Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a big fan of the book of Acts. I believe it has a lot to say to our churches today about how we do ministry. Most specifically, what we should be considering as our call to Christian witness in the world.
Through it all, the Apostles continue to face opposition to their work and yet they continue to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the everyone they encounter.
In our reading this morning, Paul has a new apprentice. A man by the name of Timothy. Paul recently split with his previous partner in ministry, Barnabas, when they had a disagreement over who else was to accompany them on their way. So they decided to split company and head into different directions. Barnabas headed to Cyprus and Paul headed to Syria to encourage the churches there.
It really is amazing about how the Apostles started their various trips. How they would keep seeing visions that would invite them to go and see others and change their lives forever by sharing the message of Jesus Christ.
There was Ananias seeing the vision calling him to go to Paul after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Philip was called by an angel of the Lord to go meet the Ethiopian eunuch. There was the vision Peter saw from God before he was called to go to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who himself saw a vision to go find Peter. To name a few we’ve heard of the last few weeks.
They had visions which called them to places where they have never heard, or understood, who Jesus was and what he did as a sacrifice for all people.
Imagine if we had such visions today. How would we respond? What would we do if someone came to us and they shared with us how God told them to come here to share the story of Jesus Christ with us. Or if they were being called to share the Gospel message somewhere else. Maybe somewhere like Haiti. Or maybe somewhere like Pakistan. Would we think they are crazy? How would we respond to someone sharing this with us?
Yet it happened all the time it looks like. At least on a regular basis, the Apostles saw visions and acted upon them. At least it must have happened regularly because they didn’t appear to question them. Sure Anenias did, but he still went (it must have been his first vision).
Here Paul saw a vision inviting him to Macedonia. We’re told he set sail, leaving what is now the western end of Turkey and landing in what is now northern Greece. Paul is far from his home of Tarsus. To walk this journey, over 1000 miles, would take about a month if you walked 8-10 hours a day (according to Google Maps). Imagine, walking out of the church doors and walking to Ottawa. That’s about the ground he covered… just wandering the countryside, walking about with no plan about where to eat or sleep until he had the need for either, and all the way sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with those he met. I know for some of you this would be a nightmare… “What do you mean no schedule?”
These guys did ministry wherever they went, wherever they were called. They just responded and did it. God calls them to a place to serve, and off they go to get started.
It’s a bit different for us today isn’t it? Now we have these buildings we work out of. The Apostles didn’t have buildings, they just worked wherever they could. They seemed to have some central locations, but no official church buildings like we have today.
We don’t seem to get the same clear messages the Apostles received either. We don’t have these dreams of visions of God calling us to places to serve and teach. Now we wait for people to come to us first. I guess it goes with having a building, doesn’t it. We now have a visible location in the community, so why wouldn’t people come to us if they needed to hear about Jesus? Right?
Well that’s the problem. People don’t know they need to hear about Jesus. People think everything is just fine the way it is. They have good things in their lives, they have friends, jobs, family, a home, what else is there? Even the people who don’t have all these things, the people who have addiction problems, or live in poverty, they see the building, sure! But what does the church offer that encourages them to walk in the door?
The Apostles didn’t wait for people to come to them. They were always on the move. Always sharing the Gospel message to new people, people who hadn’t heard it before. And people changed. People came to know Jesus Christ and sought to turn away from the sins of their lives. They were baptized and began to learn about Jesus from their elders. They began to serve in the local community. They shared their own faith with their friends and families.
What in the world compelled the Apostles do such things?
Well, it comes from the promise Jesus made to them in our reading from John this morning. Jesus promised to send an advocate to teach them everything. This advocate came as the Holy Spirit, which on Pentecost sent the Apostles out into the streets preaching the Good News of the risen Christ.
By receiving the Holy Spirit the Apostles have opened themselves up to God’s clear directions in their lives. And they respond. The have developed a deep understanding of what God is asking them to do, a deep longing to do God’s work in the world, and it is through the Holy Spirit they find wisdom and direction.
Jesus also calms their fears by giving them his peace. The peace which took him into places without fear or hesitation. The peace which led to the cross where he took all the punishment, all the shame, and still pointed people to God as he went through it all. The same peace the Apostles received and gives them the courage to go out into the world in the same way. Not fearing those who oppose them, who try to imprison and kill them. Not fearing how they will be received when they go into this new places to teach them about Jesus.
The Apostles listened and received this amazing gift from God. A gift far greater than anyone on earth can give. A gift of fearlessness of what the future holds, because they know, no matter what happens, the future holds life with God.
Our churches are struggling to find this. Many of our churches were founded on this basic principal. A travelling preacher would make his way around the countryside helping to build churches. Sailing across the harbour year-round, which led to the building of churches on the northside.
And now we sit and wait for people to come to us so we can share with them. Many churches function this way. We sit, we wait, and then maybe we share with those who come through the doors. I say “maybe we share” because I’ve been in churches where they do not welcome strangers at all. We do here, and we do it well. But we are also waiting, wondering when people will come to our doors.
The example of the early church needs to inspire us all. After Jesus ascended to heaven the disciples sat and waited until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised he would give them. After that it almost sounds like they never sat again. They walked literally thousands of miles to teach people about Jesus Christ.
The good news is we don’t need to walk that far. The uneducated about what Jesus Christ has to offer are right outside our doors. They are our neighbours, our co-workers, our fellow students, even our own families.
I know some of you have been talking about your new minister. Telling your friends to come and hear me some Sunday morning. That’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. Remember, I am just one person in this church. I am just one of many teachers, preachers and leaders in this congregation.
The church is not it’s minister. The church is not the building. The church is all of us, but it’s not just all of us.
The church is all of us under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The church is like those first leaders of the church who were so connected with God through the Holy Spirit they had visions of what God was calling them to do.
Do we long to have visions? Do we long to dream about what God is calling us to do as not just Carman United Church, but as dedicated followers of Jesus Christ?
Do we want to bring the Holy Spirit into this place? To ask God to fill us with dreams of ministries we never thought of? Do we want Jesus to give us his peace so we will never be afraid?
If we do, it means we stop sitting and waiting and we start listening to what the Holy Spirit can do when we let it into our hearts.
Are you ready? God is!