September 3, 2000

"More Than A Job"
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
11th Sunday after Pentecost

Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.

Scripture: James 1:17-27; Acts 19:21-41

Acts, Chapters 1-18, gives us a picture of the vibrant new church, filled with the Holy Spirit and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. Men and women of faith sacrificed their livelihoods and sometimes their lives in order to spread the news of Christianity and to found the church of Jesus Christ. In Acts 19 the story line shifts. Paul, is the catalyst for the events that unfold. In Chapter 19 we hear what can happen when people feel threatened by the change that Christianity can bring to a community.

Paul arrived in Ephesus and taught in the temple for three months. The Jewish residents there became upset by his teachings, his talk about the Messiah Jesus Christ. They sent him away. He began to teach in a public meeting hall. And for the next two years, everyday, he would teach Jews and Gentiles alike, anyone who wanted to hear the story of Jesus and Salvation. His fame spread into the streets of Ephesus. It was said that if a piece of cloth that had touched Paul touched someone who was sick or had evil spirits, that person would be healed! There were many magicians working in the streets of Ephesus. They watched Paul and decided that they'd try to throw out evil spirits in Jesus' name. But the evil spirits attacked them instead. Paul's ministry was successful, and he could have stayed on as long as he wanted in Ephesus, but he decided it was time to leave, and just as he was planning on moving on to Jerusalem and then Rome, the artisans of the city caused a riot.

Here's how it happened: Read Acts 19:21-41

In case you haven't heard, Cabela's opened this week. It will take hundreds of employees to run the store. In the coming months and years, more workers will be needed for the service industries that will spring up around Cabela's. The future of Dundee holds opportunities for labor.

I was considering, as I studied our scripture passage this week, what the opportunities for labor might have been in the thriving city of Ephesus, home of Artemis. It was a trading center. People came from all over to exchange goods, to be entertained, to worship at the temple. The laborers would most probably have been in support industry. Some would have offered housing, others food. There were many employed as street entertainers and magicians. And, of course, there was the souvenir business. Silversmiths and other artisans made charms, statues and small shrines that a tourist could purchase and take home. (Williamson, p. 72)

Ephesus was a trading center, after all, and its inhabitants made their living through the people who visited. Everything seemed to be working fine for them. . . until Paul came along. It took two years of his teaching, but residence of the city started to notice disturbing changes. The magicians were being ridiculed instead of admired. Fewer and fewer people were buying the images of Artemis, the ultimate souvenir. Instead, they were crowding in to hear a preacher tell them that gods cannot be made with human hands.

One silversmith, Demetrius, wanted something done. He knew that Paul's teachings were going to harm their business and he wanted it stopped. He gathered other artisans to protest, and as an afterthought he added, "Oh, yeah, and his teachings are insulting to our goddess Artemis." While he led the growing crowd in chants of "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians", his motivation was primarily economic. If the people didn't worship Artemis, the artisans wouldn't make any money.

Can you picture the crowd that gathered in the great civic theater. There was no news on radios or television. Many came because they heard the commotion and didn't even know what it was about. There was shouting, confusion. Some suspected that this had something to do with that teacher Paul, and when they couldn't find him, they grabbed two of his disciples and pushed them into the mob. Alexander, a Jew, tried to quiet them, but they chanted, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians" for two hours. It was like the Super Bowl of Ephesus. What had started as an economic concern of a few tradespeople had turned into a near rioting mob.

The sad truth is that for many in the crowd, the goddess Artemis was just as unreal to them as the one true God proclaimed by Jesus Christ. Their god was their financial security, control of trade, their jobs. Paul brought a message to Ephesus that shook the foundations of what they had grown to expect, and the tradespeople could only hear the jingle of their change purses. They could not accept any change that threatened their way of life.

Now, we understand that change happens. It's not always comfortable, but it is inevitable. We grow up, move to different places. We have different jobs and with time our bodies age and change. Significant events in life, bring home to us time and again the reality of change, education, marriage, children, illness, death. And in the midst of all the change we sometimes find ourselves struggling with who we are.

As we consider the events in our village this week, we must admit that change happens not only to individuals, but entire communities. The question of identity remains. Who are we, this church, the village, in the midst of change?

Here again the message that Paul brought to the busy citizens of Ephesus. Jesus Christ is Lord. Our Rock that has not moved. Our hope remains in the Lord. Our mission as believers has not changed. Our proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ is no different today than it was a year ago and will be in the years to come.

Demetrius saw a problem, and he took the easy way. He led a protest against the change in his livelihood, his job. He did this rather than confront the truth that the Living Lord could change his life.

As believers, we must fight against the tendency to put our lives and our faith into compartments, separate from one another. Whatever we do, at home, at job sites or in our recreation, in our celebrations and in our grieving, we are Christ's witnesses to the world. Anchored to eternal hope and commissioned to be His change agents.

Do not be afraid of what God can do with you. Do not be afraid of what God will do with this church and this community. Let us commit ourselves to the Rock, our Redeemer, and let our labors give glory to God.

Smith, Dennis E. and Michael E. Williams, The Storytellers's Companion to the Bible: Acts of the Apostles. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999. Williamson, Charles C. Interpretation Bible Studies: Acts. Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2000.