Hello and welcome to Wednesday’s podcast. This week we’ve been considering what it means to be a witness for Christ, to tell our story of Jesus in words and actions in the places where God has put us.
Today, we’re going to think about what it means to be a people of welcome. Our reading is Acts 8: 4-25; we are going to focus on verses 14-17:
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been really made to feel not welcome?
For me, secondary school, especially in my early years, was a somewhat challenging experience. For those who know me they will attest to the fact that have been blessed with a rather vibrant hair colour. As a younger man, some folk told me it would one day go brown. I’m nearly 33 and I’ve yet to see any evidence of that. My hair is still a fairly fiery red shade! Now I’ve grown to love my cool hair but in school it was rather different. Some of the stuff was fairly tame. ‘You look like Paul Scholes’, people used to say. To be fair, I’d take that. But some of the behaviour towards me was pretty rough. I once remember being chased and then picked up and thrown into a bush. All because my hair was a little bit different to everyone else. Bottom line – It was a form of bullying which I never really reported or dealt with properly. Whilst there were loads of happy moments in secondary school, it’s fair to say that I didn’t always feel welcome there.
To not feel welcome somewhere is a pretty horrible feeling. I know this isn’t an uncommon experience for lots of young people growing up and often the effects of this can still extend in adulthood. Indeed we live in a world which is seemingly still finding new ways to exclude people: what they wear, what they look like, gender, sexuality, race or beliefs.
The truth is, that is not what God wants for his creation. He wants us to know that we belong.
We see this in today’s passage. The church scatters under persecution. A man called Saul – who will hear more about later in the week – is one of the leading figures in this movement – going from house to house and dragging followers of Jesus to prison. The church begins to scatter as a result. And as it does, the good news about Jesus spreads even further. As we’ve already looked at this week, under pressure, in the face of opposition, Jesus is revealed to those who would listen and people continue to come to faith in an ever growing number. Today we read about Philip, one of seven commissioned Deacons by the Apostles, visiting a town in Samaria. Hated by both Jews and non-Jews due to their mixed racial heritage – the Samaritans were the definition of outsiders. They were the people that nobody welcomed.
And yet Philip finds himself there. He tells them about Jesus. He witnesses to them – in word and action – and people come to faith. The word of what has happened gets back to the Apostles in Jerusalem and they send Peter and John to go check it out. I love what happens next. They just simply do as Jesus did for them and they pray that these new Christians would receive the Holy Spirit. It’s beautiful! Why? Because now no one could question at all that these were now people who were part of God’s new covenantal family. The Spirit was given to show that these people who were thought to be outsiders – they now belonged.
Paul writes this to the church in Ephesus:
You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home.
God is building a home. God’s story is one which has always been about rescue, about welcoming the outsider in. I mean look at Jesus – he embodied that throughout his ministry.
God is building a home. We’ve been welcomed into that home. When God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit, as Paul writes in Romans, we realise that there is a place for us in that family home that God is building. We are welcomed in! God wants all people to discover that!
Today, let’s reflect on how welcoming we are to others? On a Sunday, do we always talk to our friends or do we intentionally look out for new faces and go say hello? Are we willing to open up our homes for a toddler play date, for our children and their friends to have tea before youth or simply have someone round for coffee? Do we stop and chat to our colleagues when it looks like they are having a hard time even though we are really busy and have a massive to-do list?
God is calling each of us to be his witnesses, to extend his welcome to others. What might God be saying to each of us about this today?
Father, thank you that we get to call you Father. That through Jesus we can know we belong, that we are welcome in your family. Help us extend that welcome to the people you have placed around us this day. Amen.
READING: Acts 8:4-25
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
Now for some time a man named Simon had practised sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptised. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’
Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’
Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’
After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.