Acts 18:1-11; John 15:1-8

5th Sunday of Easter

St Barbara’s 28.04.2024

Rev Tulo Raistrick

At this time in just eight days time, Earlsdon high street will be abuzz for the Earlsdon Festival. There will be stalls the length of the street selling their wares, promoting their work, tempting passers by with the smells of their cooking. And if you go early enough, before the crowds begin to overwhelm, you’ll find many of the stall-holders are only too happy to chat and draw you into conversation, to pass the time of day. Its good business but it also helps to make the passing of time more pleasurable.

Go back two thousand years to the ancient city of Corinth in Greece and you’ll find that’s how the streets were everyday, lined with stall holders, a constant buzz of conversation, haggling, argument and laughter. And one of those stalls, one of those open-air shop fronts, would have belonged to a Jewish couple from Turkey, recently arrived from a few years living in Rome, a couple called Priscilla and Aquila. If you’ve read Paula Gooder’s book Phoebe, you will be familiar with them. Corinth was the perfect place for their business. They made and sold tents and other leather goods – shop awnings, ship sails, market booths – and Corinth was one of the busiest trading cities anywhere in the Roman empire. So as they sat by their open shop front, stitching leather and selling their wares, they would happily chat to people, customers and passers-by alike.

And no doubt one of the things that they would talk about was their Christian faith. Passers by, hearing their accents, would be curious as to where they were from. “Initially from northern Turkey” one can imagine Priscilla and Aquila replying, “but latterly from Rome”. “Why did you leave Rome?”, would be the next question. “We were kicked out, forced to flee by the Emperor, because he was banning all Jews and Christians from the city.” “You’re not one of those, are you?” another eavesdropper may interject. “Well, actually, we’re both, we are Jews who are Christians”. “Well aren’t Christians a weird sect causing riots wherever they go?” a third bystander may butt in. “Ah you may think so, but its not actually the case. You see, we actually believe in love and peace and God being for everyone…” Before long, a crowd has gathered and an intense and good-natured discussion has begun.

No wonder when Paul arrived in Corinth he should hear about Priscilla and Aquila, and as he also was a tent-maker, it made perfect sense for him to join their business. It proved the beginning of a great friendship and partnership.

It is sometimes tempting to read the book of Acts and its story of the start of the church and think that all the apostles and early Christians were professional preachers and evangelists – that all they did all day was go from place to place as missionaries – and that they had little grasp of the realities of daily life. When, in fact, all Christians had to work for their living, even someone like Paul. Faith was shared by living alongside others, by daily conversation in the hum-drum of ordinary life. And indeed their work, their daily lives, were part of their worship, part of how they served God. Let’s face it, selling a customer a shoddily made tent that leaked with the first spot of rain would hardly be a ringing endorsement for the Christian faith they proclaimed!

For us too, our faith is lived out, expressed, as much in the six days in our week when we are not in church as the one day when we are. Our place of worship, the place where we offer praise to God, is as much in the classroom at school, or the office or surgery or hospital or factory where we work, or the community group or the family gathering we attend, as it is here in this building. That is not new for any of us, but occasionally we need the reminder. Where we work, where we live, should be regarded as holy ground, because it is the place where we can offer worship to God. Have a think about this coming week: where at work or amongst friends or within the community can you offer God worship, activity and words worthy of him?

God calls us to worship him wherever we are. He also calls us to worship him alongside others, whoever they are.

If you follow football at all, you may have come across the strange incident last week where a Chelsea team winning five nil were awarded a penalty, and a fight almost broke out between three or four of their players over which one was going to take it.They had lost sight of team and were just focussed on themselves. They all wanted the glory of scoring the penalty. It is perhaps not surprising that a week later they lost their next League game five nil. Personalities not willing to work with one another.

One of the striking things about Luke’s account of Paul’s visit to Corinth is how many different people are mentioned and how different their personalities must have been. There is Priscilla and Aquila. We get the sense from the account and from some of Paul’s later letters where he mentions them, that they are a warm and hospitable couple, who are willing to open up their home as a place for Christians to gather. They are clearly a couple who are able to tolerate others, as lets be honest, Paul probably wasn’t the easiest of house-guests or working companions.

For his is a very different personality, perhaps somewhat more feisty in nature. When some of those worshipping in the synagogue began to oppose him and abuse him, he didn’t seek reconciliation but rather shook out his clothes in protest at them, telling them “Your blood be on your own heads!” And then, when he is expelled from the synagogue, rather than putting a healthy distance between them, he goes and sets up shop literally next door. Every time people went to synagogue they would have to pass him and hear his preaching! He probably wasn’t the easiest of people to get on with.

We hear also about Titius Justus, a god-fearer, so a Gentile, into whose house Paul moves; and we hear about Crispus, the synagogue ruler, so a man of some influence and authority who gives it all up to become a Christian along with his whole household.

Look around our church today and you will see people of very different personalities. Some you may automatically warm to; others you may find irritate you or leave you uncomfortable. It would have been no less so in the early church.

And yet we are one body, called to love each other, to bear with one another and support one another, to acknowledge that we are different, and that our way of doing things is not always the only way or the best way. Let us work at being a community of grace, where we are patient, kind and loving with one another.

And a final point to consider. After Paul receives a vision encouraging him that his time in Corinth will be fruitful, he stays on for another 18 months, one of the longest of all his stays. Sometimes staying where we are, faithfully doing what we are already doing can be the right thing. We don’t always need to be moving on to the next project, or moving up the next ladder of responsibility in the workplace, or finding the next new thing to do. Stability, staying rooted in the vine, as Jesus reminds us, has many virtues.

A week on following Coventry’s epic FA Cup semi-final, I hope you will excuse me another football analogy. I read an article that questioned the assumption that the best thing for football fans is for their team to get promoted and play in the highest league possible, to always be moving on to the next level. Sometimes the bigger picture is to stay where you are – to enjoy winning and losing games against similar size teams rather than being crushed every week by teams with the budgets of nation-states. Coventry have just missed out on a chance of promotion this year, but in fact it may mean their fans will have a much more enjoyable season next year than they would have had if they had reached the Premier League. Just ask Sheffield United supporters. That may be true for us too. Moving on to the next thing, seeking the next challenge, may not always lead to the fruitfulness and happiness we seek.

Fruitfulness, seeing the vine blossom and bear fruit, can so often come through stability, rooting ourselves in the present, not always looking for what is next. Acknowledging that wherever we are, in the here and now, we can worship God, and that whoever we are with, no matter how difficult we may find them, we can worship God. Not always asking “What’s next?” but “How can I worship God here and now?”