14 June 2020
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Truth & Consequences (Acts 5:17-42)
Hi everyone, if you’re joining us for the first time, my name is Christy.
I am writing this while enjoying a beautiful downpour, cleansing the air of all the allergens that have had Hayling Islanders sneezing and weeping for the past few weeks!
My mind and heart seem to be longing for a similar cleansing. I don’t now about you, but after the first wave of global solidarity that COVID-19 brought, the world that is now being portrayed / evoked by the media seems to once again be tearing at the seams, already fragile stitches stretched to breaking point under the stress of the pandemic.
When considering how to respond personally to the issues of racial prejudice, job losses, sickness, hunger, and climate change that are coming at us from every side, I find myself oscillating between strong feelings of wanting to help, and a sense of feeling utterly overwhelmed as I start to gain more and more insight into the complexities involved in each of these problems. Just consider for a moment the myriad of ways that they present themselves to each country, race, belief system, economic sector, business, educational facility, both locally and historically... I am tempted to remain forever in lockdown and leave the bigger implications of these challenges to the activists and politicians to figure out. However, I am also painfully aware that by virtue of simply existing, I cannot be neutral, at least not in the eyes of the world around me:
I am South African. I am a foreigner. I am white. I am middle-aged. I am female. Besides that last one, which is proving to be increasingly useful these days, for as long as I can remember I have woken up most days feeling like I need to apologise for my existence and to somehow atone for the inherited wrongdoings of my race and nationality, which were starkly evident in South Africa, but from which England seems quite far removed. Many times in my life I have found that these external factors seem to be grounds enough for others to make quite strong assumptions about me before they've engaged in a single conversation. What is worse, is that I've found myself making similar judgements about the attitudes of others based on similar factors.
I am also a Christian. So I turn to the bible and see that Jesus, my Absolute Hero, was also all the wrong things by the definitions of his time - a Nazarene, a Jew, a self-proclaimed teacher, penniless, a religious rebel... although these things landed him on the wrong side of social privilege, where I've been far more fortunate. Unlike any of us though, Jesus was not focussed on how others judged him; neither was he motivated by a need to "fix" other people's views of him or the nation he was born into. He didn't even judge others! Strangely, he didn't seem to spend much time addressing the key political and social issues of his time either, focussing instead on God's relationship with humans and how humans could best connect with God and one another. That said, in his teaching and his day-to-day attitudes and activities, he challenged many conventions that underpin injustice. In the words of Condoleeza Rice, former US Secretary of State:
"He dined with outcasts, touched the unclean, recruited women into his ministry, revealed himself after the resurrection to these 'second-class citizens', and chastised hypocrites who piously kept the letter of the law but cared little for their brethren. In the end he would refuse to save himself from death on the cross in order to fulfil the promise of resurrection - and in doing so, save mankind.
Those who followed him would begin to act as if every life is worthy. The community of people called Christians would minister to the sick and disabled and build hospitals, pursue universal education, spread teaching through universities and lift up the poor in faraway places, for 'they would inherit the earth'.
...acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a pathway to an easy life but a call to do hard things if we are to live in the image of our Lord. 'Love my enemies?' 'Give my riches to the poor and take up the cross?' 'Die so that I might live?'"
In placing their focus on the sharing of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, Jesus and his apostles released a history-changing force into humanity that has revitalised and restored countless thousands of people, families, communities, - even nations - as they revealed that the starting point for all change is to understand that to God each life is worth the sacrifice of his very own Son:
Many people think this all sounds more than a little far-fetched. Others have had very personal encounters with God that have proven to them that this is all profoundly real. These people discover that a lasting change for good in the world begins with a lasting change in themselves where they no longer call the shots, but allow God to take over the running of their lives. Take a moment to turn to our Testimonies page for this week's testimony, which tells of how one singer came to devote her life to helping millions of people to worship God.
Lord, You have promised: "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Thank you for giving me a safe place that I can return to anytime, anywhere, to find acceptance, forgiveness, healing, the guidance I need, and the courage to make a stand for those things you direct me to. This is Your world, and You are big enough to care for its needs. For my part, you've called me to "love my neighbour as myself" and to even "consider others as better than myself" when choosing how to treat them. Forgive me for all the times I've treated others as if they're worth less than that! I'm figuring this out day by day, but recognise that to achieve it, I have to start with the first command - to love You with "all my heart, soul, mind and strength". And what a delight it is to devote myself to fulfilling this command in worship...
