First Congregational Church
July 3, 2016
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
“Freedom To – Freedom In”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole asked, “What do you call an American drawing?” Sven answered, “What?” Ole replied, “A Yankee doodle!” The teacher said, “More than 200 years ago, our forefathers defeated the British in the Revolutionary War. Maynard replied, “Wow! They must have been pretty strong, four men defeating a whole army!” four fathers….
It has been interesting, working our way through the book of Acts since May. The chapters were lined up with the Sundays, and adjusted slightly for vacation and such - but without reading ahead at all, seriously. So it was completely without knowing that this morning’s scripture passage would fall on this Independence Sunday, and I doubt I could have done much better, pulling a passage from thin air. So Go God, again!
Long before the Bible was written down, there were rules that the “chosen” people had to follow. In fact, there are not just ten commandments, but 613 in the first five books of the Bible. From the book of Leviticus, God told Moses and his brother, Aaron, “You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud.”
So camels and rabbits chew their cud, but they don’t have hooves. Pigs have divided hooves, but don’t chew their cud, so pork is not permissible. As a personal aside, a world without bacon, side pork or or any other pork products would be just plain sad.
Fish - anything with fins or scales was okay, but seafood with shells were a no-no. It doesn’t say why, but eagles were also on the forbidden list, as were ravens, hawks, several kinds of owls, storks, herons and bats. If insects had jointed legs for hopping on the ground, they were okay - such as locusts, but flying insects that walk on all fours were forbidden. As was anything that walked on paws. If an unclean “animal” fell onto something made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth, it was to be put into water until evening, and then it would be clean again. If something unclean fell into a clay pot, the pot had to be broken. In some ways, these sorts of rules make life really easy. But then God decided to shake things up.
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ 8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house (Cornelius). 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Thank you, Carlisle. Tomorrow we celebrate the day that put a stop to Americans having to pay taxes to England without any representation in English parliament. Before that day in 1776, Americans were subservient to a country that wasn’t our own, without the same rights that people in that other country had. And truthfully, we’ve been struggling with equality issues ever since then within our own nation.
In the scripture passage for this morning, God lifted the ban on all those foods, so that God’s people were free to eat anything they wanted. This freedom came not because they were such good people, or because they had done wonderful things, but because the Holy Spirit was helping the Jewish folks reach out to the Gentile folks. And just because they had the freedom to eat whatever they wanted, didn’t mean it was a good idea to do a great big taste testing all in one day to make up for lost time.
I would venture a guess that when we hear the word “freedom,” a good many of us think of the ability to do whatever we want, although we have become better at acknowledging that freedom generally comes with a high price tag. The Declaration of Independence didn’t give us to the right do whatever we wanted, but to have the equal ability - as the English of that time - to determine our own path. In that freedom, we can determine the rules that will make our lives easier. If there were no rules for driving, people could drive on both sides of the road, at all different speeds, and on super-highways, that would be quite the nightmare. Just as it was true back in the book of Leviticus, rules can make life much easier.
And freedom gives us a responsibility - to think and wrestle with decisions - even after those decisions have been made. As followers of Christ, we still have that responsibility - not in the freedom to do whatever we want, but in the Holy Spirit to use the gifts God has given us for the greater good of all of us. Then Peter’s words apply to us, regarding those gifts, that if God gave them, then who are we to stand in God’s way of using gifts - gifts from people we may love and adore - as well as people with whom we have isse. For all of that freedom, we should pray.
Great and Wise God, you have given us a free will and the blessing of living in the freedom of this land, and for those things we are grateful. So help us to be even more conscious of - and wise - in decisions and rule-making. And when we have gotten it wrong, help us to see the error and the strength to make needed corrections. Thank you for all that has taken place up to this time, that we may enjoy freedoms unrealized by so many. In the coming days, help each of us to tune into your Holy Spirit, that we can appreciate the freedom we have in it and our responsibilities for it. For all the many blessings you have bestowed on all your people, this gathering of your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.