Peter, I know you as a fisherman follower of Jesus. Speaking out what everyone else was thinking, promising what you could not deliver, but with a faith to keep going. The risk taker still standing.
I am in your stead as a Christian – a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.
In your stead as a preacher, having just heard one of your sermons. I write to you at Pentecost, the day you preached your first sermon. The day I saw you in a new light – as the clear interpreter of what was happening.
Always focused upon Jesus Christ, memorably describing what has and is happening. Not so much teaching as testimony. The one person shall pass on to another. Explaining what has taken place, pointing to what is unfolding. I would love to preach more like that. To say – “they are not drunk, but this is a move of the Spirit.”
You were the rock on which a church was built. I don’t claim to be in your stead in that way – I’m simply another brick in the wall.
Today we remember –
Your community – changed from a small band anxious and uncertain to a movement charged with courage. Filled with life giving breath that gave voice and with a fire to catch the world.
Your people – before you preached you could all be described as Galileans and afterwards the epithet would never suffice.
Peter, may I be so bold to speak of what we have in common. We in our church are not just remembering – it is happening among us.
Sometimes, I think that the community I serve can slip into becoming a huddle, tucked away from a fast changing and harsh world. But there is a wind of the Spirit among us. We are familiar when it is tongues and interpretations, gifts and prophecy. We cherish more of that. But this move is different. It is a bit of a babble, it is moving us out into the streets and communities, in campaigns and cafes.
Peter like you I spy many more languages, cultures and races coming within earshot, this is not the competitive scramble of Babel, the imperial exporting of one culture to another. This is the coming of nations and cultures together, hearing, understanding and relating together. This too is happening in our church.
Peter, I have the luxury of being able to read the rest of your story – of the deacons like Stephen and Philip, and converts like Cornelius, Pricilla, Aquila and Lydia, of the later Apostle Paul and the generous benefactor Barnabas.
So, I observe that you preached amid chaos. In untidy and unpredictable times. It comes across as exciting but unplanned. Peter, maybe I should tell my church that we are living in similar times. We don’t have a detailed plan – save Jesus Christ, the moving of the Spirit and our values of courage, hospitality and hope. Dare I tell my church that God is making these times untidy and blowing a Godly chaos when we like things in order?
Peter, I have read of the struggles that you had to come to terms with many Gentile converts, and the raising up of new and different leaders. In our scriptures which record your story, I have read of your commitment to this, but also when you made mistakes and lost your nerve. Peter, as one preacher and leader to another – I say me too. Having read the whole story in theory it is simple but in practice it is so complex. To take what we have in and apply to ever changing new context. I know that as a minister, father, husband and friend. I wonder how you felt when Paul became more and you less, how you engaged what was unfolding even though you hadn’t worked it all out? I am learning through joys and mistakes of how to partner more and I think to follow your path of working with and genuinely welcoming the new. Peter, I guess your spirit-filled self was still expressed through your whole character. I can identify with that.
So the band of you, your brother Andrew, of James and John, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna… became Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Silas, Paul, Lydia, Pricilla and Aquila. Different people being raised up in new and unexpected ways. People called to one role and then doing another. Today we are choosing deacons and we have been searching for a youth leader. The same unexpected ways are emerging among us. I am beginning to see trusted new people exercising ministry already. Maybe we should call them out and give them recognition and space.
Peter, in our wider church we have lost sight of being the movement you described so we have hived off the ground breaking as emerging church and its leaders as pioneers. But isn’t an emerging church simply one in which God is stirring and moving and pioneers simply ministers who describe and explain what is taking place and equip the people. On this day Peter, I get it – every living church is on the move and every preacher, minister and leader a pioneer. As one preacher to another I have learnt from you on this day that a better Christ shaped world is possible if we dream and speak it here and now, it must and will first take shape in us, it will require more of us but it is born of the wind and fire of the Spirit.
Peter, I wonder what you would have preached if we had you with us at Moortown today? I guess we know, you would have described what you saw happening and connected it with Jesus. You would preach in such a way that urges people to respond and question – what must we do to be saved? You would have reached out to the lost and not just have conversations in church.
Graham Brownlee, 20th May 2017
(The text of a message given on Pentecost Sunday)