Today’s service is titled “Truth and Consequences”. While we could point to many examples of people having to face the consequences of their wrongdoings when the truth comes to light, what we’re actually speaking of here is the consequences that come from sharing the truth of the message that Jesus brought to us. Sometimes these consequences are miraculous, other times they evoke considerable opposition. Let's hear what Alan has to teach us from Acts 5:17-42:
CHORUS: I love You / All of my hope is in You / Jesus Christ take my life / Take all of me BRIDGE: I love You so / And I give all my heart to say / I need You so / My everything
As the #blacklivesmatter movement is at the forefront of many minds at present, those in our congregation with specific ties to Africa - where the challenges of poverty, hunger, police/army brutality, poor health, exploitation, poor education, and political oppression are less globally newsworthy, but are perhaps most keenly felt - have shared the needs we are aware of with Millie, who will now lead us in prayer:
Living in partnership with God means we are connected to a dynamic, powerful force that has far greater insight, wisdom, and targeted precision than any human being, or group could ever hope to attain on our own. The one warning I constantly feel in my spirit as I find myself drawn to fix the world's problems is that God has a calling unique to my life. Whatever else I do, I will miss the boat if I neglect the things he's called me to focus my time and gifts on specifically. I must get to know and strive to live out the values of his kingdom, but I must also take the time to figure out what he is actually calling me to specifically before I rush off to take action.
This brings us back to what we were talking about two weeks ago when we began considering what it means to develop discernment. I’m going to challenge you to get hold of Henri Nouwen’s book by that title (it’s also available on Audible) and to read it slowly, perhaps just two or three pages a day as part of your daily devotion. Aim to take in what it is saying and to actively apply it. Henri's nationality, denomination, life experiences and even some views might differ from your own, but allow God to speak to you through those parts that connect with where you are in your own journey with God.
If there’s one thing we’re learning through movements like #blacklivesmatter it’s the importance of listening to, and truly trying to understand, perspectives other than our own so that we can grow. None of us has a mandate on the truth, only God does, and he is able to reveal His truth as it applies to the world here and now through some startling sources. Armed with the bible, the Holy Spirit, the support of other Christians and a desire to submit ourselves fully to God, He is more than able to steer us through any confusion to find whatever truths he particularly wants to equip us with to play our part in the world.
We leave you with this one from Galations 3:26-28, read by Clare-Alana:
Bless you as you journey on to ever greater revelations of God and the life he's working out in you.
Garden Bible studies on Acts
As lockdown is likely to continue for churches for a few more months, we are launching small WhatsApp / garden groups with the aim of helping you to connect with the church family, and to explore the text and sermon for the week together. If you'd like to join one, or even if you'd like to just try one out for a week or two to see how it works, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Africa's Covid-19 - how can I help?
The "global" news that we receive does little to shine a light on what is happening in Africa, where the pandemic is just taking off. While Uganda and Zimbabwe do not seem to be reporting numbers, SA is on a rapidly rising scale of infection. If you are interested in following more closely what is happening in any of the countries we prayed for today, you can do so by downloading something like the "News 24" app. Unfortunately Uganda and Zimbabwe do not yet have reliable apps or online sources for following the news there, so we are reliant on word-of-mouth, but News 24 will give some insight into South African affairs (where over 50% of people were unemployed before lockdown, and 51% of women experience abuse in their relationships). There is an overwhelming level of need. There is also a devastating cancer of corruption in all three governments that keeps aid from reaching the people who need it most. We are in the process of setting up a non-profit organisation called "African Medley" through which we can aid families and communities that we have direct contact with who are struggling significantly but to whom little aid has been forthcoming. We will share more on this in the coming weeks but for now, we would ask for your prayers in directing us on how God would want to use this small initiative.
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Christianity & Racisim
There are many voices speaking on this, but Rick Warren's short sermon below, based on Philippians 2:1-13, provides some core principles to clarify the attitude that he believes Christians are called to embrace. If you have any questions on what God's perspective on the issue might be at this time, perhaps this is a helpful place to start. Do remember though that the issues addressed here are portrayed as they are experienced in first world countries, in this case specifically America. These issues present themselves uniquely around the world and it's worth remembering that they show themselves less according to skin colour, and more according to ancestry, language, beliefs, political party and economic status in South America, Africa and Asia, where there is considerable discrimination and violence between people of the same race towards one another and anyone they perceive as an outsider. The abuse of power on these continents is frequently far more devastating in its greed, apathy and devouring of those perceived to be weak than anything we see or experience in the first world today. Nevertheless, the foundational principles for how Christians of all nationalities are called to respond to the differences we encounter between people we share the planet with remain the same: