“We Are God’s People” (From “us” to “them” to “we”) (Ps. 67; Acts 15:1-29)

Today is the sixth Sunday after resurrection.  The two texts today are heavily missional.  The psalm depict thankful community that  received God’s blessings and favor and was connecting the blessings to God’s larger purposes to bless all peoples.  This is one of the best definition of missions; we are blessed to be a blessing to others and by doing so glorify God from whom all blessings flow.  You know that full well here at Habecker. You opened your doors to the Karen community from Myanmar and intern they have blessed you beyond your wildest dreams as you have testified through your stories.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

 May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth.

May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you.

Then the land will yielded its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us.
God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Having just gone through a long winter where things around us looked dead and the ground all brown, the beauty of nature, the new birth all around us this spring season ought to remind us of God’s blessings to creation and to us humans. When we hear the birds chirp joyfully and the flowers bud and seeds burst out of the soil with new life we marvel! May what we are seeing all around us be an inspiration to us about God’s involvement in the creation to make all things news.

In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham and Sarah and promised them descendants and blessings while at the same time telling them to be a blessing to all peoples (verses 2b-3). Israel was chosen for the sake of God’s mission. Israel was not blessed either because of who it was or for its own benefit, Israel was blessed so that all the families of the earth may be blessed. As such, the calling of Abraham and Sarah was not favoritism, it was a missions strategy. In Exodus 19, the Lord said, “you shall be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (verse 6) and the prophets repeatedly chided Israel when they forgot this mission. 

 Implications of Missions:

In the book of Acts we see God’s mission expanding rapidly and such an expansion obviously became problematic.  The church found itself before a crucial dilemma when what God had previously said particularly the central sign of their identity as a people, circumcision was being contradicted by what supposedly God was doing then.  Was it possible for non-Jewish believers to be God’s people without the very sign of identity that set them apart from other peoples?

The church confronted this situation head on at their church convention in Jerusalem. They needed to decide either to maintain the standard sign of identity which had been instituted by God or be open to what God was doing in a new way inviting all people with a different identity sign, namely faith? The church chose the second option after listening to missional stories from Peter, Paul and Barnabas. You understand this text better here at Habecker.  You know what it means to be the body of Christ together, a people of grace.

The situation in Acts was also experienced by Lancaster conference when their missionaries who had been sent through EMM to East Africa argued that the new believers in Africa must not be expected to live like Lancaster county Mennonites.  They were not to be required to live under the rules and disciplines of the conference. One of those missionaries wrote, “LMC related so closely with EMM because they believed in cross-cultural missions and because they were committed to helping the new churches to embrace the theological and cultural understandings that they themselves carried as a Conference.  The latter concern became problematic because at that very time LMC was trying to uphold its own church discipline within its membership. Pressures mounted as missionaries who tried to administer the desires of LMC found that, because of cultural differences, they had to find a way to accommodate the desires of LMC while walking with the local churches that had their own convictions. This came to a head in the late 1950’s.  It had to do with the control of Communion.  LMC had a method of assuring compliance with LMC discipline by limiting Communion to those who embraced fully LMC’s standards of discipline.  Neither the missionaries nor the emerging churches could do that and continue to grow.”

In Acts 15:

  • Could the Gentiles be saved and become members of the people of God without accepting the obligations of the Jewish law?
  • Could Jewish believers  have fellowship at table with Gentiles who did not observe ritual laws? how could both peoples ‘break bread’ together?

The church resolved that both of the situations were possible.  Ethnic divisions however deeply Godly they were were overcome! Peter concluded that God who knows people’s hearts had given the Spirit to the Gentiles in the same way as he had done to the Jews. In fact, Peter says that God “made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith” as well (15:8-9). To turn around, says Peter, and force Gentiles to keep the Law is to put God to the test (v. 10). Peter made it clear who God in this conversation was. Paul and Barnabas, in v. 12, told all that God had done among the Gentiles through them—all of which supported Peter’s testimony.

James affirmed that what God had begun through Peter, he was now carrying on through Paul and Barnabas (15:14). This indicates the continuity and unity between Peter’s offer of the gospel to Gentiles and Paul’s mission to the Gentiles; God initiated both. The council had listened to the testimony of Peter, and Paul and Barnabas. According to a cumulative prophetic witness associated with Davidic hope, the boundaries of the “people of God” are widened to include the Gentiles on equal footing with the Jews on the basis of Davidic hope.  We serve a wonderful God who created all things and is making all things new and we are privileged to be part of this renewal through missions.  We look forward to seeing righteousness and praise spring before all nations!

Amen!

 

Sermon preached at Habecker Mennonite Church

May 5, 2013

By Nelson Okanya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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