Sunday, December 11, 2011

It is not about me...

Sermon preached for the Circuit Winkel, Daily Divine Service Book Commemoration of Apollos, preached Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011.

Apollos was an first century Alexandrian Jewish Christian mentioned several times in the New Testament – always by Paul. After the Christian couple Priscilla and Aquila corrected his incomplete Christian doctrine, his special gifts in preaching Jesus persuasively made him an important person in the congregation at Corinth, Greece after Paul's first visit there.[1 Cor. 3:6] Later he was with Paul in Ephesus.[16:12]. 

Paul considered Apollos to be an apostle (1 Cor 4:6, 9-13)[1] who became a leader in the important Corinthian congregation.[1 Cor 3:6] [4:6] [16:12] In harmony with Paul's notices are the statements in Acts that Apollos was a highly educated Alexandrian Jew, who "spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, even though he knew only the baptism of John." [Acts 18:24-28] He came to Ephesus (probably in the year 52-3). After Christians in Ephesus wrote letters of recommendation, Apollos went to Achaia where Paul names him as an apostle (1 Cor 4:6, 9-13) Given that Paul only saw himself as an apostle 'untimely born' (1 Cor 15:8) and that the term apostle was not bantered about lightly, some say Apollos became an apostle in the regular way – namely as a witness to the risen Lord and commissioned by Jesus (1 Cor 15:5-9; 1 Cor 9:1).

Jerome states that Apollos was so dissatisfied with the division at Corinth, that he went to Crete with Zenas, a doctor of the law.  After the schism in Corinth was healed by Paul's letter Apollos returned to the city, and became its bishop. Others assign him to Duras, or Iconium, or Caesarea.  In the Epistle to Titus, [3:13] Apollos is mentioned with Zenas as bearer of the letter to Crete.

Luther suggested he might have been the unnamed author of Hebrews, an opinion that not many have followed.  In many respects, Apollos has been either ignored or forgotten in history.  Funny, because he is mentioned more in Scripture than some whom history well recalls.  A testament, perhaps, to the difficulty in determining a person’s legacy.  But we are not here to try and do that.  In fact, there is but one reference I wish to turn our attention to: First Corinthians 16:12.  Here we read, “Now concerning Apollos the brother, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brothers and yet it was not at all his will to come now... but he will come when he has an opportunity.”

Apollos was not normally intransigent.  In fact, Paul spoke well of him as a faithful servant of God who had watered what Paul had planted and Paul insists they were united – without division between them.  But no matter how strongly Paul told Apollos to go, he refused.  It was not his will. Who would want to go to Corinth?  They were divided, conflicted, disrespectful, heretical, and brutish.  Perhaps Apollos was being noble and feared they would crown him leader of a faction and he did not want to contribute to the division.  Perhaps he was being bitter, having had his fill with this stubborn bunch of so-called Christians.  Either way we can sympathize.  We have all been in situations where we feared we might be more a part of the problem than a part of the solution.  We have all been wounded by the biting words and actions of others and have felt a little wary of jumping into the fray again.

It was not at all his will.... or so says Paul.  It sounds like Paul was telling to go back but Apollos was not going to give in.  I feel for Apollos.  I have had situations with members in which I felt like the best thing I could do was nothing, even stepping back from the situation.  So as a Pastor I feel some sympathy for Apollos.  I have had the same circumstances with family.  Situations in which I wanted to say something, maybe even thought I should say something, but did not.  I pulled back to give it a little time.  I am sure you have been there, too.

And that puts us back to the beginning of Paul’s words.  Who is Apollos?  Who is Paul?  Servants of the Lord doing what God has assigned.  I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it all happen.

We live in an age in which egos are very fragile – easily bruised and not easily healed.  We live in a time when nursing bruised egos has almost become our most important priority.  But it is not about us, Paul says.  Not about Apollos.  Not about Paul.  Not about Larry.  Put your name in the blank.  It is about the Lord.  God makes it all happen.  In the Church, in the home, and in the world. 
We are greatly in danger of thinking too highly of ourselves and not trusting in the Lord.  In the Church, in our homes, and in the world. 

As people preparing to walk again to the manger, it is good for us to hear such words.  We get our dander up about all sorts of things that matter little and it seems easy for us to ignore that which matters most of all.  Christmas is the season for indulgence that has forgotten the reason for it all.  But Christmas merely magnifies what is going on in congregations, in living rooms, in board rooms, and in courtrooms all across America... even the world.  Our place is clear whether Pastor in the pulpit or people in the pew.  We are servants of the Lord doing what God has assigned.  We plant, we tend, but God makes it happen.  Sometimes we don’t even get to see the fruit of our labors... well, most of the time we don’t.  But we do not need to... it is enough that the Light shines on Jesus, Him who is the Light.

So don’t take on too much this Christmas season.... Don’t think that you have make it all happen for everyone around you.  It is still God’s work.  We are simply His servants doing what God has assigned.  We  do what God has given us to do and, in every case, that is a supporting role. Before we speak His Word, we must hear His Word.  Before we bring others to baptism or to the Table of the Lord, we come.  Before  we can show the love and mercy of God to others, we must know that love and mercy in Christ. So we speak of what we have heard, we welcome others to the very places where we were welcomed in water and with bread and wine.  We love others as God has loved us in Christ.  That is what we are to do and what we can do.

Sometimes, when we become the center of it all or we have made a mess of it all or we have found it became more about me than about Him, well,  the best thing is to step back a bit... untangle yourself from the mess of it all and remember.... it is not about me... it is about the Lord.  And if remembering Apollos can help us do that, it is not a bad word to hear on a Thursday afternoon as we pause from the maddening rush to Christmas... who is it all about?  Amen.

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