When the next Sabbath came around, practically the whole city showed up to hear the Word of God. Some of the Jews, seeing the crowds, went wild with jealousy and tore into Paul, contradicting everything he was saying, making an ugly scene. But Paul and Barnabas didn’t back down. Standing their ground they said, “It was required that God’s Word be spoken first of all to you, the Jews. But seeing that you want no part of it–you’ve made it quite clear that you have no taste or inclination for eternal life–the door is open to all the outsiders. And we’re on our way through it, following orders, doing what God commanded when he said, I’ve set you up as light to all nations. You’ll proclaim salvation to the four winds and seven seas!” When the non-Jewish outsiders heard this, they could hardly believe their good fortune. All who were marked out for real life put their trust in God–they honored God’s Word by receiving that life. And this Message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region. Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave. Paul and Barnabas shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next town, Iconium, brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples.
You and your worship leader were here last Sunday and they were so pleased with your message that they have invited you back to to a re-run. As you step out of the vestry into the hall, you find the place absolutely packed, lots of faces who were there last week, but loads more you’ve not seen before and they are clearly not church-goers.
Those who you recognise from last week seem to be looking around at the newcomers with frowns and scowls, nudging each other as they notice the odd one here and there standing up when he should be sitting down, not putting his arms in the right position for the prayers – clearly these newcomers are out of their depth!
Then you start into your sermon/message/homily/address (whatever) and you find yourself being heckled, challenged, contradicted by these same folk who listened so enthusiastically last week.
Fortunately, you’re the one with the microphone so you can make yourself heard, and you make it clear that if they don’t want to listen to what you have to say, they’re free to leave, but you’re gonna carry on telling the Good News to those who do want to hear it.
The newcomers glance around at each other, smiling and laughing – they’re tired of being told they’re not good enough, they’re tired of being treated as worthless, they’re delighted to learn that they too can be forgiven, that they too can be saved without the need to go through the rites and rituals forced on the others.
And this message spreads throughout the town and beyond.
But those who thought they had God’s special favour start spreading gossip and rumour that their comfortable existence is under threat and that something must be done to stop this nonsense, to stop you talking like that!
You pray with your worship leader and discern that you’ve done what God asked you to do, you’ve told the Good News, so no need to hang around and let the jealous trouble makers start making things unpleasant. Here’s the tram to Rochdale – time to move on!
Mighty God We thank you that your message is not just for those who are like us, or for those in our group, that we have no right to deny your message to anyone. We thank you that all are welcomed into your kingdom, are worthy, are forgiven, that you reject no-one except those who reject you. Help us to be willing to tell our own story to all and sundry, and to be able to shrug our shoulders and move on when they just aren’t interested in what we have to say. Amen
The Rev’d Sheila Coop is Minister at Macedonia URC in Failsworth