In Acts, the Spirit travels unhindered to meet disciples and nonbelievers where they are. God doesn’t ask us to uproot our lives to get to him. God journeys to us, breaking barriers to invite us to respond.
Last week, you read about a Spirit-led venture of Northern Seminary. It’s called Northern Live. We’re streaming seminary classes to people like you who are committed to their communities and congregations. You’re doing incarnational ministry; and for many students, the best way to do the Spirit’s work is to stay right where the Spirit is working. We will join, train, and work with you through the power of technology. World-class scholars like Scot McKnight and Dave Fitch will teach, and you will join students in Lombard who are ministering right here.
Can you imagine how this technology would have been used in the 1st century? If Jerusalem was the Lombard campus, Joppa was a remote location where the Spirit was alive and well. It’s also the location for the next two movements of the Spirit in the lectionary readings from Acts 9 and 11 for April 17 and 24 respectively.
Joppa was a commercial seacoast town home to a new group of followers of the Way. Peter had just arrived because one of the leading widows named Dorcas (a.k.a. Tabitha) died. People lined the town mourning her loss, but Peter was able to heal her by God’s power.
Joppa was also special because of a local tanner named Simon. Simon was no ordinary innkeeper. Simon was a taxidermist. He tanned the hides of dead animals. From his office on the seacoast, he stretched the hides to convert them into paper or shoes. According to the law, Jews stayed away from tanneries. Touching a skinned animal made a person unclean. A tanner was permanently unclean.
For some reason, the people in Joppa did not label Simon “the tanner.” To them, his occupation did not make him unclean. In fact, Simon was the hospitality person in the community. Because of Simon’s hospitality, Peter looked past the animal trophies on the wall and the tanned hides. Through the good graces of Simon, he received hospitality through the people of Joppa. From Joppa, Peter saw a vision that eventually led him to Cornelius. In one place, the Spirit preceded Peter and built a new community through Dorcas, Simon, Simon Peter, and Cornelius.
Could your community be the next Joppa? God’s Spirit always meets us where we are. Interestingly the Spirit does not break down barriers and doors that are miles apart. The Spirit usually opens the next door right in front of you. God rarely pushes you off the spiritual cliff. God asks you to take the next step. For Peter the next step from the open-door in Joppa led him to Caesarea—where he met a centurion named Cornelius.
If the Spirit can work just as powerfully in Joppa as it can in Jerusalem, the Spirit can do the same through Northern Live in places far away from Lombard and Lawndale.
Northern will be streaming seminary right to your computer screen this fall. Could the next step be for you to meet the Spirit?