March 31, 2013
Acts 10:34-43 Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
I Corinthians 15:19-26 St. John 20:1-18
Hymns: 180, 371, 207, 208
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality…” That is what Peter said. Sadly many people who claim to be Christians believe that God show partiality and a lot it.
People who believe that only if you believe like them you will go to heaven. People who believe that only if you belong to their particular denomination, will you go to heaven. Probably the most extreme example is the Westboro Baptist Church. But there are those even in our own community who also believe this. They believe in a god of partiality and I find this extremely sad.
I want to do something rather unusual this Easter Day. You see, today I’m not going to talk about the resurrection. Instead I want to talk about Peter’s revelation in today’s first reading. Of course this reading from Acts comes after the resurrection. It deals with the early history of the church and the church leaders, in particular Peter.
You see, in spite of the experience of the apostles in living with Christ and living through the experience of the resurrection, they still had their pre-conceived notions of how God was acting in the world around them. The resurrection experience had not yet transformed them or Peter. There was still work to be done in his life. The resurrection experience merely prepared him for changes he could not even imagine.
Too often I feel that in the Christian community we look at the resurrection or conversion experience as a one time event in which we are somehow magically transformed by God and that is it. But there is usually always much more head of us in that experience. It is merely the first step when God begins to work in our lives.
In this particular instance Peter was struggling with the issue God’s partiality. Yes, Peter and the apostles believed that God was indeed partial to some. That God had a preference for some people over others. It was a deeply ingrained believe and not an easy one for Peter to overcome. In fact, in a dream he had to get the message repeated three times from God before it sunk in.
What brought Peter to this point was a dream. In the dream, all sorts of unclean animals are placed before Peter and he is told to kill and eat them. He had been raised all his life to not eat certain things because God did not what him to.
It was a life long, and scripturally based belief that Peter was struggling with. So there were very good reasons in Peter’s mind for not wanting to accept this change from God. And yet, once the light dawns on Peter, he embraces is whole-heartedly.
Not only that, but in the stories culmination today, Peter actually expands this dream to include something completely different from what was in the dream. Rather that restrict his dream to a literal interpretation of exactly what he had seen, that is that God had done away with dietary restrictions, Peter greatly expanded the interpretation of this dream to include the understanding that the good news of the resurrection and power of Jesus was open not to just those of the Jewish heritage, but to everyone.
Peter issues that powerful statement we hear in the first reading: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” There is something very important in this simple sentence that is important for the Christian church.
You see, many in the church say, yes that is true, BUT we “have to do what is right” to be acceptable and you are not doing what is right. But remember, Peter originally believed that the preconceived notions that God was overturning were WRONG. Not only that, but peter went to far as to expand it to include more that was just in his dream.
So it is not just say, ok, sure as long as you do what I think God wants you to do, you are good to go. Rather it is understanding the potential that God is trying to correct something that is wrong.
We individually and the church as a whole needs to be open to the possibility that our understanding of what is right and what is wrong from God’s perspective may actually be the wrong thing that needs to be change! This is pretty frightening stuff both from an individual and a organizational perspective.
But like Peter, we need to be open to seeing things in a new light. And the church as an organization needs to be open to seeing things in a new light as well. That is probably the greater obstacle. Churches are like glaciers when it comes to change. They move very slowly, if they move at all. And yet, by our failure to be open to seeing what God may be doing or how God may be trying to change us, we lose out on opportunities to grow and open our community to becoming more and more inclusive.
Just imagine what the church would look like had Peter not boldly embraced this change. It would not be what it is today.
Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against slavery. It would not be what it is today.
Just imagine what the church would look like had brave people not fought against racial inequality even after the battle against slavery had been won.
And imagine for a moment how people felt when those in power in the church argued in favor of slavery and racial inequality. Imagine the damage that did to the cause of the gospel message. Imagine what it did to the message of Easter.
I believe we are each called to be in the forefront of expanding the meaning of the gospel to all. St. Peter’s is called to be a beacon of light and hope in Seward. And I believe it is!
I don't think there is any danger that God will ever judge us for being too easy on our fellow human beings or for loving them too much.
So this Easter, as we celebrate the joyous event of Christ risen. Let us all commit ourselves to a church that is in the forefront of the spreading the gospel message. Let us be in the forefront of speaking out for those who others would denigrate and despise. That is what Jesus did. That is what Christians do.