Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” ” (Acts 11:1–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Once in a small town church on a Sunday morning as the worshippers were gathering almost ready to begin there was a huge roar out side the church. It was the deafening and unmistakable sound of machinery, motorcycles. The windows of the church rattled as the engines roared, and then there was silence. The congregation all looked at the pastor who was standing in front ready to begin. The silence was very loud. It seemed to last for a lifetime. The doors of the church opened and in walked two bikers. They were dressed in leather, unshaven, dark bandanas on their heads. The usher froze. He didn’t know what to do. One of the men grinned at him and took two worship folders. Still in shock the usher moved aside and the pair found a seat near the back of the church. For everyone the service felt odd. They did everything just as they had always done, and yet, it seemed different. When everything was finished, the bikers left greeting the pastor on the way out the door. “Thanks,” was their only comment. The others waiting to greet the pastor stood still until the sound of engines roared again and began to fade in the distance.
“Well, what do you think of that?” said one of the faithful, lifelong members. She was an elderly woman. “Pastor,” she said, “why do we let people like that into the church?”
“Well,” came the answer, “we let you in didn’t we?”
“Peter, why do we let folks like that into the church? Those are gentiles! They are unclean. They do things that we don’t understand. They don’t bathe like we do. They ride scruffy donkeys. They wear weird cloths.” The problems of the circumcision party we can readily understand. Their sins are our sins. How would we feel if a bunch of bikers walked in the door and took our pews? Oh, and it’s easy to say we’d be happy to have them. But you and I both know, there have been from time to time, complaints about folks who are members of our congregation, those wishing that so-and-so would just go somewhere else. We say the good news of Jesus is for everyone, until we have to sit next to someone who doesn’t look like we do. Or someone who did something to my family member…
Apparently, Peter was just as thick as we are. God had to show him a vision, a PowerPoint presentation in his brain. Until then, it seems, he wasn’t too keen on gentile Christians. Well, after all they were Gentiles! They weren’t allowed in the temple. They ate whatever they wanted to eat, totally disregarding the distinctions between what was clean and unclean. So God intervened. Peter was shown a sheet full of animals that he wasn’t supposed to eat.
“Kill and eat!” was God’s command.
“But God, those are unclean animals and you know that I would never eat unclean animals.”
“Peter, You do not understand. ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.”
God repeated the presentation three times, just to make sure that the message penetrated Peter’s stony skull. When the vision was over gentiles appeared at the door. Peter went with them.
“When I preached the Word of God to them and told them of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, they received the Holy Spirit. They believed it. They trusted in Jesus for their forgiveness. They have faith. I had to baptize them.” He sounds as surprised as we would be about bikers in the back of church. But Jesus is clear. He has made them clean, that is forgiven, through faith in his sacrifice on the cross. We cannot set additional requirements on God’s gift of salvation. What God has made clean, through Jesus blood, we dare not call unclean.
Well, I guess we are really a bit off the hook here anyway. After all, when was the last time that a real visitor darkened our narthex door? Most of our visitors are family, after all. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve mistreated people in the past, or if it’s just a new cultural thing NOT to visit churches. Here in our little Sumner street hideaway we don’t get much chance to talk to our brand of gentiles. But I wonder if we would really want them here anyway. You know the truth is we have contact to folks outside of these doors that we don’t even try to bring in here. We avoid talking about our church, partly because we think folks won’t understand what goes on here anyway, and partly because if there’s communion we don’t want to tell them they can’t come. Yes, we do have our gentiles, too. Just go a few blocks east. How many of you would volunteer to knock on doors in that neighborhood. Maybe God has to give us a PowerPoint presentation to the brain. We are guilty like Peter. Actually, we are sinners like Peter. What God has made clean we have chosen to ignore.
So, in light of our sin, oh and I’m not just talking about our ‘gentile’ ignoring sin, I’m talking about all our sin; our fights with our family; our self serving discussions with co-workers; our secret desires and longing that fall well outside God’s commandments; our unwillingness to forgive the neighbor; yea, you know what I mean our sin, your sin, my sin, the sin that God says deserves death and eternal punishment, in light of that sin, not forgetting our ‘gentile ignoring sin’, would you say that you are righteousness enough to go to heaven? You are clean? You are perfect as God demands? How many say “no?”
This is exactly why we have confirmation, exactly why we have Sunday school, bible class, and why God provides for us this place to receive his gift of forgiveness. Look at the cross here. (As you know I’d like it much better if we had one with Jesus on it). Look at what Jesus did for you here. St. Paul says it like this:
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. ” (Romans 5:19, ESV)
The disobedience is ours in Adam, who sinned first and destined us all to be unclean sinners. The one who obeyed is Jesus Christ. He got it right. He lived for the benefit of everyone around him (and you and me). He followed God’s commandments perfectly. He loved the bikers and the Division street crowd. He was obedient to God even though it meant that he had to hang on the cross and suffer the full anger of God over sin. He does this for the forgiveness of your sin. This forgiveness is God’s way of saying that you are clean. Satan has his way. He stands right behind you and urges you to look at other folks as if they are undeserving of forgiveness. And you believe him. Then he turns on you. “You hypocrite! You’re just as bad as he is. If you were better you’d not think that way about other people.” God says differently in Jesus Christ. Your sin is forgiven. You are a child of God. You are washed clean of your sin. I put this font up here in front so I can point to it and remind you of your washing. When God washes away the filth of your sin. You are as clean as the water that is used and the Word of God that goes with it. And here’s the best part. It is true for you right now. You are clean right now. Jesus blood was shed for you right now, not for some future time. Just like every morning when you crawl out of bed, trip your way to the shower and push the soap around your body, every morning God declares you to be clean again. From Luther’s Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
He does this not because you get it right, but because you get it wrong. Heaven isn’t the gift we receive when our body lays in the casket and our friends and family morn our death. It is what we get right now. It is what we are right now. You and I are part of the holy Christian church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins… You see? You are clean. Jesus Christ shed his blood on the cross to make it so. You are clean. Washed in his blood. Bathed in his forgiveness. Clean of the stink of sin. All because of Jesus’ for you. That means we dare not call unclean what God calls clean.
So there it is. When the bikers come and sit back there and push you out of your regular pew. When that church member you just don’t like does what they always do that drives you batty. When you argue with your family, or do the disgusting thing you can’t seem to not do; Go to the font, there Jesus drowns your old Adam, in this water, he pushes him under. Let him die. You are God’s pure and holy child. Arise and live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.