Speaker Leslie Emmett
What a beautiful few days we've been having lately. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, the sky has been blue and it's going to carry on like that for a few more days. But apart from the weather the last 15 or 16 months have been very stormy anything, but singing, shining and blue and we've been in the mother of all storms. In the pandemic we've learned a whole new glossary of words and phrases and places that we never really knew before, social distancing, self-isolation, super spreader, R-rate, herd immunity and yes… Barnard Castle!
Well the pandemic wasn't in the weather forecast and it has proved to be an unparalleled storm but as well as that we've all had our own individual storms, as church, as families, as individuals. Challenges, difficulties, struggles, troubles… But this morning there is good news, storms don’t last forever and of course tomorrow we're hoping that Boris will tell us that the worst of the storm is going to be over in, well, some people think one week, some are now saying it might be two weeks or even four weeks, but the storm will come to an end.
Let's go to the scriptures. One of my favourite chapters in the bible is Acts chapter 27 and there we find that Paul is on a journey from Judea to Rome and he gets caught in a really terrible storm. But we're going to move on to Acts chapter 28 and look at what happens after the storm. You see storms blow up out of the blue. Don't waste your storms. Turn what was meant to harm you into something profitable that does people good.
Acts 28:1 “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta”
Or as the English Standard Version has it; “after we were brought safely through”.
Through is a wonderful dynamic word, “through” means there's an after. “Through” has inspired some great songs …
“Yea though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil" (and by the way if there's a shadow the sun must be shining somewhere).
Somebody else, inspired by “through” John Newton:
“Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come.
His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”
Or Andre Crouch:
“Through it all I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in god”
Or one or two of you might remember a really old chorus (some of the old ones have got some very good truths in them),
“He'll take you through
However you're tried
His tender care is never denied
Believe his word his promise is true
He'll take you through, He'll take you through
Yes weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”
What should we do after the storm?
1) Get your bearings
“Once safely on shore we found out that the island was called Malta”
Get your bearings; remember where you've come from. In Acts 27:8 we find that, before they got to Malta the last place where they harboured was Fair Havens. That's a nice place to be, Fair Havens; you'd have preferred to stay there for the winter! The very name of the place suggests ease. It's a lovely comfort zone “but we found that we were steered to stormy waters”.
God didn't send the storm
God stills storms
God doesn't inflict sickness he heals sickness god isn't working in some celestial laboratory creating variants of the virus he mutates water into wine
God doesn't steal kill and destroy, he gives life to the full
God doesn't give and take away give and take away give and take away god gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives.
What a good God we've got. Let's proclaim His excellences as that holy nation, that royal priesthood we were hearing about the other week. Yes, remember where you've come from and recognize where you are - Malta. A little pin prick in the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean, 2400 miles from west to east, between 100 and 1000 miles from north to south, the whole area 970000 square miles and Malta, a needle in a haystack, at 95 square miles. The odds of you being in the Mediterranean and ending up on Malta are more than 10000:1. No chart, no compass, no satnav, it seems impossible that you'll get there. But when you're in a storm that you think you won't survive, there's a Malta in your Mediterranean.
Malta says ‘you've had a thousand miles of storms but you're a thousand miles nearer where you're meant to be’.
Malta wasn't planned but it's got you closer to where you're meant to be going.
It's a more profitable place to spend the winter than Fair Havens. Malta is not the end of your journey; it's just a stepping stone to your destiny. And so, particularly for MCC in June and July 2021... Malta Christian Centre! Yes, Malta Christian Centre, that wasn't a Freudian slip, that was deliberate. MCC - Malta Christian Centre. You've got a springboard into a new episode of life, abundant of life, experiencing the goodness and the glory of God. Enjoy your life after the storm.
Get your bearings, remember where you've come from, recognize where you are and re-focus on where you're going.
You're on your way to Italy (Acts 28:14), more specifically Rome. Sometimes when we're in the storm we lose our vision, we lose our sense of direction. But on Malta we refocus, we think back to those moments of drama at the height of the storm when you didn't think you'd make it, and nobody else thought you would. But God spoke into your life and said ‘you are mine, you will make it. I will never let you go.’
So after the storm, after the pandemic… The pandemic has meant there were people we couldn't see, places we couldn't go, things that we couldn't do. And all that is going to change. Refocus on where we are going.
Back in Birmingham we used to sing a song and one of the verses goes like this, it's got a line: “What I was and where I am is not what I'm becoming”.
What I was, Fair Havens, what I am Malta, what I’m becoming Rome. My destiny is to become more and more like Jesus, to proclaim the excellences of this wonderful God and saviour.
