March 23, 2008

The following dialogue sermon was presented for the Easter Sunday message. Thank you to David Ireland for playing the role of Apollos, while I (Amanda) was Priscilla. The italicized sections were sung by the choir and congregation to the tune of “Give me oil in my lamp.”

Priscilla and Apollos: Preaching the GOOD NEWS in Ephesus

Apollos: Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”

Jesus, the great rabbi, also said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Do not think that Jesus came to abolish the law or the prophets. No, he came to fulfill them.

You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, “You shall not murder.” But Jesus said, “Do not even be angry with a brother or sister.”

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But Jesus said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

Priscilla: Excuse me, Apollos?

Apollos: Yes? What can I do for you, ma’am?

Priscilla: Oh, call me Priscilla. I just wanted to welcome you to Ephesus, Apollos. And perhaps comment on your preaching, if you have a few minutes?

Apollos: Of course I have a few minutes, Priscilla, at least until it’s time for the community meal. You are in the habit of sharing the common meal here in Ephesus, aren’t you?

Priscilla: Yes, some of the other women are making the preparations. We try to follow the instructions that Jesus gave to his first followers whenever we eat together, just as Paul handed on the tradition to us.

Apollos: Wonderful! I am getting a bit hungry after all that preaching. Now, you were saying that you had some thoughts about my sermon?

Priscilla: You had some really important points in there, Apollos. I think what you said today will really help us to focus on some of Jesus’ important teachings. I was just wondering where you learned them. Some of the things you said, I hadn’t heard before from Paul.

Apollos: There were some followers of the Way who passed through Alexandria a few years ago. That’s where I’m from. I was just amazed by the radical new teachings of the rabbi, Jesus. So I’ve been searching for more information on him and what he taught. I’ve been talking to as many believers as I can, and finding out more and more. He really was a brilliant teacher!

I think it’s important that we try to collect all his teachings. That’s the only way we’ll find our way to the kingdom that he promised. Now that he’s dead and gone, we have to find out all that he taught.

Priscilla: I agree with you wholeheartedly, Apollos. It’s important that we collect Jesus’ teachings and pass them on to our children and others. But the way that you’re talking makes me wonder if you know that Jesus was raised.

Apollos: I’ve heard the rumours, Priscilla, but you don’t believe them, do you? How do you know? You couldn’t have been there to see it yourself. You’re not nearly old enough!

Priscilla: No, I wasn’t there to see the risen Jesus myself. That was more than twenty years ago, and I was a young Jewish girl living in Rome. I found out about Jesus much later from the Apostle Paul in Corinth. My husband, Aquila, and I moved to Corinth when Claudius ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. We went to Corinth hoping to start a new life, and hoping that Aquila would be able to make a living for us in his tent-making business.

As you might have heard, Paul was also a tent-maker by trade, so when he came to Corinth, Paul and Aquila became good friends. And soon we both became followers of the Way.

Apollos: So you actually know the Apostle Paul, personally?

Priscilla: Yes, he’s a good friend. We’ve been travelling with Paul for a few years now, helping him in spreading the good news. That’s what brought us here to Ephesus.

Apollos: So it was Paul who told you about Jesus being raised?

Priscilla: Yes, I believe that Jesus was raised because of what Paul told us. The risen Jesus appeared to Paul and spoke to him on the road to Damascus. And there have been other witnesses to the resurrection as well.

I haven’t met the great Apostle Peter myself, but his sermon from Jerusalem in the early days has been repeated for us many times. Listen, as my friend Darya reads it for us:

Acts 10:34-43

Apollos: Priscilla, I’ve learned so many amazing things from Jesus’ teachings, but his death and resurrection still baffle me. Can you tell me about that last week that he spent in Jerusalem? I heard that people were excited when he arrived, but less than a week later, and he was on a cross. I just want to understand what happened.

Priscilla: Apollos, I’ve met a lot of people who are curious about that week, and some that are telling stories that I don’t believe are true.

Apollos: Like the rumour that some of Jesus’ disciples stole the body?

