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The Spirit is not for sale
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 4, 2015
By Dr. Edwin M. “Buddy” Cooper, Jr.
Lesson scripture: Acts 8:9-24
Have you ever watched the Olympics and wished you could run, jump, and compete at such a level?
A wish is a prayer without commitment or discipline. When we see someone on the podium, receiving a gold medal, we try to imagine how that feels. The celebrity of winning is a strong wine to the human spirit. The privilege of being the Olympian has hidden behind it thousands of hours of training and preparation.
I remember going as a 12-year-old to see Roger Williams play the piano in concert at Mercer University. Some of you reading this might have been there too! He played so effectively and effortlessly. I had been taking piano about three years and was fading toward golf in time put in practicing. But seeing him and hearing his music kept me at the piano for two more years. Today I love music of all kinds, but I can only listen to it. I never developed the capacity to create the music.
Simon was a magician. A charlatan. He had created quite a buzz in Samaritans. The people knew there was a catch, but he was a good magician, so they fell under his spell. He loved to control people.
Now into this situation comes Philip. He is preaching the good news about Jesus Christ. He baptizes many and even baptizes Simon! Simon never left Philip’s side. He was captivated by the signs and wonders that accompanied the apostle.
When the Church in Jerusalem heard what was happening in Samaria, they sent Peter and John to check it out. They felt that Philip, being a younger elder, might not dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. They found out that there had not been an infilling of the Holy Spirit in any of the baptized. Peter and John began to place their hands upon the converts and they received the Holy Spirit with power. Simon had been following Philip around, but here was the first string. He approached Peter and John and offered them money to be able to bestow the Holy Spirit with his hands.
Simon’s learning curve was about to speed up. Peter is appalled. You cannot buy the gift of God! Simon allowed himself to be baptized just to get close to the apostles to see what he might add to his bag of magical tricks. He had no intention to follow Jesus. He had not turned from his magic. God gave Peter the discernment to know all of this. Peter tells him, “Your money perish with you!” Our text ends with Simon begging for prayer that what has been spoken over him will not come to pass.
This dramatic drama in the life of the early church has a few lessons for those who would follow Christ Jesus:
- Samaria was not a place one would expect the Spirit to take Philip. They were the hated Samaritans. People who knew where they lived would go by and spit on their door posts as a sign of contempt. If nothing good could come from Nazareth, double nothing good could come from Samaria! They were the people of Israel who were left in the land when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom in the 700s B.C.E. The Assyrians intermarried with the people and their name became Samaritans. Jesus was picking at this scab when he told his parable about the Good Samaritan. You find God doing his work quietly in places the world would not look for him. Get off the main road every now and again. Bless the Samaritans in your life.
- There have always been people who just want to know how to work God. Don’t bother them with details about holiness or obedience. How does the blessing machine work? Where is the lever you pull to get the blessing? How can I have this power? Simon was only apprenticing Philip until he could once again be on his own. When we go to God for what we can get for our own purposes, we have to go through St. Peter and St. John. Jesus seeks our life offered to Him. We cannot save ourselves and Jesus cannot save us unless we give Him ourselves!
- People dig for relics all over the world. They want a piece of wood from Noah’s Ark or even more unbelievably a piece of wood from the Cross of Jesus. They think the power is in the relic. While every Communion Sunday ministers offer to all who will come, not a relic, but the living body of Jesus Christ, broken for us and His blood shed for us. By faith we receive what money will never buy: Christ Jesus and His Spirit living in our heart and soul.
- We do not know what happened to Simon. He asked to be delivered from the prophecy Peter proclaimed over him. It would be by Simon’s hand, guided by his free will, that his life would be determined. There is no mention of him after this in the book of Acts. I want to believe he came to himself and embraced God as his Father. Where is your hope and faith this day?
Let’s get the fruit out of this lesson. What does this story about Simon have to do with me? There is in the human heart a need to stand out. It has to be tempered by humility or it will lead us where we do not intend to go. There is an old saying that goes, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” Tell the truth, especially when it reveals your true stature. We must allow our lives to glorify God, not glorify us.
I have had the privilege of serving with many wonderful ministers in South Georgia. Rev. Shannon Holloway once said to his associate minister (me), “If you can turn water into wine that will be great. It will draw a great crowd on communion Sunday. If you cannot turn water into wine, I better not hear you telling anyone that you can.” He was teaching a young minister the truth about our limitations. We are not Jesus! We are his disciples. We who represent Him need no magic. We have His Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us.
We are the Body of Christ, The Church, and The Bride of Christ, We have a personal Savior in Jesus Christ, but not an individual Savior. We are being saved by having Jesus in our hearts, gathering in worship where He is in our midst, and serving Him as we serve those in need. We are not being chosen over another person because we are better than others. We are not being chosen over others by being given power no one but us has. Truly we are not able to save ourselves. Simon wanted to be the Lone Ranger with a big stallion, silver bullets, and a mask.
Jesus would have us know that those whom we place our hands upon in His name share His Spirit with us. We become one. We do not individually become more of anything this world offers. To say “Yes” to Jesus is to become the servant of all, Simon was drawn to Philip, looking through the wrong end of the telescope! He was looking for what he could get. Jesus was looking to get Simon as His disciple.
Lord God, forgive us when we try to appear as more than human in our relationships and in our communities. Help us to be brothers and sisters who bear and share our burdens. Deliver us from being unwilling to suffer and from seeking release through the magic of this world. Have mercy, Lord, upon us. Amen.
Dr. Edwin M. “Buddy” Cooper, Jr. serves as the Northwest District Superintendent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.