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1st November 2020


Passage: Acts 11;1-17


When someone has been known for their strong character, it is said of them after they have died that they would be “turning in their grave” if they could see the changes in their family or in their church or in their business. How dare we go against the way they thought things should be? At times we feel a certain loyalty to them; that we should continue doing things as they did, because they had such a profound influence on our lives.

Yet, when I suggested earlier that we gave thanks for people whose influence had shaped our lives and faith, I found myself thinking of those who allowed me to get things wrong; to be something of trial to them; to argue with them; even to let them down. They still loved me, still believed in me and encouraged me. (And they had the grace to tell me when they thought I was out of order rather than simply melting away in a quiet huff or grumbling behind my back). I have been blessed with exceptional people in my life and faith, who have accepted my need to find faith for myself and to travel my own faith journey.

They loved me and they loved God. They wanted me to develop a living faith in God and they wanted the work of God to continue. And the work of God never continues by keeping things the way they always have been.

If you think about it, the men and women who have been “officially” named as saints-the famous ones- were generally those who rocked the boat. They did new things; they understood God in new ways and encouraged others to do the same. They were strong, inspiring leaders in times of war, plague, famine, social need, religious crisis; finding creative and compassionate ways of bringing the real presence of God into the very worst of situations.
And, no, they would not be turning in their graves knowing that future generations were not doing things the way they did. They would be turning in their graves at the thought of people still doing exactly as they did two, three, four hundred years later.

Life is always moving forward because the human race learns and we make changes in the way we live according to what we learn. Not all changes are good, but change is inevitable. The way I live is not the way my grandmothers lived. The way my grandmothers lived is not the way their grandmothers lived. That is life.
Religion though, has tended to be wary of change. Because God, surely, does not change? No, God does not change. But we do. And the way we understand God and who God is and what God wants changes as we change.
Peter-in our story- was being shown a huge change for his religion. He had been brought up to believe that God wanted his people to keep themselves totally separate from the rest of the world. Now he was being shown that this is not what God wants and it was time to move on.

Moving forward does not means rubbishing the past. Jesus spoke with great respect of the Jewish law and prophets, so did Paul, so did Peter. There was faith and truth and goodness and wisdom and God in that religion. But there also needed to be room for new understanding and space to move forward because life cannot remain static or it will die.

I was intrigued by one comment on this story about the summary of the sermon Peter preached to the new believers. Basically, he told the story of Jesus and, said the Commentary, like most of these sermons in the early church, the story started with the baptismal ministry of John the Baptist and ended after Christ’s resurrection. So, the “story of Jesus” begins with someone who appeared in public before he did and ends with the disciples ready to continue his work. It is an ongoing narrative.

And right now, I find this both comforting and inspiring. Because we, as a church, are living through a time of huge crisis and deep down we know that we can never go back- not to the days when church membership and Junior Church numbers were counted in hundreds; not even to the time before the pandemic really hit. Most of us, I suspect, are asking-especially in the night when we cannot sleep- whether this church will even survive?

Peter’ story shows a huge level of anxiety in a struggling church at the prospect of radical change in the way they practiced their religion. But, as they came together to think and listen and talk and pray, their anxiety became an awe-filled joy at what God was doing right now.
Let’s pause for a moment and offer ourselves to the power of God’s Spirit. Then Timothy will speak to us of how God leads his people into new things.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me
Make me, melt me, mould me, use me
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

NOTE: Unfortunately we do not have the text of Timothy Adejobe’s talk available. If you are able to access our website, you will hear him speaking both in the video of the online service and in the separate sermon recording.