Saturday, May 24, 2014

Out of Our Comfort Zones... The Holy Spirit leads the Church into Mission (Acts 10)... Fire and Wind: encountering the Holy Spirit inn the Book of Acts and in Our Lives Today (part 5)

It may be easy to read the bible passage in Acts 10 that we did today and not realise that we are reading an account of one of the most seminal moments in history; A moment of revolution, a moment of transformation, a moment that changed the world forever.  Think, Rosa Park refused to move down the back of the bus to let a white man sit down, that was like lighting the fuse of the civil rights movement. Or respected Maori elder Dame Whina Cooper, deciding to start walking from her home on the Hokianga to Wellington to protest for Maori land rights, galvanised a nation to face there past and this injustice, a journey we are still on. Like those things On one level it seems to be a very small event, it involves two men coming together across a geographic distance, an offer of hospitality and the sharing of a new Idea,. At another level it is totally a profound God moment, two people coming together across one of the deepest cultural and religious divides of history, sharing great good news of God’s love and grace: it’s the moment where God shows the fledging church that the good news of salvation and inclusion into God’s people is not just for a chosen few but for all peoples, for Gentile as well as Jew.

We are working our way through the book of Acts to encounter the Holy Spirit in the lives of those first believers and to understand and hopefully experience the movement of the same Holy Spirit in our lives today, individually and as a church. It maybe hard to relate to such a  quantum leap as we read about today but there is so much from this narrative that I believe speaks to us today.

If you’ve been coming along regularly while we’ve been going through this series you’ll notice that we’ve done a big jump this week. Last week we looked at Acts chapter 4 and the way in which those first believers responded to opposition to their message and mission. Between the two passages we have the story of the early church wrestling with trouble within itself and growing persecution from the religious authorities in Jerusalem, culminating in the death of Stephen. Amidst that we see that God continues to answer the believer’s prayer that we looked at last week and gives them the courage to boldly speak God’s word and continues to perform signs and wonders through their ministry. The spirit continues to lead the church and enable people to witness to the risen Jesus Christ. We see the sovereignty of God, Philip being taken to the Kings way to meet a eunuch from Ethiopia who becomes a believer and of course Saul a passionate persecutor of the followers of Jesus, encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. Both these events lead us to what we read this morning. The Ethiopian eunuch becomes a believer, Paul not only becomes a believer in Jesus but receives a call proclaim Jesus name to the gentiles. All the way through we see the Holy Spirit at work in the church doing the things that Jesus had said the Spirit would do, leading them into all truth, giving them peace, enabling and empowering them to be witnesses.

Then we come to what Darrell Bock calls the most important unit in Acts, where the gospel goes out directly to a gentile and his household for the first time. The drama unfolds like a play told in eight scenes in four parts.  We have the open part where almost in parallel we have God speaking through an angel to Cornelius, a roman officer, and then to Peter, setting the scene for what will happen. Cornelius is called a god fearer that is a non-Jew who is attracted to the Jewish faith, Cornelius showed his devotion in his prayer life, like we saw in Acts 3 he was keeping the hours of prayer and through the way he willing gave money to the poor. He is told that God has heard his prayers. Peter who is simply praying sees a vision of a mix of clean and unclean food and is invited by God to go eat, he is invited to look beyond his cultural and religious worldview to see what God is doing in Christ.

Then in the second part we have the journey and welcome, the barriers start to come down, Peter invites the men who had come from Joppa into the house he is staying in, which would have been a no-no in Jewish culture, risking ritual uncleanliness and then as peter goes to Cornelius’ house he goes and breaks the barrier even more by accepting hospitality in the gentiles house.

The third part consist of the speeches, Cornelius recounts what had happened and how he had been visited by an angel and Peter who had been confused by the vision he had now understands what God had been saying and tells Cornelius and his household about Jesus life and death and resurrection.

Then we have the fourth part, we have an account of the acceptance of the gentiles into God’s kingdom and people as the Holy Spirit comes on them just like it did on those first believers, it convinces Peter that God indeed has called all peoples into a new relationship with him as their people in Jesus Christ, so he baptises them, which is that sign of acceptance and inclusion. Beyond what we read today in Acts 10 the story concludes with in Acts 11:1-18 with the news being bought back to the believers in Jerusalem and an acceptance by the church that  the good news of Jesus Christ is for the gentiles as well.

I want to draw some points out of this narrative for us today. The most important ones come out of the fact that in this narrative we see that this God at work.

All the way through from beginning to end we are shown that this is the work of the God. God hears Cornelius’ prayer he sees Cornelius’ devotion and concern for the poor and God answers, God sends an angel to meet with Cornelius, God speaks to Peter in a vision, Challenging Peter’s perceptions of who is and isn’t clean. Note that Cornelius needs an intermediary and that God choses to speak directly to Peter. In the timing of the coming of the envoys to see Peter we sense the hand of God, divine timing. In the speeches that both Cornelius and Peter give we see a re affirming of God’s roll, and Peter rightly focuses on the fact that at the core here is the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that this is now for everyone. Then it is the spirit that confirms this, in coming upon the people gathered even before Peter had stopped speaking. There is no apostolic intermediary here, it’s a God thing. The whole of the trinity is involved its god from start to finish.

