With Those Who Have Gone Before
July 5, 2020
By Dr. Terry Swicegood
Our Wednesday Bible study group has been working our way through Acts. The Book of Acts is the second part of a two part story. The first part is Luke, which describes the ministry of Jesus. The second part, Acts, is about the work of the early church. What comes through in Acts is the unremitting sacrifice and hardship these first Christian missionaries underwent to sally forth into their world to carry the gospel
Here is what Paul writes in II Corinthians 11:
“I have been in prison frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Despite this regimen of deprivation and suffering, Paul and – and the other early missionaries, came to peace with the fact that hardship would define their lives.
Acts 20: 22 (Paul’s farewell sermon to elders from Ephesus:
“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
For many Americans hardship is a daily dose of life. Economic deprivation, loss of health, loneliness, isolation, and cold raw fear. Last Sunday in my sermon I quoted a survey by the APA saying that 70 per cent of our fellow citizens view this as the hardest time of their lives. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
Yesterday we celebrated the signing of The signers of the Declaration of Independence. The signers of that seminal document pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
It was no idle pledge.
Nine signers of the Declaration died of wounds during the Revolutionary War. Five were captured and imprisoned, in some cases with brutal treatment.
The wives, son, and daughters of other were killed, jailed, mistreated, persecuted, or left penniless. One was driven from his wife’s death bed and lost all his children.
The house of 12 signers were burned to the ground. Eleven lost everything they owned.
Every signer was proscribed as a traitor; everyone was hunted. Mot were driven into flight; most were, at one time or another, barred from their families and homes
Most were offered immunity, freedom rewards, their property of the lives an release of loved ones if they would break their pledged word and seek the Kings’ protection.
Their fortunes were forfeited, but their honor was not. No signer defected, or changed his stand, through the darkest hours. Their honor, like the nation, remained intact.
To be sure this is a hard time–for all of us. I am not minimizing it. But two parting thoughts: our hardships are light years away from what Paul and those early missionaries faced, are light years away from what our founding father’s faced.
And second, we have an untiring and beneficent God who is with us, in the long days and dark nights.
Here are some thoughts as we face this pandemic:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who most choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close.
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those who have no options.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in far a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other
Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God
To our neighbors.