St Barbara’s 26.05.19
Rev David Mayhew
“Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
Jesus is very direct, isn’t he? “Do you want to be made well?”….”Stand up…take your things… and walk?” As you walk through our city… do you ever speak like that to the beggars on our streets? Would you speak as Jesus did?
Seven years ago, we hosted the Olympics. There was an event called “Godiva Awakes”: with a larger than life model of a robed Lady Godiva, her many pockets holding dreams and prayers. She had slept for ages and prayed all night. She came to life and started walking around the City. Did you see her?
In the last seven years, I have seen the body of Christ in Coventry standing up, taking what we have and walking the streets. Just like the original Lady Godiva, I see the body of Christ today… including many here this morning… building community and acting with compassion. The Kingdom of God is coming amongst us. This Thursday, Ascension Day, a season of prayer begins around the world entitled Thy Kingdom Come. St Barbara’s is providing a wonderful opportunity to be informed and involved. Read all about it (hold up parish magazine); Stand up… and Walk!
One of the signs of the kingdom that we are being invited to focus on is Hope Coventry. I currently chair the Board of Trustees. We exist ‘to enable churches together to transform our city in the love and power of Jesus Christ’. Do please speak to me after the service or visit our Facebook page, to find out more. Better still visit St Barbara’s through the day from Thursday on…
Now… Your sermon series from Acts…. the travels of St Paul and his companions… Paul had had an even more direct and dramatic encounter with Jesus than the man with the mat. Ever since that encounter Paul began to promote the cause he had tried to destroy. I have three Trinity shaped thoughts about this cause from our reading in Acts:
What do we see here about who God is and what he does?
- God is provident
Our God does not provide us with blueprints for our lives, he expects us to think, explore, test things out. He guides Paul and his companions through perplexity: “forbidden by the Holy Spirit from speaking the word of God in Asia”… “not allowed by the Spirit of Jesus” to go into Bithynia. Look at the map and you will see that they went a long way without being able to do much more than move…. and somehow stay open to God, and trust his providence: the mission was first his, not theirs.
God was guiding them, preventing and prompting, but it must have been perplexing until one night Paul has a vision of a man of Macedonia… and, considering it with his companions, together they concluded that: “God had called” them to Macedonia.
We face perplexity in the church, we face perplexity in the nation and beyond… Stay in touch with God the Father, our Provider… he is in control, however fruitless we may feel, however flummoxed we may be…. He will guide and provide.
- God is personal
Our Loving God watches over us: provident.
Our Loving God walks with us, personal and available.
The story of Paul’s travels is full of encounter with all kinds of individuals. Here he has a vision of a Macedonian man begging for help. They go. They find a prayerful business woman who begs to be able to offer them hospitality. God’s love is personal.
The Coventry Winter Night Shelter began with two men asking Bishop Christopher for help. Two city councillors had been round the City with the police. They had seen rough sleepers through the night. They didn’t want anyone to die on our streets, so they came and said “Can the church help?”. The church and city began to stand up, to help, to offer hospitality.
Good Neighbours, building friendships with isolated older people began when the authorities said to us “Can you help?”
- God is powerful
Our loving God is mighty and mysterious, provident even when we don’t see how…. Our Father…
Our loving God is personal, pouring out love in human form, through people who stand up… take what they have and walk where God leads them… Our Lord Jesus…
Our loving God is powerful… and here we see a strange kind of power… the power to open hearts and transform them.
St Paul and his companions stood up, travelled miles by land and sea, went where God led, spoke what they knew… but they could not open the heart of Lydia. God could and God did.
Now as then, our loving God is providing opportunities to see our city transformed through the love and power of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of Jesus… This is what we, with the whole church in the City, are called to respond to together…
Move on from perplexity and frustration with how things have been. Stand up… take what you have… and walk!
Tonight we begin to hear the results of the European elections. Whatever the detail, Europe is in some disarray. The old order is being shaken. Lydia’s baptism marked the start of Christian civilisation in Europe. The transformation of a continent, and then other continents, began not in a church, not with an election, but at a place of prayer, outside by a river. A woman’s heart and home were transformed by the love and power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus-shaped community grew from her home. Now there’s a thought from the past for the future….