Greetings in Jesus’ name on our Patronal Festival!
Our Patronal Festival is a combined service with participation from the following churches named St Paul’s: Cape Town, Rondebosch, Phillipi, George, Port Alfred, Parkhurst, Pietermaritzburg and ourselves in Durban. The preacher, and co-ordinator of this service is Revd Shaun Cozett of St Paul’s, Cape Town.
Sermon 24 January 2021 Revd Shaun Cozett
Acts 26 verse 21 “For this reason they seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.”
We bow our heads as we pray. “Lord God will Thou so uphold me that I may uplift Thee. Amen”
Our reflection this morning is from our first lesson, Acts 26. In Acts 26 we have St Paul as a prisoner. Paul was arrested in Acts chapter 21 and the reason he was arrested in the temple was because Paul brought a Greek into the temple, into an area where non-Jews were not allowed to go. Paul was arrested but when the case was brought against him the accusation against him was a much broader one: not simply of bringing a Gentle into the temple where didn’t belong; he was accused of trying to sow division in the temple.
We have in chapters 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 this long story of Paul as a prisoner until eventually we have today’s text. Paul knows that if you were to be taken to Jerusalem there is every possibility that he will be killed on the way there and if he’s not killed on the way to Jerusalem they will surely execute him once he gets there.
Paul’s only hope for escape is to speak to King Agrippa. And so Paul requests an audience with the King in order to state his case. Paul is invited to tell the story to the King and to explain his side after the allegations are brought against him. And instead of trying to defend himself Paul offers the King his testimony.
Paul tells the King that on the way to Damascus he was on the journey to persecute the Christians, saw a great light, greater than the sun and out of that great light spoke a voice and said “Paul, why are you persecuting me, this is Jesus the one whom you are persecuting.” And as Jesus spoke to him Jesus called him to go into all the world and to be the apostle to the Gentiles.
And so Paul before the King explains to the King that this is his mission, that he was sent by Christ to go into the world and to be the apostle to the Gentiles and that all that he has been doing since that day on the road to Damascus is to preach that word that he had been sent to preach.
But there was a specific reason, a specific theological reason why Paul had been arrested and why this case had been brought against him. The issue here is that Paul was preaching the gospel of a risen Christ; Paul was saying that this Jesus whom you crucified is not dead – he has been risen. He has been raised. Paul preached the gospel of the resurrection that made everyone extremely uncomfortable but over and over again Paul told his testimony in the light of the resurrection.
As Paul stands before the King. Paul does just that once again. He told his testimony of what happened to him on the day he went to persecute the Christians and he was met by Christ on the road to Damascus and he does so by speaking about this Christ who was raised from the dead.
For all the story of the resurrection would be a familiar one because Paul was raised as a Pharisee. Unlike the Sadducees the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and so much of Paul’s theology of the resurrection would have been honed in his life as a Pharisee.
Thinking about the resurrection: what does it mean to be raised from the dead? Who is it that is raised? How are we raised?
Paul as a student of the word of God would have been schooled in what the Bible says about the life here after, would have been schooled in what the teachers of the faith say and that’s why Paul speaks to them. He says this resurrection of Christ is the fulfilment of the law and of the prophets. So this idea that Paul is trying to sow division – Paul addresses it by saying this is not a message that is meant to divide us but rather a message that brings the fulfilment of all that we have believed in for all these years.
And so Paul uses this story of the resurrection to say to those who were listening to him, Your faith is made complete in the resurrection of Christ; that the resurrection of Christ is not anathema to your faith but rather it is the fulfilment of what you believe and all that you have hoped for.
Paul holds on to the resurrection as the cornerstone of his Christology and as the cornerstone of his faith so much so that when Paul writes to the Thessalonians he says if Christ was not raised from the dead then those who have fallen asleep in him have also not been raised and if there is no resurrection of the dead then why do we have a faith, then what is our faith about.
I think that during this time of Covid when so much of our lives is about finding out that people around us have died. Many of us have deaths in our families, deaths in our close circles, deaths of friends or colleagues. We have to hold onto this vision of the resurrection as a sign of hope for us and as a source of strength during this time. We have to hold onto this picture of the resurrection as we think about the many who have died without us being able to say goodbye to them. We could not say goodbye here on earth but we hold onto the hope of the resurrection. We will see them again.
We were not able to say goodbye to them but death is not the end because we believe in the resurrection.
Many of us were unable to attend funerals and support those who mourn, but that is not the end. Our absence at the funeral is not the end because we share a common hope in the resurrection that one day we will all be brought together.
For many of us this is a time of great confusion. Let us hold onto the hope of the resurrection, that picture of Christ dying, being buried and three days being raised as a reminder that God had a plan for all humanity. God still has a plan for humanity. Let us hold onto the picture of the resurrection. Today we are not without hope; today we are not without faith; today we are not without God. Our hope is in the resurrection of Christ because if Christ has been raised from the dead then those who have died will also be raised and if there is no resurrection of the dead then what is our faith for. Amen
During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account: Account Name: St Paul’s Church Account Number: 50854628623 Bank: First National Bank (FNB) Branch Code: 221426