The Cost and Joy of Discipleship

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on June 12, 2022

Acts 16:11-22

We (Paul and his companions) set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. 

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 

But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Paul and his companions made the big journey over the sea to Philippi, to a city, a Roman colony, a crossroads between Europe and Asia – and a place where no one yet had heard their good news, where they had no friends that they knew of, where they had no connections.

One of the first things they did was hunt up other Jewish believers.  While they knew they would reach out to non-Jews, they wanted to begin where they might find friends, or friends of friends, where they might find connections.

And find them they did.  When they sat down with the women and began to tell their story, they met Lydia, a merchant in the city.  There they forged new connections and a new church.  

Those connections were not limited to those with money and power.  Others heard their gospel news and began to follow them.  One of those was one of the least in the city, a slave, a slave girl, a slave girl with not even a name.  But God’s story doesn’t come only to those with money; it comes to all of us.  The slave girl heard the story and began to tell all the world what she’d heard.  It was Jesus who brought together Lydia, Paul and the slave girl. 

What binds us together?

Is it our mutual love of UNO? Or pizza?

Is it that we went to the same school, maybe at the same time?

Have we known each other since forever?  Do we go to the same church? Were we on a committee together sometimes, some place?

Are we Facebook friends?

Were we/are we members of the same Scout troop? Or Rowing club?

Do we run together?  Work together?

Have we been poll watchers together for years?

Or do we love jazz, or organ music, or .. well, you fill in the blank…..

What ties us together?  What ties the “us” that is here today?  Not the “us” that’s family, or the “us” that loves some sport activity, or any other “us” you can think of.

What ties together the “us” that is here today?  What connects us to one another.

The foundation of all we do, the thing which draws us and hold us, loves us and pushes us is Jesus Christ.

Now we might say no, we’re here for the music, or the people or the church’s passion for justice, and all that’s real and true.  But it doesn’t exist on its own.  It exists because, first, we decided to follow Jesus.  All those things are good, and valuable, and important.  But they are not the foundation out of which all our connections grow.

We have many connection with one another and each of them, in some way, is founded on this man who lived two thousand years ago.  Now as it happens, there are many ways to describe that man.  Some of us believe Jesus was both God and man, some of us think he was a good person. 

But all of us believe that there is something about what he said, how he lived, that gives meaning and purpose to our world today.  All of us know that there’s something gravely wrong with our world.  We know that there are forces and powers trying to drive us back into the dark ages of hatred and contempt. And we know, however we describe Jesus, that he has a way forward, a way which unites us.

It’s on that connection that we build all the other connections which hold us together.  We are old and young and in-between; wealthy and struggling; educated and haven’t read a book in decades.  Some of us run, some hike, and some of us sit on the couch and watch others.  We are not all the same by any stretch of the imagination, and the connection which cements all the other connections here is that connection to Jesus.  That connection builds connections of passion and interest – our commitments to being Open and Affirming, our concern and involvement in issues of racial justice and equity, our dedication to feeding the hungry.

Some of us are Lydia, some of us are nameless slave girls…  some of us could recite the theological intricacies of the Apostle’s Creed, while some of us aren’t sure they want to say – out loud – that they follow Jesus. 

As a church, however, Jesus is the rock on which we stand and it is in Jesus’ name that we make our connections.  


© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Author: tobelieveistocare

I am an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, having served as a settled pastor for over thirty years. I play classical mandolin and share my home with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

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