Summary: The gospel is available to all and we are the ones who are called to take it out to the people (an audio version of this sermon is available at www.stkweb.org.uk/media)
I have a friend called Paul, One day Paul read a report in his local newspaper about his home town, Halifax. The headline for this news story was Halifax the wild west of west Yorkshire. Basically the report was all about how Halifax town centre had become a no go area for many locals for a night out because of the amount of violent crime, binge drinking, underage drinking and sexual assaults taking place, Paul drew together a number of people from organisations like Churches Together and the YMCA to talk about how the church could change the atmosphere and reputation of the town and make it a safer place for all. Within two weeks the first Street Angles project was launched and within the first year there was a 57% fall in violent crimes and crimes related to alcohol in the town centre. West Yorkshire police attributed this to the work of Christian volunteers being out on the street working with the most vulnerable people in our community. Since 2005 this project has been rolled out across the country and even to places like Tenerife, Australia and the USA, in each place that Christians have invested into working with people in the night time economy they have seen lives changed, communities improved and people meeting Jesus.
In 2004 a man called Dave Smith was moved by the plight of Asylum seekers in his area of Greater Manchester, he saw how poorly they were treated, how many of them were homeless with no hope of securing accommodation, how many were abused by passers-by and even physically attacked, moved by Jesus bias towards the poor and marginalised in society Dave decided to put his faith into action and established the Boaz trust which offers accommodation, support, financial and benefit advice, they are changing lives one at a time and impacting communities which go hidden in many ways with the love of Jesus.
We all live with preconceived ideas and notions about who we are called to reach for the gospel, sure we know that the gospel is for everyone but really, really we are only called to reach people who are just like me, and even then if we are really honest with ourselves we tend to think that we’ll share Jesus with people when they approach us, ask us a direct question or basically scream in our faces “we want to know Jesus please tell us about him”. We think that our lives will tell our stories and help people to be inquisitive about what makes us different. But really, are we that much different to how the rest of the world lives and thinks, or have we conformed our lives to the patterns of this world happily going about our own business not sticking out that much as that might draw attention to us and people might ask uncomfortable questions. Please do not mishear me here, I am not judging you or having a go, thinking that the way that I live my life is better and more radical then you, in fact this is quite the opposite I read and reflect upon this passage of scripture and I am gobsmacked about how far away I am from the place that God wants me to operate in, and it scares me to contemplate what I need to do in order to live in the radical manner that a deeper and fuller relationship with Christ will result in. Please don’t mishear me again on this, it is not because I think that God is just out to get us, he is not, God is for us in such a big way, it’s just that I know that God dares us to be more adventurous, more daring and far more radical than we operate at as a norm.
The thing is that God wants us to be shaken up, to be risk takers to be people who venture to the places and people who are unloved and who are hard to love. He wants us to live open and generous lives that cost us, not because it is the right thing to do but because we have been lavished with love before we deserved and richly rewarded since our adoption as sons and daughters.
This passage is essentially about this, Luke – the author of Acts – wants to stress to his readers the amazing love, the wonderful grace and the abundant life that is on offer to all who trust in Christ regardless of where they are from, their socio-economic background, their ethnicity, their housing, their diet, their health needs, their rituals, how they identify themselves, the peer groups they hang out with, our preconceived ideas about particular people groups or areas or addictions or appearance or sexuality. The good news about Jesus is for all people.