St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-12-2019

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-12-2019

Which Way Is UP?

Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

Of course, thoughts of right and wrong come to us through our reading of the bible. Most often we hear these ideas in direct terms like righteous and unrighteous, light and darkness, or just and unjust. Yet, sometimes the same messages are conveyed less directly with words like repent, which means literally ‘turn around’; you’re on the wrong path, you’re going the wrong way, go back. Or ‘over-turn’; you’ve got the wrong side up. Or ‘overthrow’; which is usually the rendering of translation when God is going to do the turning.

It is true that the bible is our guide to discerning right from wrong, but sometimes we allow ourselves to become too rigid in our own following and too exclusive of those who don’t understand things the way we do; our particular beliefs, that took root in our childhood, have become unyielding to the point of inhibiting further growth within ourselves and hindering our ability to branch out into the world around us.

Looking at the whole story of Christ’s ministry we see a lot of things being upset, turned around, or flipped over. Of course, Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple is an example of literal action, but I’m talking more about the metaphoric overturning.

With the revival of the widow’s son and of Lazarus, the finality of death is challenged; in the feeding of the thousands the notion of scarcity is turned around; and with his arguments with the Pharisees the interpretation of The Law is even upset.

And, Jesus was not the only one turning things upside-down; this is most clearly seen when the one preaching mercy, peace, love, and justice becomes the victim of cruelty, violence, hatred, and unfairness as he is nailed to a cross to suffer a slow and excruciating death.

Yet, even that event is flipped back once again when the tomb is discovered to be empty and we realize that the cross wasn’t the end of the story rather, another phase of the ongoing revelation of God.

Following the order of the books of the bible, after the Gospels we come to the Acts of the Apostles. Here we read of the commissioning of the Apostles, their receiving of the Holy Spirit, and their subsequent ability to work the same miraculous healings as The Master did before them. Other than the conversion of multitudes of new believers, including their enemy Saul, we might assume that everything is settled and there’s nothing new to be learned, nothing to be upset, turned around, or flipped over. However, as we continue reading we find that such an assumption is false.

It begins slowly, subtly, barely noticeable as Philip takes the Gospel out of Jerusalem into the region of Samaria and converts an Ethiopian eunuch. And it continues in today’s reading as Peter “stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner”.

It’s so easy for us to miss the importance of these events, especially as they are overshadowed with the miracles both Philip and Peter perform in the stories.

We might remember that Judeans considered Samaritans second class Jews; those who worshiped the same God and read the same scriptures but didn’t worship in the ‘right way’ nor in the ‘right place’.

Likewise, we might know that eunuchs were forbidden to enter the Temple; which was the Ethiopian’s complaint when he said to Philip “How can I understand, unless someone guides me”? But the line from today’s reading referring to Simon the “tanner” is seldom recognized as anything more than an identifier, keeping this Simon separated from all the other Simons mentioned in other readings. Not so. You see, just like the Samaritans and eunuchs were considered substandard and therefore excluded, a tanner, who regularly came in contact with the blood of slaughtered animals, would also be considered “unclean” and therefore unfit to be “among the assembly of the Lord” (Deut. 23:1).

Philip, Peter, and the rest of the Apostles who remained in Jerusalem all knew this; it was ingrained in them from their youth and even their time with Jesus hadn’t erased their belief in God’s exclusion of the unfit and unworthy. But now, slowly, subtly, the Spirit is moving them in a new direction, turning their long-held beliefs up-side-down; convincing them that salvation through Christ is available, without qualification, to anyone and everyone who will receive the gift.

Intermingled with these stories is the story of Saul, the great persecutor of the Church. As we well know, Saul was an exceptional convert; being literally struck down and hearing the voice of Jesus himself. However, in between his conversion and his mission, the original Apostles had a hard time trusting him much less accepting him. Yet, with the intervention of the Spirit, he was accepted, taught the Gospel of Christ, and spent the rest of his life spreading the Good News toward the corners of the earth.


With these stories we are also challenged; challenged to look carefully at ourselves, evaluating the ways we might be inhibiting the work of the Spirit within us and through us into the rest of the world. What Simon do we turn our back to? What eunuch do we refuse to teach? What enemy of ours, being given extravagant love, could end up being our greatest ally? And what have we believed to be upright, that is actually up-side-down and needs to be overturned?

We are all comfortable here in our community of the Church. But there’s a whole world out there that’s hurting badly and needs healing, a world full of murder, neglect, rejection, and disrespect.

 Regarding that fact, I so often hear people of faith, with blame on their lips and coldness in their hearts, cite Godlessness as the cause. True, God is the way, the only way that this hurting world can be brought back to fullness of life. Yet who, or what, is to blame for the Godlessness but the failure of the very religious institutions that keep the outcasts at arm’s length and refuse to shine a light on those in darkness?

The revelation of God through Christ didn’t end on a cross. The revelation of God through Christ didn’t end with an empty tomb and it didn’t end with the first generation of Apostles; it is ongoing, even to this day! Any belief otherwise is upside down and needs to be overturned.



Acts 9:36-43
9:36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.
9:37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs.
9:38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.”
9:39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.
9:40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.
9:41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.
9:42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.
9:43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Psalm 23
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Revelation 7:9-17
7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
7:10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
7:11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,
7:12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”
7:14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
7:15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
7:16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
7:17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30
10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;
10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.
10:30 The Father and I are one.”