Comunicacion Breakdown

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
7 July 2019
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost / Ordinary Time

New Series — Acts: To the Ends of the Earth 

Media Player or iTunes

Sermon: Acts 6

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

INTRO

Cross-Cultural Connections // More than speaking a(nother) language, also speaking a language with cultural sensitivity.

Example: You hear a glass break and run to the kitchen. Do you say – What happened? Who did this? Are you okay?

You are taking a walk and realize you don’t have your keys. Do you say – I forgot my keys. OR My keys forgot me.?

HOOK

I want to talk about partiality and favoritism a little bit today. You know what that is. It’s when someone gives preference to someone else for superficial reasons (say) because of their color, gender, ethnicity, looks, education, class, and treats them differently — treats them better — than someone else.

As we will see in just a moment, this is not just a problem out there in the world; it’s a problem in the church.

Several years ago, a friend invited me to play sandlot football with some of his buddies. It was cold and muddy. We had a blast. After the game all the guys were standing around and telling jokes. Then one guy said, “Hey, I got a joke y’all are gonna love.” Then he paused and looked at me and said, “Um, if you don’t mind my asking, what’s your ethnic background?” I heard a few nervous chuckles. I looked at him but said nothing. It wasn’t the first time I had been put in that position. There was an awkward silence. Finally, I said, “Why does it matter? Go on. Tell your joke.” He blushed and stammered said, “Nevermind.”

Have you ever been the victim of someone else’s bias or prejudice — just because you are a woman, or brown-skinned, or a blue-collar worker, or divorced, or a Republican, or a old white man, a Catholic, or [ __ ]? It’s a terrible, horrible feeling.

Have you ever made someone the victim of your bias or prejudice — just because they were gay, or a redneck, well-to-do, a un-documented, a Democrat, black, a young person, or [ __ ]? If so, I hope you regret it and repent.

In the story before us today, we learn that the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ prohibits us from showing partiality or favoritism; from showing bias or contempt towards each other.

BOOK

Up to this point in the story of Acts, we have seen most of the problems arising from outside the church. The tragic story of Ananias and Sapphira marks a turning point. With them we see problems arising from within, inside the church. Here, in Acts 6, we see another problem arise from within the church.

In the midst of all the growth and expansion of the church, some people got lost in the shuffle. So, one group complained against another.

In simple terms, the Greek-speaking Jews complained against the Aramaic-speaking Jews because their widows were being neglected in the mercy ministry / daily distribution of food.

On the surface, it might not sound like a serious problem to some of you. But that’s the thing about problems. It depends on which side of the problem you are on, doesn’t it?

Notice: All the people involved were Jewish and they were all baptized Christians. But they did not all speak the same language.

The Aramaic-speaking Jews were residents of Jerusalem, Judea, or surrounding cities and villages in Judea. They were the insiders.

The Greek-speaking Jews were Jews who had come to Jerusalem from other countries, either for the festivals of Passover and Pentecost, or for other personal reasons. They were the outsiders.

This is not unlike the situation we see among Hispanics today. As a pastor friend in San Antonio told me recently: There is no one size fits all in Hispanic ministry. There is a lot of prejudice between Texan Hispanics and Mexican Hispanics. Although they have many similarities culturally, they have many differences as well. For example, not all Hispanics speak Spanish, or speak it very well. Some only speak English, or Espanglish. It makes doing ministry among Hispanics far more challenging than most people imagine.

The same was true of the church at Jerusalem and their ministry to Jews.

In Acts 6, we see the first ever cross-cultural and bi-lingual church. Some spoke Greek; others spoke Aramaic. A few spoke both.

An old AT&T ad said: When people communicate, anything is possible.

That’s more or less true.

But ever since Babel, and the confusion of languages, the human race has been divided and communities have formed around ability to communicate in a common language.

A few weeks ago we saw that Pentecost reversed the curse in some ways. How? Jewish people from all over the place came together and heard the apostles proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, each one in his/her own language, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So what’s the problem here? Why didn’t someone in the church just start speaking in tongues — speaking in Greek — during the daily distribution of food for the widows?

The problem was actually much deeper than just language. It was neglect. It was oversight. The Greek word conveys the idea of looking at two things side by side, comparing and contrasting them, and then neglecting or overlooking one for the other.

This lets us see that Hebrew, Aramaic-speaking Christians were in charge of distributing food to all the widows. It also helps us see why the Greek-speaking widows were overlooked and neglected.

The insiders were biased against the outsiders. They showed partiality and favoritism to the insiders — perhaps even subtly or subconsciously.

LOOK

[Administrator of a Scholarship Program in Oaxaca / many had real need, but a few took advantage of the program. That ended up hurting those who truly needed help. Some who needed help were overlooked. ]

When this complaint was brought to the twelve apostles, they gathered the church and asked the church to nominate some men to oversee the ministry and take care of this problem.

This is very similar to what God told Moses to do for the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 16.

The men who were nominated by the church and ordained by the apostles were not only spiritually qualified for this ministry, they were practically qualified as well.

I’ve seen this play out time and time again. Not all spiritually qualified people are practically qualified for ministry.

A professor of theology might be skilled at teaching in the halls of academia, but he might not be so skilled at teaching on the streets of America. A pastor who spends his life among the poor might not be able to connect with the rich.

The seven men ordained by the apostles were uniquely qualified — spiritually and practically — for this particular ministry.

They were Jewish Christians. They were bi-lingual and cross-cultural. They could connect with widows both tribes. We know this because Luke gives us their names — their Greek names.

Traditionally, scholars have said that these seven men were ordained as a proto-type diaconate. In light of scriptures like Deuteronomy 16, which we heard before the sermon, I would argue that they were more like “judges and officers” who made sure that justice was done for all the widows of both tribes — the Aramaic and Greek-speaking tribes — and that no one showed partiality or favoritism towards widows of any tribe.

TOOK

Now, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that this kind of controversy or complaint can wreak havoc on a congregation.

The insiders were biased against the outsiders. They showed partiality and favoritism to the insiders — perhaps even subtly or subconsciously.

In a cross-cultural church like ours, we must be careful not to do the same kind of thing. We need to make effort to identify, equip, and ordain qualified men to the Session and diaconate.

We also need to do simple things like greet each other, sit in different places, mix things up bit.

Try to recite the prayers and sing songs in Spanish. When you come to the Lord’s Table, look at each other, smile, greet each other and pass the peace to others. La Paz de Cristo. The Peace of Christ.

If you understand or speak Spanish, go sit in on a sermon. Visit MC Mesquite. Play Bunco with the ladies. That simple game has done more to narrow the cultural gap than just about anything we have done as a church.

Let us pray.