Sermon – Easter 5 – May 19, 2019
Acts 11:1-18 ‘Uncommon Words’
CT: God moves us out of our comfort zones, accomplishes miracles of faith in the places we least expect it, and follows through with His gifts of His people.
Intro: The caste system in India divides people into those with privilege down to those with none. At the bottom are Sudras, or ‘untouchables’. Their work and life made them unclean; they were born that way and they died that way! British society is more refined; they set apart the Royals and those with a title from the commoner. And of course the two shouldn’t mix, even though the ‘upper crust’ was known at times to do some pretty common things. We too divide people into groups of ethnicity, religion, and social standing. Exclusive country clubs exclude everyone but the wealthy. Racism, prejudice, and the thought that “I’m better than you” permeate the school yard, the work place and the golf course.
As a church family, we’re not immune to these things. We’d like to think we are open and receptive to all; that’s easy to say, but hard to do, for some people still seem to be too different, or too scary or too common for our liking. Getting involved with some people is simply too messy for our liking; “Let someone else do it.”
Common With Us: Then we hear God’s words to Peter in Acts 11: “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Get over it, Peter! Get over it pastor! And we’re not talking about food, our preference for steak over hamburger; this is about real people, who God created and loves, and people who share in our common humanity. And they have lots in common with us, like sin! Oh, maybe you’ve been able to individualize your sin as being less that someone else’s, but sin is still sin anyway you look at it. Dirt is dirt not matter where is comes from; we are all commonly unclean. Isaiah 64 reads, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
Peter’s Problem: It’s hard for us to see how difficult it was for Peter and his Jewish Christian friends to make that physical and mental leap into Cornelius’ world. All their lives they were taught to steer clear of these other people, because the way they lived, what they ate, and who they worshipped made them unclean. God gave His people reminders, the purity code or laws that governed every area of their lives that said they were His. They were to stand out as different; set apart for His purposes. It wasn’t that the nation of Israel was somehow better than all the other nations; they were to bear God’s light into a dark world. They were to illuminate the Glad News that God desires all people to know Him. God is not trying to build up barriers between people, He tore them down with the message Peter gave to Cornelius.
God’s Work: The Book of Acts unfolds God’s work to grow His Church, even as Jesus said to His disciples, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) And there was the visible outpouring of the Spirit with a special gift of speaking in other languages; a public demonstration of the Spirit’s approval so that all people will hear about the mighty acts of God for us. It took place 1st in Jerusalem as the Christian Church took root and spread through Judea, and then in Samaria as God pushed the disciples out of their comfort zone. The Samaritans were half brothers and sisters, who the Jewish Christians might have neglected as having married poorly or below their station, were proved acceptable by the Spirit’s actions. But our reading today took things way off the comfort scale to “I don’t know if I can go there!” The Gentiles also received the Spirit’s approval. What could Peter say; the Spirit is not his to give; it’s God who gives. “If God gave the same Spirit to them as He gave to us, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” And so in chapter 10 Peter said, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people?”
Common Baptism: As Paul taught the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:27-28) God shows no partiality when it comes to giving His gifts in Baptism; the gift of faith to believe; the Holy Spirit as a resident in our humble frames that we might daily die to sin and live in grace; that is in the forgiveness of all of our sins and the promise of eternal life. We are all welcomed into God’s family the same way; we are all saved by grace through faith, and this is not of ourselves so that no one can boast. (cf Ephesians 2:8-9)
We are all in the same boat when it comes to sin and our separation from God. Every person in the world has the same common problem and a common need, but all of us have one Saviour in common, and one God, and one Spirit who works His gift of faith in every person who believes. Maybe you remember Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed? “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith until life everlasting. Even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith….”
Uncommon Words: Who is the Cornelius in your life? God is always working to prompt people to ask you questions about the message that saves. Peter’s words to the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius’ home simply told about Jesus and what God did through His life, death, and resurrection—that “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” It is the message that you and I know! It’s the message that saves us from our sins, setting us apart as salt and light in the earth for Cornelius and his household, the people God brings into your lives that they too might share in God’s gifts; the gifts He has already given to you.