The rest of that particular verse says: “What I was and what I am is not what I am becoming. but by his grace the race marked out is one I’ll keep on running. Discouragement shall not prevail nor hope grow dim in trial. For I am confident of this, his presence will not fail”
Amen! After the storm get your bearings.
2) Build a fire
Acts 28:2 “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood…”
I think if we're going to talk about building a fire and understanding the meaning of the fire we could do with some suggestions as to what the fire can symbolize. So, any suggestions please for what the fire can symbolize. Oh yeah! Thank you John the Baptist you've got one, what's that you're saying about being baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire. Yeah, okay we'll take that on board. Think about that one.
Oh! Here's Cleopas with a suggestion. He’s telling us that when he was on that afternoon walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Easter Sunday, with Jesus, that his and his companions hearts were burning like a fire inside them because Jesus opened the scriptures to them on that road. Yes, the scriptures as well. Okay Cleopas.
Well here's somebody else, the wisest man who ever lived. Well Solomon, you may have been the wisest but some of the things you did weren't all that good. Okay, fair enough we're all the same! Solomon wrote a largely erotic song but towards the end he raises the bar and gets very enthusiastic about unconditional love. He says "love is as strong as death... it burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame."
And so if we're going to choose what the fire represents this morning, (I know it can represent a whole lot of other things as well) we're going to go for Solomon’s comparison. And I think this morning for this particular comparison Paul will agree with us because Paul wrote that famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, when he says you can have all the Holy Spirit experiences you like, and you can understand all the depths and intricacies of wisdom and understanding, but if you've not got love you add up to one big fat zero!
So the fire is love.
Why do we need to build a fire? Because of what people have been through. 14 (and more) days in the storm in Acts 27, with no sun, no stars, no food, no hope. Julius the centurion, he's very acquainted undoubtedly with the works of Virgil. Virgil in the Enid describes a storm and Julius the roman centurion would be thinking of this, “Next came the shouts of men, the shriek of ropes. At once storm clouds snatched the sky from night. Black light brooded on the sea the heavens thundered frequent flashes that tore the dark. All signs warned the men that death had come.”
Or Luke, he'd be there and he would have been thinking ‘hang on a minute, I wrote in the first book that I said to Theophilus about Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee and how that everything became calm. Why isn't God doing that now? It seems as if God is on mute.’ And sometimes it does seem as if God is on mute, but I want to tell you God never puts you on mute he always hears when you cry out to him.
And Paul I wonder what he was thinking in the Storm? In acts 27, towards the end of acts 27, he comes through. But Paul was a man with passions and feelings just like us, and you can read that some five years or so before this event Paul says things had been happening that caused him to despair of life itself! In second Corinthians in chapter 11 he talks about various experiences he's been through. He says that, five years before Acts 27, he's already been through three shipwrecks and spent a whole day and night in the ocean. If I’d have gone through that, and now find myself in the storm in Acts 27, I’d be saying, as I’m sure Paul was, “not again, not again!” Have you ever been in a storm where you feel it’s all happening again? “Not again Lord, surely not again! It’s not going to work this time.” In Acts 27 Luke writes “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” and when Luke says “we” he means Paul and Luke and any companions that are with them. The conditions on board - it's no cruise liner they’ve been on! There are no passenger cabins. It's not even to be compared with ferry across the Mersey. Any passengers that happened to get on board one of these cargo ships in the Mediterranean in Roman times would have to stay on deck all the time. They would be soaked and chilled.
Here they are now, they've been through all that, and they need a fire. The storm, the shipwreck, the stranded has a way of sapping your strength, draining your energy, destroying your hope and crushing your joy. Your soaked to the skin, your chilled to the bone, you're on your last legs. We can be like that too. We need to get warmed up by the fire of God's love. We need to build a fire, just like the people of Malta did. They built a fire to welcome this hotchpotch of people. 276 of them who say we're saved from the shipwreck. Yes, some nice people like Paul and Luke and Aristarchus, but as well there were the greedy merchants who’d been prepared to put everybody's lives at risks risk to get their cargo to Rome. There were the sailors who at one stage were ready to abandon ship and save themselves and leave everybody else to their fate. There were soldiers who apart from Julius’s intervention would have killed all the prisoners as well! All these people need a welcome. They need unusual kindness.
As we come through the storm of the pandemic there are more people than ever who need a warm welcome, unusual kindness, and a fire of love. You see in the Upside-down kingdom of God there are plenty of patrol boats patrolling the borders of the kingdom, but they're not there to turn people away or to drive people back. They’re to reach out to hurting, shipwrecked, broken people and to welcome them - to bring them to the fire of God's love where they can be warmed with no strings attached.
