Acts 19: 1-10.
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at Paul’s missionary journeys and how the early church spread.
We have seen that Paul never worked alone, and it is important for us to see that we were never meant to live our life, our faith, alone, that we are to have people that we can trust to help and support us and whom we can help and support.
We have seen that different people have different expressions of faith, and that we should help people on their journey find what their expression of faith is.
Just as the Jewish based Christians and Gentile based Christians expressed their faith in different ways, so there is a freedom for us to grow and develop in different ways.
This week we look at moving on, and how hard that is.
Life is a moving thing.
I used to be a microbiologist.
As a microbiologist I would have loved it if life didn't move, didn’t grow.
But it does.
Fungus. Fungus has no legs, but it has life and life needs to move.
Fungus is a thing that is so small that you need a microscope to see its cells. But we had a fungus and it grew and grew till it was very visible; it took up most of that wall, and the entire wall next door.
Life likes to move, to grow.
And faith is a growing thing.
As Christianity grew through the Roman Empire it changed.
We saw last week that the Christian faith had a very Jewish flavour.
As it spread it became more gentile in style.
Food laws weren’t so strict, they didn't see the point in circumcision, as the Jews became more antagonistic to the new style of Christian faith they refused to allow it to be discussed in the synagogues, so the church had to move out to other places,
into people’s homes if the numbers were small, or theatres if the numbers where big.
As the church was to be a light to the world, as the church touched the world then it changed how it was that light.
And that is the same today.
In Alloa we have the Gate Foodbank where families that are struggling can get some help.
In some areas of Glasgow they have drop-in centres where refugee women can learn English to help them communicate.
The churches change and grow as the needs of the community change and grow.
But also as individuals we are expected to change and grow.
We see that in our passage today.
There were some believers, probably people who had made a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple for Passover one year. They had come across the ministry of John the Baptist; a ministry of forgiveness and new beginnings.
They had accepted that ministry and had been baptised in the Jordon and then gone home.
Paul meets up with them and explains that John was the warm-up act for Jesus. That Jesus showed forgiveness was not enough. Having a new start meant nothing if you just went back to doing what you did before. Through Jesus, we saw that our forgiveness was an opportunity to live the life that God wanted us to have; that the Holy Spirit, God’s presence in our lives, gives us strength to see how we can live our life, and empowers us to live that life.
Life moves on.
Faith moves on.
I suppose today I just want to tell you that it is worth it.
It’s hard, but it is worth it.
For the first ten or so years I was in Alva I used to run Alpha courses.
Alpha was the new big thing where we went through a ten week course to remind ourselves of the basics of faith.
And a big part of the Alpha course was testimonies. People would get up in the video and tell of the life they used to live and how they thought it was basically empty, then they would find faith and now their life had meaning.
And it sounded simple.
But some of the better testimonies, the more honest ones, would talk of loosing friends.
How maybe they used to go out with their mates every weekend and get drunk. And that they didn’t want to do that anymore. So they would still go out with their friends, because they were their friends, but they didn’t want to get drunk so they would drink less. And they would see them do things and act in ways that they had never noticed before.
And that created a tension. They didn't want to correct their friends because that would seem judgemental, but they didn't want to be part of what their friends were doing.
A drunken friend would be laughing and joking down the street, then bump into a car wing mirror that caused them a lot of pain. They would then lash out at the car and kick in the side door. Then walk off as if nothing had happened.
If the Christian said something then they were condemned by their friends because that is the kind of thing they used to do.
The drunken friend couldn't understand why their old friend seemed to be preaching at them?
Why their old friend seemed to be looking down on them?
With time often the Christian would find that the things they wanted to do clashed with the things their old friends wanted to do.
They wanted to go away for the weekend, but the Christian wanted to go to church on the Sunday, and there was no way their old friends were getting up on a Sunday before noon.
So they drifted apart.
I once watched this guy in Castlemilk change so much.
Now that he wasn’t in the lifestyle of his old friends he could actually save money. He could go to night school to develop new skills, get new qualifications. He could get a job that paid a lot more than he had. He could afford a house in a better area.
It completely changed his life.
Not that the object of Christianity is to move up the social ladder.
But the discipline that Christianity gave him changed the way he looked at life.
There was hope to be better, a drive to be better.
There was a realisation that some lifestyles destroy and undermine life, and that it is dangerous to walk down them.
Life moves on.
But it was also hard.
That’s one end of the scale.
I want to talk of the other end of the scale; maybe more our end of the scale.
Because I think sometimes we delude ourselves that when life moves on, faith moves on, but that it doesn't include us...we expect things just to stay the same.
But I don’t think it works like that, I think faith goes through different seasons.
There is the season of spring; full of growth, full of vitality.
We are so independent. It’s not that we want to exclude others; it’s just that we can do what we want, when we want, and if they don’t want to do what we want to do fine. We can still be with them but have energy to do our own thing as well.
That’s when our faith is brimming with new ideas and everything is fresh.
There is the season of summer; when the days seem to go on forever.
Everything is good. No matter if there is the odd storm; we know soon there will be a sunny day coming alone.
We can get through the storms because the good days are still there.
That’s when our faith is strong and can cope with anything.
There is the season of autumn. That is the time when the harvest comes in and we see the completion of all our hard work, that time when we smile a lot. Often when we see our families grow and mature, that time when we see organisations really do well.
It is the season when we look back and realise that the life that we lived was worth it.
And they all are great seasons.
But what about the season of winter?
That doesn’t look such a great season.
A season when things seem to die. A season where the wind is cold and earth is hard and unyielding.
It takes us longer to go where we used to go, if we can even get there.
Our friends get ill and when they get ill often they don't get better.
If we are not careful then this season can be a season that is too dark.
If we are not careful then this season can be a season where we live in fear.
What can we do in this season that is worthwhile?
We are old and weak and way past our best.
What do we do when we are in the season of winter?
Because if faith is life, and life goes on, then one day we will reach that season, maybe we realise we are in that season.
What do you do?
Maybe part of our problem is that we try to pretend that there are no seasons.
But if you pretend that you are always in spring, because you liked spring,
then you muck things up. Because even though it is the start of winter you sow seeds in the hard winter soil because you have to pretend it’s spring, but it isn’t spring and the frost just destroys your seeds them and the birds just eat them.
We need to accept the winter season of faith if that is where we are.
But accept that it is meant to be as good a season as all the rest.
You see the strength of being in winter, is that you have seen the whole year.
You know the other seasons aren’t as perfect as they pretend to be.
Each season has its struggles.
We loved spring with the new babies...and all the sleepless nights with the teething and the dirty nappies.
We loved Summer with the long nights...and the sunburn when we over did it.
We loved Autumn with the harvest and seeing the fruits of all we had done...and the need to remove those huge weeds that we had neglected and let grow without hindrance.
And if you are in winter you have gotten through all those struggles and what you can do...is bring light to the darkness. In our winter years we can share what we have learnt, walk with those going through the other seasons and guide them where we can.
For we have the joy of sitting by the warm fire and reminiscing. We have the chance to remember and reflect. And we have the time to share what we have reflected on because we’re not as fast as we used to be.
The early church didn't stay static. It moved on though the seasons.
And we can’t stay static either.
The seasons of faith are not to be feared.
Each has got its joys and its sorrows.
But each also has God’s blessing, if we are wise enough to seek it out.