Posts Tagged ‘gentiles’

Even These 5-6-18

In this sermon, based on Acts 10:44-48, I explore the utterly unexpected way that the Holy Spirit acts in bringing more and more marginalized people into fellowship.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/even-these-5-6-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Ever heard the phrase “Truth is stranger than fiction?” There are times when this statement utterly spot-on.  Earlier this week I was scrolling through social media and found a picture of a book…And looking at the cover art may have temporarily broken my brain…Jesus, riding a rainbow unicorn, holding a machine gun in each hand, all while firing lasers out of his eyes.

It was like someone took My Little Pony, Superman, and Rambo…put it all in a blender…and then poured it on the gospels…and the biggest kicker was the name. The Bible, Part 2. (pause) I’m not making this up. Now, I don’t know what was actually in this book. I don’t know if it was satire, or a coloring book, or some weird comic…but it did get me wondering just what we would find if there actually was a sequel to the Bible. (pause)

Now, while we can’t answer that question, we can take a look at the theme of scriptural sequels and find some evidence…and that lies with the book of Acts…Now I can’t help but think that Acts, or Acts of the Apostles as its officially known, is one of the books of the Bible that tends to get glossed over more often than not…but when we take the time to really start digging into it, we find some pretty amazing, not to mention pretty mind blowing situations faced by the earliest church.

Now that right there…the earliest church, that’s what the book of Acts is really about. The 4 gospels highlight the Christ event…the story of God entering into our reality as a man named Jesus…his birth, his time in ministry…and of course his subsequent death and resurrection…all vital to the narrative of “THE GOSPEL” itself…and of course vital to our faith. But once the gospels are finished, it raises the question of what came next…and we find that in Luke’s second written volume of the Book of Acts.

Now Acts picks up with a tiny little overlap with the ending of Luke’s gospel…as the resurrected Jesus leads the apostles outside the city of Jerusalem. He tells them that they will be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit which will come upon them, and carrying the good news of the kingdom of Heaven…beginning in Jerusalem, then Samaria, and even to the ends of the Earth. With that, Jesus is taken up into heaven in the Ascension…an event which we’ll actually celebrate this coming Thursday…and with that the apostles head back into the city of Jerusalem where they hang out for 10 days…before the utterly mind-blowing event of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit come blowing in and empowered the apostles to speak in various tongues, proclaiming the greatness of God in the languages of countless Jewish people there for a festival…and with it, we begin to see the explosive growth of the early church…of the body of Christ, connected and empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is really what the book of Acts entails. Early on we hear of the various exploits of the original Apostles…the places they end up, the people that they encounter and the miraculous events that occur, and then in the back half of the book we hear about the Apostle Paul, his conversion, his interactions with the original apostles and his subsequent ministry throughout much of the known world…as the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom of Heaven continues moving outward, just like Jesus had said at the beginning, before Acts comes to a close by telling us that the gospel is being proclaimed in the world boldly and unhindered. (pause)

Jesus came into our reality to change it…to overcome the powers of sin and death and brokenness…and then he empowered his followers to carry that message forward…and that’s where we pick up today. With Peter…arguably the most relatable of the apostles because he’s just so human isn’t he?  He’s the one who constantly puts his foot in his mouth…the one who boldly makes divine proclamations about Jesus in one moment, and turns around and denies him in the next. And yet, he is the one who Jesus calls the rock.

Now Acts chapter 10 as a whole marks a transition for the church, and Peter is right at the heart of it.  Up to this point, while there has been explosive growth in the number of believers…its pretty well been limited to Jewish Christians…so much so that the earliest church was considered to be a Jewish sect…an offshoot of the same faith.

And because of this fact…this distinction, these earliest believers would have been followers of Jewish law…they would have been shaped by this cultural identity and with all of the rules and regulations that came along with it.  But now things are about to get shaky.

And it all starts as two different guys have visions. Now one of them is Peter and the other one is this random Gentile named Cornelius…a Roman centurion…and officer in their army, known and respected by the Jewish people around the city of Caesarea…one who even knows and fears God…but still a Gentile…and now he has a vision instructing him to send for Peter who’s hanging out in a nearby city…and so he does.

Now at the same time, Peter’s sitting on a rooftop having a vision of his own…as he sees a sheet descend from heaven, carrying pretty much every type of unclean animal…animals that Jewish law prevents them from eating…and as Peter sees all this he hears a voice saying “get up, kill and eat.”

Now in his vision Peter kinda freaks out, because he follows the dietary rules and always has…he won’t break them…he follows what can called ceremonial law…and he says “by no means, for I have never eaten anything profane.” And then the voice says “What God has called clean you are not to call profane.”

Now if the story stopped right there we could be thankful, because it allows us the joy of eating bacon, which I do believe is a gift from God…but joking aside that’s not where it stops…and Peter is told that there are Gentiles coming to find him and that he should go with them.

Now this leads Peter to the home of Cornelius, and he’s not alone…as we hear that there are circumcised believers with him…Jewish believers…probably numbering among the 3000 that were present and witnessed the Holy Spirit’s activity empowering the apostles at Pentecost….they’ve come along as well to see just what’s going on here.

Now as this group enters the home of Cornelius, he explains why he summoned them…and that in his vision he was instructed to listen to Peter and that his whole household is ready for Peter’s message., whatever it will be.

Now the pieces are starting to click into place for Peter, and he begins by acknowledging something vital…I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him…and with this, Peter begins sharing the story…the message, the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are present. (pause)
Now here’s the funny thing…as the lesson picks up today, we hear that the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter. Apparently his sermon is getting a little long winded and the Spirit doesn’t want to wait anymore…for “while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…and these Gentiles…these non-Jewish people….these individuals who are not members of God’s chosen people, begin speaking in tongues and exalting God…which if memory serves me correctly is the EXACT SAME THING that happened to the apostles at Pentecost. And seeing that the Spirit had truly come upon them, Peter insists that they be baptized.

