Scripture Reading: Acts 18:1-4
I suppose you might like to hear a bit about my trip to Toronto this week.
I warned some of you I’d probably come back a little fired up… In a good way. Now did I or didn’t I? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
For those of you who don’t know I was in Toronto for an annual clergy conference called Cruxifusion. There were 75 ministers, leaders and students from across Canada and also one from Bermuda gathered together for 3 days to learn together and be renewed in each other’s company and in the company of God. I am also the chair of the board for this organization which has been a complete joy to be part of for the last 5 years.
As in previous years, this week was another powerful, powerful time together.
We had great speakers and preachers, including Tony Campolo from Philadelphia this year.
It was also a great time to connect with great friends and to continue to work on plans as to what the future of Cruxifusion would look like.
And I’ll be honest, people were probably tired of hearing about Carman. I confess I may have been showing some pride as I bragged about you a lot and what God has been doing here. And in line with that sin I named, I also felt pride in their words of awe and excitement about what we are doing here. But it’s all for God, to God and with God, so I think my sin is small and I’ll repent of it a little later maybe.
But people really enjoyed hearing about us, or maybe they were just hoping if they smiled and nodded I would shut up. I’m not sure now that I think about it.
But it was indeed another great week and already we’re excited about next year.
Before I left for Toronto I was looking at this week’s scripture reading and thinking to myself, “do I really want to preach on this passage?”
I had time to change it. It’s short. I felt it didn’t really have a whole lot to say. It’s more of an introduction to the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in a way. And I knew that I would not have time to really dig into a whole new book preparing for this morning.
Then I got thinking, well, then I need to find something else and I need to work that out and I need to let readers know.
I decided that was too much work (I guess I need to confess laziness too) and I decided leave the reading and figure out what to do with it when I got home.
Our reading begins with the need to know what the context is. It starts by saying “after this…”
Well, after what?
Paul has been traveling around visiting cities and towns all over the land. Before our reading this morning Paul had been in Athens teaching. He went out into a public place and preached about Jesus and started a church there and in doing so, picked up some followers as he went. Men and women started to follow him.
And now he has traveled to Corinth to continue sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the people there.
He arrives and meets and Jewish man named Aquila and his wife. This family was sent out from Rome because of a declaration of the empire. Aquila and his family were not welcome there. No Jews were. So they had to leave.
They ended up in Corinth and this is where Paul finds them. He finds them because they have something in common. They are tent makers. He stayed with them and worked with them to earn his keep.
He also began to preach in the synagogue to teach the Jews and the Greeks about Jesus.
As I come out of my conference this year I feel an affinity for Paul. I mean sure, since I’ve become a Christian I’ve always had a love for Paul and his letters and his passion for sharing Jesus through evangelism and walking with people in their lives. But this morning I have a different understanding, a deeper one.
So just who is Paul? Paul is what we might call an itinerant preacher. He travels around preaching and sharing the lives of the people he meets on his journeys.
But Paul was not always a hero of the faith. Before his conversion he was a man who tracked down and persecuted followers of Jesus. He not only threw them in jail and punished them, he was involved in the death of many Christians.
He was the enemy.
So after God spoke to him on the road, and after the early churched worked with him, he became a huge evangelist for Jesus Christ. A miraculous change happened in him through a powerful act of God. But that’s a whole other sermon on its own.
What we need to know is Paul has a new calling in life. Instead of persecuting the church, he’s now one who is building it up!
He’s going out into the world and walking into cities and towns and talking to people. He’s going to their houses. He’s teaching in their squares. He’s preaching their synagogues. He is going out and finding those Christians who are hiding and giving them hope. He’s making new Christians by proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead!
Make no mistake, just because Paul is out of the business hunting down Christians doesn’t mean that it’s over when he was converted. Being a Christian is still very dangerous life for these people. There are still people out there seeking to shutdown the early Christian church.
But Paul is showing them it’s ok. He’s reassuring them there is a far greater hope than death. And he’s showing them they are not alone. He’s bringing them together.
He is telling them not to be ashamed to live out the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And this is why I go to Toronto shortly after Easter every spring.
I need to know that I, and also all of us in this church, are not alone.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is calling for unity in the church. He does it right away. In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul writes, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
Paul has been hearing that the church is fighting amongst itself and he wants it to stop. He sees the quarrels as counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And of course he is right!
Now, when I go to Toronto do we absolutely agree on all things? No, of course not.
What we do though is we disagree in love. That is, we acknowledge our differences of opinion, yet still love and support and pray for each other often.
We are all united in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
Jesus is our centre and our focus. We strive that all our actions emanate from the fact Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Do we get it right all the time? No of course not. Which is why we need one another for support, encouragement, and prayer even more.
We need each other. We trust each other. We have to, we really don’t have much choice in the matter.
