Sunday, 4 September 2016

Being church - the inspiration and the perspiration

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit... Acts 2:1-4

Greet ...Epenetus... Mary... Andronicus and Junia... Ampliatus... Urbanus... Stachys... Appelles... Herodion...Tryphena and Tryphosa... Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas... Romans 16:5-16

I hope you enjoyed reading these verses...

I suspect the Acts passage was familiar to most of us. But how did you get on with all those names from Romans 16? (There were plenty more I didn’t include, by the way.) Fascinating stuff, eh?

Mmm... Being more realistic, I suspect you might have wondered what on earth I was doing, typing them all out. More to the point, you might even have wondered what the Holy Spirit was doing when he included them in the Bible! The question might have arisen in your mind: What can Acts 2, surely one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible, possibly have to do with Romans 16, surely one of the most boring chapters in the Bible?

Well, there’s a simple answer to that question: Lots!

True, these passages could hardly be more different. But they have this in common: they are both about the church. And if you are a Christian, you are a member of the church - and you need both.

Putting it very simply, Acts 2 is about the dramatic, exciting, epoch-making, history-changing events of the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God fell in power on the first followers of Jesus; and Romans 16 is a little picture-in-words of the early church in Rome, pretty much a list of near-unpronounceable names, to whom Paul writes his letter.

I would sum it up like this: Acts 2 is there to inspire us to believe that we can fly: Romans 16 is there to keep us grounded. That’s why we need both passages. Let me draw from them two basic truths...

First, our God can do great things.

Who could possibly have guessed what form the baptising of the Spirit - an event that Jesus promised - would take? Speaking in tongues... powerful preaching... mass conversions (three thousand baptisms on one day!)... miracles... the birth of a whole new vibrant, excited, loving, worshipping community... 

But so it was.

We need to grasp that our God doesn’t change. All right, that Day of Pentecost was a once-for-all historic event; it isn’t going to be repeated. But there is no reason why Pentecost-type events can’t happen again. There is no reason why the Spirit can’t fall again on the church - and that means your church and mine. Acts 2 gives us a vision of what can be, what might be, even though no doubt it will take a very different form if and when it happens.

O God, grant us a little Pentecost today!

Second, our God loves to use ordinary people.

That, among other things, is the point of Romans 16. Nearly all those people with the unpronounceable names are completely unknown: nonentities, if you like, in the eyes of the word.

But not non-entities to God! Oh no - these were some of the people he delighted to use in building his church in Rome. We know virtually nothing about them. (I personally would love to know a little about, say, Tryphena and Tryphosa (verse 12), wouldn’t you? Were they twin sisters, I wonder? Or About Andronicus and Junia (verse 7). Were they a married couple?)

But there are a couple of things we do know...

For one thing, they were workers

If you read the passage right through you can’t help noticing that the theme of work crops up several times. And this reminds us that being part of the church means getting stuck in to practical and, possibly, demanding and draining work. 

Is there somebody reading this who is a passenger in the life of the church? Is it time to get your sleeves rolled up? Time to make your gifts, talents and energy available to your local church? Believe  me, you will find it rewarding and fulfilling as well as taxing.

Second, they loved one another

Again, if you read the chapter right through it’s very clear that these anonymous people weren’t just a bunch of strangers who met one another once a week in worship. Oh no! They were a community, a family, their lives were intertwined with one another’s. No doubt that sometimes led to tensions and difficulties (see verse 17); but isn’t that what families are like?

Is there somebody reading this who is holding aloof from your local church: “I don’t want to get involved.” All I can say is this: you are missing out! and so is your church! How can we love another if we are not prepared to laugh and cry with one another?

The great missionary pioneer William Carey wrote: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” I think that sums up Acts 2 and Romans 16 pretty well, don’t you?

O God, grant us a baptising of your Spirit today. And grant us then the grace to keep on keeping on in your service. Amen.

I would like to dedicate this blog especially to my friend Jo Phillips and the people of Kingsbury Free Church, north-west London.

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