Guidance and Grace
John 15.26 – 16.4a; 12-15
We’ve been talking about spiritual practices for a few weeks now as a series for Lent. A spiritual practice is something we do intentionally to make space to keep company with Jesus and learn to know him better. Today, we’re talking about guidance or discernment as a spiritual practice. If you look at Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, you’ll see he has grouped some spiritual practices or disciplines as ‘Corporate Disciplines’.
Corporate disciplines are things we do together. Worship is a corporate discipline; that’s pretty easy to see. But Foster labels the last two spiritual practices that we’ll look at as ‘corporate’. They are guidance and confession.
How are they corporate? Let’s look at that as we come to them. Today, it’s the corporate spiritual practice of seeking God’s guidance.
We need God’s guidance. Sometimes the direction we should take in life just isn’t clear. Perhaps you think of seeking God’s guidance as more of an individual thing. I’d invite you to consider what Foster says: we need to have more direction on searching for God’s guidance in partnership with one another.
We’ve done this already, when we discerned he way forward for our strategic plan, and our vision statement. We sought God’s guidance to come up with priorities for our life, things like increasing a sense of community with the fellowship and reaching out to the neighbourhood outside our walls. We formed our Vision Statement:
Living God’s mission
as disciples of Jesus
united in the Spirit
There’s another obvious case in point for us right now. Is worshipping in the round a good thing or not? Should we continue with it beyond the six month mark?
How do we determine that? Do we listen to the most deafening supporters, or to the loudest complaints? Do we end up doing what we’ve always done? This is often how decisions are made by congregations.
My genuine hope is that whatever we decide about worship in the round, we’ll have learned a great deal about discerning God’s will together through this exercise.
You know, if the people of the early Church had decided on controversial things the way we often do it today, the Christian faith may not have lasted.
We read Acts 15 today. It’s a pivotal New Testament passage which—amazingly—is not in the Revised Common Lectionary. Let’s set the scene. Five chapters earlier, in Acts 10, poor unsuspecting Peter has a vision from God. Oh oh… Three times, a sheet comes down from heaven with all sorts of unclean animals on it. Things like pigs and prawns and oysters. ‘Arise Peter, kill and eat!’ comes the voice from heaven. Peter wouldn’t. He’d never eaten those things before, they were unclean. Then the punch line came: ‘You must not call unclean what God has called clean.’
Then three Gentiles came, people who Peter had always considered unclean. Coincidence? I think not. Peter goes with them to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius. The Holy Spirit doesn’t even have the manners to wait until Peter has finished proclaiming the good news about Jesus before it falls upon the Gentiles and they speak in tongues and praise God. There’s nothing for it but to baptise them and welcome them into the family, just as we welcomed L and R today.
It was never a foregone conclusion that Gentiles like us would be admitted into the Church of Jesus Christ without first becoming Jews. People were going about saying just that:
Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.
If these people had had their way, the Gospel would never have got to Britain, let alone Australia and Samoa! It wouldn’t have gone there because this was not the Gospel.