Sunday, July 20, 2014

Acts 13:40-52

MasterPiece Church
20 July 2014
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted
from the Common English Bible, ©2011.

What makes you happy?

(Individuals shared their thoughts)

Happiness happens most where the weather is warm. According to a new study by Harvard Professor of economics, Ed Glaeser, Southern cities like Charlottsville, Virginia; Lafayette, Louisiana; and Naples, Florida, are among the happiest in the country. So you should be very happy people when it hits 115 on Wednesday.

Perhaps you've heard of the Happiness index -- the GNH -- which stands for Gross National Happiness. The GNH has only been officially used in Bhutan, which is a predominantly Buddhist country.

And the GNH is built on Buddhist ideals. The four pillars of GNH are:
  • the promotion of sustainable development,
  • preservation and promotion of cultural values,
  • conservation of the natural environment, and
  • establishment of good governance.
It’s not without its critics -- who are quick to point out the GNH only applies in Bhutan if you’re a Buddhist. But if you’re a part of the Hindu minority group you’re out of luck -- there are many things to be unhappy about. If you are a Hindu nobody is very concerned about your happiness.

Still the idea of a GNH is intriguing. And you start to think through what would make for your own personal ideal happiness index.

What makes you happy? We’re all a little different in this regard but what makes you happy?

For me -- I’m a bit shallow -- or simple in this regard. It doesn't take a whole lot.

For me happiness is...
  • Getting to wear lime green whenever I want to and nobody notices or cares. 
  • when my key lime trees are full of fruit and we have key lime pie every week -- without weight gain
  • when my plants are all fruiting at inexplicably high levels. 
  • when our backyard is filled with interesting birds who are uninterested in our pomegranates 
  • when you haven’t seen a fire ant or scorpion in your yard for over a year 
  • when I get to play the ukulele a lot -- especially with kids. 
  • when I get to ride my bike wherever I want to go and there aren’t so many cars on the road. 
  • when there is no such thing as a bike tire going flat. 
  • when the air is clean and breathable everyday
  • when the dentist says, “you know, all that brushing and flossing that you obviously do, is making a huge difference.” 
  • when everyone around me who wants to work gets to work -- and at a high paying fulfilling job 
  • when I get to hang out with Cheryl because she doesn't have to work more than she wants to work.
On Guam we worked out of the same building so I was constantly seeing her off and on all day. And we didn't get on each other’s nerves -- that was a surprisingly fun arrangement. It made me happy. I miss that.
  • when my computer never has issues. 
  • when our children check in every week -- just to say hi. 
  • when people around us treat each other with respect and kindness 
The other day at the store I stopped to hold the door open for a young tattoo covered Hispanic guy struggling to keep a toddler in tow.

He said “thank you.”

I said “you’re welcome.”

He must have liked the exchange because on the way out, the same man and toddler somehow ended up at the door when I was leaving. I didn't need it but the two of them held the door open for me.

I said, “thank you.”

He said, “you’re welcome.”

Then we both glanced at each other and grinned. It made me happy that he got it and that the toddler under his charge would grow up to get it.

My list could go on. But basically it has to do with filling my life with lots of positive things. If I could eliminate the negative stuff and replace it with positive -- I’d be happy.
  • If I could replace extreme weather with pleasant weather...
  • If I could replace sickness with health...
  • If I could convinced my spirits-filled neighbors that singing Mariachi songs on the karaoke machine in the backyard at 3 AM isn’t such a good thing. Replacing noise with silence would make me happy.
We've got the idea that if we could replace all the negative things in our lives with positive things then we’d be happier people.

And this is why the case study in happiness that we find in Acts 13 is so very interesting. The apostle Paul is preaching in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, which is in modern day Turkey.

By the way, if you’re learning English -- the power word of the day is SYNAGOGUE. A synagogue is a Jewish community which meets to worship and study the Bible.

And Paul is preaching in the synagogue meeting. He’s really laying it all out and he wraps it up, starting at vs 40, quoting from the Jewish prophet Habakkuk (1:5)
Take care that the prophets’ words don’t apply to you: 41 Look, you scoffers, marvel and die. I’m going to do work in your day — a work you won’t believe even if someone told you.”
Then note what happens in vs 42 --
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people urged them to speak about these things again on the next Sabbath. 43 When the people in the synagogue were dismissed, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism accompanied Paul and Barnabas, who urged them to remain faithful to the message of God’s grace.
The apostles were asked to return for an encore. People followed Paul and Barnabas out the door wanting to hear even more so they encouraged those people to “remain faithful to the message of God’s grace.” That was the sermon after the sermon. They kept wanting to talk about God's word. No one ever follows me out the door wanting to continue the discussion about the sermon, which was about God's grace.

That is, that they wouldn't buckle under the pressure to find their significance in their own sense of righteousness or in their own ability to keep the religious rules -- but that they’d lean solely on the good news of God’s grace spilled out through Jesus in the cross and resurrection.

It was one of those extremely positive moments -- a sense that everything was finally going right -- that people were responding to the message in the right way…

But it wasn't to last.
44 On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city gathered to hear the Lord’s word.
That’s a good thing. There was a major jump in attendance almost everyone in the city -- and that would have included the Gentiles -- the non Jews -- showed up to hear the Lord’s word.
vs 45 -- When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him.
Woe, last Sabbath, the Jews were begging them for more and now suddenly, in light of the apostolic success, they’re slandering them and arguing AGAINST them. Luke says they were “overcome with jealousy.”

