Welcome to another edition of Brooklands Digital Church! As always, the service is also available via our YouTube channel.
Our Church Support Worker, Lucy Frost, brings us the message today.
The Bible readings are taken from Acts 13:1-3.
The service starts with a 15 minute countdown, where we share some news and announcements. Please use the scroll bar to skip straight through to the service/message if watching the recording.
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Recent unrest round the world has led to many of us taking time to educate ourselves about world events, culture, and history. Time is something most of us have had more of the past few months. Every October we celebrate Black History Month. It is an opportunity to learn about some remarkable people- people who have often been marginalized, overlooked, or abused. People who overcame adversity and people who have fought for justice and change. Many of us are well known to us- people like Martin Luther King, a key figure in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. William Wilberforce, John Wesley and others who recognized the privileges and cruelties of their own race and fought for change.
Other characters are less well known or have fallen into obscurity. Mary Seacole was a black nurse who travelled around the world, In Panama she pioneered treatments for cholera. During the Crimean war, she offered her services to the British Army hospitals there and was refused. So, she bravely made her own way there, setting up a pharmacy and tending to soldiers on the battlefield. Largely forgotten until recently, she is now getting the recognition she deserves, alongside her much more celebrated contemporary Florence Nightingale. Harriet Tubman was bought up in a life of slavery. She was able to escape her life as a slave and she embarked on a dangerous mission to free hundreds of others across a network of safe houses known as the “underground railroad.” She was convinced that along these journeys God sent her premonitions and dreams that protected her and those she rescued.
The Bible gives us clear instructions on how to perceive God, ourselves, and others and how to act and interact as people. What comes across strongly is that God is a God of love and equality. A key verse is Galatians 3:28 where Paul states “there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” God works through his purposes on earth through human beings. What we don’t always register is the diverse range of people He chooses- different races, people who are outsiders, marginalized, overlooked, physically or mentally afflicted, people from varying economic and social backgrounds, male and female, young and old.
In Acts 13 we meet a diverse little group of leaders in one of the first churches. Simeon, a black gentleman, probably from North Africa, Lucius of Syrene (modern day Libya), Barnabus from Cyprus and Paul from Turkey. Then we have Manean- foster brother of the oppressive and cruel ruler Herold.
Our first characteristic of this fledgling church was the diversity on display and how God used this diversity to fulfil his purposes. The diversity of this small group of men is quite remarkable at a time when travel was much more difficult. Their different experiences and perspectives enriched their church. Between them they spoke several different languages and had different religious backgrounds. They were able to outreach to everyone from the aristocracy, politicians, immigrants, the poorest and most vulnerable.
Everyone in this leadership team had reason to feel prejudiced and suspicious of the others. I also think they probably all had insecurities about themselves that might had limited their capacity to serve if they allowed them to. They learnt to see themselves and each other through God’s eyes. I love that Lucius, Simeon and Manean are mentioned as being in positions of authority and respect to lay hands on Paul and Barnabus to send them off in mission.
Through a series of steps the Holy Spirit led Barnabus and Paul to the church and Antioch and we see clearly that another key to the effectiveness of the church there was that they allowed themselves to be led by the Spirit.
In the first verse of this passage we see that these five men were gifted by the Holy Spirit with the spiritual gifts of prophecy and teaching. Barnabas was a gifted teacher and renowned for his encouraging personality. When we talk of prophecy it is important to note it is a gift that is not just about predicting future but for hearing authoritatively form God. The church did not make decisions in their own strength. After just a year with them it would be natural for them to want to keep Paul and Barnabus with them. But they kept focusing on God, praying, and fasting and when God told them through prophecy that Paul and Barnabus were to be sent out on mission, they listened and were obedient. Their individual spiritual gifts complemented each other’s. Paul was highly intellectual but suffered from physical health problems. Barnabus was a warm, encouraging person. The Holy Spirit paired them together. Later the Holy Spirit would pair Paul with Luke a doctor to help him, and Mark and Timothy with their youthful energy. A word that springs to mind here is synergy- together they were greater than the sum of their parts.
The next few months for our church are going to be of critical importance. With contact limited and a change of pastor on the horizon we need to be guided by God more than ever before. We must be a Holy Spirit led church like the one at Antioch- utilising our own practical and spiritual gifts but most importantly, praying intensely and being led by God.
The third characteristic of this church at Antioch was it was evangelism focused and mission focused. They wanted to bring people into their church, but they also recognized the necessity of spreading the Gospel far and wide. From the church at Antioch, Paul went on to travel around ten thousand miles on mission.
It seems strange to talk about mission and evangelism at a time when we feel so constricted and limited in what we can do. It is incredibly easy to feel disheartened.
I believe what the enemy intended for bad, God is using for good. I pray this will be a time of spiritual awakening for our city and our nation. We know more people are watching our services online in our local community and around the world. Research shows more people are reading and praying and accessing religious content online and on television. I am reminded that for all travelling, Paul was often in “lock down” himself. When in prison or under house arrest his evangelism didn’t stop. When there were only prison guards to talk to, he evangelised to them. He wrote letters to explain and encourage and he prayed without ceasing. What can we do during this time? We are blessed with more means of communication than Paul. I pray that during this time God will put people in our hearts and grant us opportunities in new and exciting ways to spread the Gospel.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some key figures in Black history and how they led to me learning about the diverse, spirit-led, outward facing church at Antioch. This past week has opened my eyes to the many injustices and inequalities going on in our world. As Christians we must educate ourselves and fight for change. We must be powerful witnesses of God’s love, fairness, empowerment, and justice.
Here at Brooklands we are proud of our diverse congregation. Our different backgrounds, personalities and gifts all make our church dynamic and powerful. I hope everyone feels loved and included, with opportunities to flourish. This is something we must continually strive for, seeing ourselves and others through God’s eyes and not the sinful limitations of the world.
For our last hymn I have chosen ‘Amazing Grace.’ In the late 1700’s John Newton was working as a slave trader, transporting slaves by ship. He experienced a conversion experience and entered the ministry. Influenced by his friends John and Charles Wesley he began writing poetry and hymns. In his career he had subjected thousands of slaves to intense pain and suffering. His personal experiences and truthful confessions made him a powerful advocate for change. This hymn is an acknowledgement of his past wrong doings and thankfulness to God for His “amazing grace.”