Sunday, May 2, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors and I have enjoyed many of his movies. In the movie Castaway, Hanks plays a happily married FedEx executive who is on a FedEx plane that crashes in the Pacific Ocean. The crew dies but Hanks survives and is stranded on an island.
It is a movie about survival, loss, strength, and perseverance. At one point after several years on the island he must make the decision to live or die. It is a crossroad for him.
He plans to build a raft and leave the island which he successfully does. All alone, on the vast Pacific Ocean, when it seems like he will no longer survive, he is picked up by a ship and rescued.
The world he comes back to is dramatically changed. His wife is remarried, his former co-workers have all moved on as they had a funeral for him, thinking him dead.
His return to normal life is anything but normal as he is literally living his loss all over again. The movie’s ending is brilliant. Hanks drives to Texas to return an unopened FedEx package to its sender. Finding no one at home, he leaves the package at the door with a note saying that the package saved his life. He departs and stops at a remote crossroads. A woman in a pickup truck stops and gives information about where each road leads. As she drives away, Hanks notices the wing graphic painted on her truck is similar to the one on the parcel. He looks down each road, then at the one the woman took, and smiles.
The movie ends and we do not know which road he decides to take. But he is smiling.
The early church is at a crossroad in Acts 15. It must decide which way it will go. There is a lot at stake. It is a church in transition.
Listen again to the beginning of Acts 15. Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.
The issue may seem foreign to us but there was a group of early Jesus followers who were saying that if Gentiles, non-Jews, were going to be saved, they had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses.
In other words, if you wanted to become a Christian, you had to become a Jew first. This meant circumcision and being obedient to the law of Moses.
The early church is at a crossroad.
Which way will they go?
How will they decide?
The writer of Acts does not do justice to the depth of the argument when it says that Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate about this matter. It was a serious debate, a heated conflict because it was a matter of who can be saved and how are we saved.
What do you do when you are at a crossroad in your life?
Do you blindly stumble forward hoping for the best while living in fear of what will happen or where you will go or end up in life?
Do you get stuck at the crossroad, unsure of which direction to go, frozen in place because of uncertainty and doubt?
I suspect we have all been at a place like that and it happens to organizations as well.
Augustana is at a crossroad. This congregation is in a time of transition. Whether or not we see it yet or even believe it, it is true.
Acts 15 is a marvelous teaching moment of what the church needs to do when it is at a crossroad or what we as individuals need to do when we are at a crossroad.
Notice what happens when certain individuals say, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Paul and Barnabas are sent to Jerusalem. This is the home base, the mother ship, where the church begins. They were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they report all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”
So, what do they do?
- They meet to consider this matter.
- They are in fellowship together, in worship and in prayer.
- They listen to each other.
They observe what has happened as they recall how God has been at work among them. They share what the Holy Spirit has been up to and how lives have been changed and people have come to faith in Christ.
They feel the direction and the leading of the Holy Spirit but most of all, amid all the discussions and the conversation, they are willing to face an unclear future.
- They face change and uncertainty by listening to the Holy Spirit.
- By being in conversation with one another.
- By sharing stories of what God is doing.
- By focusing on the message of Christ.
- By keeping the main thing, the main thing.
The Peter gets up and sums up the conversation and they arrive at a decision.
This is what he says – Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Salvation is through Christ alone. This is the main thing.
Jesus is the gift of love. The love of God poured out on all people.
It is the core message that kept the early church moving forward in a time of great transition and change.
These early Jesus followers, Jews and Gentiles, witnessed firsthand what God was doing through the power of the Holy Spirit and it enabled them to move in the right direction when they were at the crossroad, wondering where we go and how do we get there.
God shows them the way. Just as God promises to show us the way.
If you are at a personal crossroad listen to God. Pay attention to the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit is telling you to do.
If you are in a personal crossroad, remember how God has acted in your life and saved you. Be silent and hear the voice of grace in your life telling you to be still and to trust God.
Remember that you are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and you have nothing to fear.
What allowed the church in Acts 15 to move forward was a clear understanding of salvation being in Christ alone. Once they got that right, they could move forward and that is what happens. The leave the crossroad and begin moving down God’s appointed road.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they keep sharing the message of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
This is what the church has always done when it is at a crossroad. Now more than ever we need to keep the focus on Jesus and his power to transform our lives and the world.
Acts 15 reveals the struggle of a church seeking God’s will, looking for God’s direction, and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead it and guide it.
That has not changed. Even though the crossroad can be uncomfortable and even scary, that is what we will do. We will trust and we will listen, knowing the one who leads us will be faithful. Thanks be to God. Amen