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Sunday message: How do we as church know what to do?

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 19, 2019

Scriptures:

Revelation 21:1–6 (CEV)

Psalm 148 (MSG)

John 13:31–35 (MSG)

Acts 11:1–18 (CEV)

What a wild dream Peter had! A huge sheet was coming down on him while he was in a deep sleep. How many of you have had wild dreams? Peter’s bizarre dream involved some instruction from God. Isn’t it wonderful to receive some brand-new insights in a dream? New vistas get opened up before us. Perhaps we as church in the 21st century are in desperate need of wild dreams.

God’s instruction came through the dream that Peter had. It was a dream that involved some tremendous consequences of love. While there are thousands of things that the church can be focussing on, a ministry of love seems to stand out above them all. When we listen to what the Gospel according to John, as well as the other gospels say, there’s one thing that stands out. Perhaps one of the main ones, you might agree, is that we are meant to be people that love one another. Just now we heard the reading from John, where Jesus says “Love one another as Jesus has loved you.” Throughout the Scriptures it’s clear that we are to love one another. However, here’s a vital difference. It’s not just about loving one another as the Old Testament has said it over and over, it’s about loving as Jesus has loved us. This gives it a radical difference. The difference has become “as Jesus has loved you.” How did Jesus love us? Jesus did not show any favouritism at all. Jesus loved the entire human race, regardless of all our distinctions.

Talk is cheap, and it’s easy for us to say with words that we love others. The real test is personal, and the extent to which we live out the love of Jesus can only be seen in our actions.

Looking at the story we heard from Acts 11 about Peter’s pivotal dream, there might be something we can learn from the story. It actually seems to exemplify what mission in the church could look like. It appears that Peter had been praying, and then the Holy Spirit spoke to Peter. Peter had strong biases before he had this vision. Here is what was going on. 1.) Up until this point all of the Christians were Jews. That is, all the men among them were circumcised, the Christians were attending their local synagogues, adhering to Jewish food laws, and strictly keeping the Sabbath.

Then when Peter goes up to Jerusalem, the headquarters for those who have become believers in Jesus, he has some explaining to do. We heard it in verses 2 and 3: “So when Peter came to Jerusalem, some of the Jewish followers started arguing with him. They wanted Gentile followers to be circumcised, and they said, ‘You stayed in the homes of Gentiles, and you even ate with them!’”

We see how Peter is greeted by the establishment with skepticism. “How does Peter get the idea that it’s just fine to disregard two thousand years of tradition of not eating in a Gentile home?” Peter defies the norms that were set for Jewish-born Christians. What gives Peter the right to think he can singlehandedly change the direction of this newly-formed Christian movement among the Jews?

In Peter’s prayer to God there was something that stood out quite clearly. This is the Holy Spirit of God who is active in Peter’s discernment. Peter does not act as singlehandedly as it seems. My question this morning is whether the Holy Spirit still gets a chance to speak to us as we pray with God.

Peter is being nudged and actually driven by God’s Spirit as he ventures in a new direction.

Our problem today as Christians is often that we have become used to the idea that the Spirit only operates among the Pentecostals. Isn’t this perhaps an error?

We might in fact do well to listen to what this Spirit is doing among us. The Spirit might be moving us in new directions, in directions that bring about change.

Speaking of change, none of us likes change when it is imposed on us.

A motto of the Reformers was, the reformed church is always in need of reforming.

Reforming involves change, and change is hard.

If Peter faced criticism with bringing about change, of course we will too.

Are we then not being led towards looking wider when we move into the future? Currently, there are many initiatives being undertaken towards being faithfully present in reaching out to people who are not necessarily like us. This was the reason why Peter’s vision of the many animals, reptiles and birds coming down in a sheet from heaven enticed Peter to reach out wider. The result was that Peter’s eyes opened towards folks who were not like him.

There are initiatives that are happening that have many names, such as Cyclical 2.), the Centre for Missional Leadership 3.) at Vancouver School of Theology, Missio Alliance 4.), the V3 Movement 5.), and 3DM 6.) to mention only a few. The main gist of all these initiatives is to allow God’s Spirit to start fresh new life in the church, because we as the church are God’s sent ones. We are sent into our local neighbourhoods so that the Good News of Jesus’ love can be conveyed to all.

We know from Acts 10 and 11 that Peter’s sermon about Jesus is quite simple. God loves all people. No matter who they are.

There are men and women whom we reject every day who are searching for meaningful experiences in their lives. 7.) Captured by fears and uncertainties about their future and caught in cycles of despair, they lose hope. Is there an answer? Yes! While it may sound simple at first, it has the potential of making a profound difference in the lives of others.

There is an answer that can be found in a song that many of us first learned in Sunday school. “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Too simple you say. Not really. There are some people who have never heard these words. There are others who need to hear them again — for the first time. God has shared his gift with you — pass it on. Let us discern how God’s Spirit leads us into a new future.

  1. Parts of the thoughts in this message come from a sermon by Andy Rowell “The spirit-led missional church” (https://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2008/04/my-sermon-the-s.html)
  2. Cyclical—https://presbyterian.ca/cyclicalpcc/
  3. Centre for Missional Leadership—https://www.standrews.edu/cml/
  4. Missio Alliance—https://www.missioalliance.org
  5. V3 Movement—http://thev3movement.org
  6. 3DM—https://www.3dmovements.com
  7. Used this illustration from a sermon by Rodney Thomas Smothe on sermons.com by the title “God’s gift is for all.”

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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