They were party poopers. Just in case you thought that success would solve all your problems and make you happy!
vs 46 -- Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. 47 This is what the Lord commanded us: 
I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”
(Quoting Is 49.6, echoed in Acts 1.8 -- perhaps not such a new idea -- Isaiah was 700 or 800 years before Jesus!)
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the Lord’s word. Everyone who was appointed for eternal life believed, 49 and the Lord’s word was broadcast throughout the entire region.
But wait, it’s not over. Jealous people are relentless. If they can’t stop you one way they’ll look for another.
vs 50 -- However, the Jews provoked the prominent women among the Gentile God-worshippers, as well as the city’s leaders. They instigated others to harass Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their district. 51 Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet and went to Iconium.
Shaking the dust from your feet was a gesture of protest in the Middle East. It still is. If you want to insult someone in that part of the world show them the bottom of your feet. Or throw a shoe at them.

Perhaps you recall that an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a 2008 press conference in Baghdad. That set off a wave of shoe throwing in other places around the world and the Middle East.

In the same neighborhood. After a statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled a crowd gathered. People took off their shoes and pounded on the figure with the bottoms of the shoes.

Shoes and feet are unclean and to knock the dust from your feet is to say that this place is so dirty that even your feet can’t bear to carry their dust.

And this is in keeping with Jesus’ instructions in Luke 9:5 --
“Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.”
So, you’d think that Paul and Barnabas would be feeling down because of the tide of events. But Luke has the disciples singing the Happy Song.
vs 52 -- Because of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the disciples were overflowing with happiness.
Even more literally,
And the disciples were filled with joy and with Holy Spirit.
But I think the CEB actually captures the sense of what Luke is saying here quite well. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives that causes the disciples (including Paul and Barnabas -- but also the rest of the new disciples in Antioch) to overflow with joy or happiness.

As I see it, there are two kinds of happiness.

SURFACE HAPPINESS is the kind that we experience when things are going well -- when you get a new sweet sounding ukulele and you have a great bike ride while doing your errands around town. But this kind of happiness can easily go south if your new ukulele fails to stay in tune or if you keep getting flat tires on your bicycle.

Are you following my drift? Happiness is tied to your circumstances --
  • to the emotional well being of your spouse or children -- 
  • your job security -- 
  • your ability to produce enough positive energy in your life to outweigh the negativity.
And really, there is nothing wrong with having this kind of happiness. It’s a wonderful thing! I wish you could find a shady spot under the coconut tree at the beach where you could play your ukuleles for hours -- interrupted only by occasional dips into the ocean to cool off and look at the fish.
  • Or to go camping, 
  • get sucked into a great book, 
  • dance the night away, 
  • or shop till you drop. 
  • or whatever it is that makes you happy. 
This happiness is based on fun and good feelings and pleasure of your own choosing.

You know the song --
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I'm happy
Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do
It’s good -- these are all gifts. But they are not the basis for a sustainable happiness -- a deep happiness.

This is the second kind of happiness DEEP HAPPINESS.

There is a happiness that can run deep within us -- occasionally bubbling to the surface to overflow and soak those around us.

But even when it is invisible -- running deep and protected from the negativity of the world -- it is constant. And it shows up in how we worship -- how we treat people -- how we handle the stress -- how we look at life.

We are happy because we are full of the Holy Spirit -- to the point where we leak -- and then overflow.

Are you leaking?

Are you overflowing?

The disciples were filled with joy and with Holy Spirit. And they were overflowing all over the place.

Now, sometimes we try to reduce the presence of the Holy Spirit to an emotional experience -- a sense of elation or high -- a feeling of spiritual power. And indeed, at times, it might express itself in that way. But the presence of the Spirit -- the fullness of the Spirit is more about acting in accord with the Spirit. That is, when we are engaged in the mission of Jesus -- living witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth. That’s when the joy overflows.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor executed by the Nazis at the end of WWII confounded his captors with his deep sense of peace and his joyful presence -- especially during the final days of his life. They were really confused -- indeed, impressed.

He had been a faithful witness of the grace of Christ -- and nothing the Nazis did could kill his happiness. It oozed onto those around him -- even his enemies.

And that’s what happiness rooted in the life of the Spirit does. It mirrors the happiness of Jesus -- who sustained his sense of joy -- even as he faced death.

It’s a happy day and I thank God for the weather --
  • even if the weather is bad -- 
  • it’s too hot or too cold 
  • or too rainy 
  • or if the Gross National Index of Happiness goes down because everyone is stressed out by the economy or politics or crime statistics or the headlines.
Don’t misunderstand me, but my sense of happiness and well-being has nothing to do with who is president of the United States of America or how corrupt Congress might or might not be.

My sense of happiness and well-being is not rooted in whether
  • you like my sermons 
  • or the way I play the ukulele 
  • or dress 
  • or if you respect and admire me. 
It’s not that I don’t care but that I don’t depend on those things for happiness.

I’m happy! We’re happy and content -- joyful -- confident that Jesus is Lord and he is working out his agenda to the end of the earth even when people turn against us. And we get to be a part of his operation! No wonder I’m happy!

Deep happiness is found in having a part in Jesus’ Spirit-powered mission -- as it moves out to the end of the earth.

We find our deep but overflowing happiness in the presence and unhindered work of the Holy Spirit, who is carrying out the agenda of Jesus.


And that is the good news!

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