“Serving in the Same Spirit”

"Serving in the Same Spirit"

Serving in the Same Spirit

Acts 11:1-18

May 14, 2019

Have you ever had the experience of being surprised by discovering you had something in common with some person or some group whom you had assumed was very different from you or the group you belonged to?  A time when this has happened to me occurred while taking a study abroad class in Ghana, West Africa my senior year of college.  At the end of our course we were to choose some aspect of development work to research and report back on to the larger group.  Our team decided to look into the role of religion in development work.  We wanted to find out more about how religion influenced such efforts for good or for ill and how charitable groups needed to be sensitive to local religious beliefs when trying to make improvements for their health and well-being.

In order to accomplish our research, we decided to come up with a list of questions and then go out and ask the same questions to an equal number of both Christian and Muslim local charities.  What we found is that despite different theological approaches and different spiritual practices, there seemed to exist a similar belief in an aspect of God which called them to have concern for their neighbor—a call to help those who were in need.

I found this very encouraging and inspiring.  Until I had come to Ghana I had to admit that I had not thought much about how this core conviction in the Christianity I believed in might also be shared with people of a completely different religion.  While I grew up being very familiar with a lot of the charitable work done by Christian organizations around the globe, it had not occurred to me that a faith like Islam also had their own relief and development organizations.  I was surprised to discover the same spirit of compassion and generosity in my religion in another religion I had assumed was simply different from my own.

In the Book of Acts which we will hear from on Sunday, Peter is surprised by how the same Holy Spirit that came upon him, also comes upon some people he would have assumed it would not have come upon because they were Gentiles and not Jews.  In other words, they were not from his religion or tribe.  They were different.  Yet he cannot deny the same Spirit coming upon them because he experiences it in person.  He sees it with his own eyes.  God seems to want to include these outsiders and have Peter work with them so that they can be saved and spread the good news as well.

What if instead of dwelling only on differences we looked to see if people who were different might also have the same Spirit of compassion, generosity and love that Christ places inside of us?  What if instead of jumping to conclusions about who we think other people are we instead were open to being surprised by what we may have in common?  What if instead of making assumptions about who God has really chosen, we lift up the character of a God who truly shows no partiality and makes no distinction between us and them?

-Pastor Erik Goehner