I belong to the baby boomer generation. And so, growing up as we did with the restrictions of post-war austerity, we knew where we stood. Economic strategies, jobs for life and all-embracing corporations dominated our work outlook. Our personal world had government departments provided most of our services. Plus, with but a few TV channels, and the one family phone in the hall, our culture was very much based on face-to-face contact with others of a similar outlook.
These ideas are not our experience of today. Life now has considerably fewer authorities, boundaries and rules. We are all in a blizzard for the senses and cascaded with choices. The result is we all must find our own way more than any other previous generation. Therefore, boundless freedom can breed boundlessly frightening.
This too must have been the similar experience that the Jews had in those hick synagogues in today’s rural Turkey. They would have lived in a form of ‘gated community’ sealed off by rules on food, behaviour and association. Theirs was a sacred citadel.
Suddenly, from The Holy Land, these men arrived saying – break down the walls, include everyone and all must be open to something new.
No wonder Paul was unpopular.
No wonder Paul met opposition.
No wonder abusive situations arose.
For we, who are baby boomers, might have done something similar in their shoes.
But, if Paul and Barnabas had not gone out into the cities and villages of the Roman Empire, Christianity would have remained an obscure Jewish sect. If they had not changed the language of worship from Hebrew to Greek, Christianity would have been a tiny footnote in the history of religions. If they had failed to throw off the exclusive practices of Judaism, Christianity would not have been the faith of this building today. In the simplest terms, Christ would not have been master, guide and friend of our lives.
Paul’s ministry then in the places we heard of this morning was one of opening up, of inclusion and of diversity. Since, to him, there was neither Jew nor gentile; freeman or slave.
Our lesson then from this early journey of Paul is clear. We too may wish the safer and more secure past to return. We may want to have the certainty of a high-walled community. We may want to speak the language of Christianity with the same vocabulary. But it cannot happen. The doors are burst open and people of all shapes and sizes are passing too and fro. Something unbelievable has already happened.
What then will the future look like?
This week, we heard some changes we will need to make to reduce climate change. Now I am not up on electric cars but will need to. However, the story that set my teeth on edge was this one.
For the newspapers have that most of the meat, people eat in 2040, will not come from slaughtered animals. In fact, 60% will be made in a factory or replaced by plant-based products that look and taste like meat.
All this seems daunting but is probably necessary.
So too necessity will drive a different culture in our faith’s expression. Congregations will move from buildings to free forming communities. Worship styles will be far more varied, rich and even exotic. Church will move on from a noun to a verb. And so there will no longer be a right way, only the best ways for everyone.
Why do I say that?
Because in every age, the Spirit has been doing new things, speaking in new languages and creating wonders to behold for Christ. This was true in Paul’s journeys and it will on ours.
So, even if a tad reluctantly, let us set sail into this new world. Let us do that like those early missionaries. Let us journey out with our trusted friends. Let us set out with prayer and spiritual preparation. Let step forward with courage and resilience. But, above all, let us break out not by looking backwards but fixedly forward – for it there alone will be see the spirit leading and a new tomorrow dawning.