First Congregational Church
May 19, 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter & Owen Nuske Baptism
John 13:31-35 & Acts 11:1-18
“Not a Suggestion”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Before charging head-long into this morning’s message, I have an apology to make. I didn’t realize that we missed National Picnic Day. It was April 23rd. I’m sorry I forgot to wish all of you a Happy National Picnic Day. My humblest apologies.
That being resolved, a church had a picnic and invited the entire community to come. The Pastor placed a basket full of apples on one end of a table with a sign saying, "Take only one apple please - Remember that God is watching.” On the other end of the table was a plate of cookies where one of the children had placed a sign saying, "Take all the cookies you want -- God is watching the apples.”
A Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest were good friends. They were at a community picnic one day and the priest was eating a ham sandwich. "You know," he said to his friend, "this ham sandwich is simply delicious. I know you're not supposed to eat ham, but I don't understand why something as good as this would be forbidden to you. Why don't you break down and try one?” To which the rabbi replied, "Sure, at your wedding."
In coming to our scripture passages for this morning, I will begin by saying that I think they are a little strange - for this particular Sunday. It’s the fifth Sunday in Easter; yes, we’re still in the church season of Easter. The past lectionary passages have included some of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and things have been going swimmingly - until this week. All of a sudden the Gospel passage is from Jesus’ last night with the disciples, just after he sent Judas out to do his betrayal. Then the passage from Acts skips way ahead of those earliest of days of the new church, to when the fame of the disciples was known more throughout the area.
In my research for this message, I was reminded that the writer of Acts, like the writers of all the New Testament books, would have used papyrus scrolls, rather than sheets of paper. Papyrus rolls were unwieldy and the longest ones were about 35 feet long, just about the right length for the book of Acts in its entirety. In some ways that seems like a lot, but a lot had happened after Jesus’ resurrection, and since papyrus was expensive, Luke’s had big decisions about what to include and what to exclude in these Acts of the Apostles.
Interestingly, Luke tells a story about a centurion named Cornelius and a vision Peter had - and he tells the story in great detail in chapter 10 of Acts, and then gives the Cliff Notes version at the beginning of chapter 11. He repeated the story on expensive papyrus. If Luke spent that much time on a couple of stories, they must have been exceedingly important and truly worth our time - at least with the more succinct version.
In case it’s been a while, the second of the scripture passages is heard better remembering that certain foods in Jewish culture were acceptable - kosher - and others weren’t. Fish could be eaten if it had fins and scales. So this excluded all shellfish and fish that had fins but no scales, e.g., shark, catfish, and eels. Meat could be eaten it came from an animal with a split hoof completely divided and that chewed the cud. So four-footed animals like alligator, rabbit, camel, wild ox were off-limits - just to name a few.
Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial
31 When he (Judas) was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Peter Explains His Actions
11 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. 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 water, but you will be baptized with 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, Beth and John. Not many of us grew up in cultures where the idea of kosher and non-kosher was a big deal. But it’s not such a difficult exercise to imagine one’s self, being taught that Chevy’s are the best car, or Fords or Buicks, and then, one day, someone you highly respect comes along and says that Subarus are also good, or BMWs or Volkswagons. Or being raised as Lions fans, only to find out that the Vikings aren’t so horrible as one might have been lead to believe. The passage from Acts makes the way for most of us to be Christians, because not being Jewish, we are simply Gentiles. What was okay for Jews was okay for Gentiles. God’s love is far bigger than limiting it to just certain individuals, and that’s a fact much to our benefit.
It also means that any “ism” is to be countered with love, including racism, sexism, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, ageism and heterosexism. Love does not mean like, but it does mean treating all people with dignity and respect.
It’s interesting that the passage from John says to love one another, which without context, would mean we are to love not only those who annoy us, or push our buttons, but those who challenge us in ways that are perhaps deeply engrained. But there is a context in John’s passage - it’s the rest of the disciples that were in the upper room with Jesus on his last night. He was addressing his grown-up family, the ones who were closest to each other - telling them to love each other.
Sometimes, I think we need those reminders that God is the God of all of us - even those who rub our fur the wrong way. And we are to especially love those who come to us in the name of Christ, because Jesus isn’t really giving us an option here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that one of the things I truly love about this church family are all the 180s. Some of us are conservative and some of us are 180 degrees different from that. Some of us are musically inclined, and some of us can play the radio. Some of us have extensive educational backgrounds and some of us can make magic things happen with hands and a high school diploma.
But like any family, regardless of our desires to do well, sometimes we have to remember that a burr under the saddles doesn’t equate to removal of love. Sometimes loving is allowing the other to make their own mistakes and not hold our love for them over their heads when they chose a path we wouldn’t necessarily choose.
I’m certainly not suggesting that there are any issues within this church family that needs this address. But summer’s coming, and heat and humidity and tourists and family, and well, let’s just say that pre-emptive prayers are perhaps some of the best things we can do in these days before thing ramp up in Benzie County. And prayers for putting forth our best heart is certainly a perfect place to begin.
Heavenly God, thank you that you love all of us and that your door is open to each and every one. It’s just that we sometimes forget to go beyond our belief in you to living as if we follow and love you. Sometimes we’re tired or sick or sick and tired and we forget to become the love you have for the whole world. For those times we have fallen short in the past, forgive us, God. For those with whom we struggle, nudge us toward love. And for all those with whom we will come in contact in the coming week, may they be struck by the love that overflows from you, through us, and into them - regardless of how easy or difficult that may be. And most of all, God, thank you for sending your Son, who has shown us the high value of your love, as all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.