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April 24, 2016, 7:04 PM

Transforming Change

by Sandy Bach

5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven... 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  (Acts 11:5-9;17 NRSV)

“Who was I that I could hinder God?”

Well, I’m human, for one.  I’ve lived through six decades, each one stranger than the last.  I live in an age that has adapted to a new form of warfare; truth has become relevant;and exponential change everywhere I turn.

In my opinion, that’s enough reason to hinder God.  I would never want to discover that I’m getting in I God’s way.  But, the truth is, I probably do it on a regular basis.

Perhaps, though, we could learn more from the times when we didn’t hinder God.

Several years ago I decided to wander through my favorite bookstore.  I could always find a good book there and simply wandering the aisles was pleasant.  After an hour of wandering, no book was found to be bought.  Somewhat surprised, I left the store.  Just as the door closed behind me, I saw her coming into the store.  Melanie.  We hadn't seen each other in years.  We took the next half hour catching up on our news.

Then she asked me about a situation that had occurred in my life a few years back.  We talked for a while and I share that the pain was still with me.  I had failed as a parent and was trying to find a way to forgive myself.  I can't remember what Melanie said that day, but her words began the real healing of my broken heart.

Before we parted ways that day, we both acknowledged that we had been led to this place in front of the book store.  I will always see that as the work of the Holy Spirit: that I was brought to a place where Melanie could begin my healing process.

When have you sensed the Holy Spirit alive your life?

From the time Jesus met Peter on the beach and asked him, “Do you love me?” three times, we’ve had glimpses of a stronger man, more determined to serve our Lord and growing in maturity and power.  The more he experienced, the more he grew.

Was he excited to return to Jerusalem and meet up with friends in the faith?  Was he surprised at his welcome; or, rather, lack of welcome?  “What are doing eating with those people?  They’re not like us, Peter.  They’ll defile our faith.  We’ll lose our center.  Besides, what they eat is yucky.  It’s just not right.”

Peter could have responded with argument; with theological debate; with anger.  Instead, he shared his story and brought them in to the scene for them to experience it themselves.  By the end of the story, they must have felt as if they had been there with Peter, seeing that sheet lowered down from heaven from its four corners; sensing the Holy Spirit empowering him to enter into the gentile world and share the good news.

“How could I hinder God?” asked Peter.

“You couldn’t,” replied the rest of the apostles.  This wasn’t the end of the debate, though.  Eventually, there would be the first Jerusalem Council and they would have to discern how best to welcome gentiles into the faith: through circumcision, or not.

The Spirit has certainly been alive in this building the past few years.  Our congregation has grown in numbers, but more than that, we’ve grown spiritually and we’re open to new things that God is doing in the life of the church.  Most recently we opened our doors to our Methodist brothers and sisters.  For two-and-a-half years, they’ve nested in our building so they can continue in ministry without the enormous burden of building upkeep.

We didn’t move quickly, though.  With the diligent and faithful work of a parish council made up of members of both of our congregations, the potential road blocks were removed.  Our relationship has grown stronger.

Now a new opportunity emerges for the Methodist church.  With the announcement of their minister being moved to a new charge,  they are looking at several possible options:

Ongoing pulpit supply

Tent maker pastor.  Someone who works for a living and serves the church on a limited basis.

A lay pastor, licensed by the Methodist Church to serve part time.

Retired Minister.  Again, part time, but someone willing to keep their hand in during their retirement years.

Federating.  Two congregations with one pastor: me.

That’s where we come in.  How do we discern the Holy Spirit speaking to us on federating, with the possibility of being one church some day in the future?  Where to begin is the first question and the answers are as many as our creative minds can come up with.

This past week, I encountered a vision during my mediation time.  I pictured our two congregations worshiping together once or twice a month at 11:00.  A worship committee made up of representatives from each congregation meeting weekly to unpack our bulletins.  What is the order of worship for each church?  Why do we do it that way?  What holds meaning for us?  How might we create an order of worship that speaks to everyone in the pew?

The Methodists could see my particular style and learn my theological beliefs with an eye to determining if they could live with me as their preacher. And, think of twice the number of people worshiping together in this place!  You could sing those hymns as loud as you want!

Peter’s vision led him to new places and opened him up to new ideas.  The word of God spread quickly because he refused to hinder God.

My vision may never take place, and I’m okay with that.  Its purpose has been to open me up to new possibilities.  I look forward to the future, however it may turn out.  I invite you to envision the future as well, whether it’s as a faith community joined with another in worship and ministry, or moving forward as separate congregations.

What if? Is the question of the day.  Be open to the Holy Spirit as you imagine what God holds for us in the future.

Peter asked the question, and now it’s our turn to ask it.  Who am I that I could hinder God?

Let’s move forward together in love, ministering to God’s people wherever they may be.  Let’s move forward in faith, knowing that we won’t be abandoned, but guided by the hand of God.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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