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04.24.16 Low Hanging Fruit Acts 16:11-40 Sermon Summary

by on April 25, 2016

When we share the spiritual road with Jesus, we’ll discover the other pilgrims come from all walks of life. If not, then maybe we’re not sharing the road with Jesus.

Summary Points

  • Those on the path we intentionally find
  • Those who unintentionally find us
  • Those who share our path by happenstance
  • Finding meaning on our paths
  • Recognizing the low hanging fruit on our paths

Walking through life with Jesus can be full of surprises, but at least we’re never alone. Sometimes we choose with whom we share the road. Sometimes God chooses for us. And sometimes the choice is made by the circumstances of life. In other words, the characteristics of those with whom we share our spiritual lives are: Intentional, Unintentional, or Happenstance.

Intentional

When Paul, Silas, and the others set out on the “second missionary journey,” they intentionally targeted Philippi. The Book of Acts tells us that Philippi is a leading city in the district and a Roman colony. It was a strategic missionary choice.

Acts also tells us that on the Sabbath day, the entourage went out the gate near the river, because they “supposed there to be a place of prayer.” Faith communities always prefer to gather at the river. Maybe it is the natural reminder that life flows like a river, or conversely the abundance of living things around flowing water. Or maybe it is the convenience of having baptism with its many meanings so readily available: cleansing, renewal, shared experience, etc. Whatever the reason, living faith communities gather around living waters, and we can intentionally seek and find them there.

Acts also tells us that a certain woman, a worshipper of God named Lydia from Thyatira, was listening intently to the missionaries. This they noticed, and it was advantageous, since Lydia was a business woman, the head of her household, and clearly a leader in the community. All these aspects of the story affirm that we can be intentional about the people with whom we share the spiritual road.

Unintentional

“While on the way” to the place of prayer one day, Acts reports that the group met a slave-girl. For several days she followed them, and since she was possessed by a spirit of divination, she announced loudly that they were “servants of the Most High God, proclaiming a way of salvation.” Quite in contrast with the pre-planned meeting with Lydia, this slave-girl represents the unintentional sojourners on the road with us.

The slave-girl became such an annoyance to Paul that he turns on her and commands the spirit to depart. I love that Paul becomes so annoyed. I get annoyed sometimes with my unintentional road-mates. Such is the nature of having to live, not by our own choice, but by the choice of others. Paul chose to find Lydia, but God chose the slave-girl to find Paul. This is a helpful perspective to take with our unintentional fellow travelers.

Happenstance

Sometimes life lands us where we would never choose. When Paul casts out the possessive spirit, it hits the profits of the slave-girl’s owners. Acts tells us they drag Paul and Silas to the “market place” where they are accused, punished, and thrown into prison. It’s interesting that the freedom of God’s good news (the “gospel”) is so offensive to the market place . . .

The gospel of freedom may announce a new day, but each new day begins in the darkness of night. And so Paul and Silas find themselves “at midnight” in prison, praying and singing hymns. By happenstance, others are with them, namely, other prisoners and the jailer charged with guarding them. When life leads us to our darkest moments, we aren’t alone. There are others whom life has led to share that same darkness. They are there, as we are, sharing the road by happenstance.

The Key to Meaning

In all these cases, whether we share our road intentionally, unintentionally, or by happenstance, there is meaning to be found. And finding the meaning behind it all requires trust. Paul didn’t complain about who was at the river gathering. (More often we complain about who is not.) Instead they sat down and spoke to the women who “were there.” (And note that even in the nascent Christian communities as today, it is the women who are present . . .)

As they were speaking, they depended not on emotionally moving illustrations or cogent intellectual arguments or dazzling technology, but on “the Lord opening the heart” of Lydia that she might “listen eagerly.” Further, the missionaries would look back and realize that if not for the slave-girl met “as they were going,” they would not have shared the gospel with the prisoners, jailers, authorities, and magistrates in the strategically positioned lead city and Roman colony of Philippi.

Remember that it was “at midnight” and in prison that we hear Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns. In the darkest and most restricted place, they expressed their trust in God. It was “at that same hour of the night” that the jailer washed their wounds and received baptism. The point is, you just don’t know what will happen when you trust God to be present on your spiritual road.

Our spiritual journeys have meaning, in part, because God has surrounded all of us with opportunities to share God’s good news. You might say there’s low hanging fruit of God’s harvest all around us, all the time. Throughout our day there are people whose hearts God has opened to hear his Word. Whether we seek them out as Lydias, or they walk into our lives like the slave-girl, or they witness our trials like the prisoners and the jailer, all of us are called and positioned perfectly to share God’s love.

If you need help identifying the “low hanging fruit” in your life, take a clue from Psalm 146. There we have listed a number of people ripe for hearing God’s Word.

  • The oppressed. Don’t let the rich and powerful talk you out of noticing those who are oppressed. Let the oppressed speak for themselves. If someone claims they are oppressed—by systems made unjust on the basis of race, religion, lifestyle, or any other criteria—listen to them. Those who are rich and powerful use unreliable criteria like the “market place” to judge and silence the missionaries of good news to the oppressed.
  • The hungry: here’s a place to take the Bible literally. Regardless of “why” someone is hungry—even if their own choices contributed to it—the faithful response is to feed them.
  • Prisoners: This includes, of course, incarcerated people, but more practically it includes those imprisoned by addiction or mental illness. “Seek, and ye shall find.”
  • The blind. Again, beyond the literal it is more helpful to realize that there are people walking blind all around us—perhaps those who are prisoners but don’t realize it because their prisons are sanctioned by society (think workaholics).
  • The bowed down. People experiencing grief over every kind of loss are the walking dead among us.
  • Strangers, Orphans, and Widows. Beyond literal immigrants and those who appear strange to us, this biblical catch all category refers to anyone who is politically and economically vulnerable. They are socially vulnerable, which means, of course, they are spiritually and emotionally fragile.

All these people are on the spiritual road with Jesus, and if we claim to be on the road with Jesus, we’ll share an encouraging word of help, hope, compassion, and advocacy with them. We’ll find them intentionally, unintentionally, or by happenstance. However it occurs, may we be willing to pick the low hanging fruit God has placed in our path.

 

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