Giving God the Glory Means Welcoming Others (Acts 3.12-19)
‘Acts of the Apostles’ is a bit of an unfair name for the book our sermon series is on at the moment. Most of the apostles only get a passing mention, and most of the book focuses on the story of Paul, but I suppose ‘Acts of some of the apostles and quite a lot of what Paul did after he was converted’ is not a very catchy title. Poor old Philip barely gets a mention.
But still It’s a great book, that weaves together a narrative about what happened after Jesus, and how the early church started.
It’s a funny sort of book, not funny in a ha ha sort of way, but funny in terms of what it is, what is it? Well a mixture of things, It’s often referred to as a History, but it’s not written like a dry Greek history book of the time would’ve been, so kind of, it is. Some scholars think that it’s a biblical history book, because Luke, the writer, who you might remember from such hits as ‘the gospel of Luke’, must have had excellent knowledge of the Greek Septuagint (that’s the Greek Old Testament to me and you). The interpretation of Biblical texts is a massive part of Acts, running all the way through it in its subtext. Some scholars think It’s much more of a biography, because of its focus on the lives of individual characters.
Some have even proposed that it’s a bit like a novel. You can kind of understand this. It’s got exotic settings, and an adventurous plot, lots of travel, some of the language seems different to other bits of the bible. But crucially, there is no love interest. There’s no Mr Darcey in this one, so it seems unlikely that this is a novel.
Despite not being a novel, there are loads of whoah moments, and our reading from Acts this morning comes just after a whoah moment. Peter and John have gone down to the temple in the afternoon, and came across a beggar who they healed in the name of Jesus. The crowd is completely amazed at what has happened, as they’ve known this lame beggar, and seen him for years by the same gate. They’ve all just gone whoah.
It’s at this point that our reading starts, and Peter says to the crowd why are you amazed? This is well within God’s power, and it’s through Jesus that we do this.
Peter gives God the glory, not himself. He makes it quite clear that it’s the God of love and grace, the same God that they believe in that has done this, not something strange or foreign to them, and uses this opportunity to share the story of Jesus with the crowd.
What’s more he gives God the glory by saying that it’s not through his own piety that this amazing thing has happened, but through the grace and power of Jesus Christ. Through the welcoming embrace of God. Whoah.
Peter gives God the glory because he tries to welcome more people into relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Giving God the glory means welcoming others. He puts himself aside, and isn’t afraid of saying something controversial in order to welcome them into the fold.
You might be sat there thinking, hold on a minute, doesn’t Peter go into a bit of an unpleasant rant about how the Jews handed Jesus over? Like you often see from those preachers preaching on the street about people burning in hell? How is that welcoming?
Well, Peter does talk about that yes, but the difference is the emphasis at the end, Peter doesn’t talk about condemnation, he essentially says that God knows that they acted in ignorance, God’s plan was to redeem them all along, God forgives everything about them if they turn to Him, because fundamentally God is a God of hospitality. God is still hospitable to them and will refresh them. The messiah was sent for them. God welcomes them in with open arms.
So what does that mean for us? Here and now?
Peter makes himself vulnerable to the people who are in front of him, he’s not afraid to be controversial. One of our vision strands is to be ‘A Christian voice in the city, preaching fearlessly, interpreting timeless faith to a changing world.’
This isn’t just a job for the clergy, It’s a job for everyone of us. We preach the gospel of Jesus through the actions we take. Just like our lame beggar, he was healed and brought wholeness through the faith of those who believed in Jesus. We too can help to bring wholeness to people through our actions, through what we say, through being Jesus’ hands in this community.
You might be thinking, that’s easy for you to say, or I’m not willing to do that, but preaching the gospel doesn’t mean standing on the corner of the Haymarket shouting at people, or waving Jesus puppets like a Christian puppet man. It doesn’t mean condemning others to the fires of hell, nor does it mean we have to don guitars and wave our arms, if that’s not something we’re comfortable with.
It means sharing our own stories of faith with people. Our own passion for God, which I know sounds very un Anglican! Our own stories of our relationship with God are sometimes the most effective tool. Fiona’s illustration of her sense of meeting God whilst out walking on a bleak manmade slag heap, is something that has stuck with me for weeks since she preached it. It can make people think.
Preaching the Gospel is about bringing to people a deep and utter sense of the hospitality of God. Having something attractive to say and showing it! When we see new people, we are welcoming Jesus into our midst. How we welcome new people, people who are different to us reflects the love of God, and the kind of community we are.
We are a community, but more than that a community that has welcome on our hearts. You can tell this by our vision strand ‘A welcoming and inspiring place for all, nurturing and caring for everyone on their spiritual journey.’
I wonder how many of you are here because of the sense of welcome you received when you first arrived? It was something that came up over and over again during the vision process with the PCC and on the vision days. Many followed the bells and found a home here, for some it was particular members of the community who introduced themselves and included them.
Sometimes, hospitality is a little bit uncomfortable, it requires us to go out of our comfort zone, like Jesus required of Peter. It sometimes means changing some of the things we do to make it easier to welcome others, and to lower the barriers that make church difficult for outsiders.
Church is not a club, for some who are in, and some who are out. Church is a community of people who love God, try to love each other, on a good day, giving God the glory by welcoming others.
I’m not suggesting the next time a new person comes, we suddenly stride over to them, ask them if they know Jesus then put them on the coffee rota. That’s not effective welcome, nor is a long que of people wanting to speak to them, smile and shake their hands. You get my point. Neither should we leave it to someone else, a smile, saying hello and welcome It’s good to see you here, can sometimes mean the difference between someone leaving and never coming back, and someone staying for years.
I am here now thanks to one encounter.
When I was a baby, mum took me to be baptised, the vicar was extremely friendly during the baptism visit. The community made Mum feel welcome and supported. If she hadn’t received that welcome, we wouldn’t have attended church for the next ten years, and I would probably not be standing in front of you today.
The way we treat people matters. Mancroft is a loving community with welcome and its heart. If we want this community to grow, we need to do even more of it. We must be even more proactive.
Like Peter, in faith we need to reach out in the name of Jesus and try to bring wholeness to people. There are so many in our City that yearn for a community to join, they should be in God’s community, God’s family, the church. When we go back into the church building, we have such an opportunity for this, due to our size and our location.
It’s so exciting, and I’m excited about the future for us. I’m excited by the God of hospitality, I’m excited by the new building arrangements, I’m excited by the prospect of a new incumbent.
We can do this. We can and will engage with our city, we have all the gifts necessary in this community, gifts of welcome and prayer. We can cause whoah moments in the lives of others. We can do this because we have a God of wholeness and hospitality to inspire and guide us, we can do this because Giving God the glory means welcoming others.We can do this.