Any Objections? – Rev. Deborah Dail

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Acts 10:34-48 (The Message)

Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.

“You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.

“And we saw it, saw it all, everything he did in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem where they killed him, hung him from a cross. But in three days God had him up, alive, and out where he could be seen. Not everyone saw him—he wasn’t put on public display. Witnesses had been carefully handpicked by God beforehand—us! We were the ones, there to eat and drink with him after he came back from the dead. He commissioned us to announce this in public, to bear solemn witness that he is in fact the One whom God destined as Judge of the living and dead. But we’re not alone in this. Our witness that he is the means to forgiveness of sins is backed up by the witness of all the prophets.”

No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.

Sermon

From its beginnings, the church has been trying to figure out who’s in and who’s out. The church is still trying to figure that out.

The first followers of Jesus and converts to what we now call Christianity were Jews. Jesus was a Jew, his followers were Jews, and at least some of his teaching (and that of his apostles after his death) took place in Jewish synagogues. There was an expectation among some early believers that this new thing of following Jesus would only include Jews who acknowledged Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah.

This is not what Jesus envisioned or intended, and this is part of what got him crucified. This is not what the Holy Spirit envisioned or intended, as we have read this morning from Acts.

The verses preceding our lesson for today help set the stage. It’s a story of two visions that change two men and the church forever.

The first man is Cornelius, a Roman soldier who lived in Caesarea. He is described as devout, one who feared God, one who is generous to those in need, and as a man of prayer. He is, however, not a Jew. He is a Gentile. And that was a big deal. He is a Roman. And that was a big deal. When it comes to being a part of this Jesus movement, he’s got several strikes against him.

One day while Cornelius was praying to God, an angel shows up. The angel tells him he needs to send someone to get this guy named Simon Peter and have him come to his house. So, Cornelius does what the angel says.

In the meantime, Simon Peter – one of the disciples of Jesus – is praying and has a vision, too. The Bible tells us Peter was hungry for lunch and while waiting for lunch to be prepared he fell into a trance.

What he sees in his vision is shocking. It’s not shocking to us, although it is weird. But it’s shocking for Peter.

“Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: “Go to it, Peter – kill and eat. Peter said, ‘Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.’ The voice speaks again: ‘If God says it’s OK, it’s OK.’ ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’

This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.” (The Message)

What in the world? Peter must have been shaking his head after that bizarre experience. He was a Jew. Jews follow the Bible. They don’t eat certain foods. It’s right there in the Bible.

Then came the knock at the door. The Holy Spirit whispered to Peter: “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.”

I must be honest, I’m not sure I would have gone. How many times has the Holy Spirit whispered to me to go and I have hesitated, needed more information, or simply ignored the whisper? The Holy Spirit can nudge and even give me the elbow poke in the gut and I’m not always going, especially with limited information.

But not Peter, off he goes to Joppa to see another man who had a supernatural experience. It was yet another divine appointment not to be missed. When Peter arrives at the home of Cornelius, Cornelius brings Peter up to speed about his visit from the angel. Things are starting to make a bit more sense to Peter.

Here Peter sits in the house of a non-Jew (a Gentile) with a bunch of other Gentiles. This is not supposed to happen, just like he’s not supposed to eat food the Bible says he shouldn’t eat. But the Spirit said to come. Peter sees that the Spirit is breaking through and breaking down what he’s always known. He probably worries about the proverbial “slippery slope.” But he can’t resist the Holy Spirit who is showing him this: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel – that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again – well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone.” “God shows no partiality.” God plays no favorites.”

Peter proceeds to tell the story of Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection. He proclaims that everyone who believes in Jesus “receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The Holy Spirit wasn’t finished that day. The Holy Spirit fell upon all who were present at Cornelius’s home. The Jews who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.

Then Peter asks, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.”

Do I hear any objections? Peter did not hear any objections that day, but there would be objections expressed to him later in other places and situations. The church in Jerusalem wasn’t so sure. And the church in many other places for many centuries hasn’t been sure either.

The truth is that the history of the church includes many objections to including people considered to be “other.” We have objected, like Peter, with Bibles in hand, even as the Holy Spirit has been whispering in our ears, nudging at our Spirits, or shouting at us at the top of his lungs to open the doors of our hearts and the doors of our churches.

“On Thanksgiving of 1915, fifteen robed and hooded men of the new formed Ku Klux Klan (KKK) met atop Stone Mountain in Georgia. It’s reported that they built an altar, read the Bible, then burned a sixteen-foot cross for all to see. For the next 50 years, Stone Mountain was the location of an annual Labor Day cross burning.” Christians did this.

Sometime in the last several years, “hundreds of pastors of all ethnicities: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, gathered on Stone Mountain. White pastors confessed their churches’ historic complicity in racism. Black pastors confessed their own prejudices, their own hate and anger. One of the pastors in attendance says: ‘We heard one another, extended forgiveness to one another, and promised to change our ways. We lifted a new cross on the grounds where so many crosses had been burned in hate, a cross of unity representing hearts reconciled to God. It was a beautiful beginning, a hopeful step toward dismantling and deconstructing the deep roots of racism in our congregations and country.’” (Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison).

Peter was responsive to the whisper of the Holy Spirit at every juncture in our scripture accounts for today, even when it went against what he had been taught about Gentiles. He was open to the Holy Spirit changing his long-held beliefs. Remember what he said: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from – if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.”

And what is it that God wants us to be ready to “do as he says” for the door to be open to us and everyone else? Our Gospel lesson read earlier in today’s service answers the question, I think: “Jesus said: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends . . . You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving these commands so that you may love one another.’” Are there any objections?