A Meeting Let’s pray…. Rev. Stuart Buisch
So I know Presbyterians are known for meetings, committees, assemblies, gatherings. I honestly can’t tell you if Calvin or Knox endorsed this way of operating. But there is this book of Acts which mentions gatherings of people to solve issues in the early church.
Let’s be clear meetings are not all created equal. There are styles of meetings that allegedly are democratic but one person, pastor or clerk or someone, runs the show obviously or just under the radar. On the other hand, if you end up with more than one point of view and there are any conflicts occurring then ‘meeting’ is a possible way to resolve or dig into the trenches deeper. Let’s look at this passage and see what the early churches did.
Now you have to give these players in the book of Acts credit. They didn’t just have camel lot meetings – the equivalent of parking lot meetings today. They didn’t whine and moan at home and let the ‘wrong’ fester. The company of concerned got out of their chairs and went out to the new congregations, maybe in the first instance to find out if what they heard was true. In every system there are the originalists. Judea was the birth place of Christianity or at the very least the home of the first founders. They had an investment, theologically, to protect, maintain and/or purify as needed.
The next key is that this was a transition that we benefit from but needed to be worked through at some point or a lingering problem or even a schism might occur. The first believers in Jesus Christ – indeed those who acknowledged his Messiahship – were Jews. Gentiles weren’t looking for a messiah of any sort. So tied to that is the notion that all believers in the Messiah would follow Jewish practice. However, as we know only too well, Christianity is not a version of Judaism, strictly speaking. It is an outgrowth, a development that isn’t in line with all Jewish thought or practice. The bottom line is that anyone could believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were experiences that impact the life and belief of those who follow it and can have their lives changed by it. Jewish rules are not necessary. But there is the problem. Jews need to be circumcised if they are male. It is a clear part of their covenantal faith. It is not a choice. So Christians who were Jews and male were circumcised. Gentiles who do not have such a covenantal ritual can have faith in Christ without that rite.
Interestingly enough the rationale of the change and consensus comes not from human argument and reconciliation but from the work of God’s Spirit in the church with both Jews and Gentiles. God’s Spirit chose to work through anyone who would believe, circumcised or not. God’s Spirit ‘fell’ on the Gentile believers without circumcision, displaying God’s acceptance and endorsement of their faith.
So why do we need this account today? What do these texts mean for us? Ever since that set of meetings in Acts 15 there have been developments in the church. Changes. There are issues that need to get the ‘thumbs up’ or the ‘thumbs down’. We have a session which is responsible for making the decisions in our own congregation when such are necessary.
We, as members and friends of North Presbyterian church, need to heed the work of God’s Spirit in our midst. We need to see what God is doing and have our decisions be in line with that. It is incredibly easy to see the challenges and incredibly difficult to consult God, whose audible voice is not always discernible. So we have to trust each other. We have to listen to each other as each one tries to discern what God is calling us to. Together and not alone, not individually, we can find the way to God’s calling. There will always be those who believe that they have a clearer line to God and a better way of expressing it. Our Quaker brothers and sisters sit together to listen in the quiet to what God is saying. We will not be doing that soon, but we do need to discover any ministry that North should be engaged in that it currently is not doing.
Again, the temptation by leaders is to charge in and take over so that the ship of ministry will ‘go right.’ The church has never done well under that model. In fact if you look around the streets of North Tonawanda or any region you will see the number of places with such groups convinced that they have the full truth of ministry while other ‘churches’ continue on in wrong ways.
Acts 15 is an account of togetherness. There was a conviction that the churches needed to stay in unity. If we could listen to each other, if we could honor each other, if we could respect each other the listening would follow. We must be a church together, especially in this pandemic season. But when this season is over, we must continue to be one, to serve Christ in unity.
Acts 15 is an account of a process. There is a recounting of history, a recounting of covenant, a recounting of faith. All three of those are essential to the kingdom of God. Christian faith is not a 21st century innovation. Several problems in the church have risen in other eras with varying degrees of success at solving them. The commitment to Jesus Christ, the covenant that Jewish people experience in circumcision is found in the souls of Christians who trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. These are ‘Words’ but the reality is distinctive and perceivable. There is no question when a response is one of faith over against one of personal analysis and rational conclusion. Churches are closing all over who had no fire of faith but plenty of money, routine and ritual. Unless God is speaking in, and to us, and through us we are a group of noise and self-delusion, without compassion, justice and contentment.
God of the swirling stars, you chart the course of peoples and nations, guide us…
Crucified Christ, you model pain, suffering and resurrection, never let us reside in one of those…
Wind of God, you blow through the dust, dog hair and leaves in our lives offering life…