This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The text I preached on was the Second Reading, Acts 8:14-17. This was the first in a four-week Stewardship Program. Today’s theme was “Giving our Time to God Changes Everything.”
When word reached the apostles in Jerusalem that Samaria had accepted God’s word, they commissioned Peter and John to go to Samaria. Peter and John went down to Samaria where they prayed that the new believers would receive the Holy Spirit. (This was because the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) So Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
But there’s more going on behind that brief story. This was very early on in the church’s life, perhaps less than a year after Jesus rose from the dead. The church was growing in huge numbers in Jerusalem, as more and more Jews heard the good news of Jesus and believed. It was a good time for the church in Jerusalem. Things were going well – attendance was good every Sunday. The offering was up. People liked the preachers. The youth group met every week. You know, the kinds of things that make us feel good about our church.
But then things changed. Stephen, one of the deacons in the church, was stoned to death in the street because of his preaching. And the whole church got scared. Acts tells us that everyone except the apostles scattered. They left Jerusalem, and went all over the regions of Judea and Samaria. It was no longer a good time for the church. It was terror.
Philip was another deacon, and he ran off to Samaria. Now, in case you’ve forgotten what Samaria was, it was the home of the Samaritans. And Samaritans were kind of like Jews, but not quite. They were like distant cousins. They had a Bible that was kind of like the Bible of the Jews, but not quite. There were lots of little ways they were different. Jews and Samaritans hated each other – they each thought of the other as half-breeds, as sell-outs, as people who just didn’t get it. Imagine they’re like right-wing and left-wing pundits in today’s America. So Philip, a Jew who came to faith in Jesus, settled in the land of Samaria. And you would think that now is not the time to draw attention to yourself. You would think that now is the time to hunker down, hide out, and lick your wounds. At least, I think I would.
But that’s not what Philip did. Philip began to preach Christ to the Samaritans. And they listened. They came out in crowds to listen to him, and they rejoiced in his words! Men and women were baptized!
Word reached Jerusalem about this. Everyone was talking about what Philip was doing in Samaria. The apostles heard about it, and if they heard about it, then certainly their persecutors would have as well. And perhaps now would be a good time to just sit down and keep quiet in Jerusalem. You’d think the apostles would keep quiet, keep the home front safe. At least, I think I would.
But that’s not what the apostles did. Instead, they sent Peter and John to go to Samaria, and they laid their hands on the new believers, and Holy Spirit came to them! A man named Simon was amazed at this, and he went to Peter and John and offered them money. He said, “Give me this authority too so that anyone on whom I lay my hands will receive the Holy Spirit!” And you’d think that Peter and John would accept this money. After all, they were in big trouble back home. With everyone scattered, surely the church was running out of whatever money it had. Surely they could use whatever they could get. If there was ever a time to accept money, even money that was a little fishy like this, this was the time.
But that’s not what Peter and John did. Peter told Simon, “May your money be condemned to hell! You can’t buy God’s gift with money! Change your heart! Turn from wickedness! Pray for forgiveness!” And Simon did.
This was a time of fear and anxiety for everyone in the church. So what did they do? They went out and preached the good news. They went out and told people about Jesus. They went out and shared the Holy Spirit. They kept true to their faith, true to their principles, and took incredible risks. Even though it was not the best time.
How did they do that? After all, we all sometimes make our decisions based on timing. We often think, I can’t take that risk right now because it’s not the right time. When things calm down at work. Or when the kids are grown. Or when I get my finances back together. Or when I pay off Christmas. We do this as a church as well. When attendance gets back up. Or when giving is where we want it to be. Or when we’ve paid off the electric repairs. Or when…there’s always a when.
How did Philip and the apostles take these risks, when clearly the time was bad? Maybe it was their faith. I don’t know. Maybe it was that they had grown used to spending so much of their time with God, in prayer and worship, in service and fellowship. I don’t know. But I wonder if God might be calling you, or calling us, to spend our time in a different way.
So I invite you to take a few minutes, and think about this question: “How will you change giving your time to God?” Is it about prayer? Or worship? Or work? Or family time? Is it about more time, or spending time differently, or something else? Take a few minutes, and jot down an answer. If you like, include it in the comments to this post.
May God bless your time, your days and nights, your going in and your coming out. May God bless you.