Priscilla: Yes, rumours like that. Let me tell you about that week the way I’ve heard it from some reliable sources. The congregation here at Ephesus knows the story pretty well, so I’ll invite them to help by singing along as we tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Jesus rode into town on a donkey;
Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
Jesus rode into town on a donkey;
Like a humble king, he rode that way.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna, let us sing!

People spread their cloaks on the roadway;
Others cut branches from the trees.
People gathered around the Lord Jesus,
And as he rode along they sang this song,

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna, let us sing!

Priscilla: Many of the people were excited when Jesus and his friends arrived in Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. Like you, they had heard his teachings and wanted to meet this new rabbi. Others had been healed by him or seen him perform other miracles, and they were ready to see more.

But Jesus hadn’t come to perform tricks for the crowds. He had gone up to Jerusalem with a purpose, and that was to tell the people of Jerusalem and the religious establishment, in particular, that they needed to turn their lives and their practices back to the way of God.

Jesus went into the temple and drove out the people selling things and exchanging coins. He told parables about how God would judge those who rejected his message. Jesus openly denounced the scribes and the pharisees, and he even made predictions about the temple being destroyed.

All kinds of people started to get annoyed with him, and some of those were people with some power. That’s when the plot to get Jesus killed began, and I guess Jesus knew it, too.

Jesus drove all the business from the temple,
And they questioned his authority.
Jesus told many parables of judgement,
And he criticized the Pharisees.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna, let us sing!

Priscilla: On the night of Jesus’ arrest, he was together with his friends and followers. They gathered together in a house to celebrate the Passover. It was like any other Passover, but it was different too. Jesus seemed ill-at-ease, and he was talking about someone who was going to betray him.

And then there were things that he said during the meal. He was telling his friends how much he loved them, but he was also telling them that he was going to die. And he was telling them not to forget about him — to remember him each time they broke bread and shared wine together.

Apollos: I’ve heard that part of the story, Priscilla. That’s why we celebrate the common meal when we gather. Do you think our meal is almost ready?

Priscilla: Not yet, Apollos. Let’s continue with our story.

Jesus sat with his friends at the table.
Jesus broke the bread and passed the cup.
Every time we now share at his table,
We remember him, his life giv’n up.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna, let us sing!

Priscilla: After supper, Jesus’ predictions quickly started to come true. Even though he went out to the garden to pray, one of his own followers turned him in to the authorities and he was arrested that night.

First he went before the high priest to be questioned. Caiaphas called him a blasphemer and sentenced him to death. Then they sent him to the Roman governor, Pilate.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ friends and disciples were nowhere to be seen. Even Peter, who later became the Rock of the Church, denied even knowing Jesus when he was asked. Everyone was scared, and they didn’t know what to do.

There was a custom at the festival of Passover, for the governor to release one prisoner for the crowd, anyone that they wanted. I would have thought that the crowd would ask for Jesus. After all, he hadn’t done anything wrong. It was just the religious leaders who wanted him out of the way. But the crowd chose to set the criminal, Barrabas free. Maybe the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd.

And Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Judas gave him away with an embrace.
Jesus was arrested on that night.
Simon Peter denied that he knew him.
Though it wasn’t fair, he did not fight.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna, let us sing!

Priscilla: Apollos, it’s difficult even to speak of the things that happened to Jesus on that Friday. The soldiers made fun of him as if he was a pretend king. They dressed him in a scarlet robe and put a crown of thorns on his head. And they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” while they spat on him and struck him.

And then they crucified him at the place of the skull, with two other criminals as well. The soldiers and the criminals kept deriding him, even as he died.

It must have been terrible to watch! At one point, people say that he cried out to God in anguish. And others say that when he took his last breath the earth shook and rocks were split, and the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Not everyone had abandoned Jesus, though. Some women were there, looking on from a distance, and some other friends made arrangements for his burial. Pilate set up a guard at the tomb because there were rumours about Jesus rising from the dead, and the chief priests wanted to make sure that someone wouldn’t steal his body and then claim that he was alive.

Were you there when they killed the Lord Jesus?
Were you there when he was crucified?
They laid him in a tomb with a guard there.
On a Friday Jesus truly died.

Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,
Sing hosanna to the Servant King;
Sing hosanna, sing hosanna,Sing hosanna, let us sing!

Apollos: So you really think that Jesus was raised from death by God?

Priscilla: Yes, I do, Apollos. I really do. We’ve all heard the story many times. It was passed on to us from the women who were there to see it themselves. Listen, as my friend Hannah reads us the story:

Matthew 28:1-10

Women came to the tomb on the third day,
The earth shook, and an angel said:
“Do not be afraid; He is not here.
He is risen! He’s no longer dead!”

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, Jesus Christ is raised!
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu!

They were scared, but their hearts were joyful,
As they ran to tell their other friends.
Now Jesus appeared before them
And they knew that it was not the end.

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, Jesus Christ is raised!
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu!

Priscilla: So that’s what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, Apollos. I know there are some more details, and some people tell it a little differently… but that’s the gist of it. As followers of the Way of Jesus, we believe that he was raised, and that he ascended to heaven, and that he is with God. Jesus is our Teacher, and our Saviour, and our Lord.

Apollos: I think I understand what happened now, Priscilla. I understand why Jesus was killed, but I still don’t understand his resurrection. Why does it matter that he was raised? What difference does it make for us all these years later? What difference does it make for us who seek to follow his ways?

Priscilla: Well, first of all, the way Jesus died shows us exactly what it means to live his way. We can start by following his teachings, but the next step is to follow his example. He called people to turn back to God, but when they rejected his message and when they turned against him, he didn’t fight. He didn’t get violent. He didn’t even run away. He was willing to suffer and die, if in the end, we might come to know God and turn to God’s ways.

Apollos: I wish I had that kind of dedication.

Priscilla: I wish I had that kind of courage.

Apollos: And we can learn it from him, can’t we?

Priscilla: Yes, we need to follow his example, and grow more and more in courage and dedication to his mission.

But there’s more to it than that. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us hope. So many people think that this world is all there is. Sometimes this world can be pretty tough — for some it’s poverty, for others it’s illness, or just the fact that we have to work so hard all the time to get by.

Since Aquila and I became believers, we’ve had some extra challenges too. We’re not so popular, you know. You’ve got to be careful who you talk to about the faith, and being “underground” can make life pretty difficult.

Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us hope because it gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Even if I lose my life like some of the apostles and martyrs, I know that God has something great in store for me. That hope really changes the way that I live. It gives me such a sense of freedom. I don’t have to be scared all the time.

Apollos: I always thought that the main message that Jesus had for us was that we should repent. We need to change our ways, and turn our lives back to God because God’s kingdom is coming.

Priscilla: That was an important part of Jesus’ teaching from what I’ve heard. And it’s another reason why his death and resurrection are so important for us. The story of Jesus’ final week really shows us how weak and misguided and mixed up we humans can get.

Just think about it — God sent his own son into the world to call us back to God and to show us God’s love. Jesus didn’t hurt anyone. He just taught, and healed, and fed people, and loved the people that were most rejected by the rest of society.

Apollos: And we killed him.

Priscilla: More than anything, Jesus’ final week points out how much we really need to repent. But it’s not just that either! It also shows us how willing God is to forgive us.

Apollos: We killed Jesus, and God still wants us to be his children.

Priscilla: Imagine that kind of love! That’s the way that God loves every one of us. Our sin leads to death, but God’s love leads to life and forgiveness. That’s the good news.

Apollos: Thanks Priscilla, I think I understand now. And we’ve got to get the story written down some time soon. Not everyone will have the chance to sit down with you to explain it.

Priscilla: Well, maybe you can help by telling the story yourself now. You’re a good preacher, Apollos, and there are many people yet to hear about the good news of Jesus Christ.

Oh, Apollos, I believe it’s time for the offering of our gifts. Some have brought food for the common meal, and others are offering financial gifts. All of our gifts will go to the work of the church, and to help those who are especially in need at this time. After that, the choir has a musical offering, and then it will be time for the community meal.