Acts 28: 17-30            September 2, 2018

Have you ever felt your heart go dull? Or your ears shut down? What has blocked your vision? When is it seemingly impossible for you to hear Good News as just that – Good News? It’s the situation we find Paul in today. He is under house arrest and yet is still able to preach freely. Yet he’s preaching to folks who cannot hear, whose hearts are closed off.  He’s invited faithful Jewish people and leaders into his home to make the case for Jesus. And they aren’t having it. Paul, they seem to think, is a nice guy. They don’t have letters in hand complaining about him in particular.  But let’s talk about this Jesus movement he seems to go on about – now that everyone has a problem with. They say, But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against. This Jesus movement threatens everything. Business, government, and religion. And so those who are deeply imbedded, those who know how it’s supposed to go? Well, this is unwelcome news. They don’t like this Jesus movement. It signals the end of what they know and the beginning of something they can’t even imagine. Anyone can worship? Even those who are sick? The widows and the orphans too? The non-Jews, the Gentiles?  We, too, are on the cusp of unprecedented change in the church. And I’d say that we, River of Hope, have been living in the midst of it since the beginning of River of Hope. In the book, “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger, he uses the exploration of Lewis and Clarke to illustrate the new horizons of church change, growth and survival.  Lewis and Clarke were prepared for a waterway in the great northwest. And they had to put down their canoes and ditch the life preservers and figure out how to get through the Rocky Mountains instead. Their water journey turned into mountain climbing. For a long time, the church knew how to canoe the river. But suddenly we are in a whole new terrain that we’ve not been trained how to traverse. We don’t know how to climb the mountain. Which isn’t good news. And if we let it, it could plug up our ears and blind our vision for any kind of hopeful future for the church. Yet, if you look closely, Paul shows us the way for the church to persist. Paul, who has endured shipwrecks and being wrongfully imprisoned for years? Paul, who shows up in Jerusalem and the people are already against him? Paul, who was left for dead after having stones thrown at him? The man just won’t stop talking. He continues to preach – freely. Without hindrance, Acts tell us, even as he is imprisoned. Inviting in whoever will listen. And we hear harsh words today. He quotes from Isaiah to the people gathered there to listen. Paul’s had it with the religious folks. They’ve forgotten the point of their story.  And so he tells them that. Since your eyes are shut and your ears are closed and your heart has grown dull…well then, I know some folks who want to hear and see and feel this love I have to preach to them. It’s the ones who have been told that they don’t count, they aren’t included, they aren’t clean or worthy or good. Which is where the book Canoeing the Mountains goes. It says that Lewis and Clarke didn’t just turn around and quit. They found people who knew how to climb mountains. And they were led and taught by them. So often we think the church needs to know the answer. But maybe the good news is that the answer, the solution to where and how we are called to be church in the world is out there, it exists beyond our walls. Perhaps we are called to unstop our ears and open our eyes to the wisdom that is beyond what we actually know. The good news is that God is so much bigger than us. Than the church. Churches may decline but God won’t. And there are people out there, and even some of us who need to hear a new word from God. A word of grace instead of judgment. It can be a scary time to be in the church. It can also be a really exciting time. God is up to something among us. So keep your ears and eyes open for it. Keep your heart open. It’s hard to not know, isn’t it? This is the place where Good News is born. Trust Jesus in this – it’s the Good News of the cross.