Sunday, 17 April 2016

Sermon 17 April: Reconciling Spirit

Reconciling Spirit – turning the world upside down
Acts 17:1-10; 1 Thess 1:1-9

The journey continues; Paul and his wee entourage are galloping away sailing around the known world, landing, teaching, preaching, moving on.
I heard an analogy this week – Paul’s zeal is comparable with any new convert:
We all know the enthusiasm of those who’ve just stopped smoking; given up wheat; lost a huge amount of weight; or changed their lives in some way. Maybe you’ve even fallen into that category at some time!
It’s new
 It’s shiny
 It’s changed your life
And you want everyone else to share in the joy too!
Paul is overwhelmed by the transformation he experienced, and he wants everyone else to have the same opportunities he had. His life was turned round, turned upside down, changed, renewed… and through that change he found a deep and lasting reconciliation.
He accepted the mission God gave him – to go and share the Good News with the world – to Jew and Gentile alike. Each place he landed received him differently; some were thrilled to hear this new teaching; others less so. Some Jews heard the message and believed, but then were put out, or worse when they saw the message also being shared with gentiles. In some places he caused a riot and was thrown into jail. In other places homes were opened to him, food supplied, hospitality offered and his words were heard and acted upon.

Thessalonica is one place were the welcome was not great; a riot followed, and as Paul could not be found, those who’d welcomed him were thrown into jail instead. People were not happy!!!
The trouble with this new teaching was that it did not affirm; it did not reassure; instead it challenged, it required action – action that would turn all their usual activities inside out and upside down.
It was Jesus’ teaching: feed the hungry, clothe the poor; look after the outcast; and in addition to that Paul’s teaching challenged other things, other behaviours, and their immediate history too.
This man, Jesus – whom you all killed… was the Messiah! You Jews – killed God’s chosen One!
You killed the Messiah. For that is who Jesus of Nazareth really was! No wonder those in authority were upset!
Paul was challenging everything they stood for; everything they believed and he was challenging them to accept, believe and change. It was radical and it was upsetting – no one likes to be told they’ve got things wrong.

Paul’s tone with those in the fledgling church is far kinder. He writes following his visit, encouraging, praising them for their faithfulness their commitment, which everyone is talking about.
There is a genuine affection; Paul loves these people in this new church – because against all odds they are trying; they are following the new way, they have embraced the teachings of Jesus and even though it has not brought an easy time, it has brought joy and others in other new churches are following their example.

We can learn much from both the way Paul goes about sharing the gospel and how the faithful ones in Thessalonica received it.
We live in a world of instant communication and instant gratification. There is an expectation that we can have anything we want, whenever we want it; without counting the cost, without working hard, without considering others.
We do not need to be like that just because the media tells us we can.
I know, if I were writing to you all, as Paul wrote to them, I too would be thanking God!
I feel blessed that there are people in our church who pray for each other; who share the gospel message; who work hard to help others; who are excited and filled with the joy that the Spirit can bring.
All things are possible when we have the Spirit with us!
The gospel message may turn the world on its head: challenging the get rich quick attitudes of society; seeking to help the marginalised and speak out for justice for those who are oppressed; but the wonderful thing is that when we do rise to the challenge we will know it was right; we will know when it is of God – we know because of the sense of following God’s will and helping God’s people.
This sense of rightness fills us and leads us to know true peace – peace that comes from being fully reconciled.
As we ponder the people of Thessalonica – those who heard and believed, and those who heard and rejected – let’s reflect too on how we first heard about Jesus; how we first responded and how we continue to respond now…
Ponder how God is working in your life
With your loved ones
With our church family
In our community
Ponder, reflect, pray
Ask for guidance and the Spirit’s power to reconcile those who are unsure, those who are hesitant, those who follow and those who seek to share the joy of following the living and true God.
All of this – all God-filled living is what’s turning the world upside down!

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