A Fellowship Meal
Acts 11:1-18

Our reading from the book of Acts today is a story about evangelism or sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with other people.  The very thought of sharing the Gospel with other people is enough to make most people shudder or cringe in fear.  Yet when we fail to do that do we hinder God, do we hold His kingdom back?There are many ways of sharing the Good News, I believe the simplest and most effective is outlined by Jesus in our Gospel reading for today, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

In showing love to our fellow Christians, and our neighbours, even our enemies, we are demonstrating the love of Christ to others.  Peter followed through when the Spirit told him not to make a distinction between him and the Gentiles.  He went and he ate with them because God had moved the goal posts.  No longer was it against the rules to eat four footed animals and reptiles and beasts of prey, so it would be OK for him now to go and eat with these foreigners, people of different backgrounds and beliefs.  To eat together is to have fellowship with one another, to demonstrate a positive relationship.

Peter showed these Gentiles the love of Jesus, who ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and people from all nations.  Jesus never discriminated; he showed love to all people.  He didn’t hold to tradition he re-wrote it.  He changed the balance, not change for changes sake, but worthwhile and positive change for the good of all people.  This is how Jesus loved people while he was alive, then he showed an even greater love by laying down his life for them and rising again so that their repentance would lead to new life for them.

For those apostles and believers who were questioning Peter’s motives for eating with the Gentiles and bringing the Good News to them this was the realisation that came to them.  “God has given even to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life.”  God had given these foreigners and non-Jews the same gift that he had first given them, who were they to hinder what God was doing?

It is the Holy Spirit that does the real work in evangelism.  As we heard in Acts, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as it had upon us at the beginning.”  We play a simple role of loving and caring for others, showing by our example the love of Christ.  Peter went to the Gentiles and ate with them and as he spoke to them they were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Who knows what the Spirit might do through you if given the opportunity. 

I’m going to remind you again that during the month of August we are going to be having “Hospitality Month”.  During that time we will again hear of the benefits of sharing a meal with people and using food to break down barriers and allow us to get to know new people.  We will start with community meals and work our way toward encouraging you to invite your neighbours over for a meal! 

It’s also appropriate that today we launch the new OELC Make and Take Recipe book.  This book is designed to provide you with recipes that can be prepared to take to a community lunch, to someone else’s place for a meal, morning teas, afternoon teas, and all sorts of other places.  There are even recipes marked as suitable for freezing to help you choose something to pre-prepare or to make and take for the freezer bank so that people going through difficult times can have them delivered to them ready to go.

The idea is to make it simple and less daunting to share times of fellowship with other people.  It can be difficult enough to make the effort to spend time with others, so every little bit helps.  My prayer and hope is that during September, October and November we will be able to look back at our hospitality month and see where God has been at work in our lives and the lives of others, just as the apostles and Peter could look back and see God at work in the lives of the Gentiles.

On Friday night at Head to the Heart we were looking back at events in history as we learnt about Martin Luther and the events of the Diet of Worms and his ‘kidnapping and exile’.  At the time Martin wasn’t necessarily happy about being locked away for ten months, hiding from those who wanted to burn him at the stake for heresy, but the benefits to the church continue.  He made a stand for the sake of the gospel.  He put himself at risk so that others might be able to read the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ for themselves, and believe and repent.

That’s an opportunity we have too, of sharing the good news with others by showing them God’s love and giving glory to God in the process.  This may involve some change on our behalf, we might have to go outside of our comfort zone, but I think if we approach things prayerfully the Lord will be at work in all that we do in his name.

In five weeks time we will be holding a service in the new multipurpose centre at Good Shepherd Primary School, we will have an opportunity to worship together, share a meal together and serve each other.  It will be a great opportunity to invite people who used to be regular worshippers to come and experience something a little different, to come to a space that holds no memories or hurts or fears, to worship and to share a time of fellowship.  It will also be a chance to meet and share a meal with some families of the school that we’ve never had a chance to meet, to get to know them and show them too that we are Jesus’ disciples and that we love others just as he has loved us.

Jesus gave his life for our sake, suffered and died for US, so that we might have repentance that leads to life.  Jesus doesn’t pick and choose, he loves every one of us.  No matter who we are or what we do or where we come from.  He loves us and died for us, he doesn’t play favourites and neither should we.

Don’t let fear stop you, don’t be burdened by this, enjoy it, let God guide you and lead you and help you move the edges of your comfort zone and reach out with God’s love for the sake of others.  It worked for Peter, maybe it could for us too.

Amen.