BE the Church with Everyone

I think “being” the church is the most critical work for Christians today, if we want to be relevant and important to our current community.  Beyond just believing in Jesus, we are called to behave like Jesus as we carry out the ministry he entrusts to us, in our daily lives, not just our Sunday mornings.  Notice that while Jesus regularly taught in a synagogue to interpret God’s presence and importance in the world in his day, he also taught and healed and ate and hung out with LOTS of people OUTSIDE of the synagogue.  How Jesus lived and behaved gets more words and pages in the New Testament Gospels than his speeches in the synagogues – way more!

The book of Acts in the Bible is one of my favorite books.  It gives us a fascinating look into the history of the church, telling us about the adventures of the first apostles after Jesus’ resurrection.  It also gives us inspiration for the future of the church, as we consider ways we can “be the church” in our day, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit in our day.  

So how might we BE the church in Geneva and the world today?  Our text from July 10, Acts Chapter 10, tells us how Peter applies his Holy Spirit experience to his understanding of BEING the church in his day.  The Jewish followers of Jesus were being challenged all the time to share Jesus’ message with people OUTSIDE the Synagogue – and outside their country even! 

Peter has a vision from the Holy Spirit that teaches him that not only are all foods clean and safe to eat (a break with their Jewish faith tradition to eat only kosher foods!), but also all people are “clean” and beloved children of God (a break with Jewish religion that considered non-Jews, sick and maimed people as outsiders and unclean persons with whom they could not associate without going through elaborate cleansing rituals before worship, being out in public, etc.)

In fact, Peter has a discussion with God before he is convinced he should even go visit the Roman centurion, and that discussion includes Peter arguing about whether he really could eat anything that wasn’t kosher!  However, God does not give up, and when Peter later is telling the centurion about Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes upon the centurion and his whole family and servants, and Peter realizes he should baptize them to affirm God’s blessing of them, and their faith in God.  

Sometimes we are resistant to changing our views of whom God loves, and how God works in the world, and what beliefs and practices are really essential to the Christian faith.  Have you ever thought, “well, those young people really shouldn’t be wearing those clothes to worship…I really don’t like this hymn and I wish we wouldn’t sing it in worship … why can’t we sing more of the hymns I like?” Do these sound familiar, or resemble other thoughts you’ve had— or thoughts maybe someone you know has expressed?

I have heard these things and many more over the years in churches I have pastored.  Is church for the people who belong?  Or for the people outside the walls whom we hope will belong in the near future?  Is it a combination of these or something else entirely?  What is the purpose, and the heart of the church?  This is something we will be exploring more this fall with Ministry Architects, but it is also something the early disciples were wrestling with as they began sharing the story of Jesus with others.  

Is it our job to keep and memorialize our memories of Jesus and what he said?  The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let the early church do that!  It compelled them to keep telling the Good News of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, from the Upper Room to the foreigners at the edges of the Roman Empire– even in languages they didn’t speak, in Acts Chapter 2!  Here in Acts Chapter 10, Peter is compelled to learn that even the sacred Jewish traditions of kosher foods and “kosher” people are not the “sacred” traditions God wanted the people to keep.  God gave guidelines for how to eat safely in those earlier days, and God asked the Jews to be a light to other nations, teaching them how to live in more compassionate communities – but in the press of coping with other cultures, religions, and countries, keeping these traditions led them to become more isolated and nationalistic, more critical of others than compassionate.   Might we be seeing some of that devolution in our own country and even our own United Methodist denomination today, as we argue about the scope and focus of ministry and education and relief efforts in our day…?

What might we learn from Peter and the Centurion in this text?  Can we pay attention to messages God sends through dreams, books, outsiders, and even the environment, that we are really in our hearts and biology and spirits, all connected to God’s one love?  Can we allow God’s love to reach out through us with kindness to those outside our church’s “inner circle” – and try different hymns, different foods, different languages even?  Can we open our hearts and minds to see God’s Spirit speaking and singing, serving, and blooming in ways that are different, yet still profound, that still tell of God’s love and glory?  Can we see and hear God still speaking through people with different abilities, with different genders and orientations, people from different countries, domestic and wild animals, native and pollinator plants, and trees?  Let’s try looking and listening to the earth outside our doors, and in our wild spaces more… Let’s try looking and listening to people from a different age bracket even, or from a different culture, and see what God tells us!  

The Holy Spirit opens the disciples’ eyes, minds, and hearts wider and wider, each step of their journey through Acts, until the church becomes a way of life and healing for ALL of God’s people in the Roman Empire.  How might we heed the Holy Spirit today, to live in a way of healing and new life for ALL of God’s people and creation in our day, in our community, and in our world?  Do we believe God is still speaking to and through us today?  What is God saying?  What are we saying, by our actions, even more than our words? 

Living the questions and walking the journey of faith with you,

Pastor Lisa ☺