Sermon by Pastor Ed Evans
Scripture -- Acts 11:1-18
11:1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.
11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,
11:3 saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"
11:4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,
11:5 "I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.
11:6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.
11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.'
11:8 But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'
11:9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'
11:10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
11:11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.
11:12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house.
11:13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter;
11:14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.'
11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.
11:16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'
11:17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"
11:18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, "Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life."
This past weekend we here in middle Tennessee have been battered by a huge storm which included tornado warnings, thunder boomers that shook the house and rain falling in heavy, slanted sheets.
As my wife and I looked out the window, living on a slope as we do, we watched a torrential river of water race past our house, with white rooster tails of spray where a rock or pavement stuck out. Our garden out back had pools of standing water, but our neighbors at the bottom of the slope had another river filling their backyard and running into their neighbor's yards.
Our Florida room, filled with plants and outdoor tables and chairs and windows all around reverberated with the chatter of rain on the roof as it poured, and poured and poured. The weatherman says this will continue for another three days. I've been watching to see if anyone is building an ark.
It is at times like this we really thank God for a warm, dry place to wait out the storm around us. We are blessed and we feel special in God's hands.
However, what would we do if a stranger showed up at our door, looking like a drowned rat, asking if I knew where they could get out of the storm, get dry and warm, and catch their breath? What would I do with them there on my wet doorstep?
I guess I could refer them to my neighbors, who are younger and more capable of dealing with strangers and surprises, and besides they have more room, and if this turned out to be a dangerous person they would be more ready to defend themselves than would this elderly couple who live alone. Some might respond in that way, after all, because we live in a world where it is difficult to trust anyone you don't know very well. And even with those you think you know, sometimes there are heartaches and disappointments. And so our first thought is to protect ourselves.
Yet, for Christians there in the back of our mind is that verse in Hebrews 13:2, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Not all of us have to make such cut and dried decisions, of course. Sometimes we must make decisions where what is at stake is not as clear as this. And yet we seem continually confronted with the issue of who is a Christian, and who is not. And is it necessary for us to make such a decision? Is it up to us regarding who is in as a follower of Jesus Christ, and who is out? Some of us deal with this by deciding we're not going to deal with it, we're just not going to make those decisions. That would relieve us of such tensions, except it's not that easy. We are continually confronted with issues that require is to either have faith in a person to be who they say they are, or to steer clear of them because there is something about them we do not trust.
It is these instincts and resulting decisions that are coming more and more into play as government and politics intrude more and more into our lives, affecting our daily life and future, and that of those we love and care about.
Without getting into which political persuasion is "to blame," it must evident to us that the lines between the "us" and "them" are hardening, with blame and claims and defaming being thrown back and forth. And the words of an old friend came back to me, that "it's hard to convince someone of the love of Christ when you have your knee on their neck."
Today's scripture speaks to this issue of drawing lines between groups of people; putting one set in one box and another set in another box. But living people don't fit well in boxes. No one is 100 percent this or that; our very existence as human beings lead us to dynamic existences that make us more mutt or smorgasbord than purebred or single subject. Even so, that doesn't stop us from judging those with whom we disagree to be 100 percent wrong and stuffing them into that box that may in fact be foreign territory to them. And in doing so we lose the initiative to find common ground through Jesus Christ. Here is where we throw into the trash can the common ground given to us by Jesus Christ, as described in John 13, verses 34 and 35: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Whoa! Back up the bus! How do Conservatives love Liberals love Moderates love anybody we disagree with? And what if they claim one name but their actions are those of Marxists or Socialists?
Yes, bizarre, isn't it? And yet I tell you Christ is calling us to step outside those labels and do what He has told us to do. Christians can be Republicans, Democrats, Independents, whatever political label they want to hang on themselves. But they still must do what Christ told us to do, first and foremost.
In our scripture today Peter was locked into how he could deal, or not deal, with certain human beings based upon whether they agreed with certain social requirements. But God unlocked him. God told him to do otherwise. Whom was Peter to obey, the socio-religious requirements of men, or the Word of God? No question there, is there? Shouldn't be.
All across our nation we are headed into a long, hot summer of disagreement between those who support what our elected government officials are doing, and those who do not. Harsh words and accusations are hurled back and forth. One side assumes what the other means by what they say and do, but these assumptions usually come with our own baggage, and may or may not have any validity. But that doesn't matter, because we know they are wrong, whoever "they" are.
Okay, let's assume "they" are wrong, in the same way Peter knew the Gentiles were "wrong" in being ignorant of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But, if Peter accepted the social dictum that they were even more wrong in not being circumcised, in not meeting the accepted social requirements, he would never have spoken to them about Jesus Christ.
What are our assumptions about "they" keeping us from sharing, from doing, from solving?
Jesus Christ, who walked in our shoes until His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection, knows what we are up against. He understands our aims, our goals, our hurts and misunderstandings, and how those work against His words in John 13:34-35 -- "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Do not assume those are words for another time. Do not assume He cannot be talking to you, right now, about this time. Jesus Christ transcends time, and brings to us the words of healing. Will we hear? Will we find ways to put them into practice, as He urges us to do: "By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Implicit in the words of the Christ is the knowledge, the understanding, that there are bigger issues at stake here. There are men's souls at stake here, "...the repentance that leads to life" is at stake here. Who will listen? Who will say "Yes, Lord," and find a way?
Even as the time is growing short, the fields are white with harvest, even as prophecies in Daniel and Jeremiah are being fulfilled, and souls created by God are at stake, souls He wants to be with Him. Who will step outside the labels and find ways to do what the Christ has given us to do?
Pray about this, I beg you. Find a way at last to answer Him, "Yes, Lord."