And we also wish Cruxifusion didn’t have to exist.
How can I say that about something that means so much to me?
Well, it boils down to the fact we are Christ-centred ministers and leaders in the United Church of Canada. And we need to find one another and support each other.
Think about that for a second.
We are ministers and leaders who have Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, as the centre of our lives and ministry.
And we feel alone when we look around.
Does that sound right to you?
When you really think about, it boggles the mind. We shouldn’t exist…. but we do.
Doesn’t every minister in the United Church have Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour in their lives and ministries? You would think so, but it’s not the case. At least it doesn’t appear that way.
Many of us who do proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour have scars from the church from when people who don’t believe the same thing have sought to hurt us. It’s sad, but it’s true. And it happens far more regularly than you think.
So that’s why we need Cruxifusion, and it’s why I need to go.
Believe me when I say, God is doing great things in the United Church of Canada. There are incredible stories of churches who embrace Jesus Christ who are doing amazing things in his name. They just don’t get the press some other people get. That’s because the media likes to focus on the negative, the controversial, the divisions. Stories like our’s here at Carman are happening everywhere, but that’s not deemed newsworthy. It just doesn’t sell newspapers. We’re not doing anything which the world sees as “cool”.
Now don’t get me wrong. We’re not here to make news. We’re not here to be popular and cool.
We exist to make Jesus known to the world so that we all may know of his healing power and the full love of God shown in him.
Paul didn’t go looking for fame and fortune in his ministry. Paul simply walked around spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone he met. And as part of his ministry he sought to bring unity in the church.
He wanted this in the church, he told them straight up, focus on Jesus. Not to fight over small, petty things.
Just be about Jesus Christ.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
That’s how it works. That’s how the early church grew. That’s how people flocked to it. They were offering something no one else could offer.
It wasn’t anything new. It wasn’t the latest, greatest trend.
Paul instilled in the church a simply focus on the old, old story. The one where Jesus Christ came into the world to show God’s love. He came into the world to take upon our sins, to take them to the cross where he died. And to show that death is not the final end for those who follow him. For those who follow Jesus Christ, there is life eternal in the presence of God.
This is what Paul was encouraging the church to do and be in the world. To accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and to share this wonderful news with others.
At Cruxifusion, we walk a careful line.
Many people look at us and think we are a bunch of neanderthal, grumpy Christians who are here to judge the church and pick fights.
That’s not what we are about at all.
We do not want to go down that path. Could we? Probably. We could pick some battles and fight for them. But that’s not who we are.
We see ourselves as a people who want to be for something. We want to be positive. We want to lift up the church and bring hope to a denomination which is struggling.
And we want our focus to be Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of our lives, our churches, and even this denomination.
In a way it’s not very different than what I hope we are striving for here.
The church isn’t called to be cool or popular. The church is called to be faithful to our Lord and Saviour.
If we wanted to be cool then we’d be doing stuff like taking people to Chase the Ace. Gambling is cool, right? But it’s not being faithful to Jesus.
Jesus once said, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor.”
He didn’t say, “Go stand in line for hours so you can win even more treasure.”
Jesus said, “Where your heart is, that’s where your treasure is.”
He didn’t say, “Win millions of dollars so you can have life.”
Jesus said, “You can’t serve two masters, you must choose: God or money.”
He didn’t say, “Make money your god.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my people.”
He didn’t say, “Forget everyone else, do it for yourself.”
Jesus embodied a life of generosity, God’s generosity. Giving of himself sacrificially, with no focus on himself. And Jesus invites those who follow him to this same life.
Paul wants unity in the church. And he says what unites us is Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour of our lives.
Does that mean we have to agree 100% on all things? No. It simply means make Jesus our centre, the focus in our lives. Follow our Lord and Saviour and things will become clearer for us as to how we are to live.
Walk with each other in our lives. Support each other. Love each other. Pray for each other. Just as Jesus did all these things.
And do them all in his name.
He is our Lord and Saviour. And in all things he is our hope, our life, and our guide.
May he be our uniter, our hope, and the centre of our lives.
Jesus is the one who brings this hope to us, our churches and our world. Not by trying to be like the world, but to be more like Jesus.
The world cannot offer anything near what Jesus can offer.
It can’t offer healing of our lives, our relationships, our souls. In many ways, the world seeks to divide us. It keeps telling us we need to get more and more things. We need to be self-sufficient. We need to push toward a greater reward, which means a bigger house and more cars in the yard.
That’s what the world tells us.
Jesus tells us it’s all about love. It’s about receiving the love of God. It’s about sharing God’s love with others. It’s about walking together in our weakness, and growing together in the understanding of God and how he walked among us as Jesus.
It’s about not being alone. But beside each other in the company of Jesus Christ.
And may we know he is with us always.
Amen and amen.