Things are changing. The message of Jesus Christ is moving in different ways – reaching people who some might suggest shouldn’t hear the message.
But today’s reading from Acts is a key turning point in the growth of the church and the reach of the Good News.
Gentiles, for long kept at a distance by the detailed rules of Judaism, are now welcome as members of that new and growing Christian community.
It takes longer for any such change to become embedded within the life and self-identity of a community than the change itself takes. Think of the abolition of slavery, the end to apartheid, the ordination of women, equal rights for lgbt people, as examples. The laws may change, but it takes time for the whole community to accept the changes. However, all these long journeys towards inclusion being with a first step. By verse 18, the voices of doubt and disagreement around Peter have not only been silenced but have become voices of praise to God!
Change is often difficult but when change involves a shift in long held traditions, in long held views it can seem impossible and improbable.
For Jewish people – and the earliest followers of Jesus still saw themselves as Jews – the idea that the Good News of Christ was something to be shared with gentiles was a big shift. A difficult one – I mean the chosen people of God were no longer the only ones to be chosen? Word was spreading throughout the community that Gentiles were being accepted into the faith. It was being whispered that even the Apostle Peter, the most influential of the first Apostles was part of this movement.
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, those Christians who prided themselves on their Jewish backgrounds criticized him. They had heard reports about him. They heard that he had not only entered the houses of uncircumcised Gentiles, but he had actually eaten with them. “Tell us, Peter,” they cried, “that it’s not so!”
But it was so!
The passage from Acts is one of those that we could skip over tucked away as it is in the middle – seemingly innocuous. But this passage is import to us as people with a non Jewish background as it is the beginning of the change that accepted people like us into the fellowship of the church.
The inevitable has happened – God’s plan has been set in motion – there is no stopping it.
Some of us will remember watching the hilarious Roadrunner cartoons. These cartoons featured a character named Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. Coyote’s virtually endless quest in life was to capture his nemesis, the Roadrunner. The coyote was stubbornly persistent in this quest despite the fact that, not only did he fail time after time after time, but meanwhile he repeatedly plummeted from high cliffs, was blown up, and was continually getting flattened by numerous large, heavy falling objects. On one occasion the coyote pursued the roadrunner into a long, dark tunnel, so dark that all that was visible of him were his eyes, shining in the blackness. Unable to see the roadrunner, the coyote paused, uncertain. Then he would see a light at the end of the tunnel and head for it, only to discover at the last minute when it was too late that the light he faced belonged to an oncoming train. So the coyote got mowed down and flattened, again, and the object of his chase, yet again, eluded him.
Perhaps the Roadrunner cartoons gave us the humorous expression about realizing that the light at the end of the tunnel is an approaching locomotive.
Normally we might think of the coyote’s dilemma as an example of our lives when adversity strikes. There will be times in our lives when we feel like we have bit hit by a train – this week began like that for me when I was given the news that a close friend and colleague in the silver band had died by suicide. It’s been a week of picking up pieces – of prayer for her family and for all those who knew and loved her. And being there for and with them.
Picking up all the pieces will take time and I thank God for his love – not just for me but for everyone.
And knowing that no-one is outside the scope of God’s love is such a wonderful comfort and blessing. Imagine of it were like it was before Jesus came and only the Jews of God’s chosen land and people were the only people allowed to have a relationship with God?
It couldn’t last though – God’s plan was bigger than that – God’s plan is bigger than that. It is bigger than any of us. Whether that be the individual – the church here or the church nationally or even the church catholic. God’s plan is bigger and better than any of that.
In the coming weeks as the General Assembly approaches – the press will get even more intense in its coverage of the debate that surrounds the church on the issue of whether ministers in same sex relationships should be allowed to be ordained or indeed hold the position of minister.
Some people are getting really worked up about this – some congregations and some ministers have already left the church as they don’t feel the church is heading in the right direction.
The report that will be debated at General Assembly is asking the church to decide one way or they other – for or against. But whatever decision the General Assembly makes it wont end there – as under church law the decision has to go to each presbytery for a vote under a mechanism called the Barrier Act. Then the result of that vote will go back to the General Assembly next year for a further vote and possible ratification. The scenario could be that the General Assembly votes to allow ministers in same sex relationships to minister in the church and then the presbyteries vote this down and then the next General Assembly turns that vote around and we get back to square one.
And while this is all going on we will continue as before being church here in our community.
What vexes me in all of this is that people are being hurt by some of the rhetoric coming from all sides of the argument and that we are losing sight of God’s message that his loves is for all and that Jesus commanded us to love one another as we love ourselves.
I have a view on this subject – and that is whilst I have no issue with LGBT people being ministers and indeed in relationships – I also respect and understand my colleagues who do not share that view. And I hope that a middle way can be found that allows individual congregations to choose for themselves whether or not they are comfortable with whoever they call to have as their minister.
And can we please focus on more urgent matters that the church should be focused on – remember that passage we studied earlier this year?
When Jesus quoted from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.”
Nowhere in that do I hear anything about people’s sexuality being the most important issue for the church. The General Assembly will discuss and debate many many isues that to me are much more important than the issue of a ministers’ sexuality – for example how to ensure people in some of the poorest parts of the world have access to fresh water or that we support the If campaign in its efforts to share food around. Or even How as a church we work towards play our part in cutting greenhouse gases. Big issues affecting huge numbers of people. Things I personally think God is far More worried about.
What was it he said in today’s Gospel reading “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
That’s more like it!
Love one another! – It is so simple.
I want to share with you now a video clip – of someone who puts this a bit better than me – you might just recognise him:
Video Clip of Desmond Tutu at The General Assembly
The standing ovation went on for some time. But Archbishop Tutu impassioned plea to love one another – to care about what needs to be cared about – to care for those who need to be cared for. That is what Jesus was saying when he commanded – not just simply asked us nicely – no commanded us to love one another.
Here is a lovely quote I read this morning “”Every time, without exception, we meet someone new we should start the process of falling in love with them. It doesn’t matter who that person is, or what others think about them, or what they have (or have not) done in their lives.
You see, by starting the process of falling in love with them, we invite them into our hearts, into our lives and we are open to them inviting us in their hearts and lives. But, even if they don’t invite us in to their lives, that doesn’t cancel out our call to fall in love with them. The idea is that we extend ourselves; we “push” ourselves if you will, past our comfort zone so we can invite others into our lives.” - John c o’keefe an American preacher.
Love one another – that is the core of our faith – love and love for one another. When our debates go beyond showing that love, when words start to hurt, when people start to feel excluded from God’s love – then we have move away from what He wants – no commands.