2017-05-14 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
THE COUNCIL AT JERUSALEM
“God’s Business As Usual”
“THUS SAYS THE LORD . . . who has been making these things known from long ago.”
The God Story that we’ve been hearing and telling since September (Genesis 1) continues to unfold with new (and perhaps even strange, wacky, zany) things…
We’re in the final phase of the GodStory…we call this the “new people of God”… and though the phrase the “new people of God” sounds very excellent…do not be fooled!
These were people just like you and me! New, yes, made new in Christ Jesus, the Risen Lord, but human… “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the one I love”…
And as the early church grows…as it moves from a being a motley crew of 200 people, it grows…from Jerusalem, to the hills of Judea, to Samaria and beyond…
Today’s story happens approx.. 49 CE… Saul who [was renamed, transformed] is Paul has been a Christian for over 12 years and this movement that we call the early church has been growing for about the same amount of time…there could be 5000+ Christians in the region at this time…the church is growing, expanding, undergoing persecution from both outside and within…
And it seems that this “good news for all of creation” has been chugging along with lots of steam and fervor but right about the ½-way point in Acts, the writer Luke highlights one of the biggest events of the early church…a Church Council meeting!?!
Now not that everything has been hunky dory in early-church-land for the past dozen years…there have been debates and disagreements and resolutions but this one is recorded as the biggie of the early church…
There is great joy and fervour…the good news is being proclaimed…all manner of people with a variety of religious backgrounds and ethnicities are getting in on the story/bandwagon of being the “people of the way”…
BUT THEN… [dramatic music here]
“Certain individuals came from Judea [to Antioch] and were teaching…
Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved!”
Paul and Barnabas, who are on a roll in their mission to proclaim the good news to all nations, can’t help but think this is going to get in the way of their mission… so they fight!
“Paul and Barnabus had NO SMALL DISSENSION and debate with them.”
This may have lasted for weeks and months…and they decide to take their quarrel to Christianity HQ in Jerusalem.
Not being ones to waste an opportunity, they preach and share the good news as they travel… in Phoenecia and Samaria and they bring “great joy” to all the believers.
They arrive in Jerusalem for “Circumcision Summit 49” and report all that God is doing with them and around them.
BUT…not all are rejoicing.
“BUT some believers who belonged to the sect of Pharisees stood up and said,
‘it is necessary for ‘THEM’ to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses. ‘ “
[sidenote: these are not terrible religious people! They are earnestly trying to protect God’s reputation…but their zeal gets in the way of their hearts being open to the HS who is colouring outside of the lines with this Jesus-following movement!]
*rule-keepers VS people keepers!
And thus SUMMIT 49 begins in earnest…
After much debate, a speech from Peter, the one who Jesus said “upon this Rock I will build my church!”
“You know that in the early days God made a choice…
that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.
…Now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?
On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,
just as they will.”
–Silence. Listening to more Stories.
First, from Peter, telling about his radical revelation and his encounter with the Holy Spirit as he welcomed the gentile Cornelius into the household of God… “If God gave him the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”
Then Paul and Barnabas chime in with their stories…they praise God saying, “Yes, it’s true! God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life!” (11:18)
The closing remarks from the summit are summarized by the words of Jesus’ brother, James:
He honours the words of the Law and prophets, but uses them in such a way that it affirms the radical welcome that God has promised since the beginning…
“Simon Peter has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles,
to take from among them a people for his name.
This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,
‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it,
and I will set it up,
so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’ ”
“Summit 49” closes…and the church will never be the same.
* * * * * * *
When I read and reflect on the stories of the early church I sometimes chuckle.
Because there’s often a pattern in contemporary Christian culture to think that “if only we could get back to the ways of the early church everything would be so much better.”
But when we press into the stories of the early church, isn’t it heart-warming to know that going back 2000 years won’t take us to a magical place of harmony and conflict-free living!
And that’s actually the good news of today’s story…and in many stories from the book of Acts. Is that these “acts” and “actions” of the early church…aren’t meant to give us an easy formula for how to get things right…instead they give us stories of how the church of the past made its way in the midst of trying to keep up with a God, and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as they traipsed their way across the earth setting people free from sin and the slavery of law and empire. (13:39)
So for us, as a local church…and as part of the universal church 2000 years later, we can draw some good news…and perhaps some “good cues” from these stories!
There’s 4 good news points here…and I’d like to share them…and invite us to apply them!
-Christians work at it. (Debate, listen, reflect)
-Christians compromise. (if you read further in Acts 15, there’s compromise… “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us that…” )
-God & Love wins. “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Matthew Skinner who wrote one of the best books on Acts (Intrusive God, Disruptive Gospel), says the following:
“Maybe it would be easier if God would just write the answer on the wall and leave no ambiguity. But then the members of the church might not own their decision.
Without debate and reflection they might not deeply ingest the decision’s implications for their understanding of God and what it means for ALL of them to belong to God’s people.
The…church might forget that faithful living is about being in a dynamic relationship with a living God and with one another. Being in relationships like these takes work.”
Are we willing to do the work?
God help us…God work in and through us!
Let’s pause…who is the “them & us” of our time…
Eg: As I pay attention to north American church-land culture some things rise to the top:
other religions, the LGBTQ community, liberal Christians (Hillary supporters), conservative Christian (Trump supporters), …
FBC eg: Associate members become “full members”… no more 2nd class membership! Grace is the great equalizer!
How then shall we live? As people who are trying to be proclaimers and real-life examples of the “good news about Jesus?”
Well…the Circumcision Summit of 49 CE would allow us to fight…but also to work at it, debate, banter, disagree, listen, reflect…and then it would also invite us to compromise…and allow, in the end, for God to be God…and for Love to be our highest aim. Paul in his famous “how to get along as Christians” excerpt from his 1 Corinthians letter says it clearly… “Faith, hope and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.”
The God who has been loving us & welcoming us back since the beginning of time, urges us to welcome the “other”… that there might be no distinction between “them and us”… that we might receive anew the gift and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and once again have our hearts cleansed by faith.
We receive favour and grace…and we are called to pour out favour and grace…
for the glory of the Risen Lord and the strengthening of faith in his church.
Let it be so, in this place…in this church…in this time! Amen.