Reading Acts 11:19-30
This morning we arrive at the city of Antioch. The third largest city in the Western World at that time behind Rome and Alexandria in Egypt. This is the place, you may remember, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the followers of this new church first became known as Christians. They stopped calling themselves Jews or Greeks or Gentiles as they took on the name of Christ but as we will discover this morning they still had a wee journey to go on before that would happen. In his letter to the church in Galatia Paul mentions Antioch as the place where he opposed Peter and they entered into some confrontation that was centred around this whole Jewish Gentile question.
It really was quite deep rooted and had the capacity to tear the church apart. We read more about all of this in Acts at chapter fifteen, the council at Jerusalem. Last week I was speaking about how there are times when things we thought we had dealt with from the past can come the fore of our minds and we are challenged on how we respond to them.
Peter still had issues surrounding the laws with which he had grown up and how this new faith could release him from being tied to them. We met two characters; Peter the conservative minded Jew Saul/Paul the persecutor turned missionary. Here we arrive in Antioch and we read of several things that are happening. On the positive side the message is continuing to be spread across the land but on the negative side some are preaching only to the Jews and others only to the Gentiles. We have not moved on. It would appear that changing the mind set has always been a bit of a timely journey.
The church has this one message for all people but we cannot find the way in which all can receive together at the same time and all of this comes about because of adherence to the old ways, the old laws, the things that keep us apart and mark us out as being different. But even in all of this, I suppose you could even say despite our best efforts, we are told that great numbers come to the Lord. As news reaches Jerusalem where the Apostles watched over the affairs of these new fledgling churches another well respected man called Barnabas was sent out to find out about these Gentiles who are coming to the faith. Quite a turn around when only a couple of weeks ago we were reading about a man called Saul who also set out from Jerusalem but his charge was somewhat different as he was intent on persecution.
Then the dramatic events lead Barnabas to send for this Saul in Tarsus, how ironic this man, the great persecutor, is the one now chosen to go to Antioch and help to put their church in order. Another gift Saul appears to have blessed with is the ability to be quite a phenomenal fund raiser. People are giving their gifts according to their ability. This is something Paul would introduce in other churches such as in Corinth. What an amazing turnabout in affairs.
After working in the city for a year Saul the persecutor and Barnabas the Jewish Church envoy are united as one to get the gifts to the church in Jerusalem to help them in fight against the impending famine. There are some great life lessons in all of this. Over the summer we have watched the Euro Championships, the Olympics and the Paralympics. So many different people from so many different countries and cultures across our world. The one common bond is the love of sport and in particular whatever sport they are involved in. All of them will have arrived having gone through different training regimes, different philosophies on how things ought to be done that they could achieve the maximum impact on their chosen field and in the end come away with the best possible results. In some of the venues there were no crowds, no audience to witness first hand all their efforts.
At the Olympics only those directly involved were allowed to be present. At the football it was a bit different. But some of venues were filled with all neutral supporters who only wanted a good match regardless of the outcome. Some of the venues were partisan atmospheres with only one side having any supporters and then there were times when the crowd was divided between the two teams. There we have it. There is evidence in sport. There is evidence within the church. There is evidence across the whole of life’s experience. If we decide that we are going to create and maintain barriers then nothing good will ever come out of that. If we decide on the other hand to recognise and celebrate our differences and lay aside those difference which separate us then was can work together for the good of the whole body knowing that with God all things are possible.