Yes, at last I have caught up with myself- this is the end of our study in the book of Acts, and its the sermon I preached just over a week ago… phew. Life has not got any simpler in the meantime, and its full of encouragement and sadness, as well as just the normal reality, but it feels as though I’m making headway, at least in terms of managing my blog!
This picture reminds me of the arrogance of youth- while driving in South Africa a friend and I confidently passed a similar sign, knowing that the track continued for several miles as a dirt track, before reaching the next village where it returned to tarmac… about 110m after the sign we got bogged down in lose sand, and it took us about an hour to get ourselves out… it wasn’t quite the end of the road, but it certainly was the end of that route for us!
so, here’s my notes from a preach last weekend, on the final chapter in Acts. I think it was recorded here so you can listen in.
The end of the road… Paul has, by now, been on 3 major missionary trips around the Eastern Mediterannean, from Jerusalem to Athens, has been harassed and persecuted through much of that time- as well as sowing the Gospel message into the lives of thousands in the towns and cities where he’s visited- founding churches that we know by the books of the Bible named after them- Corinthians, Colossians, Ephesians etc, and then spent the last 2yrs+ years under arrest. He’s appealed to Caesar’s justice, and so is being sent to Rome by sea… and now, after being caught in a storm that’s driven their ship west for 2 weeks from Crete… with the sailors planning to abandon ship, and a shipwreck on a sandbar just off the shore of Malta, which nearly leads to the soldiers killing all the prisoners to avoid anyone escaping, it’s at this point Luke writes ‘Once safely on shore’! The perceptive among us will have already noticed something about this passage- its written by someone who was there- Luke joined Paul for this journey, having already travelled with him on his previous trip to Greece and then back to Jerusalem.
Paul is once again subject to those twists which come time and again- escaping from the sea he’s bitten by a snake, which leads those who observe it to the conclusion that justice is still after him- but it’s the other way around- he’s avoided the plots of the Jews, survived the storm and the shipwreck, and a little thing like a poisonous snake bite isn’t going to stop him- for he knows that God has sent him to speak in Rome.
Aside from being part of a travel account, what can we learn from these concluding chapters of Acts? Firstly they are a challenge to us to finish well- to continue in what we have started. Paul knows he has been given this vision to go to Rome, and now he is finally drawing towards the end of that journey, despite how long it has taken. Secondly this passage is a reminder to us that God can use us and be at work anywhere- Paul at this point was on the way to Rome, but here on Malta there is an opportunity to do God’s work, bringing healing to the lives of those he meets, and Paul does not hold back. As a church and as individual Christians we must listen to these things as we seek to follow God.
Our desire as Christians is to live and grow in relationship with God, being shaped by that relationship and making it known to others around us- we might use language of ‘being transformed’, becoming like Jesus; we will make God known through words and actions, through our manner as well as our testimony. But this will happen all the more when we understand that we’re part of the same outworking of God’s nature as Paul and Jesus- those who know the Father have the Father’s heart, which is that all the world would know and receive the gift of God’s love. As we draw closer to God ourselves we grow in understanding of this… God’s vision becomes our vision, whether we have, like Paul, a sense of an angel standing and speaking to us directly, or just a sense of direction… So the question for us to ask ourselves is ‘how am I doing at sensing God’s direction in my life?’ Where and how do I most feel that I am living out God’s vision for me and for those around me? And that will be a mix of intentional things: being part of a community of faith, my own times with God in prayer, study and worship, serving the community where I see need- doing these things through the long haul; and responding to opportunities as they arise- like Paul praying for the sick on Malta, he didn’t have that planned but just responded to the needs around him, and the opportunities to be who God had called him to be.
As a church the same things apply to us- God has put us in a place, amongst a community that we are called to bless, to care for, to serve and to share his love with. We try to make plans- to listen to God and the community around us and discern a vision of what we’re to focus on- Just as Paul felt led to Jerusalem and then Rome when he could have continued to go to many other places, we’re called to intentionally focus in on certain things- as our churches have their mission statements ‘to work together to proclaim Christ’s live in ourselves and our community’ and ‘To meet with Jesus, live in joyful fellowship, walk God’s way and to share our faith’… we’ve spent time discerning what those statements might mean for us- shaping our worship and our buildings, how we spend our time, energy and money; to give us a sense of direction that helps us for the longer term… but also being open to the things that appear in front of us- the direct connection to Park school, the links with the cubs and scouts… responding to needs as they arise- the closing of the Methodist chapel and the stopping of the Disable Christian Fellowship group… And we all share in the responsibility to do this- whether we’re in a recognised position of leadership within the church or not, we are mutually accountable to each other to live out these things in our own lives and the gathered life that we have as the body of Christ in this place.
So as we come together this morning to worship and to celebrate- to join together in Holy Communion, may we also know that we are sent out to continue sharing and being Christ’s hands and feet in the world, today and tomorrow, in ways that we plan for, and in the unknown.