By Faith, Not Works: a sermon for Newcastle Pride

Sermon – Eucharist for Pride Festival
20th July 2019
2 Corinthians 3.4-end; John 8.1-11
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I bring you great tidings. Hark! The church is in crisis! There’s no way forward. We’re at each other’s throats! Gone are the wonderful days of old. Chaos reigns. People of God, despair!!!!

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Now, that’s probably over egging it. But I bet all of us, especially queer folk like me, have felt like this in the church from time to time.

The overriding narrative in the Church of England, and in other denominations too… is that queer people, those of us who don’t easily fit society’s gender and sexual expectations… spell at the best confusion, and at the worst darkness.

Chaos reigns! People of God, despair!

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Well, I for one refuse to accept that narrative. Coming to faith as an openly gay person, my sexual identity, my desires and relationships, were not a cause of confusion, and they certainly weren’t a cause of chaos.

Each one of us has a different journey of faith to navigate… but fundamentally the discovery of the gift of faith is the same for each of us….

A child of God finding, realising and nesting in the home that was prepared for us from the beginning by our Lord.

Narratives that see queer folk as a problem aren’t good and true for us. And they aren’t good and true for the church.

What narratives might free us? What narratives might offer us hope? What is the narrative in which I am one for whom Christ died and rose again, and not just a problem to be solved.

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I have known many churches that say they believe the Gospel message is offered for all. They confess proudly that the Good News is for the transformation of all people, that there is no corner of the created world which Christ cannot redeem and make holy.

Well, queer people put that confession to the test.

Do you really think God gives eternal life to all who have faith in Jesus, as a gift, without a price, as grace? Or do you believe we have to earn it?

Sometimes, it feels like queer people have to do an awful lot to earn our place in the church, to earn the assurance that others can get much easier.

Sometimes, it feels like we have to prove our faith, not to God who already sees it, but to our fellow Christians… who seem to do their best to make us feel inferior.

Sometimes, we may let it get to us, and wonder if we really do have to leap through hoops, to earn God’s love. To pretend to be something we are not… because Jesus’ grace, Jesus’ love, isn’t strong enough to make me holy.

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To this, St Paul says, no.

The Old Testament Law was a start. It tried to teach God’s people how to love God and it tried to teach them that God loved them, even when they betrayed that love. But Jesus has fulfilled the Law. God’s children are freed from its demands, its judgment, its condemnation… even its death.

The Law is good for teaching us how to love our God and how to love one another. But it cannot condemn us.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

All of us who have been baptised and confess Jesus as our Lord, live in the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, when we look on Jesus in word, prayer or sacrament, see the glory of the Lord. And it transforms us.

God does not change who we are. God loves who we are. And died for who we are.

But God sets us alight in holiness, and frees us to live lives of deeper love, more fervent faithfulness.

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I wonder how many times you’ve heard the story of Jesus and the woman caught committing adultery.

She is guilty, plain for all to see, and the Law says she should be stoned to death.

But Jesus and the woman… talk.

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Jesus has shamed the scribes and the pharisees into leaving her alone. But Jesus is not finished.

She said, ‘No one, sir.’ Now, that word, translated as Sir, is important for christians. She says, “No one, kyrie.” She says, “No one, Lord.”

She confesses Jesus as Lord in the same words that we use. Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. Ho Kyrios mou, kai ho Theos mou. The words St Thomas used when he put his hands in Jesus’ side. My Lord and my God.

She calls Jesus her Lord, this woman caught in one of the worst offences against the law, and he responds… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.

****

She has called Jesus her Lord, and she is forgiven. She is freed from the condemnation that hung over her. Her faith… not her works… have set her free.

Her faith has set her free, to a new life, of loving better, loving more truly. Her faith has set her free, to learn without fear how God is calling her to be more faithful still.

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I think that queer people call the church to remember the battles of the past. The battles to recognise that we are saved through our faith, not by our works. Our faith sets us right, not any attempts we might make to earn God’s love.

If you have faith, the Spirit lives within you. Take the Law seriously – explore how it speaks to you about God’s faithfulness, and about what it means to be faithful in love to God. But do not fear.

If you confess Jesus as Lord, be at peace. Be assured of your place in Jesus’ heart. Grow in holiness because you can. Not because you must.

If you confess Jesus as Lord and seek to follow him as a disciple, love boldly, your God, yourself, your neighbour.

Remember the confidence that Jesus has won for you. And live in that confident, peaceful and joyous hope, all your days. Amen.

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Lent: violence, compassion, lies, hatred and death

Compassion is not just about feeling for those who are easy to pity. Compassion means opening our hearts to love even the fearful, the hating and the violent.


 

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I always find Lent a struggle. I always say I’m going to give up a load of things and end up indulging in them more than before. And I say I’m going to take up good things which, if it means putting in a regular effort, usually fall at the second (if not the first) hurdle.

This year, I began Lent by reading Sr Ilia Delio’s The Humility of God: a franciscan perspective. It is a short book, and although I’m not a fan of some of the theology Sr Ilia works through, her writing on the compassion of God and our need to be compassionate with ourselves and others is breathtaking. In my flat there hangs a poster of a painting of the crucifixion. I guess the idea is that I look at it and try to be compassionate with Christ, to see his passion. But what is Christ looking out on from the cross? The world’s passion, the world’s turmoil and broken-heartedness. To be compassionate with Christ is to inhabit the compassion of Christ for the world and for each of us.

I prayed for this sort of compassion. You should never do this. Asking things from God, especially virtues, never runs the riverbed you’d have expected. God tends to answer our earnest prayers in ways we don’t expect, often overwhelming.

Violence

It is my great joy and privilege, as a priest at Newcastle Cathedral, to spend a lot of time with the folk who live (either by day or full time) on the streets in the city centre. The highlight of my time at the cathedral thus far was joining with the cathedral ministry team and some of the street-homeless who generously volunteered to pick up the candle-wax in the cathedral left over from midnight mass on Christmas night. And then mushroom omelettes in the morning in the cathedral kitchen. I have grown to love very dearly some of the men and women with whom we share this city, and the cathedral would not be nearly so holy without them.

I am also a PhD student in Durham, and on Monday had had a truly frustrating day of “trying to work”. The clock inched round until I finally left my desk. Why is work sometimes just so hard on the heart? I was profoundly sad as I sat on the station waiting in the cold for a train home, and on the train I thought of all the ways I could make myself a little happier. I toyed with the idea of inviting some friends over for dinner, and decided against it. Too much effort.

I have a short walk from Newcastle’s central station to the Metro, up Grainger Street about five minutes to Monument. And every day I pass people who are street-homeless, some I know and some I avoid, hating myself for doing so. But this night as I passed a boy who looked about seventeen, a group of men started talking to him in an overly-friendly manner. I stopped and stood nearby, just waiting to see what might happen. And despite my hopes, their friendliness quickly turned sour. “Look at him, he’s just a f***ing junkie,” the biggest of them shouts, inches from the boy’s face. “You want some money?” he asks, offering a note. As the boy reaches to take it, the man whips it back, and clenches it in a raised fist. “You’ll get this instead, you scummy b***ard.”

I step over, and say hello to the boy, asking how he is. His eyes rise to mine, and the men step back for a moment. He moves his sleeping bag, and the light of a Nokia phone is just visible. “Look, he’s loaded! He’s got a phone, the b***ard! He’s taking the f***ing piss! I’m having your sleeping bag, you f***ing s**t!” The boy leaps up, and gathers his possessions as the men rip away his sleeping bag. He ducks several punches and they move down the street.

Sleeping bags are hard to come by. The folk who are part of the cathedral community lament when this comfort and protection is taken from them. It is one of the things that can really break a person’s spirits. I think they are a safe enough distance away, and move to pick up the sleeping back, and stash it near where the boy was sitting. I still think this was the right thing to do, but it was not safe. The men rounded on me, and when I asked them what they were doing, one of them held me back, shoving my chest, as another laughed and the third continued trying to beat the boy. “Look at him, he’s crying, the little s**t.” And to me,”Don’t you f***ing dare, you b***ard. That ****’s got it coming, the scum. I bet you’d like to f***ing help him, thieving ****.” In the end, it was their turning on me that lost them their prey. The boy managed to make a dash for it, with his sleeping bag, and they were distracted enough by this to let me go for long enough for me to escape as well. “Why don’t you help someone who f***ing needs it, you prick!” I hear them shout. Throughout the whole interaction, my dog collar had been clearly visible.

Compassion, Lies, Hatred and Death

What I did was in some senses rather stupid. Far safer to stand and watch, as about twenty people did. But there was something so unholy about what was being done, and to a young person who really did look like a child. I don’t care what people say about the culpability of many of the folk in our city centres, when a person is in a situation in which they are willing to sit in the cold, being spat at and vulnerable to attack, they are utterly deserving of compassion. Here was one being crucified for sins that were not his own. Here was one a Christian should see as Christ, and as Christ sees them. Standing in solidarity, hanging on to the foot of that boy’s cross was easy.

But what about the three men? Their hatred of this boy was irrational. They didn’t know him, they didn’t really care to find out who he was or the truth of his situation. The boy for them was a symbol, a symbol which evoked this formidable response. Why? When I looked into the eyes of the man who pushed me and held me, I saw a fire burning, a hatred blazing that distorted and hid his humanity behind a veil of something terrible. What was it?

One of the hardest things about being a Christian is learning really to accept the sovereign abundance of God. I don’t mean accepting the idea of it, but really accepting in your heart and in every moment of your life that God is the one who in every second of creation, in every place in creation, is willing for all of us fullness of life. In every moment of existence, God’s arms are opened wide, fashioning a space for us to flourish. In times good and bad, God is providing for us in ways we often cannot comprehend. This faith, this perspective, this way of life is one which opens our hearts to welcome, to share, to give and to love.

But alas from the cradle we are sold a different narrative. There is not enough in this world for everyone; there could never be enough in this world for me; there is not enough for me to feel safe and so I must hoard what I have and defend it against those who would take it from me; there is always someone coming, I don’t know where from, to seize this treasure of safety I have built and I must always watch out. This narrative – of scarcity rather than abundance, of fear rather than generosity, of walls rather than welcome, of me over you – is the most powerful antidote to the Christian faith and to human flourishing. It takes the human heart of flesh and replaces it with a heart of stone (Ezekiel 36), cold, hard and impregnable. It takes away our holy ability to give and receive love and replaces it instead with hatred.

These men were terrified, of the scarcity which they experienced in their lives and the scarcity they feared was coming for them in the future. And this fear led them to hate, to hate a symbolic person who was taking from them, who was consuming what would give them a better life and better security, who was somehow tricking them and laughing at them. The lie of scarcity, the fear of lack, leads to powerful hatred, and it is almost always directed at those who are actually even more vulnerable, even more lacking, even more afraid of scarcity. These three men were so afraid, and so filled with symbolic hate, that they were not able to see the boy in a sleeping bag: they only saw the enemy, the trickster they feared.

The lie, then fear and hate, distorted their sight and their reason even as it ate their hearts.

What could they do but lash out? Hatred begotten of lies has no resolution but violence. It cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be sated, for it does not dwell in reality. Hatred begotten of lies is a child of unreality, of inhumanity. It can only destroy reality, can only deface humanity. When confronted with life, even life crying on the street, it can only proceed by waging destruction and death.

Lent of Compassion

I wish I had been bold enough to say, “What can I do for you?” when the man shouted after me, “Why don’t you help someone who f***ing needs it?” But I was too busy getting away. To see the world as Christ sees it is to see it from the cross. In the crucifixion scene in my flat, the people around the cross are absorbed in the horror of Jesus’ suffering. But Jesus has been looking out from the cross to the world.

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To see the world as it truly is is not to buy into lies. Of scarcity or anything else. But rather to see God providing, God caring for and God loving all, even when what we see at first glance seems utterly unlovable, lacking and uncherished. “Eat and drink in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving,” the eucharistic liturgy tells us. And if Christ died for me, he died that these impossible ones might know fullness of life too.

I do not know how to abolish the violence, the hatred and fear that dehumanise our streets, our homes and our hearts. But for my part, I must grow ever deeper in compassion. Compassion as the antidote for the lies of scarcity; compassion to force apart of the walls which crowd us in on every side and make our world small and dark; compassion which makes space for human flourishing in the true reality which is God’s loving abundance.

“Pray daily that your heart may be enlarged, and your understanding of the scriptures deepened,” Bishop Christine charged me at my ordination as priest. Lord, this Lent and for all my life, may it be so.

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Crown him and Crown him Lord of All!: Sermon for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin

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This Sunday we are celebrating the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary (usually the 15th August). Anglicans often find it hard to articulate why Mary is so important, but I say there are three good reasons.

  1. Mary’s faith
  2. Mary was an awesome prophet
  3. If Mary is Queen of anything at all… that is only because we believe that Jesus is King and Lord of everything in heaven and earth.

Sunday 13th August – Feast of the BVM

And a little musical something from the end of mass here in Newcastle (perhaps sung slightly less elegantly).

All peace and good,
Fr Thomas

 

Sermon: Leather squeaking in the rain at Newcastle Cathedral Pride Eucharist

It was a great pleasure and privilege to preach at the Eucharist for Northern (Newcastle) Pride this Sunday evening. A great crowd turned up and we prayerfully lifted up to the Lord a remarkable weekend of events.

My sermon encouraged queer Christians, allies and friends, to share the Gospel with those whom the Church often forgets. And I believe I mentioned leather squeaking in the rain from the lectern of an Anglican Cathedral. Life goal achieved.

PDF available here: Pride Service Sunday 23rd July 2017

With grateful thanks to Canon Clare and the Dean and Chapter of St Nicholas’ Cathedral.

All peace and good,
Fr Thomas

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Queer Acts 2.37-end: Welcome to the Church of All Believers (Peter’s Sermon 3/3)

In the third section of Peter’s sermon he challenges us to welcome people into the Church hopefully, practically and with the eternal promise of God. Luke then offers a picture of the Church as it should be. Is this depressing? Or is it a hopeful challenge that lends perspective to the institutional reality we inhabit?


 

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Offering a Welcome into the Church (vv.37-41)

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ 38Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

People very rarely turn to Christ becausethey like the idea of Christ. They turn to Christ becuase they want to receive something or they feel they need to do something. So it was with the people who heard Peter’s sermon: “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'” (v.37). I wonder whether I would have come to faith if I had not always been involved in Churches which gave me things to do!

Peter’s response is difficult, and the number of occasions when this is the appropriate response is pretty slim. But it offers four things which we should offer to those who are being touched by the Gospel:

1) A challenge / hope of change. Peter tells them immediately, “Repent” (v.38). Repentance is a difficult subject, but often when people come with pain, with burdens and weariness, the offer of a different sort of life is one that brings hope. “Repent,” might not be your exact words, but conversations helping someone to think about how life can be more joyful, more hopeful, more peaceful are often the most wonderful conversations to have.

2) A practical entry into Church. Peter tells them, “be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven” (v.38). It is easy to leave a conversation hanging, and sometimes it is the right thing to do. But sometimes people benefit from a nudge, a practical path forward. Especially if church seems an alien thing to them (even more alien than Christ might seem!) an invitation, a question can make the impossible, inconceivable next steps seem possible, attractive, even obvious. ‘Were you baptised as a baby?’ ‘Shall we find out?’ ‘Have you been confirmed?’ ‘I’ve got a friend from Church I really think you’d get on with. We’re meeting up for a pint on Thursday. Do you want to come?’ Baptism may be the result of our conversations, but very often offering an easy way for someone to put their foot through the door and have a peak is the drop that begins the deluge.

3) Offer the Promise. The promise Peter offers the Jerusalemites in God’s name is great: “so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v.38). So many of us have such fear of our sins, even if we don’t call them sins. Offer freedom from guilt, and offer joy. Testify to how you have wrestled, and how you have learned to live and love. The promise of God’s forgiveness and loving presence is only real to others when we tell them how it has been real to us.

4) The Promise is Always There. Sometimes people aren’t ready to commit now. Or they seize up when they feel that we have made them a target, that we want to see them convert before our eyes for our own satisfaction and self-worth. But this is not how God works. God offers an eternal promise, that we may turn to at any point and receive God’s good gifts.

This last point highlights the particular message this passage has for queer people. Hear again Peter’s description of the promise: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (v.39). I wonder how many times we as queer people have sat in church and experienced that promise as a non-reality in the day-to-day life of the Church. We like adding ‘if’s to God’s promises: that temptation is almost in the DNA of the Christian Church. But all Peter says is, “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (v.38).

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Does Peter think that all those repenting and being baptised are rendered utterly Holy, perfect and blameless in their works? Not for a moment. That’s not how Christian baptism works. The 3000 who “were added” (v.41) that day were not made into good conservative sexually non-ambiguous Christians. They were still gamblers, addicts, cheats, evil-doers of every kind. But now that they had heard of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they had turned towards him and wanted some of that resurrection life. “Repent, and be baptised” (v.38) is only the beginning of the journey. And we must never place stumbling-blocks in the path of any who seem to desire that journey. So, churches which have put stumbling-blocks in front of us need to repent, yes. But what ‘if’s to we add to Peter’s invitation to baptism? What ‘if’s do we add to Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I shall give you rest” (Matthew 11.28)?

I was once struck when attending an inclusive service how alienating it might be. It was serving a specific function, to be inclusive to a particular group of people who are usually marginalised, and that was a very good thing. But the whole Church can’t be like that. Even the worst sinner, the worst homophobe, the worst gambler, porn-addict, self-hater, abuser, cynic, transphobe… the list goes on… even to these we are called to say, “Repent, and be baptised”, to offer hope of a new life, to offer God’s promise, and a helping hand into Church.


 

A New Fellowship of All Believers (vv.42-47)

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Many of us will remember a time when going to church has felt amazing, where we have known enough people for it not to be awkward; where we have had jobs we can do which make us feel a part of things but which weren’t so hard we felt put upon; where our relationships with people have been good and the holy fireworks have been firing in our prayer lives as well.

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This is something of the picture which Luke paints for us as a result of Peter’s sermon. I don’t know whether this picture of a fledgling church makes me hopeful or envious, or just a little cynical. But it is a wonderful picture.

The new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v.42). The spiritual fireworks are going off: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” The believers are liberated to live the sort of life a lady at my first church would have described as ‘too pious by half’ as they “had all things in common” (v.44) and “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need” (v.45). They seem to be in a 24 hour spiritual frenzy as “day by day” they “spent much time together in the temple” and “broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (v.46). They spend their time “praising God” and the fear of persecution before has completely evaporated as they had “the goodwill of all the people” (v.47).

And, bad enough for those of us who are members of churches which utterly fail to live up this ideal, they are even growing: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v.47).

It makes you want to be sick.

And it’s kind of meant to.

The picture Luke paints is one of a church working perfectly, utterly as it should, where everything is going right. Of course, we can’t live up to this ideal, and by Acts 5 we will see that members of the church are getting into very hot water for failing to live up to it! But just for this brief moment we are offered a snapshot of what the Church could be like.

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Throughout these Queer Acts posts I have steered very clear of any reading of scripture which casts queer people as righteous victims (Christ is the only righteous victim) and conservatives as some sort of satanic opposition to Christ’s liberating will for queer people. Some queer commentators do read scripture this way. And perhaps at times these readings are really useful, especially as an antidote for those who have been burdened by years of explicitly homophobic interpretation, preaching and church life.

But passages like this challenge us to rise above the temptation to see anyone as totally in the right and anyone totally in the wrong. Passages like this remind us that all who believe, imperfect though we are, are called into the fellowship of Christ’s Church. This ideal picture of what the Church could be is meant to shake us out of any complacency in accepting how the Church is.

God’s call for the Church is that we may be one as the Father is one with the Son: that is the core of Jesus’ High-Priestly prayer (John 17.21).

Queer Christians are slightly different to secular LGBT campaigners. We don’t just work for LGB justice or liberation. That might be a part of what we do. But our primary vocation is to be faithful members of Christ’s Church, which is His body, often despite the failings and fractures in the institutional body. That’s hard, and I don’t want to guilt anyone into feeling they have to work with or enter regular fellowship with anyone in a way that is not yet safe for them. But we must have this ideal of a unified and truly faithful church in the back of our minds. When we meet for the Eucharist. When we meet to sing. When we serve those in need. But most of all when we pray, ‘your kingdom come’.

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Queer Acts 2.22-36: How to Tell the Good News (Peter’s Sermon 2/3)

Is the Gospel something to be learnt or something to be lived? Are we ready or willing to answer people’s questions about it? And are we willing to seek out what God is doing unexpectedly in the lives of others, and affirm it in his name?



Acts 2.22-24: A Gospel to be Lived Afresh

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

In the first section of his sermon, Peter began to prepare the people of Jerusalem for the Gospel. But now he tells them the story of the Gospel. And he does it in a particular way.

“You that are Israelites”, he begins, “listen to what I have to say” (v.22). He knows that he is talking to a particular audience, Israelites, and he addresses them according to that identity. If he were to address Pagans (“Quirites! You that are Romans” perhaps) he would have to go about his telling of the Gospel in a very different way. But these are Jews, and so he will use the Jewish scriptures to help the story of Jesus to land in their hearts: he grows the Gospel on the fertile soil they already possess.

Peter’s first emphasis is that God has been at work through the Jewish people and continues to be at work in them through “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know” (v.22). He summarises the essential facts of the death and resurrection of Christ in a way that allows space for the role of the Jewish people, of human beings, in the narrative whilst affirming that God is acting out his good purposes throughout: “this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (vv.23-24, cf. vv.34-36). How would you tell someone the bare facts of the Gospel in a way that inserted them into the story whilst affirming God’s action in this Gospel and in their lives? I try to remember John 3.16 when I find myself in this situation: I try to remember, and communicate, that the cross and resurrection only make sense because God did these things for love of me and the person standing in front of me.

The Gospel is not just an objective story to be delivered. It is an objective truth which invites each and every one of us to live it daily and for eternity. Our task as Christians is to invite others to live that story afresh in their own lives.


A Gospel Which Provokes Questions (vv.25-31)

25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”

In vv.25-31 Peter anticipates some of the questions his audience might have. Perhaps they would have shouted them out? And he uses their scriptures, the language, concepts and terminology which they already know, to explain in greater clarity what the resurrection is. I often see a man walking around Durham with a placard which has a verse of scripture on it, usually including the word ‘Repent!’ But I wonder how effective, and indeed how biblical, this approach actually is. Jesus does not refuse to answer people’s questions, though he often gives confusing answers. Think of Nicodemus in John 3 (picture below), who comes by night and asks Jesus repeated questions about being born again, or of the Samaritan woman who engages Jesus in theological conversation at the well in John 4.


And the Apostles are no different: we shall see in Acts 8 how Philip answers he Ethiopian eunuch’s questions. Likewise, Peter does not hit people with the truth or scripture unexplained, like lobbing grenades at them and seeing whether any of them learn to duck. Peter takes time to meet them where they are, to respond to their concerns and to frame the truth in a way that they need to hear it.

Are you ready to answer people’s questions? Do you let people ask genuine questions when you talk about Jesus? Could you answer them, or are you too defensive or upset because of the way people ask those questions? I know I often am too defensive or overenthusiastic to listen carefully to the questions people are really asking. Peter has listened, and understands their culture, their perspective, well enough to answer their questions.


A Gospel Which Has Been Witnessed To (vv.32-36)

32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
35   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’

And then Peter affirms that “of that all of us are witnesses” (v.32). In an age which tends to value empirical truth above all else, do not be afraid to tell people what you have seen of God’s working in your life and the lives of others, even in the life of the Church! For most people have seen something of the goodness of God: those of us who come to faith as adults very often know on one level that God is acting in the world, but we still just need to realise that “he has poured out this that you both see and hear” (v.33). What goodness, beauty and wonder have people seen in their lives already? What profound change have they experiences which may be God working in them? Now this is a hard one for anyone to hear, but perhaps particularly for those of us who are queer it can be difficult to affirm God working in others. I may find it hard to empathise with someone who is crippled by homophobia, and I may find it hard to empathise with someone who goes to chemsex parties. But God is undoubtedly working in their lives somewhere, and probably a lot more than any of us can realise.

Are you ready to affirm what God is already doing in someone’s life? Or are you only ready to preach to those whose life is like yours?



Conclusion

Preaching the Gospel is a relational activity. So often we think of preaching and evangelism as being like delivering a package. That isn’t true. The Church must always get better at living the Gospel if it is to call others to live it. The Church must be prepared to answer the questions people ask about the Gospel, and honour those who dare to ask questions which seem strange or upsetting to us. And the Church must be prepared to confess the works which God does in the world now, which we see around us; and also to seek out and affirm the less expected wonders he is doing in the strangest of places and with the least likely people.