Sometimes I need a reminder that as much as I love Jesus, as much as I follow Jesus, I am not Jesus. And sometimes, when the folks around me so desperately need saving, I have to remind myself that I cannot save them.
When I look at the difficulties in my church, I remind myself, “I can’t save them.” When I see the mountains of problems that my friends have, I have to say, “I cannot save them!” And when I’m really honest, I realized, I cannot save myself.
I can only do my little part.
On my best days, I believe that today’s story was Paul’s moment to remember that he couldn’t save anyone. (The commentary from Working Preacher is found here.) The Holy Spirit nudges the church to set Paul and Barnabas aside for ministry, and they go on tour. In Lystra, they heal a man who could not use his feet. The residents begin to celebrate Paul and his friend as gods.
“Woah, woah, woah,” Paul says. “We’re just human.”
But this is where Paul’s words stop me cold. He says, “you should turn from these worthless things to the living God.” These. Worthless. Things.
In a world where white supremacists are shooting up synagogues and mosques, and in retaliation, churches are targeted, how can we preach this text? How can we devalue the religion of others?
Can we, with honesty and gentleness, tackle excluvistic truth claims in our sermons this Sunday? Can we root out our Christian tradition of supersessionism (or replacement/fulfillment theology), which asserts that Christianity supersedes Judaism? Can we actually begin to practice religious pluralism? To honor, show up, and support other religions—our neighbors?
A few years back, I spent six months in Indonesia, where religious pluralism was, well, if not welcome, at least practiced. In the country with the world largest Muslim population, the worlds largest Buddhist monument, Borobudur, and one of the largest Hindu temples, Prambanan, all co-exist in Yogyakarta, on the island of Java. But it’s not just in the macro—each Hindu temple I visited on the (mostly) Hindu island of Bali also included a Buddhist shrine.
It stands in bold contrast to Paul’s words, and proclaims that no religious practice is worthless.
NO RELIGIOUS PRACTICE IS WORTHLESS.
Just as no person, no culture, no gender (including non-binary), no sexual identity, no body, no religion is worthless.
What about you? How will you preach this text this Sunday? Here are some other ideas:
- How do we turn people into gods? How do we worship heroes?
- Paul and Barnabas became practiced at seeing the needs around them. What are the needs around your church, your community, which need addressing?
- How does modern missionary practice differ from the practice of Paul’s time? Does your church need to reassess the way it does “missions?”
- Hugh Hollowell recently posted on Facebook that his “evangelism technique” is “to identify as a Christian and then don’t be an asshole.” Discuss.
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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