God isn’t doing a new thing, God is doing what God has always done. . . showing mercy and creating a people for God’s self where no people existed before.
May 29, 2022
“We Are The Church . . . Let’s Act Like It”
Act With Creativity
Acts 15: 1-18
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Acts 15: 1-18
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ – things known from long ago.'”
Act With Creativity Acts 15:1-18
I began this week by asking the question, “How can conflict be a good thing for us as communities of faith” largely thinking of times of internal conflict…okay fruitful times of internal conflict. Not conflict which happens when we can’t agree on what the color of the new carpet for the sanctuary should be or conflict which happens when parking lot meetings become the passive aggressive technique of choice for a few people within the community.
When I posed this question, I was thinking of all the times when we as communities of faith have come together over issues, over social justice concerns, when we have created environments of conversation and dialogue, when we have not written each other off simply because we don’t agree with each other. I fully admit that these opportunities for conversation and dialogue have been far and few between within the wider church tradition. That holds true even for our own community of faith. But they do exist. The church has gathered for councils for two thousand years, working out, deciding, dialoging what it means to be the Body of Christ in the world. These opportunities for conversation and connection do exist, showing the world a different way to be in relationship with one another.
For us as Midway Christian Church, that opportunity for conversation and dialogue is found within Food for the Soul. We intentionally created this dinner church to invite people from our church, from the larger community to come together and dialogue with one another. And no topic was or is off the table. In our gatherings of Food for the Soul, we have talked about climate control. We have talked about immigration. We have talked about racial injustice. We have even talked about gun control. These conversations have not always been easy. Nor have we always agreed with one another. Yet these opportunities for conversation, for dialogue have allowed us to gather around the table, to see each other not has our viewpoints but rather to see each other as people, to see each other as Beloved Children of God.
One such incident was our conversation around gun control. During that fruitful time of internal conflict, all of us were leery and worried because someone from the larger community shared through social media that this person was going to come teach us why gun control was not the answer. The night of the conversation rolled around and no one knew what to expect. Would it be contentious? Would it be scary? Would it be helpful? Would it cause brokenness within our community of faith? No of us know what to expect. Yet, the tension in the room was immediately diffused when the leader asked all of us gathered around the table to interpret the Second Amendment, to share what we think it means, to share how we see it lining up with the Peaceable Kingdom which Jesus describes over and over again in his teachings.
Everyone had different answers. Everyone had different opinions. Everyone thought he or she knew the right solution. I fully admit nothing was conclusively solved that night but I think it is safe to say that all of us gathered there that night thought it was a beginning.
I shared this experience with a family member who was at that time a minister at a church in Amarillo, Texas. She shared that her church probably would not even had the conversation because of the conflict it would have caused within her church. She said, and I quote, “We had more people leave our church when we even suggested we might do away with conceal and carry than we did when we decided to go open and affirming.”
All of these opportunities for conversation and dialogue, all of these fruitful internal conflicts which have happened over the years for me and for us as Midway Christian Church, have been going through my mind as I spent time with our Scripture this week. As I said in my Theology Tuesday, I appreciate Luke’s willingness to not shy away from letting us know that being in community with one another is not always easy. Luke could have easily set up this narrative about the early church, about how they all got along all the time, how they agreed on everything, how they knew exactly what to do when it came to big decisions, when it came to conflict within the early church. But Luke didn’t do any of that.
Instead he showed us that being in community with one another is messy, that there are no easy answers when it comes to relationships, to people, to justice. Luke shows us in our text for today that the mode of operation for the church is not to avoid conflict nor is it to simply write people off because we do not agree with them on larger social justice issues. Rather what sets the Body of Christ apart from the world is that we are invited to let the Spirit in, to listen for God’s word, to open our hearts and minds to the possibilities of new life within our midst, knowing that we do not have all the answers. But above all that, Luke shows us in our text for today that more often than not, we as people of faith, we as communities of faith do not deal in hypotheticals. Instead, we deal in reality. We are a part of a reality which is filled with broken people, reality which is filled with people with faces and names. We as the church, as the people of God, are a part of a reality which is filled with people who should never be narrowed down to simply being a statistic.
Or let me say it this way…a little over six months ago, after another school shooting, I stood before you and preached. At that time, I admitted my loss for answers. I shared my frustration. I shared my sense of helplessness in light of such trauma once again. And now I found myself in the same spot, in the same situation again.
I even went back to see what I preached that day, to see how I ended that particular sermon…and I quote: All of us, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, background or lot in life, all of us, want the vision of God’s Peaceable Kingdom to come to fruition here on Earth for all of God’s people in our lifetime.
Yet none of that will be possible, none of that is possible if we as people of faith sit on the sidelines and expect others, expect someone else to do the hard work, the challenging work, the messy work of building relationships, of connecting with others. We cannot simply wring our hands when we experience the brokenness, when we hear stories of grief and pain and expect others, or this magical someone to do the hard work of building God’s Kingdom here on Earth while we go about our lives, pretending that none of it affects us.”
I am not going to begin to speak for any of us or pretend to know what is on all of our hearts at this moment. I only know what is going on inside of mine at this moment, which is to admit that too many times, I have stood behind this pulpit, thinking that it gave my voice authority when in reality, most of the time it gave me something to hide behind.
For me, after two mass shootings in just over a few weeks, I find myself without the energy to do any of it again. I don’t have the energy to offer thoughts and prayers without speaking up, speaking out. I don’t have the energy to pretend that I am not complicit in the killings of school children once again because I chose to stay silent, because I did nothing to change the narrative or the laws. I don’t have the energy to talk to my children about another school shooting or wonder if their school will be next.
I’m grateful for the words of a colleague this morning which names where I am, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. My colleague simply said, “This morning’s sermon is one of the most difficult I’ve ever written. It still feels unfinished, like there is something else I should be saying, like there is something else I should be doing. Yet I have come to realize that the work God calls us to do is never finished. It is never complete nor will it ever be as long we as people of faith do not engage the brokenness of this world. Then and only then will the day come when God’s Kingdom is fully realized here on Earth for all God’s people.
So until that time comes, my friends, let’s us be the church God created and calls us to be…let us act with power, let us act with generosity, let us act with acceptance, let us act with creativity so that this world will know that this world will know that there a different way to be, to be in relationship with one another, to be in community with one another, to be the Body of Christ in this world for all of God’s people. May it be so.
See Theology Tuesday for Sunday, May 29,, 2022 – Act With Creativity Acts 15:1-18.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.