I wrote my talk for the weekend on Friday, before hearing about the news of the earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador… the comments about power without focus and control seem ever more pertinent, but its not as if I wanted an example to point to, and I certainly hope it didn’t come across that way to folks yesterday when I spoke. I’m not pretending to have a solution to the damage and devastation caused by the impact of geological forces on the human and animal species that exist on the surface- If there were no earthquakes the pressure within the core of the earth would build up to eventually cause a planet destroying explosion… they’re like the ‘psst’ of steam from a pressure cooker, and the molten core of the earth is a key part of what makes our planet habitable to life as we know it… but before this turns too much into a geography post (and one that is probably incorrect on a number of points), here’s the thing-
Before you read the rest of the post, please pause for a moment and give time in your thoughts for the communities in Japan and Ecuador where lives have been lost, homes destroyed and so much more, and remember places around the world that are still recovering from natural disasters that have struck in recent years- Nepal, Haiti, Japan (again) and many others. If you’re a praying person, please pray, if not, then maybe think about what you can do to help alleviate the suffering there.
Ok, on with the post- this was what I said yesterday morning about Peter, the disciple… its based on Acts chapter 9, but with a bit of a brief history of Peter’s life as described within the Bible. And if you want to hear the full version, its on the church website here.
Power needs to be harnessed to be effective. Or to put it another way, storms only cause damage when they hit something. A Stick of dynamite explodes- but put it into a small hole and it can bring down a cliff. Peter was always a man of greatness- Jesus knew that from the start, but he wasn’t harnessed- he wasn’t embedded and so his recognition that Jesus was the Christ is followed by his failure to understand his mission, his trust in Jesus that enabled him to get out of the boat is followed by doubts that caused him to sink, his promise to follow Christ anywhere led to his denial of even knowing him. Until… At the very end of John’s gospel Jesus speaks again with Peter- he asks him ‘Do you love me?’ 3 times- to bring healing, and he instructs him ‘feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep’- Jesus, who has called himself the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the lives of his flock gives Peter that instruction. And Peter is restored to his seat among the disciples- He’s the one who leads their meetings in the weeks after Easter, and then on the day of Pentecost he is the one who naturally stands and speaks to the crowd… As you read through the book of Acts you’ll see him disappear largely from view as Paul and his mission to the gentiles grows in significance, but Peter has his own mission from the very start- to the Jews. A comparison for us today would be to say that Paul would, if he arrived in Barnstaple, go to the shops and the rugby club and speak with anyone he found there; while Peter would come to the churches and speak to us- calling us to repent, to return again to the faith of our fathers, to know in our hearts and live out in our lives that faith with acts of compassion, love and power, and then tell us to go out to the shops and the rugby clubs, and prepare our churches for the arrival of the folks that we met there… And the miracles that we see performed by Peter demonstrate that- when he heals a crippled man, both in Acts 3 and 9, just before the passage we heard he’s travelling to worship and teach in the Jewish communities of Lydda and Joppa. Peter’s words and actions have power not because of him, but because he has found the place where he fits- Climbing kit- a FRIEND, fits into varying sizes of cracks on a cliff, different ones for different places- when it fits you can depend on it… it is in the right place. When we are in the right place with God his power at work in us is so much greater.
How did Paul get into that place? By messing up- by taking risks, by recognising his failures and by trying again. By seeking God humbly- in prayer, in worship, by being open to something new from God. By following the example of Jesus- Jesus healed, he healed, Jesus taught, he taught, Jesus wasn’t afraid, Paul wasn’t afraid.
We read a passage like todays and think- did it happen? We might think ‘it certainly couldn’t happen’ BUT… we don’t know. We don’t know because we aren’t living the life of faith that Peter lived- we may be scared to, we may not want to, but we’re not living like he and the early Christians did- Peter had been threatened with death, had seen friends die, had been ordered to stop speaking in the name of Jesus and yet he continued. He’d left all he had and knew… because he believed with all that he was. His faith transformed his life and the lives of those around him. If we want to see lives transformed we have to let our own be transformed by God first… we have to let our church be transformed by God… We’ve seen and we are seeing some fruits of that, but we’re stuck, just as Peter was, we’ve our own preferences and experiences and traditions and ideas… but ultimately God says ‘do you love me? And if the answer is yes, then we’re called to trust him, to have faith. That means giving sacrificially, that means praying for and with people, that means knowing that God is with us everywhere and living our calling out in the place where we work, on our commute, at the school gate and as neighbours etc, it means inviting people to join us on this journey of faith… But we need to have confidence in our own faith first…maybe we need to go on the alpha or the start course or join a home group before we can invite a friend to come with us… but we can already be encouraged by what we see God doing around us. Peter saw healings and heard his friends speak of what they’d seen God do, and that encouraged him, and his faith, his actions- God’s power at work through him, encouraged others and helped them to come to faith and grow in faith. I’ve not yet seen God bring a dead woman back to life, but I’ve seen enough that I wouldn’t rule it out. I’ve also sat with those approaching death, and with those who’ve just lost loved ones, and wondered why not this time… especially when the ending of a life happens in tragic circumstances or at an early age. I don’t really know why, but I know that I trust in God, and that Jesus wasn’t afraid of death. I pray for healing and restoration, and I pray for a peaceful end, and I know that God hears both those prayers, and I ultimately pray them both in His name- your will be done. If God brings glory to his name by healing someone, or does not, it not my decision or my responsibility. But if I never risk enough to even ask, I’ll never see it, and I’ll never be living the life that I could live.
In our lives, if we take God at his word and begin to live as if his word is true, then we will begin to take the same first steps as Peter… we’ll probably mess up and need to seek forgiveness from God and each other… but we’ll be beginning to live in faith- in our schools, our homes, our workplaces and everywhere.