May 5, 2013
Four weeks from today your new pastor, Mike Snell, will preach to you for the first time. I hope you are all excited as you anticipate that day and the beginning of a new adventure for First Christian Church, Midwest City. I appreciate those of you who have said you’re going to miss my preaching, but I’m sure some of you will be glad for the change. Mike will bring a fresh voice with fresh insights and fresh energy. Like children anticipating a birthday or Christmas morning eager to open the presents, you will soon discover the gift God is sending you with Mike Snell as your pastor.
We read in Acts 16:9 that Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over to and help us.” If you went back to the beginning of the paragraph in verses 6-7, you’d see that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul from going where he had planned. I sense the frustration of Paul, Silas and Timothy at knowing where to go next.
After Paul had the vision, the pronouns in the story change from third person – “they” to first person – “we.” From here forward in Acts, most scholars agree that the pronouns indicate when Luke, who wrote Acts, was travelling with Paul. Verse 10 says that after Paul’s vision we crossed over to Macedonia, convinced that God had called us to preach the good news to them. While we can’t say for sure, it may be that Luke was the Macedonian man in Paul’s vision. Practical and mystical worked together.
I know the Search and Call Committee put in a lot of practical work, and I know many of you have been praying for God to call just the right new pastor for you. I believe that through your congregational vote, Mike Snell heard the voice of God calling him to come to Midwest City and preach the good news to and with you.
Instead of waiting to see if Mike Snell will be a great pastor, together you can make him a great pastor.
Your new pastor, Mike Snell, will be a great success when you prevail on him with hospitality, listen for God to speak through him, and pray for him.
The Macedonian man in Paul’s vision said, “Come over and help us.” He did not say, “Come and take over for us.” Ephesians 4:12 says that among God’s gifts to the Church are pastors who “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Pastors do not do ministry, they motivate, prepare and deploy the people of the church – you – to do ministry. For that reason my personal preference is to be called “a pastor” rather “a minister.”
Some congregations are prone to what I call the “magic pastor syndrome.” They somehow expect that a new pastor will solve all of their problems and get the church and its budget to grow without doing anything themselves.
Counseling is not my specialty, but over the years I have learned that when people start to explain their problems to me by saying, “I’ve made a mess and need help,” they almost always get better. But if they start by saying, “Things just aren’t working out. People keep messing me up,” they almost always stay stuck in their problems. The man Jesus healed in John 5:1-9 seems to just such a passive dependent person. Only John’s Gospel tells of Jesus making visits to Jerusalem. The other three only tell of him going to Jerusalem for his destiny with the cross. Only John reports Jesus healing anyone in Jerusalem. In John 4, Jesus had been moving around Galilee and Samaria. In Cana he healed the royal official’s son.
After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”8Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
This story leaves me with a myriad of troubling questions. Many invalids lay in those porticos. Why didn’t Jesus just shout, “Everyone who wants to be made will, get up and walk!”? This man didn’t ask to be healed. Jesus didn’t commend his faith, nor did he articulate any faith. As the story continued, when he was questioned about carrying his mat on a Sabbath, he seemed clueless about who healed him, and when Jesus identified himself, he ratted Jesus out to the Temple authorities. He didn’t even say, “Thank you.”
One curiosity of this story is that we don’t actually know the name of the pool: Bethzatha, Bethesda, Bethsaida all show up in good ancient manuscripts. As a result for many years scholars questioned if there was such a pool. But it has recently been excavated, revealing a trapezoid with a portico between two levels, making for five porticos. You can see a picture of the excavations and a model of what the pool may have looked like at the QR code or web page on the bulletin. You may have missed verse 4 from the KJV about an angel stirring up the water. That is not in those best manuscripts but seems to have been added to explain a superstition that apparently did circulate at the time but was not endorsed by John.
The man had been ill for 38 years, but the illness is not identified. Jesus asked, “Do you want to be made well?” As my granddaughter Elizabeth would say, “Well, duh!” But I think Jesus was challenging the man’s will, his mental and spiritual health more than his physical health. Jesus told him not to make excuses for not getting in the pool. Don’t blame Jesus when you’re challenged about carrying your mat on the Sabbath. No more sin, no more passive dependency: “Get up and start walking!”
The magic pastor syndrome I mentioned earlier is a form of congregational passive dependency. I think the words of Jesus to the man by the pool are also suitable for a congregation about to welcome a new pastor, “Stand up and walk!” Lydia whom Paul met in Philippi is a great example of how to welcome a new pastor. She was a Gentile, God-fearer who joined a Jewish women’s Bible study and prayer group in this Roman city with too few Jewish men to form a synagogue. Lydia will show you how your new pastor, Mike Snell, will be a great success when you prevail on him with hospitality, listen for God to speak through him, and pray for him.
She opened her heart to listen eagerly for what God was saying through Paul. When Mike Snell preaches, don’t compare him to me, Don, Les or any other preacher. Don’t analyze and evaluate his sermons. Open your heart to listen for the voice of God in what Mike Snell says.
That Paul met Lydia at a women’s prayer group is no accident. Prayer is not about us informing and instructing God about what to do. Prayer is about us getting enough in touch with God that we can be informed and instructed about what to do. So praying individually, in groups and even with Mike Snell is the way to tap into God’s leading and power for the new era opening for this congregation.
Lydia was apparently a wealthy business woman. She prevailed on Paul, probably with Silas, Timothy and Luke to stay in her home, which became the home base for the church in Philippi even after Paul and company were run out of town. Her example of radical hospitality suggests that by prevailing on Mike Snell to be at home with you, will open your hearts so he can prepare you to do the work of the ministry in Midwest City and Choctaw.