Firstly, for us today one of the ways that people talk about mission is that it is seeing where the Spirit is already at work in the world and going and joining our efforts with what the spirit is already doing. Like with Peter it is often a matter of having our eyes opened our preconceived ideas challenged so we can see and act with the compassion and good news of Jesus Christ.

Fortunately this is not like some cosmic where’s Wally hunt we know the heart of God that has been revealed to us in the gospels and scriptures and it points the way for us. Very often that mission comes knocking on our doors.   One of the things about living in Auckland is that it is like the whole world has come to us... we are one of the most multi cultural cities in the world. At our garage sale yesterday I was talking to someone about the marriage course we are running and a man over heard us and was very excited that we were encouraging people to work on their marriages. he told me that he knew people who worked and studies for many years to be an engineer or a doctor but were not willing to put the same effort into becoming a better husband or father. he was a Muslim and was very open to speaking out our different faith and I've invited him to drop by anytime he wants and continue the conversation. Mission knocks at our door, even when you are simply trying to sell people  second hand books.

In the Genesis creation narrative the Spirit of God is hovering over the Water’s, it’s a picture of the ocean being stirred up by the wind of the spirit and that is what the Spirit continues to do with us today stir us up. Still water can easily become stagnant and anything but fresh and life giving, we need God to stir us up to what he is calling us to do on a constant basis. To be carried on the current of the spirit working in history. I have friends who are leaving their safe jobs here in Auckland to head to Kolkata, to work with a group that sets up businesses to help women who have been trafficked in the sex trade. It is part of the spirit stirring people up to help with the invisible people who are caught up in the resurgence of slavery. But of course one of the ways the spirit has been stirring up the church in the west is to realise that our mission field is not always way over there but its right here around us. You just have to walk through the main street in Panmure to see what one of the only growth industries is there. We can see that this stirring up and joining what the Spirit is already doing is already happening in our midst… It’s interesting in the first few weeks I was here at St Peter’s I read an article in the herald about the isolation felt by new mothers in the suburbs and saw that in mainly music and the community that grows round the playgroup here that God has stirred us up to help meet that need. God is wanting to reach out to the suburban families in our city.

t our parish council meetings recently we’ve been trying to get away from simply doing devotions to studying the scriptures a bit more closely and allowing them to speak into our situation here and give direction.  Our last meeting was just after Easter and on Easter Sunday I had preached on Mary, Thomas and Peter encountering the risen Jesus and we’d skipped the account of Jesus meeting his disciples on the shore of the sea of galilee. As we read it one of the things that stuck out to the group was Jesus call to the disciples as they were out fishing and hadn’t caught anything all night, to put the net over the other side. Jewish fishermen would traditionally only use the one side of their boat for that, and as they were prepared to look at a new way of doing something they were all very good at, they caught a massive amount of fish. There was a sense of being invited to think of fresh expressions of new ways to be the church. The way we structure ourselves and think of ourselves is very much the model we have inherited of the small community church in Scotland or England and maybe that will not serve us that well in twenty first urban Auckland.

ust another couple of quick things to finish with… The first is that God actually lead Peter in several small steps to a very challenging and revolutionary thing. Did you notice it? Before he went God led him to open his own home in hospitality. The Spirit guides us step by step and its often as we open ourselves up to new things and new possibilities that it leads us further into what God has for us. The important thing is that we are willing to take those first steps. Peter didn’t even fully understand what was going on and it was only when he arrived at Cornelius’ door and the maybe only when he saw the spirit come on those gathered just like it had at Pentecost that he fully understood… That’s the element of faith and trust.

And lastly, that God is able to confirm things for us because it is God who calls us into new fields and into mission even across the social barriers of our day and time, as an outworking of God’s compassion and love for all peoples. But you know it’s often only as we are willing to step out in our lives that we see that, maybe that first step is even to simply invite someone to church or to tell people we’ll pray for them in a dark situation, or say hi to someone outside our normal sphere of friends. Mission is God’s work from first to last, he is with us and for us.

Our vision as a church is that “we are called to be an authentic, vibrant, sustainable community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on the Journey” and you know I sense that that authenticity and vibrancy and sustainability will grow only as we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as a loving community beyond our walls and where we are here. That growing as followers of Jesus is a call to do just that to follow Jesus where he leads us by the Spirit, even if it is out of our carefully constructed comfort zones into the unknown, trusting that he can confirm his leading. Inspiring others to join us on the journey is to be on the journey: The adventure of proclaiming Jesus to all peoples.

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