Fresh Challenges

person standing on mountain

Easter 5 – 15th May 2022

Growing up north of Detroit, Michigan, racism was always in the news. Detroit metropolitan area contained 2/3rds of the entire state’s population. Today that is more than 5.3 million people. Detroit itself has since dwindled from 1 million plus to only 600,000 residents. The equivalent to “white flight” took place. Much of South Africa’s story is mirrored on a smaller scale in South East Michigan.

My values for inter-racial relations were dependent on my family, church, and school. Fortunately, I was brought up under Bible teaching that emphasised how in Christ there is no Jew, no Greek, no female, no male. In Christ, we have a new identity. Yet that was a lesson Simon Peter was finding difficult to comprehend.

In today’s sermon text, we learn how Growing in Christ has Fresh Challenges. The Easter story did not end at the resurrection. That was only the beginning. It is why our Easter season is 50 days long. We are mirroring the literal time that followed the resurrection where Jesus continued on earth teaching and fellowshipping with this disciples.

We don’t often think about that. Jesus continued to walk this earth after resurrecting from the dead. It gave empirical proof to the event. Eye-witness testimony to his post-death life was sealed during that time.

We are currently working toward Ascension Sunday. That is only 2 Sundays away. We have the benefit of history. The disciples in their day did not. They did not know there was going to be an Ascension Sunday.

The events described in Acts 11:1-18 took place long after Ascension Sunday. Although Peter led the mountain top experience for the early church on Pentecost that followed Christ’s ascension, Peter still did not understand the magnitude of the gospel. Let us look at the Fresh Challenges faced by Peter and glean lessons for us today. 

Criticism

You are celebrating good news. You are excited about God’s working in your life. But then you run into your family or workmates and they began to criticise your actions. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

You feel like you have to defend yourself. “Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step.” Criticism from peers, family members, church leaders, and anyone else is often based on misunderstanding. Corrie Ten Boon once explained:

Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

One of the challenges we face during a time of growth is criticism. And it is usually undeserved criticism. I often encourage persons in pastoral settings who want to beat up on themselves for a decision made that seem to connect to an unwanted outcome. Usually, the following is true when I tell them, “You made the best decision at the time with all the information in hand. Why beat yourself up? Your decision was based on all you knew at the time. Hindsight is always easier. Do not judge yourself unjustly. Learn from the outcome but do not feel like a failure.”

Confusion

Another challenge we face during times of growth is confusion. Peter was confused by the vision he received from God. He didn’t understand it. He who was a key leader in the Early church; Peter who continued to experience miracle after miracle following Christ’s ascension; Peter, the disciple of Christ found it difficult to understand what God was revealing to him. How would you interpret a sheet full of animals coming down out of the sky at you?

Peter was not the only one confused. The religious leaders and his peers were equally confused. What do you mean God said it is okay to disband a tradition? We have always been doing it that way! How can you teach otherwise? Why would God do that? Surely this new way cannot be God’s way?

A good illustration of confusion was when 

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

Today in the Word, July 30, 1993

Growing in Christ has its challenges. As a local church of Jesus Christ, we too have fresh challenges to face. These challenges have been thrusted upon us. Like Peter, we may find ourselves confused and eventually criticised. Let not these challenges detour us for the end of the story is amazing.

When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

We read Peter’s story and the other stories in Acts as narratives of the Early Church accepting Gentiles into their Jewish Christian community. We see the difficulty of the racial differences influencing their theological understandings. The story provides a missional challenge for St Johns Papatoetoe. Let us continue the challenge to become equally intentional in cross-cultural refusal to permit distinctions between “them” and “us.”

God preserved Paul’s teaching on this subject and his epistle to the Galatians provides the perfect summation:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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