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Final Service
June 28, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

ACTS 9:26-31

It is difficult to preach this last sermon. I don't want to use the word “final”. Somehow “last” doesn't seem quite as final as final! I struggled for weeks with the questions—What shall I say? What needs to be said? What have I not said over all these years? What does St Paul's need to hear from me at this time? The answer did not come very easily. Perhaps I have said that all that I know what to say. I struggled with this question until I reminded myself what is a sermon. A sermon is to preach God's word. It's not a platform for my ideas or what I think, although those are expressed. I hope I have a few moments this afternoon to give personal reflections, but I don't think that's the occasion of a sermon. A sermon to be faithful to my calling as a minister is to preach God's word, to preach what I think God wants us all to hear. 

And so I went to the Bible. I used the lectionary, which is the list of suggested readings throughout the year. I read the suggested passages for today and there quickly came the whole sermon. What is expressed in Acts is what I want to say today. Acts 9:31, “And so it was that the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had a time of peace.”  This passage follows the conversion of Saul. Saul on the way to Damascus was hit by a blinding light, confronted by Jesus Christ, and became a changed person, changing his name to Paul. He had been a zealous persecutor of Christians. He had sought them out, he had prepared indictments, he saw that Christians were arrested. He was heavily involved in the whole persecution process. And now suddenly, he was converted. Instead of preaching against Christ, he began to preach for Christ. 

And so it was then that throughout the church, there was a time of peace. Perhaps some of you look on my seven years here, my ministry here, as a time of peace. But there are others who hope now there will be a time of peace. Perhaps you in your own life are experiencing a time of peace. Or perhaps you are at a time in your life when you are longing and yearning for a time of peace, dreaming and anticipating a time of peace. From time to time, the Lord grants us a time of peace. From time to time, the Lord grants the church a time of peace. 

Looking at this passage, we can see some of the factors that contributed to a time of peace, what brought about this time of peace. It is significant that the actions of Barnabas precipitated a time of peace. Saul or Paul as he became, was not readily accepted by the church. They said, “Is not this the one who persecuted us? Is this not the one who killed Christians? Is this not the one who arrested Christians?” They were very suspicious when he came to the head church in Jerusalem. The church was afraid of him. There was suspicion. There was distrust. There was controversy. There was conflict over Paul. There was a struggle within the church until Barnabas came to help Paul. It was Barnabas who stepped forward— Barnabas who accepted Paul, Barnabas who trusted Paul, Barnabas who said to the Jerusalem church, “Let me tell you what happened to this man.” And he told them of the blinding light and the conversion. He told them how Paul had been preaching boldly in the name of Jesus throughout the churches in the outlying areas of Samaria and Galilee. It was Barnabas’ acceptance and trust of Paul that overcame the suspicion, the distrust, the controversy, and led to a time of peace. 

This passage may be telling us that the manner in which you receive the new minister has tremendous consequences. I hope, I pray you will be like Barnabas and be open, accepting and trusting. When Chuck Cordes comes next week, I hope you will welcome him with open arms. Be trusting and accepting. Accept and appreciate his unique gifts for he is not like me. Thank God, he is not like me. Everyone is different, and everyone brings unique gifts. May you appreciate his uniqueness and his talents. A time of peace may then result. 

In your own life, when you long for the time of peace, let this passage remind you that of tremendous significance is interpersonal relationships, the way you relate to other people. Our relationship with God is so inextricably involved in our relationships with other people that it cannot be separated. When there's turmoil and upheaval in your life, when there is conflict and controversy, are you accepting and trusting of other people? Or is there something blocking the relationship you have with someone significant in your life that is preventing peace? The tumult in your life may be the result of anger towards someone, or bitterness towards someone, or resentment, or an unforgiving attitude. Do you realize the terrific load we lay on our shoulders every Sunday when we pray the Lord's Prayer, “Lord, forgive us as we forgive others.” Not “Oh Lord, forgive me so that I may forgive others.” But, as I forgive, I am forgiven. That relationship is so intertwined and interwoven it cannot be separated. When we get things straight with one another, and become accepting, open, honest and forgiving, then God may grant us a time of peace. 

There was throughout the church a time of peace. Notice the characteristics of the time of peace that the church enjoyed at that time. The time of peace was not a retreat from their calling. A time of peace is not an occasion to rest on laurels and accomplishments and say, “Oh, look how much good I have done. Or look how wonderful we are.” A time of peace is not the time to let up. The time of peace in this passage that came upon the church was the absence of persecution, the absence of conflict and controversy. It was an absence of tumult within the church. So therefore the time of peace gave them the opportunity then to really do God's work, to really do God's calling and fulfill his mission. A time of peace is characterized not by retreat, but by the absence of those things which interfere with doing God's work. 

A time of peace then is characterized in this passage as church growth. The passage says the Holy Spirit helped the church to be strengthened and grow. It grew in numbers. A time of peace, a true time of peace given by God results in growth and outreach. May St Paul's continue to grow. May you invite others, welcome them, be open and include them in your groups and your fellowship. 

And in your own life, when God grants you a time of peace, may you use that as a time to grow. When those conflicts and turmoils have subsided for a bit, then use it as a time to grow, to reach out and to break through shyness, hesitancy, inhibitions, inferiority complex and gain self-confidence to reach out to other people, to blossom, to burst forth, to break out of the cocoon like a butterfly. A time of peace is a time to grow, to reach out, and to reach into the Lord. 

This passage tells us that this was a time in the church when it lived in reverence for the Lord. When you experience the help and the consolation of the Holy Spirit, a time of peace is the time to get closer to God, to let the Holy Spirit move and grant you love, grant you power. “And so it was throughout the church, there was a time of peace.” 

My prayer for you and for St. Paul's is that you may be granted a time of peace. Accept the new minister and grow.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris