|Pen and Ink Reflections||
If the 3 ‘Rs’ have been said to be the foundation of learning, then there is a case for saying that the writer of Acts of the Apostles gives us 3 ‘Ps’ as the foundation of Christian identity and mission. For in Acts chapter 8 we read today’s passage about Philip and the eunuch. This is immediately followed, in chapter 9, by the story of Paul’s conversion and acceptance into the Christian community. Then, in chapter 10, we have the story of Peter’s strange dream which leads to his conversion to the full acceptance of Gentiles without demands. Typically these stories are treated separately, as discrete events in the life of the early Church. Yet I wonder. May they not actually be interconnected, as part of one truly remarkable story told by Acts? For in these stories we see something of how the early Jewish Christian sect became a highly engaged and outward looking community of radical inclusion: embracing the outcast, the oppressed and the oppressor, from whatever race, religion or other identity they came. This was a truly extraordinary shift in attitude and practice. Of course the seeds were very much present in the Hebrew scriptures and, above all, in the praxis of Jesus. Yet it still represents perhaps the greatest conversion in all Christian history: beyond, for example, the Church’s turn around on slavery or on the full acceptance and ministerial empowerment of women. No wonder therefore that the writer of Acts gives us three powerful stories to help us grasp the point. Sadly we sometimes divide them off from one another and tend to lose this dynamic. Peter and, especially, Paul’s stories then lose some of their context and bite. In the case of today’s story, of Philip and the eunuch, we can overlook it altogether. To do so may be to miss vital lessons for our mission and Christian self-identity today...
Have you ever noticed how much conflict there is the Bible? I don’t mean so much those horrible stories of war and sanctified violence. I mean conflict between people of faith over issues of understanding God and how to live in this world. Take the writings of St Luke for instance, not least the Acts of the Apostles. If we think we have some lively debates today - over such issues as the valuing of lesbian, gay and gender variant people - that is actually quite in line with the conflicts in the early Church which Luke writes about. It seems that, spiritually speaking, Christians have always had differences about how to relate the eternal truth of Christ to time-bound cultural issues of philosophy and morality. Luke however assures that this is not something to worry about but rather it is an opportunity to be grasped...
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,