Now this event is not without repercussions…and as the narrative continues Peter starts catching some flack and has to explain himself…funny enough, not because he baptized these Gentile believers…but because he dared enter into the house of a Gentile.

And that right there…that’s telling of the problem that the early church was facing in this moment…because they all seemed to be stuck in that sense of ceremonial law that we mentioned earlier…that there are rules to admission…that you’ve gotta become Jewish…aka get circumcised, before you can become a Christ-follower.  Peter catches flack over this…later on Paul will butt heads over this…Paul even wrote the letter to the Galatians because of this exact situation.

Now its sorta funny. We read this today and think it’s a no-brainer…of course the gospel is for the Gentiles…it has to be or we wouldn’t be here would we? We’re not Jewish…so clearly that boundary was overcome…that line in the sand was crossed…and its because of this event involved Peter and Cornelius.

It’s a no-brainer for us…but at that time it was shocking…it was scandalous…offensive even…and we hear this if we pay attention to the astonished reaction of the Jewish believers who accompanied Peter…as they were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit, had been poured out…EVEN ON the Gentiles. (pause)

That simple little statement speaks volumes.  Its shocking to them that God would show favor to GENTILES…who’s next? Samaritans? Oh wait, Didn’t Jesus already do that? Well at least they’re half-Jewish…but Gentiles? No…surely not? But Jesus has already broken that barrier too hasn’t he?  And remember his instruction to the earliest church, that tiny handful of disciples. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.

Now I can’t help but think, the ends of the earth seems pretty all-encompassing doesn’t it? (pause)  It seems to be pretty inclusive…and that maybe, this whole situation…Jesus’ words mixed in with Peter’s vision, and the reality of the Holy Spirit coming upon these Gentiles serves to show us that when it comes to the Gospel, we can’t think its “us or them.” But rather it’s a question of “we.” Namely, humanity….because we have each been made bearing the divine image of God…we have each been called good by the one who made it…and we are all included when we hear that God so loved the world.

And so I pose the question today…who are those that fall on the other side of the line?  Who are those who tradition or society or whatever have pushed to the margins? Who are those that fail to follow the ceremonial law that we are all stuck in, whether we realize it or not…who are those that do things differently or think differently or talk differently or act differently than we do?

If the earliest believers struggled with anything here its that “the rules” that they had followed didn’t seem to apply where these newest believers were concerned…or perhaps more specifically they don’t apply where the Holy Spirit was concerned.

As members of the human race we are all really good at creating boundaries…now maybe we do so out of nefarious reasons or maybe we do so in order to give ourselves reassurance that we are, in fact, ok…but regardless, the scriptures show us time and time again that God seems to side with the marginalized…the ones pushed to other side of that line.

And so I ask the question…who are those that we have placed on the other side of the line? Who are the ones that our ceremonial law deems unacceptable that maybe just maybe the Holy Spirit is falling on anyway, whether we like it or not?

This is an important question that we in the church need to be asking ourselves…because if the gospel shows us anything…its that the grace of God is big enough…it is generous enough…it is so full of mercy, that it can overcome my brokenness (pause)…and it is given to me because of God’s perfect all-encompassing sacrificial love for me because I am made bearing the divine image. And the same is true for you. God’s grace is given to you because you are made bearing that same divine image. And if that’s the case then we better believe that same grace is given to everyone else bearing it too.

So ask yourselves…who is it? Who are you shocked to discover that the Holy Spirit has been poured out…even on these?  Amen

Advertisements

Peter Works With the Gentiles

First off, my apologies for the absence of posts for the past week. The Thanksgiving holiday combined with prepping a sermon for this past Sunday had me tied up the tail end of last week…and yesterday I slacked because it was my day off from work…but here we go.

Today’s lectionary reading is found in Acts 11:1-18.

Here in the earlier section of Acts, much of the narrative action centers around the disciples, and particularly Peter. This particular section is interesting to note as Peter is interacting with Gentiles. It is well known that he tended to work more directly with Jewish believers while Paul worked with Gentiles, but as we see here, that was not an exclusive situation.

In this reading Peter is actually forced to defend himself with the community of believers in Jerusalem for his acceptance of Gentiles. He takes some hits regarding Jewish law, particularly dietary, or possibly just laws dealing with clean-ness (verse 2-3). Peter’s response includes a vision that he had received. Ironically, this vision had to do with dietary restrictions as well, but interestingly enough Peter applies it to the acceptance of believers that are not from the Jewish background.

We also hear Peter attest to the fact that he received a message from the Holy Spirit indicating that no distinction should be made for anyone (verse 12). Personally I’m encouraged by this passage. As mentioned earlier, Paul tended to be the one to work directly with the Gentiles, but here we see a connection with Peter as well. Though the two apostles would butt heads later on, we see here that they have some common ground to work from.

Finally, there is one particular phrase from this passage that I find very relevant, particularly from the perspective of trying to apply our own interests onto what God plans out. Verse 17…”who was I that I could hinder God?” All to often I think we get in the way. It’s not intentional. In fact our intentions are often good, but that doesn’t mean that we are correct in doing so. I’m reminded of the sermon that I preached this weekend. It focused on King Saul. I talked about how his good intentions often blinded him to the fact that he was disobeying God. This is particularly evident in 1 Samuel 15 when Saul defeats that Amalekites but fails to destroy them completely as God had instructed. Saul chose which part of God’s instructions was “valid” and what wasn’t. In short…he was hindering God.

A good lesson to be aware of.