Why else do we need to build a fire? Not just because of what people have been through but because it's still raining. We read there “they built a fire welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” We’d like our storms to subside immediately, like the one on the Sea of Galilee. We'd like the tornado and the dark sky to be there one moment and the next moment everything to be sunny and warm and the birds are singing. But it doesn't usually happen like that – it carries on raining for a while, and people are still cold. Therefore we build a fire of love for people who are numb and in shock. It's no good coming through the storm and then freezing to death, build a fire! Love burns like a blazing fire and like a mighty flame.
After the storm, get your bearings, build a fire and…
3) Shake a snake
“Paul was gathering a pile of brushwood and as he put it on the fire viper driven out by the heat fastened itself on his hand when the islanders saw the snake they said to each other this man must beat murderer but Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects”
Now before I go any further I do need to confess something. I suffer very badly with ophidiophobia and research has shown that actually a third of all adults suffer with the same phobia so at least a third of you this morning will be on my side here. It's apparently the most common reported phobia that there is - the fear of snakes. I suppose I’ve got the fear of snakes because of where I was born and brought up in Congo, and also because of parenting. My father's parenting skills. I think one of the greatest things he ever taught me was the only good snake is a dead snake! Even action heroes like Indiana Jones - they fearlessly rush into ancient ruins to rescue damsels and priceless artefacts and then they only get the heebie-jeebies when they find there's a booby trap with snakes. “Snakes” he yells “why is it always snakes”.
Sometimes it seems if the storm doesn’t sink you and if the shipwreck doesn't drown you then the snake will poison you!
So what do we need to shake off after the storm? Revelation 12, quoting one translation, talks about that old snake who deceives and accuses. So let’s shake off deception. After the storm we are very vulnerable, we’re exhausted, we're cold, it's still raining - don’t be deceived. God still loves you. We need the fire of his love. Don't be deceived by appearances. Appearances can be deceptive. The people of Malta thought “oh yeah Paul must be a murderer, he's going to die” but they were wrong. The religious people in Jesus time - appearances were deceptive they said “he's a glutton and a winebibber”. Putting it in this modern day language, he's a greedy pig and he's an alcoholic. But no - he was welcoming sinners and eating with them.
Keep loving people.
Accusation - shake off “the storm is your fault”, shake off guilt and despair. Shake off accusation of other people. The Maltese people found it very easy to accuse Paul; they changed their minds, thank God for that.
After the storm, post pandemic, we're going to have a lot more contact with loads more people than we've had for the last 15 or 16 months. Like peter said last week about the life groups and looking forward to not having to do the life groups with zoom, being with real people. You see on zoom we're rather limited in what we can find fault with. We can find fault with our backgrounds, we can find fault with the clothes that we're wearing or “can't he understand how to get off mute yet!” But when we're up close and personal we'll notice the foibles and the flaws and the failures far more than we do on zoom. But remember any fingers we point there'll always be four fingers pointing back!
Yes, shake off the snake of accusation into the fire of love. Peter says something in his first letter 1 Peter 1:22 “love one another” different translations have Love one another deeply or earnestly or fervently.
The Greek word Ektenos, it only occurs twice in the whole of the New Testament, it occurs as well in Acts chapter 12 where the church was praying earnestly, fervently, deeply for Peter when he was in prison. It's got the idea, Ektenos, of reaching out your hand. It’s got the picture of Usain Bolt running the 100 meters and reaching out to hit the tape before anybody else. It's got the picture of somebody reaching out to welcome somebody. It's got the picture of reaching out to shake off any accusation, any deception, any doubt, any fear. Reach out, love one another fervently.
Well let's conclude.
One particular storm is subsiding.
It is going to be calm and sunny again –Hallelujah!
Get your bearings.
Make Malta a springboard into a new exciting episode.
Build a fire of love. Get yourself warm and make it a huge bonfire. Pick up some brushwood, make it a huge bonfire that will attract and warm and revitalize many shipwrecked people.
Shake off deception, accusation, doubt and fear and love one another deeply earnestly fervently.
Then - expect miracles to occur, read it in the rest of chapter 28, miracles happened. Expect needs to be met. In the rest of chapter 28 we find that the people of Malta “honoured us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies that we needed.”
You arrive at Malta with nothing but the soaking wet clothes that you're wearing on your back. The nature of storms means we lose stuff but there's a restoration of resources and you move on richer spiritually than you ever were before. Praise god! Be blessed MCC - Metro Christian Centre, “Malta Christian Centre”, the best is yet to be. The blessing of the lord makes you rich and he adds no sorrow to it. Amen