Sunday, October 23, 2011

hard choices

 

Sermon notes: 23 October 2011
May my words be in the Name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen.

Today is the feast of St James, brother of our Lord, which is why we have the new Testament readings that we have today … our Gospel shows Jesus redefining family … from now on we were to be seen as children of God, with all being part of one family in Christ … and our reading from Acts showing St James as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem … effectively its first bishop …

The meeting he is presiding over is usually referred to as the Council of Jerusalem or the apostolic council … or to use a good Church of Ireland term, we might call it the first General Synod!

So what was the meeting about? It sounds like they are laying down some very minimal requirements that people are to observe if they are to be welcomed in as Christians … but what is on the agenda is far more important than that … what is on the table is in fact the crucial issue that will determine whether Christianity will become a world-wide religion or remain an obscure cult …
Because what they are deciding is not about a few minimal rules … but whether if you are to be welcomed in to the Christian family you must first become a Jew … and all that entails … all the dietary restrictions … all the rules about table fellowship & hygiene … and most importantly the rule about circumcision …

The Jewish faith was very much respected in the Ancient World, primarily because of its strict moral code … many were attracted to it … and followed it in a way – they were known as 'God fearers' .. but few made the leap of actual conversion … for several reasons … Jewish laws about table fellowship & not eating with non-Jews made it seem very un-social … the hygiene and purity laws were very restrictive … and of course the law about all males being circumcised presented a lot of difficulties in the Ancient World, especially in terms of adult converts … in a world without antiseptics and anaesthesia such a requirement would not only have been incredibly painful but actually life threatening, holding out the prospect of a very nasty way to die indeed!
So that was what was being decided in Jerusalem that day … and it was far from being a painless decision for the early church … we know from St Paul's letters that it was very controversial … and you can perhaps see why … the salvation offered by the Messiah came through the Jews … the idea of offering it to all the world without their having to first become Jewish wasn't an easy one for all to swallow …

But the hard decision was made … for the sake of making the good news of Jesus Christ available to all the world … for the sake of growth to use another term … and it worked … free of the cultural shackles of Judaism, Christianity spread like wildfire … and within a few centuries was the state religion of the empire …

But it wouldn't have happened if those present at that first Council hadn't being willing to make some hard decisions & move outside their comfort zone for the sake of spreading the word and growing the church, fulfilling the command to make disciples of all peoples … which leaves us with the question: what are the hard decisions that we are willing to make? Are we willing to move outside our comfort zone? Do we invite people in … but make it conditional on their fitting in with the way that we do things … things that may have nothing to do with the word of God but everything to do with what we are comfortable or used to? These are not idle questions … census figures and the results of our own internal number crunching shows that the church is in a slow decline … it needs to be addressed … as a matter of urgency … and that will require hard decisions … but if we think what it is that the church has to offer is of value, then we will make those hard decisions, however painful we may find them to be to think about … and perhaps, in the making of them, we may find ourselves rejoicing as they did in Jerusalem that day … as we find that what seemed a painful sacrifice is actual the movement of the Holy Spirit calling us to do what is needed to share the Word that is so precious to us … ... Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment