A Sermon for Easter 6
Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17
Seventy years ago the allied armies declared victory in Europe. Some veterans informally began to gather. Those gatherings became formal commemorations that were observed last Friday. They were not without controversy. For example, because of political conflict, there was no official American presence at the Russian remembrance. There were other noticeable changes. At the annual gathering of an American unit, which in previous years had filled convention centers, met in a single hotel conference room. Of the 70 guest, only 10 were veterans, the others were family or friends. A women, a sister of one former vet, and husband to another lamented how such strong straight up men have become so feeble. She said: “I didn’t want it to come to this.” But it has, and life goes on, even as things change, often in unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways; ways we didn’t, ways that we don’t want. (NPR)
This morning’s reading from Acts barely rises above sloganeering; so I’ve imposed my homiletical prerogative and we’ll begin at the beginning of chapter 10.
But first, I want us to take a peek over to Matthew where we learn Peter’s full name is Simon bar Jonah. (Matthew 16:17) This is only important when it leads us to remember another biblical character – Jonah. You remember Jonah, the reluctant prophet who didn’t want to go to Nineveh so he runs away. That leads to him spending three night in the belly of a great fish. There he sees the light, agrees to follow God’s call, goes to Nineveh, pronounces God’s prophecy, and behold, to everyone’s surprise, except possibly his, the city repents and comes to know God. (WALL, 2003) Back to Acts 10.
This is a tale of simultaneous serpentine revelations. An angel tells Cornelius to send for Simon known as Peter, who is staying with Simon in Joppa (where Jonah’s miss-adventures begins). He does. At the same time Peter (bar Jonah) in prayer on his roof, has a vision. A picnic blanket is lowered revealing of all kinds of animals. Peter is instructed to kill and eat. He rejects the command because to do so would violate the Law; some of the animals are unclean, and there is no way to keep Kosher, the rules to prepare food. The voice tells him “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15) This back and forth goes on three times; (remember the three days in the belly of the fish) when the men Cornelius sent arrive. The Spirit tells Peter to “go to them without hesitation,” which may be better understood as “without discrimination.” (Baker, 2015)
Peter senses a bit of the vision and invites the emissaries in. Since they are gentiles he crosses a boundary. He then shares a meal with them, remember the vision, crossing another boundary, because observant Jewish Christians wanted to maintain the distinctions, the discrimination, between Jews and others. (Baker) The next day they travel from Joppa to Cornelius house. There Peter begins to preach, crossing a third boundary. Remember Cornelius is a Roman soldier, an officer of modest rank from an Italian, not some mercenary, Cohort. He’s not Jewish, he is a leader from an elite Army unit whose job is to keep the peace, which pretty much means suppressing any disturbances, and Jewish Christians were a disturbance. There are all kinds of boundary violations.
Nonetheless, Peter begins to preach. In his preaching he says:
I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (10:34 ff)
If you ever wonder what right is, today’s reading from John’s Gospel account and the first letter from John, that speak so eloquently of loving Jesus and each other as Jesus loves us, provides a clear answer: love each other. But I’m wandering.
In the middle of Peter’s preaching everyone in Cornelius’ house begins speaking in tongues. This is a clear sign of the presence of the Spirit. Peter’s Jewish companions are astonished. The ever impetuous Peter cries out:
How can we deny baptism to anyone who has the Holy Spirt? and orders them all to be baptized.
and orders them all to be baptized.
This is a classic example of Apostles’ predisposition to baptism no matter what. If there is no existing faith community – they baptized. If they aren’t likely to see them again – they baptized. If there is no way to follow up – they baptized. Remember Philip from last week, water by a dessert highway and Philip baptizes the eunuch. Whenever the opportunity presents itself the Apostles just baptize. Scott Hoezee posits that they had much higher expectations that the Holy Spirit was on the move. (Hoezee, 2015)
A final observation. Both Peter and Cornelius obey God’s commandment, an act “… that presupposes obedience.” Obedience is not a trait that Americans admire. (Whitley, 2015)
In July 2013, returning from our daughter’s wedding I had a vision for Stephen’s house. A downtown location for worship, and an incubator for faith based community outreach. I’ve recently come to understand, that for many complex reasons, its time has passed. However, we still have a calling to discern. You’ve heard it before. How are we to proclaim the Gospel in Blytheville, in the 21th century, in the Episcopal tradition? Today’s reading from Acts doesn’t give us any answers. It does give us some clues as to how we might discern the answer.
Robert Wall notes “Peter’s understanding of his Gentile mission unfolds over several days of visions.” (WALL, 2003) So let’s give ourselves time.
He further posits that obedience to God’s bidding, admired or not, is a quality for receiving God’s grace. (WALL) So let’s obey, let’s just trust in the Lord and go.
We read how Peter crossed several boundaries to following his calling. Let’s name the barriers that constrain our proclaiming the Gospel right here, right now. Are there issues of sexuality, or race, or religion or ideology? Let’s name them.
I mentioned how the Apostles had higher expectations of the Spirit. Let’s explore“[h]ow open we are to seeing the Spirit on the move … and how open and willing we [will] quickly and gladly … respond to new [vision].” (Hoezee)
None of us wanted our church to come to this. But it has, and life goes on, even as things change, often in unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable ways; ways we didn’t, ways that we don’t want. Nevertheless we are being called, and I’d rather avoid three days in the fish of belly … or whatever. I’d rather have a reasonably clear vision emerge over the course of days, weeks, or even months. From today until July Sunday school will study A People called Episcopalians in preparation for the Bishop’s visit. Buried in our exploration of Episcopal identity, authority, including scriptural authority, spirituality, how we think about the world including God, and how we are structured and govern ourselves (Westerhoff & Pearson, 2014) will be additional clues as from where we might discern a clear vision. It is my intention that beginning in August we’ll begin to specifically look: for barriers, for what astounds us, to listen and seek the gentle tug of the Spirit’s presence, pointing to our clear vision. And in following it we can get on baptizing without hesitation, without discrimination so that all may come to know God, and through God’s love, love each other. Amen
Baker, C. (2015, 5 10). Commentary on Acts 10:4448. Retrieved from working preacher.
Ellingsen, M. (2015, 5 10). Easter 6 Year B. Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Epperly, B. (2015, 5 10). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly
Hoezee, S. (2015, 5 10). Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Acts 10:44-48. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Lewis, K. (20015, 5 10). Dear Working Preacher: Choose Joy. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org
Lose, D. (2015, 5 10). Easter 6 B: On Being Chosen. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net
Unknown. (2015, 5 8). NPR. (Unknown, Interviewer) NPR. KUAR, Jonesboro. Retrieved 5 8, 2015
WALL, R. W. (2003). New Interpreter’s Bible: THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES (Vol. 10).
Westerhoff, J. H., & Pearson, S. E. (2014). A People Called Episcopalians. New York: Morehouse.
Whitley, K. K. (2015, 5 10). 6 Easter (B) – 2015. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.
Willimon, W. H. (n.d.). Interpretation, Acts. (J. L. Mays, P. D. Miller, & P. J. Achtemeier, Eds.) Atlanta Georgia: John Knox Press.