Sunday, 5 January 2014

Acts 19 The marks of a missional congregation

There’s something new in the air at the start of a New Year … how good we can come together in quiet evening prayers and gather around the Table and share in The Lord’s Supper.

We do that as a celebration of being the Church of Jesus Christ here in this place at this time.

We do that as a celebration of being the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide, a church that links us with people the world over.

It’s that world dimension of church that has come home to me over the Christmas period.  It was one of the last of the Chrsitmas cards to come and it contained a gift.  It came from Wayne who works for CWM in the European region.

It was the new CWM Prayer Book, Praying Without Ceasing.

Inside the front cover is a reminder of what CWM is … it’s our main link with the world-wide church.

The Council for World Mission (CWM) is a worldwide partnership of 31 Churches, committed to sharing their resources of people, skills, insights and money to carry out God’s mission.

The listing of those churches takes us to Africa, the Caribbean, East Asia, Europe, Pacific and South Asia.  It is a wonderful segment of the world church representing 21 million people in 40 different countries around the world.

CWM, a partnership of churches in mission.
Our vision:  “Fullness of life Through Christ for all  Creation.

Our Mission:  “Called to partnership in #Christ to mutually challenge, encourage and equip member’s churches to share in God’s mission.

This is a tool to build that sense of very real fellowship we have with all those churches …

Collin Cowan, General Secretary of CWM writes in his message,

“the prayers in this volume come in the form of stories, reflections, meditations and utterings to God, all pointing to how each writer encounters and experiences God.  The hope is that the account of each person will serve to bless you, the reader, and invite you into conversation with God and with your sisters and brothers around you.”

What a wonderful thought.

Being  part of a church locally means we are part of the church worldwide and this prayer book gives us a way of relating with one another in that world-wide partnership.

Elsie followed on from Margaret Copeland in making sure that we all should have the CWM Prayer handbook.  This is the one we will be sharing round – available in paper form and as an ebook too.

The hope is we shall be able to use it to make more real that sense of oneness we have with the whole church of Jesus Christ.

I want to come back to that statement of our Mission.

CWM is not about mission over there.

It is about recognising that each single church, ours included, is engaged in mission.  Called to partnership in Christ to mutually challenge, encourage, and equip member churches to share in God’s mission.

Being part of this prayer partnership is to be part of a movement for mission.

I commend the article in December Highbury News that ties in with one of the focus points for CWM at the moment: it challenges us to think and reflect on what it takes to be a ‘Missional Congregation’

A missional congregation

·         Lives a spirituality of engagement, that is reflected in its worship, and in the nurture and support of its members

·         Is attuned to the communities in which it is set and alert to the needs of the world, so that it is willing to stand alongside and speak out with those who are suffering or are marginalised

·         Does not work alone, being in active partnership with other groups who share similar concerns

·         Is a learning community, with its members taking seriously their reading of the Bible and their reflection on their experience, both as individuals and as a community.

All of which leads the congregation to be a community of transformation, manifesting the reign of God in its midst as lives are made new and justice is realised for those who have been denied fullness of life.

That’s quite some vision and accords well with what we are seeking to do.

And what we seek to do, what we share with all those churches we are in partnership with is something that in one form or another has been shared from the very start in the life of the Church.

We have arrived in Ephesus – home of the Temple to Diana,  one of the seven wonders of the world.  And Paul comes face to face with those who make their living from selling souvenir models of the Goddess Diana.

The uproar in the Theatre as the crowds, cry great is Diana of the Ephesians, makes it clear that Paul is offering a very different way of life to follow – and has courage in mapping that way of life out for everyone to heed.

But it is in the first part of chapter 19 that we have an indication of what it is that we are called to be as a church and as we seek to be that kind of missional congregation.

I notice seven things for us to take to heart.

1)  a focus on Jesus

The focus of the alternative way that Paul maps out for us finds its focus on Jesus.   He comes across people who have got as far as John the Baptist, but have yet to take seriously following Jesus.   It is the following Jesus bit that counts for Paul – and so they are baptised in the name of Jesus.

