The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Scripture Reading: Acts 11:1-18, John 13:31-35
Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem
11 Now the apostles and the believers[a] who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers[b] criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 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. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.[c] These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 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; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 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.’ 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?” 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.”
- Acts 11:1 Gk brothers
- Acts 11:2 Gk lacks believers
- Acts 11:12 Or not to hesitat
The New Commandment
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[a] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- John 13:32 Other ancient authorities lack If God has been glorified in him
Sermon: “Hindering God”
Some famous movie quotes are instantly recognizable. I’ll give you the line; you tell me the movie it came from.
- “After all, tomorrow is another day!” (Gone with The Wind, 1939)
- “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (Jaws, 1975)
- “If you build it, he will come.” (Field of Dreams, 1989)
- “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” (Psycho, 1960)
- “My precious.” (The Lord of The Rings: Two Towers, 2002)
Of course, Stooge fans have their favorite quotes, too. This scene features one of mine.
“We all put the yeast in!” is a great line, but it will no more change the world than, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Other words, though, have changed the world. I’ll give you the quote; you tell me who said or wrote it.
- “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” (Anne Frank)
- “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” (Ronald Reagan)
- “If slavery isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong.” (Abraham Lincoln)
- “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” (Malala Yousafzai)
Today’s words from Acts might not be as famous, but, for Christians, they’re just as, if not more, powerful. They mark a pivot point in church history, one that sent Jesus’ followers off in a new direction.
The first game changing lines come from Peter, as he tells the story of his vision in Joppa.
I was praying in Joppa, and fell into a trance. In my vision, something like a huge sheet descended from the sky as if it were being lowered by its four corners. It landed right in front of me. It was full of all kinds of four-footed creatures that we would call unclean—I could identify mammals, snakes, lizards, and birds. Then I heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter! Kill these creatures and eat them!” Of course, I replied, “By no means, Lord! Not a single bite of forbidden, nonkosher food has ever touched my lips.” But then the voice spoke from heaven a second time: “If God makes something clean, you must not call it dirty or forbidden.” (Acts 11:4-9)
Keeping a kosher table and staying away from those who did not reminded the Jewish people of their faith, their heritage, and their history.
No wonder Peter said, “By no means, Lord!” when asked to chow down on what was, to him, a net filled with unclean, forbidden, and disgusting food.
At that point in the life of the church, though, some were using the same regulations that had once sustained the Jewish people through persecution and exile to keep others from following Jesus.
When the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household, Peter knew that God was upending the way he’d always looked at the world.
Christians would no longer be defined by the food on their tables, but the faith in their hearts. Making that change was one of the hardest things Peter ever had to do. Giving up one way of life for the sake of another is always tough―just ask James McFarland.
Here he is in 2014, number 40, celebrating after TCU beat Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl 42 to 3. McFarland’s dream, like so many others’, was to play in the NFL.
By the time he graduated from college, though, he had a broken elbow and broken toe. The meniscus in his right knee was gone. McFarland, considering the toll football had already taken, decided to move on.
Today he’s a probation officer in his hometown of West Monroe, Louisiana, helping get young people back on the right path, making a difference in ways that a football career never could.
Still, saying goodbye to a chance at the NFL couldn’t have been easy. It was time for a painful and challenging parting of the ways in Acts, too.
“If God gave them the same gift we were given when we believed in the Lord Jesus,” Peter asked, “who was I to stand in God’s way?”
Who was he indeed, and, for that matter, who was anyone else? Still, if you couldn’t tell who Jesus’ followers were by the food they ate, and if circumcision was no longer required for men to become part of the community of faith, what would give Christians their own, unique, spiritual identity?
Our reading from John gives one answer.
[Jesus said,] “I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I’ve loved you, and show your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as my followers if you prove your love to others.”
The table they set would no longer set Christians apart. Instead, it would be the lives they lived. What does that kind of life look like?
Margaret Guenther, writing in The Christian Century, tackled that very question.
If we love one another as Jesus loves us, we must be ready to put aside our grudges, hurts, and righteous anger. The commandment has no loopholes; it demands that we let go of our pet hates, the ones we clutch like teddy bears.
As Christians, we…put crosses on our buildings or wear crosses on chains around our necks. Yet, according to Jesus, we don’t need these emblems. We…can be spotted anywhere as his people if we love one another.
The trouble with you and with me is that we confuse romantic love, Hallmark style, with committed love, Jesus style, the love of long-term relationships that weather much and endure much, yet still persevere.
Psychologist Robert Johnson calls this “stirring the oatmeal” love. He describes it as:
…a willingness to share ordinary human life, to find meaning in the simple, unromantic tasks: earning a living, living within a budget, putting out the garbage, feeding the baby in the middle of the night. To ‘stir the oatmeal’ means to [discover] the sacred in the midst of the humble and ordinary.
God still brings new life and still sends God’s people out in new directions. We often miss it because we’re waiting for something extraordinary to happen in our corner of the world on our terms.
We don’t see God’s everyday stirring of faith’s oatmeal right in front of us. Neither do we see it powerfully at work in the very people whom we think unworthy of God’s love and grace, the folks over at Cornelius’ house, or whatever we think its 21st century equivalent would be.
Still, the early church leaders in Jerusalem finally and grudgingly had to admit, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
“Even to the Gentiles?” Well, at least it was a start. Those leaders had taken the first step toward inclusion, rather than exclusion. They were beginning to see that the gospel was meant to unite rather than divide, to promote healing rather than fan the flames of hate.
God in Christ loves us more than we can possibly imagine. That love sets us free and sends us out to stir faith’s oatmeal, loving each other in ways both great and small, in ways hard to miss as well as hard to see.
Some days we’ll succeed in sharing that love. Some days, many days, we’ll hinder it instead. But if we persevere, God promises, we will one day find ourselves in that strange, foreign land of mercy and grace we call the kingdom of God.