Belonging, Believing, Behaving
Last week in the three different services we had three different speakers and yet there was one consistent message. I am sure that the three speakers had not got together beforehand and conspired to deliver the same message, but God will speak when we are ready to listen. They all delivered God’s message with a slight nuanced approach, but the message was clear. We are the hands, feet and body of God here in Bedhampton, then each of them asked, what are we going to do about that?
Speaking Notes – Caveat
These notes are my speaking notes and are provided as an accompaniment to the recording. Please accept that they are not intended to be a published grammatically correct essay. I do hope and pray however they help you move towards Jesus.
Now on to the content…
As I read our reading from Acts today I remembered a time I worked at the cathedral for two weeks. As you might guess the Cathedral is not my natural home. You might even say that I have been somewhat a fish out of water with formal morning prayer and then evensong in the evening.
So on day one, we processed out in our robes following the choir I did not feel that I knew how to behave at all. I didn’t know when to stand or sit, what book to use, or words to say. I most definitely did not know how to behave. I also felt that everyone was looking at me to judge me, spotting when I was fumbling with the books.
In addition, I really didn’t get it personally. The whole heavy use of words both sung and said was just too much for me. I wasn’t sure I believed that this was a valid way for me to worship God, and the whole worrying about how to behave just didn’t allow me to explore that further. Yet it seemed to be for at least some of the people around me that it worked.
By the second week, I had worked out a little more how to behave. When to stand, what was going to happen next, and I felt people had stopped looking at the new boy. I even began to be able to appreciate that actually, all the words used were straight out of the Bible. The Bible I loved so much and began to appreciate the poetry of this form of worship.
The choirs singing drew me into connection with the Holy Spirit, enabling me to engage in prayer. On the whole, I suddenly felt at home, like I belonged in the cathedral, and I was able to connect with our God. I had gone on that journey of first learning how to behave in a cathedral, then to believe it was possible to worship in this way, to finally feeling like I did belong.
Belonging, Believing, Behaving
So why tell that story? Well, it took me fourteen days, two services a day to feel like I belonged in the cathedral. That’s the equivalent of over six months of Sunday worship in our church. I stuck it out until it worked for me. But I stuck it out because I was expected to stick it out because it was my job to do so.
I wonder if I would have stuck it out if I just happened to have popped into the cathedral? And I’m not picking on the cathedral, it’s not different in many other churches, it’s no different in the one I came from or even our one here. We say to people come on in, come to church. Behave in a certain way, learn when to stand, when to sit, what to sing, and what to say. Believe these things we believe, and then you can belong to our community.
We see the same type of issue in our reading from Acts today. Some of the Christians were saying unless you act the way we act you can not be a believer. We have always done it this way this is our tradition, so unless you behave this way you are not a Christian. Behave the way we do, believe the things we do, and then you can belong to our Christian church.
The Big Idea
Peter guided by God’s Holy Spirit reminds them that this is not how it works with God. He says
‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles should hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.’
He is saying they don’t first have to behave a certain way to be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. It’s not behaving then believing then belonging. No. They are already saved because Jesus loved them. If they feel like they belong in the church, they will begin to believe that truth, and then their behaviour will change. It’s belonging, then believing and then behaving. That’s how Jesus works. Jesus will speak to individuals, it’s just our job to make them feel like they belong, and set them on the path.
Jesus adds to this in the Gospel as well.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me
So not only have we to look towards Jesus and spend time with him but as we walk alongside others we have to remember we are not their judge but to simply help, they feel like they belong and point them to Jesus.
It’s an interesting passage to follow up the messages from last week if you were here. At all three of our services we were reminded by three different speakers that part of our purpose as a church is to be God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s body here in Bedhampton.
We were then challenged by all; three of them in different ways to ask the question what am I going to do as part of that Body? What am I going to do?
Perhaps this week we have received a useful reminder that this journey will have its ups and downs. The people’s behaviour may not change until they first belong and then believe. And that our priority is to make them feel like they belong and simply point them towards Jesus.
Perhaps we have received another nudge about our part in that purpose.