Putting Christ at the centre of what we do that is all important for us as a Church.  The way of life Jesus maps out, the way of love he opens up, the forgiving love he shares with us as we realise that body is broken for us, that blood shed for us, that sense of forgiveness and new life as we see in him the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and through his life death and resurrection gives us new life.

First, a focus on Jesus.

2)  A focus on the Holy Spirit

Some have suggested the Acts of the Apostles could as well be described as The Acts of the Holy Spirit.   Throughout the book of Acts wherever the church is to be found, the church is a body of people who have a strength from beyond themselves, a dynamic that comes from God, who are energised by nothing less than the presence of God with them.

It is the Holy Spirit that makes all the difference.

Yes we have a way of life to follow – but we cannot rise to it without a strength from beyond ourselves.  And it is that strength that we find in the Holy Spirit.

3)  A focus on the Kingdom of God

that the focus of all that Paul preaches about is exactly the focus that Jesus had too in his preaching.  There are remarkable points of continuity in these verses with those opening verses of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus comes on the scene.

The focus there is on Jesus.  Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as he is baptised by John – and then his message is the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

God’s rule is breaking into the world – and God’s rule is to be followed.

You can find out what that rule entails by reading the Magnificat, or the Beatitudes, or the sermon on the Mount or the first sermon Jesus preached at Nazareth. This is what it takes to be under God’s rule – these are the kingdom values we stand for.

4)  A focus on the Way

Fourth comes a wonderful way of describing what it is to be part of the church.   In Acts on a number of occasions Luke describes the church as ‘the Way’.  Here the church is simply referred to as ‘the Way’

I think that’s wonderful.  We are people on ‘the Way’  it is the way opened up for us by Jesus when he said of himself I am the Way.  It is a reminder to be part of the church is not to be static, not to be stationery.  It is to be part of a pilgrim people who are on the move, a people on The Way.

I love the use of that expression.  We are people on the Way.  We have not yet arrived, we are on the move.  We are moving forward.

5) A focus on Disciples

As people on the way we are people always ready to learn.  When I think of that I always remember one of our older ministers when I was very much younger in the ministry.  We would travel to Nottingham to meetings from Shrewsbury and a journey would not go by without Norman Sedgeman asking me what I had learned that day.

No day can go by, he would suggest, without learning something.  He was a great one for reading, for following the news.  Always eager to learning something more.

Maybe it’s the secret to growing older – always to have something to learn.

A learner is a disciple.  And we each of us have something to learn.  We are called to be disciples.

6) A focus on healing

And sixthly, healing is at the heart of what we are about.  Bringhing healing to hurting people was what Paul was engaged in.  And it is what we are part of too.

Take seriously such a call to be church – be in partnership with that world-wide partnership and be part of that partnership in prayer – praying without ceasing.

7) A call to stand our ground
Best known of the story of Paul’s visit to Ephesus is his encounter with the silversmiths who were determined Paul should not do them out of a living.   Ephesus was home to one of the seven wonders of the world in the  Temple to Diana of the Ephesians.  The Christian Way outlined by Paul was an alternative to the way of the world.  We too need to take our stand on what is at the heart of the Christian way and stand out over against the world and its values.

Sharing in that mission – called to partnership in Christ to mutually challenge, encourage, and equip member churches to share in God’s mission.

To be equipped to share in God’s mission

  1. Let’s look to Jesus.

  1. Let’s seek a strength from beyond ourselves in the Holy Spirit.

  1. Let’s be kingdom people living by the rule of God

  1. As people who are on the way,

  1. As people who are disciples ready to learn

  1. As people who bring healing where people hurt.

  1. As people prepared to stand out against the values of the world.

Hat’s the task for us to share as 2014 opens up before us and we enter into new things in church here … and are part of a world-wide partnership in mission.

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ 3Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 4Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7altogether there were about twelve of them.

8 He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.  God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.

23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. 24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. 25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. 26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

No comments:

Post a Comment