Taking risks

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Here’s the reading and reflection from today’s communion service. The link to the video of the interview with Tom Herbert is here.

Then those who welcomed Peter’s message were baptised, and on that day alone about three thousand souls were added to the number of disciples. They continued steadily learning the teaching of the apostles, and joined in their fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer.

Everyone felt a deep sense of awe, while many miracles and signs took place through the apostles. All the believers shared everything in common; they sold their possessions and goods and divided the proceeds among the fellowship according to individual need. Day after day they met by common consent in the Temple; they broke bread together in their homes, sharing meals with simple joy. They praised God continually and all the people respected them. Every day the Lord added to their number those who were finding salvation.

Are you a risk taker? Do you relish the thrill of stepping out of your comfort zone, and trying something new, even though it might end in failure? Or are you more risk averse – preferring the familiar places and ways of living that you know, and a little unnerved by too much that is new or challenging?

It’s an interesting question for our times, but before we come onto that, let’s look for a moment at our reading. During these weeks after Easter many churches read both the stories about Jesus appearing to the disciples and also stories of the beginning of the church from the book of Acts. It’s an interesting contrast. On one side we have the disciples still hiding away behind locked doors, or going back to what they know – fishing – being pretty risk averse. They are understandably reluctant to attract too much attention from the Jewish leaders or the Romans.

But then in the book of Acts – Luke’s sequel to his gospel –  we hear the amazing story of how this small, ill prepared, frightened group completely change their behaviour. Instead of hiding behind locked doors they stand before large crowds, making speeches. Instead of keeping away from dangerous places they meet in the Temple, and do all sorts of signs and miracles out in public. And the new community which they form is not risk averse either – they take the risky step of pooling their possessions so that they can help out those in need. It’s worth reading through the whole of the book of Acts to see the full story of this transformation.

Some of us may be longing for that sort of transformation – for doors of our homes to be flung open. But for the moment we are encouraged to be risk adverse. To stay at home, to stay safe. To avoid other people in our dodgem swerves when we go out for our walks. To treat everything that comes through our letter box as a potential threat.

Many of us may have absorbed that distrust of the outside world. But this has also been a time when some have heroically embraced risk. Carers, nurses, doctors, and other front line workers have shown great courage in putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others. And stepping out of our comfort zones and finding new ways to do things has been forced upon others of us – university staff and other teachers learning to deliver things online – churches being jolted into new ways of connecting with people – many of us learning new IT skills just so that we can keep in contact with friends… We may have been stuck at home, but this has also been a time of significant exploration for many people.

And perhaps some of that exploration has been more than technological. Maybe we have reached out to someone – someone from our past, someone who was previously just an acquaintance – someone down our street. It’s not always comfortable – it feels a bit scary – but it also feels like a gift which enriches us.

This week, after the clapping for carers, we’re going to try something new. We’ve seen videos of streets sharing a song together so we’re going to have a go. We’ve posted the words of ‘Lean on me’ through the letterboxes of our section of the road, and I’m going to take out my guitar. it could all go horribly wrong, but it seems like a possible way to build our sense of community and strengthen our relationships – we’ve already had a couple of positive texts back…

That’s a very small example of trying to listen for the invitation of God. Others have responded in much riskier ways. There’s a great interview with Tom Herbert done by our local vicar, link above. Tom is one of the Fabulous Baker Brothers – with a career in baking which took him onto TV and around the world, but in the interview he describes how he felt called by God to leave all this. he struggled to get hold of what it was God wanted him to do, and had some very low times. But eventually he began working with many others on an amazing project called the Long Table, bringing together communities, including those most in need, around great food. Now, backed by the Diocese and others his team are leading Feeding the 5000, providing cooked meals all across Gloucestershire – 17,000 so far – £24 for 7 meals if you can afford it or otherwise pay as you feel, and given free to those most in need. Amazing! A lovely example of stepping out in faith.

So I wonder, are there any ways – bigger or smaller – that you are sensing God call you to step out in faith, in the middle of this current situation?

There’s been quite a lot of talk about about difficult we may find to go out again after all the messages about staying at home and staying safe. We may need courage and support from each other to take those steps. I’m trying to remember that when we step out in response to an invitation from God, we are not leaving safety, because God goes with us. He is our safe place – because in him we know that we are fully and unconditionally loved, whatever happens. That was the secret of the transformation of those first disciples. They knew that as they stepped out in faith, their Lord was alongside them, and within them, and there was no safer place to be.

Lord, as we remember the transformation of your disciples, from fearfully hiding to courageous action, we ask for your help.                

We think of those who have become very fearful at the moment, especially any we know…

Lord, help them find the confidence and the support to step out of the prison of their fear, so that they can live their lives fully again.

As we look ahead to the anniversary of VE Day tomorrow, we think of those who are courageously facing danger for the sake of others in our time, or giving themselves to new and risky ventures… 

We thank you for them Lord – for their love and their dedication – and we pray for your blessing on them and on their families.

And we pray for ourselves, Lord. Help us to become aware of the ways in which you are inviting us to step out in faith at the moment. Give us the courage not to close off to that invitation, but to listen to it, to open up to it, and  to begin to take small steps in response, trusting in the safe place that we are in as we walk with you.

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