Acts 14: 19 – 28
Psalm145: 9 – 14
John 14: 27 – 31a
When I was 7 or 8 I made a book of coupons for my mother, which I presented to her on Mother’s Day. Each coupon was good for something different. One was for taking out the garbage. Another was good for breakfast in bed. I don’t remember what the other ones were good for, but the idea was that she would take out one of the coupons, return it to me and I would do whatever the coupon was good for. Curiously, she never used them. I found the coupon book years later among her things. My hunch is that my book of coupons said more to my mother than any number of breakfasts in bed.
Each of us have different ways of showing love. We might be one of those people completely comfortable telling another I love you. Or we might be one of those whose love for another is shown, not so much in words as in deeds: flowers, acts of kindness or generosity, thoughtful gestures, small favours. That may be the way we show love.
I was thinking about apologizing for the topic of my sermon this evening, but I’ve changed my mind. The image that comes to mind is a dog chasing after a freight train, and what the dog would do if it actually caught the train. At best, the dog might end up chewing on some small part of the train he could sink his teeth into, say, like a dangling rope. But he would probably be oblivious to the sheer magnitude of the unchewable. I had thought to make excuses, but then I thought, well, no: it’s always like that. Every sermon is a bit like a dog trying to catch and sink its teeth into something far too big. Preachers can be good at creating the illusion of certainty or clarity or comprehensiveness. But such illusions should be met with a certain amount of skepticism. So, I’ll carry on.
Acts 14: 19-28
If you close your eyes for a moment you might be able to find yourself looking at a map of the north eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. There scattered along the coast and somewhat inland you’ll find on your map some of the cities we hear about in tonight’s lesson from The Acts of the Apostles: Antioch and Iconium, Derbe and Lystra, Pisidia and Perga and Pamphylia. Most of us would be hard pressed to find these actual places on a map, but there tucked up in that corner of the Mediterranean that today comprises south eastern Turkey and north western Syria, you’ll find them, all within a few hundred miles of each other. It is a part of the world that Paul and Barnabas knew well and back and forth, and around, and back again they went. It is as if you or I spent our time going from here to Newburyport, over to Lawrence and up to Manchester and Concord, over to Portsmouth and down to Plymouth and back to Cambridge, then up again to Lawrence: back and forth, up and down, over and through. In each place, Paul and Barnabas stopped. In some they found a ready welcome. In others confusion and uncertainty. In some they found curiosity, and in others hostility. Yet back and forth they went, over and over again.