and tells her to go. Her sins are forgiven and she was charged with ‘sinning no more’. Tradition teaches that this woman became one of the many women who followed Jesus as he traveled throughout Galilee and Judea during his ministry.
Isaiah is a scribe in the palace of the King of Judea. Pretty much just a normal guy doing his job each day. Not a bad guy - he’s not an adulterer or a murderer or a thief. He could be anyone of us. When God calls him to become a spokesman for God - a person who is going to listen for a word from God and then present it to God’s people. When God says to Isaiah, I’m calling you to work for me - Isaiah’s first words were - “But I’m a sinner and all the people around me are sinners. How can I possible work for you since I have lived a sinful life?” And God says to Isaiah, “You are forgiven of your sin. Now get to work!”
It is Lent and we are challenged always during Lent to think about sin. And for reference about sin we have the the Bible. The bible is full of sinners. Other than Jesus, you are not going to find anyone in the stories of God who is truly a ‘good’ person. We have guys who do terrible, despicable things; women who have occupations we wouldn’t approve of like the woman caught in adultery, who do things we know are wrong; people who abandon God and yet God brings them back; and then there are normal people who aren’t what we would think of as ‘major sinners’, but who, like Isaiah, just don’t live up to what God expects. Sin is everywhere from the very first story in the Bible until the very end. As much as a story about God, the bible is a story about sin and about sinners.
It is important to take a moment and talk about what sin is - unless we are understand what God considers sin, we can’t understand what all this sin talk is about. Sin is presented in scripture two different ways. First we have life style sin and this is probably the type of sin we think about most of the time - these are the drinkin’, smokin’, and swearin’ sins; those acts we do that we know are not what God wants us to do - murder, adultery, lying, stealing type sins. 10 Commandment type sins. But there are also many ‘sins’ that we don’t think are quite so bad that Paul reminds us that in the eyes of God are every bit as bad as the acts what we would label sin.
Paul, occasionally throughout his letters has what are referred to as ‘sin’ lists. These are lists of what God considers ‘sin’. And as we would expect we find those things we think are sinful - the dirty, nasty, seamy type sins of pornography and drug dealers and the greedy who extort from others. But in the very same list we find injustice, having malicious thoughts toward someone else, envy, being quarrelsome, bitterness, gossip, arrogance, those who encourage others to sin, untrustworthy, lack of compassion, those who stir up dissent, lack of integrity, speaking poorly of other members of your congregation, being disagreeable…..
There is also a whole different way of looking at sin as well. Sin is selfishness. Anytime you read the word ‘sin’ substitute ‘selfishness’ and you are pretty much on the mark. Anytime you put your wants, your needs, your desires above God and others - that is sin. No matter what it is. But sin is also, Paul points out, is anytime you

don’t do what God is asking you to do. Like take a meal to a sick friend or be nice to someone you don’t like very much or share the gospel with someone as difficult and uncomfortable as that may be. Sin is not just doing bad stuff - it is also not doing the good stuff.
And Paul points out, that in God’s eyes these sins are every bit as bad as murder and selling drugs and cheating people out of their retirement ....... In God’s eyes, sin is sin. And we are all guilty of it. And because we are all sinners, the only way we can have a relationship with God is through the death of Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about Paul and Barnabas and their ministry in the city of Antioch. The Antiochan church realized that God was calling Paul and Barnabas to a ministry of evangelism and the church decided their mission was to support Paul and Barnabas in their travels to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. To mark this moment, the church in Antioch has the first ordination service. We read that the church fasts and prays, then have a worship service and during the worship service Paul and Barnabas kneel down and the members of the church lay their hands on Paul and Barnabas’ shoulders and pray over them and commission them to this special ministry God has called them to. Just like our ordination services...
Now Paul and Barnabas have been commissioned and sent out on their missionary journeys to do what God, through the church, has ‘ordained’ them to do. The book of Acts now tells a very powerful story of Paul and Barnabas as they travel throughout Judea preaching and teaching salvation in Jesus Christ on what is called their First Missionary Journey. As he preaches, Paul’s point over and over again is that ‘we are all sinners and we have all fallen short of doing what God wants us to do’. More than anything else, this is what the Apostle Paul was all about - this understanding of ourselves as not measuring up to what God expects, yet still being the ones chosen and called to work for God and for the church of Jesus Christ.
There is two things that Paul wants us to see - we are all, everyone one of us here, sinners. And second, is that all of us, everyone one of us here, are called to work for God.
Paul uses this great illustration we read this morning from 2 Corinthians of a jar of clay. But you could picture any kind of container. Think to yourself - if I were a container, what kind would I be? A glass jar, a plastic pitcher, tupperware, a metal box or a wooden chest. Paul says you are like a container and the container isn’t important. You are a sinner and that is not what is important. What is important is the fact that because you are called by God, you contain the spirit of God. You are a container whose job it is is to carry around the spirit of God and then allow that spirit to work through you to do God’s work.
You are like a pitcher of cool, refreshing lemonade on a hot, muggy day. It is not the pitcher you care about, but the lemonade. When you are hot and thirsty you want a cold drink to cool you off and to keep you hydrated. The lemonade could come from a box or a bottle or a glass, but it tastes the same and works just as well.
You are a container, God’s vessel, you are a jar of clay, you are a sinner, but that is not what is important. What is important is that you allow the spirit of God within you to shine in a dark world; to work in a world thirsty for the love and grace of Jesus Christ; What is important is that you allow God to pour out his spirit on those around you.
Paul calls himself the chief of sinners; Isaiah called himself unclean; the woman caught in adultery knew that what she had done was wrong - yet these are the people God calls his vessels; his jars of clay; his chosen ones who reveal the love of God to others in spite of who they are or what they have done.
This was Paul’s message as he traveled throughout Judea - and his message to us. You are called to continue Paul’s mission. To be the jar of clay, the vessel, that shares the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world every bit in need of the good news of salvation as was the world of Paul.

Amen!