Readings: Acts 13:13-25
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, our first reader, I am sorry you really lost out with that reading, didn’t you? All those weird ancient names for different things. I wonder what the romans or Greeks did when they wanted to name a new town – did they just get a scrabble bag, shake it, lay out all the letters and say ‘yeah that’s a weird combination, we’ll call this place Pamphylia’ and off they went to name the next town Melchizedek or something.
The reading the weird names in scripture isn’t the hardest part of being a Christian is it though? I think the hardest thing people struggle to do as a Christian is to share our faith well. We just don’t want to do it do we? Even though we know that he best thing in the world is to have a living faith, one that leads such blessing, still we stay quiet, we often find it easier to keep our faith to ourselves, sell ourselves the lie that faith is a private matter. No, it isn’t! Not if you take Jesus seriously. But that is undoubtedly how many of us behave, with what is the most precious thing we have, our faith with Christ. Why do we find it hard to share our faith? Because we are worried what other people will think, we worry that we will say the wrong thing, because we are concerned with how we will be received if we tell others about our faith. None of us like the idea of being seen by people we love and respect differently or negatively, do we? Who feels guilty about this kind of thing, because being quite honest I do frequently! And I am meant to do this as a job!
Sharing our faith however, is central to who we are as Christians – its right there in the great commission where Jesus says at the end of Matthew 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Central to our faith is this idea of sharing it, not for our own glory but so others can experience the same hope and life we experience, that we are called to, yet sharing our faith is often the last thing we do, right?
In the first reading today, we see Paul sharing his faith in a completely new context and from that we may gain clues as to how we might share our faith. He has arrived at a new city, Antioch and he and his companions go to worship at the local synagogue on the Sabbath. They are invited to preach as guests that day at the synagogue. Paul does two things really well. The first is that he speaks in a way that his audience will understand and will be able to enter into. Here he is among Jews celebrating the sabbath who are aware of, and revere the Old Testament. So what does Paul he do? He starts by telling the story of God as the one who saved the Israelites from Egypt through Moses by using what they were familiar with, the Old Testament. He explains how God provided justice through the Judges of Samuels time. He explains how God provided a King in Saul and David. And now, He explains he has provided another, this time a saviour, Jesus the long-awaited Messiah. His speech goes on longer after the passage explaining all Jesus did and how people need to believe in Him to be saved. Paul knows his audience; he uses language and metaphors that they would understand and he puts them in the story so they can see why Jesus is relevant to them.
The second thing he does is he makes sure that the conversation gives a plain reason for the hope he has in Jesus. He doesn’t skip around, he isn’t apologetic, he simply states the truth about Jesus. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t require masses of preparation or skill – in fact we know from Pauls other letters that he considered himself a rather clumsy speaker. It just requires a faith to believe what we have received, and a bravery to just go out and say it, regardless of the conversation. Billy Graham was famously good at this – he could be discussing anything in all the world and would turn it towards Jesus. Sharing our faith also doesn’t require us to see people respond positively. That’s between them and God and if you read the rest of Acts 13 you see in this instance although it goes quickly wrong, people do respond positively. But in other instances that is certainly not the case.
Folks our world is in such desperate need of the love of God. We cannot keep this beautiful truth to ourselves. As God’s people here in Cleveleys we are invited to share in the work of telling neighbours and friends about the good news of Jesus. It may cause us fear and trembling. But we have something worth sharing here. Who could you invite to church to experience the love of Christ? Which friend or family member would you be able to share with why you come to church at all? This isn’t just a job for vicars but a calling for all God’s people. In my experience, when we share our faith, though it be through much prayer and trembling, when we share it in a way folk will be ale to relate to themselves and in a way that is plain, we will see the joy we have spread. There is much more to be said about sharing faith but these two ideas are a great starting place. So today, if your brave enough, pray for the opportunity to share your faith, to invite a friend to church, do whatever and just see how God blesses those around us and uses us to help welcome people into the wonderful light of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen