Acts 28:1-16 

Acts 28:1-16    August 26, 2018

It’s like a scene straight out of the tv show Lost. Imagine, you live on this island. You don’t get visitors. You’re going about your daily routine along with all the other residents of the island when suddenly, there’s a ship really pretty close and it has run aground and now there are 276 bobbing heads, swimming and floating on pieces of the ship toward the island.

How on earth did we get here in our story!?

Paul arrives in Jerusalem at the conclusion of his 3rd missionary trip, only to find that his reputation has preceded him. They know he is antagonistic of the Jewish religious system, so they are ready for him. The people in the city are already against him. They know he’s been associating with gentiles (non-Jews) and so he agrees to a ritual cleansing so he can be made right to be in the temple. Yet this doesn’t seem to appease the people for long. There is a rumor that he has brought gentiles into the temple after being seen around town with one. Paul’s life is in danger as this incites the people in the city and the officials take him into custody to save his life. For 2 years, Paul makes his case for his innocence and can see that he is not going to get a fair hearing. So he reminds his captors that he is indeed a Roman citizen and demands to be heard by Caesar.  That’s when he is put on a ship, with a personal guard and 275 other prisoners and guards, and they set sail for Italy.  They are in a storm for 14 days before the ship strikes a reef just off the coast of the island of Malta and the storm continues to batter and break up the ship. The guards want to kill all the prisoners so they don’t escape, but luckily for the 274 other people, Paul’s personal guard convinces the guards to let everyone go so as to spare Paul’s life.

276 prisoners and guards swimming toward your island, your home.Do you think the residents of Malta, looking out to sea, were wondering what terrible or perhaps miraculous thing is about to happen to them? Were they afraid? Did they call out their armed guards? Did they have armed guards to call upon? Did they set up a vetting system to receive these strangers? Did they build a wall? Or did they launch boats to rescue them? Were they afraid? Scripture tells us that the Maltese people show the shipwrecked prisoners unusual kindness.  Unusual kindness. They get fires burning, and I imagine them scattered about at different fires, warming themselves from their swim and the falling rain. They’re gathering wood to throw on the fire. I imagine there is an excitement in the air as all of this is transpiring. They learn the name of the island where they’ve landed. I suppose someone must share with the Maltese that they are a ship of prisoners. Because as soon as there is a snake hanging from Paul’s hand? All bets are off. He’s gathering wood to throw on the fire and unearths the snake. He’s gonna die! The Maltese people assume his crime must be one of the worst – he must be a murderer who survived the shipwreck, but now justice will be served. Yet, Paul shakes off the snake and proceeds to live. To not drop over dead. And now this supposed murderer? Well he must be a god! Did you get whiplash by how suddenly they changed their minds? Let us show unusual kindness to these strangers. He’s a murderer! No! He’s a god! We get this, though, right? How quickly we assume the worst. How quickly we mutter “karma” under our breath when we see someone reap the rewards of their actions. We are the Maltese people, aren’t we? Ready to show unusual kindness and then to stand back and mutter and gossip and accuse and assume the worst. Sadly, this also seeps into how we think about God and how God interacts with us and with the world. This seeps into our bones and what we believe about ourselves. We can easily replace the Buddhist concept of karma with divine judgement. You must have done something wrong to have that snake hanging off your hand, huh? Sure, you made it this far, but now God will give you what you’ve got coming. I think this kind of belief about how God works hurts the world. It hurts our friends and family, it hurts strangers. And just think of the damage it does when we turn it on ourselves. When we believe God is punishing us for our actions, for who we are, for what we’ve done. Consider these 2 view points – where do you find yourself?   Do you think God is against you and against this vast cosmos that God created? Do you find yourself knocking on wood, looking over your shoulder, wondering when the other shoe is going to drop? Is it your deep midwestern piety, your pure Minnesota niceness convinced you that life is better than a stick in the eye? Or that we’ll pay for the mild winter we had or the nice summer? Like we are undeserving?  This is the scarcity God worldview. It sees God as stingy. It puts God out of breath for lack of time, lack of food, lack of love, lack of resources. This is a God that acts like there is not enough. If this is the God you believe in, then it seeps into all of your life, right? You might not even know this is the kind of God you believe in.  Or, do you think God is for you and all of creation? That all of creation has unlimited possibility and generates more life, even out of death. Do you believe that God created you and loves you and is for you, just as you are? And do you believe that God has that same creative, redeeming power and potential in the lives of all people, in all of creation?  Because if you believe this to be true about yourself – that you are a child of God – then it flows into everything and everyone else. This is the abundant God worldview. That God has given you enough. That God wants the best for all of the world. That God wants to unite us in love. The people of Malta are abundant God people. And then they are scarcity God people.  And then they are abundant God people once again.  We are the people of Malta, aren’t we? We falter in our lives of faith. We assume the worst. We swing back to believing the best, the unbelievable. Yet, the sustaining story we hear today is that unusual kindness persists. They set up the 276 people with provisions to last. And Paul heals their sick. We are not told he heals them to convert them. We are not told they feed them but only if they believe in their god.Hear this Good News. God is always a God of abundance. God is for you. God is unusually kind. God claims you and loves you before you take your first breath, before you can deny God. Before you adopt a scarcity God worldview. And because we experience Jesus, the one who saves us from saving ourselves, we know that it is true.Jesus will show up to show you love, even when you’ve got something that threatens your life hanging from your hand, ruining your reputation. Because Jesus is the very person that is abundant life for all the world.

Thanks be to God.