Where we're at

Acts 10:1-33

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Between a rock and a hard place”?  It refers to being faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options.  Perhaps it’s not the perfect metaphor in the situation the church is in at the moment, but when you take it a bit more literally it paints a picture for me of Peter “The rock on which I will build my church” and the hard place he would have to go to build it! 

When you look at Peter’s journey he has his ups and downs as far as reliability goes, after all he did deny Jesus three times, but as we can see from the book of Acts, he did get his act together and follow God’s will for his life.  Today we see him at a turning point in his ministry; a big shift takes place, in many ways his whole world view is turned on its head. 

As a result of his visions, he becomes aware that what he once thought wasn’t allowed was now OK.  All of the rules about which animals and birds he was or wasn’t allowed to eat, that had been in place for centuries and that were itemised in the book of Leviticus were declared null and void by God in this event.

You would think logically that it would take some convincing, and at first glance it does, it took seeing the same vision three times before it had sunk in.  But think about it, these laws had been an integral part of Peter’s faith and life, and now he was expected to chuck it all away based on a vision he had seen of food, and when he was hungry no less.

I don’t know about you, but the very worst time to go shopping is when you’re hungry.  Suddenly foods that you would never consider trying become appetising just because your stomach is rumbling and you are surrounded by food.  If you started to see these things laid out before you on a sheet, you’d start to question whether it was your mind playing tricks on you or if it was God sending you a message wouldn’t you!

Once the message had sunk in, (with a little help from the Holy Spirit) Peter made the shift straight away.  While he was still taking it all in the messengers from Cornelius arrived, and he immediately invited them into his house.

A Jew invited some Gentiles into his house, completely contradicting the law that said that Jews and Gentiles couldn’t associate with each other.  Then the next day he headed off to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius and stayed at his house and shared a meal with him!  What a huge shift in thought and action that was for him.

This was the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles for Peter, it was a huge shift in focus for him, but if he hadn’t followed through with God’s will, we may not have been a part of the Christian church today. 

What might we as a church in the 21st century have to do differently or look at differently in order to be effective in spreading the Good News in our context? 

It’s a very different world we live in now than it was even a decade ago.  Technology has changed us, whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is for another forum; suffice to say it has changed us.  Our post-modern philosophy on life has made people self –absorbed consumers, a people who like to make their own choices and at the same time allow others to do whatever they like, picking and choosing along the way.

How do we reach out to a society like that?  It’s a question that’s being asked around the world, by churches everywhere.

I read what I thought was a great quote during the week that said we need in essence to be relatable.  “Tell us who we are and what meaning there is in living.  Don’t talk down to us, but talk to us where we are at”.  Peter went to Caesarea to talk to Cornelius, “Where he was at”, in a language and terms that he could understand, and many were filled with the Holy Spirit and were baptised.

 

Jesus spoke in parables so that the people of the day could understand the points he was trying to make.

Has anyone here ever heard of a bloke by the name of Martin Luther?  Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I’m sure that the good Doctor Martin followed in the way of Peter and took God’s word to where the people of Germany were at.  The Bible at the time was only available in Latin which made it accessible to the clergy and not many others.  Luther translated it into German, had it printed and then set about writing a catechism that summarised the message of the Gospel in simple language so that the people could understand it and believe it.

That same Martin Luther wrote many hymns for use in church services and set them to folk tunes.  Music that was known to the people but with new words that proclaimed the message of a loving and caring, grace filled God to all who sang or heard them.  Because the tunes Luther used were well known and in the style of the day the people were able to learn them more easily.

Do you see a pattern forming here?

Throughout the last couple of decades the LCA has modernised the wording of the Creed, the Lord ’s Prayer, the catechism, and many of our well known hymns, and yet people still say the language is archaic and hard to understand.

There are also those who say we should change the way we worship further to accommodate new people and then there are those who say we should not change anything because worship is for the faithful who have been instructed and understand what’s happening in the service. 

The “worship wars” of the 70’s and 80’s seem to be gone, but what we have now is more subtle and perhaps even more dangerous because the emphasis has been quietly shifting off of the God who calls us to worship and more on to what feels good or appeals to us.  We need to be discerning as we move forward, before we make bold changes we need to determine what is God given and what is human driven. 

As we learnt from Martin Luther, much from culture can be used as a vehicle for the Gospel, so long as the Gospel isn’t lost in the process.

When the emphasis on the cross of Christ and what he did for us there is hidden by bells and whistles, we’ve shrouded the message of the Gospel, hidden it behind a sheet that’s holding other less important matters.

That is the challenge we face as a community of God’s faithful people here today, how do we move forward, growing the kingdom of God without changing the message we have to share.  Do we really need to change that much of what we do in our worship or is it more about building relationships and making people feel comfortable about being in this place even if the worship itself is a bit different for them?

Peter made a start by inviting people into his home and then going to theirs, sharing meals and discussing faith with them, perhaps that’s the message we need to hear from today’s service.  Perhaps we are losing so many people from the church worldwide because people are going elsewhere to find meaningful and supportive relationships? 

That’s part of the reason why I’m so excited that Jeannie and friends have stepped up to take over in the area of catering within our congregation, so that we can be encouraged to spend some time together, share a meal and get to know each other better.  Then we may feel more comfortable sitting in a worship service together and sharing the most intimate thing in our lives, that is our faith.  As a result we may be more comfortable taking our faith out there and sharing it with others where they are at.

Amen.