One Sermon to Preach
Text: Acts 20:17-35
by Robert J. Young

Reflection. The act of reflecting, a thought occurring, consideration, meditation, deliberation. It is healthy to reflect on life. 2 Tim. 1:4,5, Paul wrote Timothy about his recalling and remembering. Eph. 1:15-16; Phil. 1:3-4; 1 Th. 1:2. Paul spent time reflecting on people who were important to him. Reflecting helps us be mindful of the lives and needs of others. In our fast-paced world of instant everything and hurrying to get nowhere, pausing for reflection is vital. The past two months have been such a time for me and for Jan. I hope also for you. I count this as a last sermon. Perhaps I will preach again from this pulpit, but it will never be the same again. Thus my reflection, "If I had but one sermon to preach." I thought of Paul in Acts 20. I take that text as a general guide. What are Paul's themes, concepts, desires, loves? Against that background, I pose similar questions to those of Paul. Also following Paul (in 2 Cor.), I trust that you will allow me a little foolishness, if such it be. And maybe a little more time than usual.
What might we see as we reflect over three years together? Do we see marvel and mystery? Ministry and missions? Can we see our well-defined comfort zones? Do we see spirituality in self, love for others evidenced in strong evangelism and missions? Do we see God?

There come times to life that at least in retrospect send us reeling. There come moments to life of great sorrow, great joy, great beauty, serenity, outrage, insight. Times when time seems to stand still. Past/present/future all fuse into one. We wonder if we are tasting eternity. These are moments shaped by God, just for us. As one looks back, one can almost lift them out of the past, recompose the days, and taste them again in the fulness of their zesty flavor.
Days like that contributed to my call to preach. Summer 1967--youth rally in my home congregation, between my freshman and sophomore years at Wichita State. I was scheduled to speak. High human emotion, huge crowd, 300-400. That fall, I jumped at the opportunity to preach every Sunday in a little church in Penalosa, Kansas. There I learned that churches build preachers more than preachers build churches.
During that sophomore year I decided to transfer to OCC to study Bible and pursue preaching as my life's work. This 19 year old knew then that God was more important than ever I had known.
Two semesters later, I cannot finish my degree in four years without a summer trimester, I need a summer job in OKC, not selling Bibles for Southwestern. I remember the day as though it were yesterday. I applied for and got a job with a manufacturing firm, I could work and go to school. I could marry the girl of my dreams, and I would before summer was over. I remember the grateful prayer to God that he would so marvelously provide.

Moments in time when time stands still, and we are sucked into the juices of life. Moments of fulfillment, crisis, moral decisions, victory, and ultimate faith in God. The Bible is filled with such moments. Es. 4:14; 2 Cor. 6:2; Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5; 1 John 2:18. Mt. 16:3--discern the signs of the times; 26:18--my time is at hand; Mk 1:15--the time is fulfilled; 13:33--take heed, ye know not the time; Lk. 12:56, how can you not discern this time; John 7:6,8, my time is not yet full.
In Greek, there are two words for time--chronos, kairos. Chronos is time as we westerners think of it. Clocks ticking, time rolling. While the ages roll on. Kairos is time with quality and significance, "It's about time, it's time to speak up; speak now or forever hold you peace, now is the time for all good men..." Eccl 3:1ff. Seasons, times when for a moment we catch a glimpse of what our lives are about, time when we stand with one foot securely in eternity, for timeless eternity is the essence of kairos time. Time to be seized by the challenge of life; time to understand the purpose of life.

This church has surely had such moments, the construction of the original building, beginnings, new beginnings, potential, wonder, mystery, opportunity, challenges. Perhaps in some way, without overstating our own significance, we faced such a moment 3 years ago. We will join our hands, we will support and encourage one another. We promised care and compassion, spiritual support, prayer for one another. Pray for one another to be healed. The promise I have kept. I trust you have prayed for me also with intense regularity. We saw a time to be seized, life challenges, Satan opposes, the way is never easy. Such are important moments.
I remember when the church in Lansing faced such a moment for missions. $30000 on a single day on that first missions day. An elder says, "Proudest day of my life, even though I didn't believe we could do it." I remember the struggle and the hurts which followed. We chose a missionary, but he did not stay in the field. The reasons do not matter. Satan won round #1. Another family, Cuban, more recently from Nicaragua. Surely this is the one. Shades of Samuel of old. But no. Satan won round #2. Defeat, despair, discouragement. The choice of Carlos, a Costa Rican government employee turned preacher. Wonderful fruits, but in Honduras, not Costa Rica. God provides.

