Remember that whole ‘invaders from Mars’ radio show that got Orson Wells into hot water, for panicking the cattle and stampeding the humans? In was back in ’38, but you may have learned about it in school or seen it on the History channel. Well, on advice from the boys down in legal, let me state up front that this week’s post is a spoof and not to be taken literally or as a reflection on myself as a theologian. Nevertheless, all of the ‘quotes’ from Paul’s ‘sermons’ – with one exception, see if you can spot it! – do come from actual 21st century pulpits; I give the footnotes at the end. Keep watching the skies! I mean, blessings!
I have discovered a new manuscript of the book of Acts. No, I have. And when I say new, I mean really new, as opposed to those dusty old manuscripts that those dusty old scholars keep waving at us. I mean, I have found a 21st century copy of Acts that clearly represents what the apostles must have taught, given what the modern apostles come up with.
Here’s a section of Acts 13-14. If you hold it side-by-side with your old-fashioned Bible, you’ll see how relevant my new text is. I include parenthetical comments.
One day the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So off they went. (That part is more or less the same as The Old Versions, but mine shortens it down considerably and removes the stuff about ‘fasting’, which leads to hypoglycemia. [Hypo? Hyper? No, I think it’s hypo]).
Antioch of Pisidia
They went to the synagogue service, and the synagogue leader invited Paul and Barnabas, ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul began to speak: ‘My theme today is, Staying positive in a negative world.’ He spoke for a minute or two, until the synagogue leader popped back up: ‘Yes, uh, thanks brother, I’m sure that was very encouraging. Yes. No. Thanks! Thank you! Thanks for sharing!’ (Clearly the apostles are now facing severe persecution for preaching the truth).
When the meeting broke up a few people came up to them, and Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the positive lifestyle. And they passed out pledge cards.
The next Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear Paul. ‘I want to talk to you today about “Don’t settle for less”. All of us have dreams that we are believing for, promises that God has spoken to us. At one time we were excited about them, but too often when it’s taken longer than we thought, because our health hasn’t improved, we didn’t get the promotion, our child isn’t making good decisions, we get discouraged and quit believing for the fullness of what’s in our heart. It’s easy to water down what God’s promise to us, “I don’t like this job, but at least I’m employed is good enough. I was believing for a nice house, but I guess this apartment will do. I was hoping to get well, but I’ve learned to live with this sickness, I guess I’m at least okay”. No, okay is not who you were created to be. Good enough is not what God promised you.’
But the synagogue leaders stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their territory. But before he left, Paul announced as a parting shot, that clearly God was on his side, not the side of the synagogue: ‘Because I have honored the Lord with my living and giving, the harvest will return to me with exceeding abundance, above all that I could ask or imagine, pressed down, shaken together, running over. I will be blessed in my going in and coming out. I will be blessed in my basket and store. My harvest is coming, an abundant harvest. The giver of every good and perfect gift is Lord of my life. And I receive divine abundance, in Jesus’ name.’
They went to the Jewish synagogue in that town, in the same way, and Paul spoke a message about how, what we say aloud is what will happen to us! ‘I want to talk to you today about the power of, “I Am”. What follows these two simple words will determine what kind of life you live. “I am blessed. I am strong. I am healthy”. Or, “I am slow. I am unattractive. I am a terrible mother”. The “I Am’s” that are coming out of your mouth will bring either success or failure.’ He preached so effectively that a great many Jews and Greeks became believers and pledged to give him 20% of their weekly income.
Paul knocked it out of the park in Lystra (from the Greek verb, nockitouttafenway). ‘I’m going to tell you about a man who came to teach us the truth. Whether or not you believe Jesus Christ was the savior, there is no disputing the fact that he transformed humanity’s thinking and behavior. I call it “Jesus Christ’s Top 10 Tips ln Living a Happy & Successful Life”. For example, he said, “Enter through the narrow gate”. And what did Jesus mean by this? Successful people pursue their own path, their own dreams and their own goals. They put their ladder on their own wall. Oftentimes, the path they take is not the one being taken by everyone else. Successful people blaze new trails. They don’t follow the herd.’ Someone called out from the crowd: ‘This Jesus, I think I’ve heard of him – isn’t he the one who was crucified and who supposedly rose from the dead?’ ‘Sure’, said Paul, ‘that’s Jesus all right! He’s great! He’s the best! But listen, I preach practical sermons, and what’s more practical than that we all want to have success?’
There was a surprise at the end. There was a man who Paul pointed to from the pulpit. He called out, ‘I declare this crippled man heal. Get to your feet – stand up!’ and the man jumped up and began to walk.
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, some were amazed, but others shouted, ‘Hey, no, that’s Perseus, he’s that guy who comes knocking on our doors begging for money. And he has two healthy feet! Sure, he’s wearing a fake beard, but it’s him alright!’ They ripped his beard off and he ran away. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings, mortal like yourselves, and we all make mistakes. Don’t you ever make mistakes? Doesn’t the Bible say, “Judge not lest ye be judged”?’ Then the crowd stoned Paul and dragged him outside the town, thinking he was dead. The disciples came crowding round him but, as they did so, he managed to mumble, ‘Don’t forget to take up the offering!’
The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. His message this time was how to get the clutter out of your closets and out of your life: ‘God is a God of arrangement. God is a God of order…line upon line. Many of you are experiencing a life draining issue. Life is being stolen from you. When there’s clutter, there’s disarray, judgment and disorder. Clutter creates chaos.’ Having preached the good news in that town and made a considerable number of followers of a simplified life, they went back through Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the anticlutter faith (the Greek word for this is marikondo), saying the devil wants you to believe you must experience many hardships to enter the kingdom but here is how you should pray: ‘Father God, I make this proclamation, in faith believing. It is the Lord that gives me the power to get wealth. It is the Lord that shall plant me by rivers of living water.’
They returned to Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that had happened. To a reaction of dead silence (from the Greek krikets).
And here are the real live church sermons I am quoting. And they weren’t all that hard to dig up, either:
And the one that was not from a Christian author, at least, not as far as I could tell: ‘Jesus Christ’s Top 10 Tips ln Living a Happy & Successful Life’
“Have I discovered a new version of the book of Acts?” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica