240421 – Renewed Vision

Yr C ~ Easter 3 ~ Acts 11:1-18

Last week we looked at Saul’s amazing conversion experience and noted that it was the faithful Ananias at prayer who was the catalyst for Saul becoming Paul. Ananias, a Christian that most of us had never heard of or bothered to notice, was nudged out of his comfort zone and into ministry to someone who hadn’t previously been on his radar, and the Church and world were forever changed! Behold the consequence of one person praying!

This week we have Peter, in prayer like Ananias, being shown a mystical vision of being called or nudged to new ministry, to go far beyond his comfort zone and engage in ministry with…outsiders!

One thing we can learn from all this is that prayer is dangerous! Do you ever look at prayer that way? It’s dangerous because it opens you to communion with the Spirit of God, which when given permission to blow just may blow your socks off you!

Ananias prayed and ended up ministering to his enemy. Saul prayed and someone came into his life to lead him into the light with renewed passion. And here, Peter prays and he is given a wildly revised and renewed vision for where the Way of Jesus was supposed to go. So go ahead and pray – I dare you! When God’s people pray Spirit moves them, not because our prayer causes it, but because in prayer we finally create the space to notice it!

Right now in this season of Easter, this season of renewal and rebirth and resurrection, Faith United is being called to dangerous prayer! You’re being called to open yourselves to Spirit and try to discern where it’s nudging you. Some of us individually may be nudged in drastically different ways or directions than others of us, and that’s fine. We’ll need to resist the notion that if Spirit speaks to me that my vision is automatically everyone’s vision.

Instead, we need to pray, and listen, and discern, and wonder, and then share our visions with one another until we start to see directions emerge. You are assembled as this group of followers of the Way of Jesus for a reason. You are Faith United for a reason. Spirit will speak to you, individually and collectively, and draw you into ministry together.

This is not talking about utterly changing who Faith United is. Remember that Saul, when stuck by spiritual lightning, didn’t become a whole different person but just a passionately reoriented and redirected version of himself. You’re not going to enter into prayerful discernment and visioning and suddenly emerge as something unrecognizable. Faith will still be Faith. You just need to listen for where Faith is being focused in these coming seasons.

I came here 16 ½ years ago largely because I was drawn by the enthusiastic vision you articulated back then. But visions don’t last forever – just ask Peter! So it’s time for Faith United to think hard and pray harder about what God is calling this group of people, in this place, in this time, to be about.

A Visioning Team is taking the lead in helping you look at your needs, your identity, and your vision here at Faith United. The goal is to discern what things Faith should focus on and pour your passion and resources into. Everything you could think of would probably be worthy of your time and energy, but you can’t try to do everything or you’ll end up accomplishing nothing.

So what might Faith’s focus be moving forward? What would you like Clarington and Durham Region to think about when they hear your name?
Will this be the outreach church? The progressive church?
The hip church? The cathedral church? The friendly church?
The learning church? The justice church? The praying church?
Who should be your main focal point? Seniors? Youth? Insiders? Outsiders? Young families? LGBTQ2S+ persons? Which areas are you going to pour your resources into? All of them?

All of those things are worthy of your energy. All of them are excellent avenues of ministry. And all of them will get some of your attention because all of them are already here. Faith does all those types of things and tries to connect with all those types of people. The question is about emphasis. Which awesome and worthy things will you lean into more than the other awesome and worthy things?

And here’s an uncomfortable part in all this: I need to correct my language from a second ago. I said “what would you like to be known as…” Well, the spiritual truth is that what you or I might like or want may be irrelevant. Visions of ministry aren’t about our preferences and druthers, they’re about God.

Do you think Ananias really wanted to go to his enemy Saul’s room and help him? Don’t you think Peter would’ve preferred to keep the Way of Jesus within the familiar Judaism that he knew, and not expand it to include people who might have different ideas and different expressions of Spirit? We don’t get to pick our vision – we get to discern it – to listen for it – to tune into it. It’s not ours to craft; it’s God’s to cast and ours to catch. This is why prayer is so dangerous. It gives God the car keys.

The question before you is like the one before Peter. In his prayer time he saw a vision – a blanket teeming with all manner of things that according to the way he had previously understood his faith and his religious commitment were undesirable or lesser things. In the vision, on that blanket, God was blessing what Peter would dismiss. Peter’s reaction shows that he’d been faithful as he had understood it up ‘til then, but now he was being nudged to see things differently, because God had widened his lens and reframed his vision.

You can well imagine that Peter was pretty shaken by this. The vision had to happen three times before he finally got it and accepted it. Some of you, maybe many of you, can relate to what it’s like when you experience something that suggests that maybe you’ve been seeing things incorrectly, or more likely incompletely?

When the Spirit opens your eyes and expands your vision it’s both unsettling and inspiring. At first you might even be angry with those who led you to believe what you previously thought was right, but really it’s just a matter of timing – yours, theirs, God’s. I think our eyes are opened when we’re ready for them to be opened. And when that happens you get lit up – like Ananias, like Saul, like Peter.

Here’s today’s big question: What’s on your blanket? What’s on Faith United’s blanket? If God were to grant you a vision like Peter’s in your prayer time what would be on the blanket for you, and what would that tell you? What would be there and blessed by God that you may have thought was outside of your understanding of what faith or church was? What is God asking you to take another look at?

For some it might be a theological lens or insight?

For some maybe it’s the bible on the blanket – something you previously encountered as a closed book but now are being inspired to see it differently?

For some it might be your view of what it means to be a follower of Jesus – that Sunday morning, while being central, is not the sum total of our experience?

For some it might be about economics and how you spend and save your resources that are provoking spiritual questions for you?

For some it might be your view of other world religions, or about sexuality, or about injustices that you once could ignore but no longer can?

For some it might be a blanket with church on it. Maybe that’s what’s on the blankets of people who don’t attend one? And maybe right now Spirit is stirring in one of those people, those outsiders, and they’re wondering about us?

Let me say it bluntly. This scripture passage is about a bunch of church people who thought church was all about them and their inherited and embedded rules, and doctrines, and understandings, and preferences, and traditions, getting a mystical wakeup call that challenged them to see that God blesses and enfolds far more than their narrow, comfortable pews. Their eyes were opened to the idea that they’d been seeing things incompletely up ‘til then, and now the Spirit has kicked their butts into action.

Through prayer one of their leaders emerges with a renewed vision for what they were supposed to be all about. “Hey folks, I just had this incredible vision while I was praying. We’re not supposed to be just about what we’ve been doing. God is nudging us to take our message of renewed and abundant life to people who aren’t already in here with us – even if we have to let go of some of our stuff as we do it.” I doubt Peter was very popular in that moment. People who urge evangelism rarely are!

Ok, now here’s the part of the story I’ve left out, and the part that convicted the insiders Peter was talking to. How did Peter confirm that his vision wasn’t just indigestion, or personal ideology? Well, the story goes that immediately after he had his blanket vision about going beyond strict Judaism and including outsiders, a group of outsiders show up on his doorstep asking him for help. And Peter goes with them to Cornelius’ house, and preaches Jesus’ message to them.

So how did Cornelius, the outsider, know to send for Peter? He had a vision of it while he was praying! Again and again, we keep getting this message that through prayer the Spirit renews us and moves us. And while Peter was preaching these outsiders experienced their own Pentecost moment when the Spirit fell mightily on them and renewed their lives, and Peter realized that they weren’t outsiders anymore. No one is!

There’s two big takeaways here. One is that Peter saw, and shows us, that Spirit moves beyond the confines of his church (and our churches) and he, and we, need to tune-in to where that is and nurture it.

And the other takeaway is that these so-called outsiders that Ananias, and Peter, and YOU are being nudged to minister to are yearning for the ministry. Think about that. Ananias and Peter aren’t sent to just anybody’s houses – they aren’t randomly knocking on doors, or standing on a street corner yelling at people, they’re sent to places where outsiders have been having spiritual experiences and need and want the guidance of an insider to draw it forth. The Spirit is already moving out there. We need to get better at noticing it, and when we do, nurturing it. That’s the mission of every follower of the Way of Jesus.

Whenever anyone talks about their church’s vision they’re talking about how they are when they’re together, and what they feel like God is nudging them to do. They’re saying “we’re the such and such church that does such and such.” Peter learned that his group needed to lighten up on their rules and regulations with each other on the inside of the church, and realize that the treasure they had was meant to be shared more widely than what they’d known so far. It was a profound spiritual vision that he didn’t get at a Council meeting, or a workshop, he got it in prayer.

What will your renewed vision be? The fundamental idea of loving God, loving people, and loving one another is not up for debate. They’re Jesus’ commandments, and every Christian and every church is supposed to be about that. The only question is “how?”

How will your love of God, love of others, and love for one another take shape here?
How will you be together – in worship, in support, in learning, in prayer, in reaching out?
And how will you describe what you’re feeling called to do with all this spiritual energy you’re nurturing in this place?

You are an Easter story. Faith United is an Easter story. You are not who you once were. You are not the same church that you were 16 ½ years ago. That church has died and has been resurrected as this. And God said, “It is good!” And now it’s time for Faith United to go through another kind of ending so that a new beginning can be born – another resurrection – and to leverage your renewed passion and catch a renewed vision, which means it’s time for Faith United to get busy praying.

I dare you!