One of the first missionaries in the Bible is Jonah. If one ever wishes to understand God's fierce love, the minor prophets are a great foundation for understanding God's desire that his people walk faithfully and well.
God called Jonah as a real missionary, with a mission to take the message of repentance to Nineveh. A foreign nation, Gentiles, not the people of God. The book of Jonah is filled with kairos moments.
Jonah is given a job to do but runs from God's call. Why? Simple principle. It took him beyond his comfort zone. Few are willing to leave their comfort zone to serve God. Sometimes the best way to block God out of our busy/busy/busy lives is to keep busy/busy. Busy with prayer, busy with church, meeting, Bible reading, Bible study, religious concerns. Busy, and there is not time for a life-giving moment in our life. Jonah was busy getting ready to go to Tarshish when God called him in the opposite direction. He was not the first, nor would he be the last.
In the NT, the scribes and Pharisees were so busy with religion, Bible, Scripture, they missed the divine visitation. Has God been among us anytime in the last three years. Was he here, there, present, did we see him, know him, honor him, hear him. The Christ is here, life- giving moments are all around us, a wedding, a night visit with a religious leader from the church down the street, a woman in the grocery store for more water, a paralytic, a blind man. But religious people were too busy. Am I too busy? Are you too busy? The gospels are little more than an array of individual moments of kairos time.
A blind beggar yelling for attention, a tax collector sitting in his office minding his own business when an intruder says "follow me"...ten lepers along a road wailing in misery one moment and healed the next, but only one is grateful...a dead-tired body, beaten, bleeding, stretched out on a couple of beams of wood and nailed there...a flustered governor washing his hands of the whole bloody mess...two disciples startled by a stranger on the Emmaus road and more startled when they recognize him as he breaks bread with them...what if you add it all together? What is it? Certainly less than three years, not even three months. The barest moment of human history, but we divide all time by it--BC or AD.
Comfort zones are so overwhelming that we seldom see them, let alone escape them. They lure us toward choices that make obeying God hard. Jonah's life giving moment looks a lot like death. Inside the fish, he prays, and God spares him from the fish, he is spit out on the shore. God's word comes again, and this time Jonah is better prepared for his kairos. He must have told that story again and again.
Thus he obeys God; Nineveh listens. Jonah preaches and "lo and behold" the Ninevites listen, hear, believe, repent, change, mourn. What a dilemma! A successful preacher who doesn't want to succeed.

Indeed, there is something vulgar about how this God of the Bible operates. We want it to be noble, spectacular, we like the applause, the pats on the back. We see the success. We want noble principles for living, timeless truths, something to focus life. But he insists on coming in little moments we do not recognize--he works best in our weaknesses, our humiliation, our suffering, sacrifice, through particular people, moments, days. Seldom spectacular, sometimes embarrassing.
Have you considered what Jonah thought? When he ran but God caught him anyway. When he was in the fish. I wonder why he prayed. Have you asked what he thought when he landed on the beach, slightly bruised but still alive? When Nineveh responded? Did he see the moment? Did he see God?

This church faces such a moment today. A time, but not really time, rather a season. Pay attention to these moments which seize you. They come quietly, in great beauty, sorrow, sudden awareness. They are times for prayer and fasting. A church can ask candidly what it is about, can ask about God's message, can ask are we about God's message. Can ask about God's presence, and God's mission into this world. Are we his hands? His feet? His mouth? Where is the evidence of God's guiding hand, where is our Nineveh?
Such questions sensitize us to life's moments. You may not be in the church house when God wants to speak. The moments when you stand with one foot in eternity, become aware that life is everywhere about you, and that much of life is where we are not, but our life is only where we are. These kinds of moments will seize you, shape you, change you, if you will let them.

This church should never be the same for the experiences of the past three years, three months, three weeks. So farewell. I close with a summary not unlike Paul's in Acts 20.

Vv. 36. Let us pray, and then I will close.
Father, open our eyes when we do not see, purge our hearts when they clog with self, cleanse our lips when they speak with guile, guard our hearts. May our lives be pure, may we clearly see the challenge, and may we commit to truth, may we speak that truth to a world foundering in sin's stagnation. We pray for this church, for one another, and for the lost world about us, for effective outreach that the message may not stop with us. Help us seize the day while it is day, before the night comes. In the name of the One your prophet describes as the Sun of Righteousness. Amen.

This is a new season, a new time. Seize the time. Consider well the times, but look always to the Timeless One. Today is our time, tomorrow may not be. Time for salvation for those who have never named his name in penitent confession and baptism. Time for cleansing and recommitment for those who have selfishly sought self more than the Savior. Time for prayer, for Jesus above all else prayed in his kairos moments. This is a unique season. May we not miss the divine visitation of this summer, as we seek God's next step for us. Will you reflect, will you respond, as we stand and sing.

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Last updated July 2, 2001.