St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-19-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-19-2019

Who Was I That I Could Hinder God?

Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

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

As the two messages are so closely related I’ll give a quick recap for those who may not have heard last week’s sermon, and to refresh those who did; In that message I spoke of how, even after their time with Christ, the book of Acts shows us that the Apostles were still growing in their faith, still learning new things from the Holy Spirit, and, perhaps most difficult for them, unlearning long held beliefs in doctrine that needed to be changed.

I mentioned how it began slowly, subtly, almost unnoticeable when Philip takes the Gospel out of Jerusalem into the region of Samaria, the land of what most Judeans of the time considered “second class” Jews, and is later led by the Spirit to engage with, and subsequently convert an Ethiopian eunuch whose sexual status made him unworthy of entry into the Temple and, thus, kept him from being taught about the faith he had so much interest in.

Following that, Peter also goes outside Jerusalem and was called to Joppa where he raised Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) from death and while there stayed with “a certain Simon, a tanner.” whose profession also made him “unclean”.

Today’s message might sound like a repeat of my point last week, that being, as my closing paragraph stated…

“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”.

Yes, today’s message might sound like a repeat of last week’s but I feel it is important enough to merit some more attention. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, also thought it was important enough to bear repeating. You see, Peter’s “step by step” explanation of his actions to the Apostles in Jerusalem that we heard today, is a complete recounting of the story told in the narrator’s voice in the previous chapter; almost word for word. So, let’s look at the doubled story “step by step”

Peter, while in prayer, has a vision of a sheet holding “unclean animals” and hears the voice from heaven say “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”

We don’t have the identity of all the animals but according to Peter’s response we can assume that they were all of the varieties prohibited for consumption by God’s Law like swine, and birds that eat carrion.

Peter’s long-held, deeply engrained beliefs cause his immediate response, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth”. And the voice speaks again saying “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”.

Consider this! It is God’s Law that declared what is clean and unclean (in this case, food). Yet we hear the words “What – God – has – made – clean, you – must – not – call – profane”. Has God changed the rules? Is some part of the Old Testament Law no longer applicable?

 

Change does not come easily to us, it takes time and effort to let go of those long held beliefs; the vision and the accompanying words are repeated three times; driving home the point that there is resistance to change, but something within Peter needs to be changed.

Concurrently, Cornelius (a God fearing Gentile) is visited by an Angel who states “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” and tells him to send for Peter.

We have to notice, here, what made Cornelius exceptional in God’s sight. It wasn’t that he journeyed to Jerusalem to make sacrifices, he’s not named as a Disciple, he was a member of the regional occupying forces of Rome, and he was a Gentile, not a Jew. But it is his faithful prayer and his generous almsgiving that is stated as the reason for having gained God’s attention. It’s not his heritage, nationality, piety or occupation but his dedication to acts of righteousness.

Peter, while still wrestling with his own vision, is told by the Spirit to go with the men Cornelius sent to find him. He does, after putting them up for the night in his home, and, with six brothers, enters Cornelius’ home that is full of his Gentile friends and relatives.  Again, according to the Law of the Old Testament, this is defilement. But for Peter, it’s all coming together as he realizes that his vision wasn’t about what food God has made clean that he must not call profane, but what people God has made clean; which includes Roman employed, Italian, Gentiles.

Peter begins (only begins) to preach the Good News and the Spirit fell upon all who were gathered in the house. Then, Peter and the six brothers baptize all of them.

We tend to think that the Spirit comes with Baptism, not the other way around. But, in this case at least, we see it differently; driving home again the point of the words heard coming from heaven “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”. God left no choice for Peter and his companions.

The message of God is sealed with the words of Peter “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?”

Then, when the circumcised believers who criticized Peter in the beginning of today’s reading “heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.””

 

Peter had to be pushed to change his views, but it did happen. Through that, the views of the Apostles and believers in Judea had their views changed. And, when they were, they weren’t disgruntled, they didn’t feel that they had been knocked down or that they lost higher standing, they weren’t upset about who does and who does not deserve God’s love; no, they “praised God saying “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.””!

Who am I that I could hinder God? Who are we that we should hinder God?

“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! If you cannot accept that, get out of God’s way.

Amen

 

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.”

Psalm 148
148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!
148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Revelation 21:1-6
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
21:6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

John 13:31-35
13:31 When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”