Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.” (Acts 10:34–48, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One thing I've learned the last couple of weeks working at the Distribution Center for tornado victims, is that Creston loves ink. I mean, skin ink, tats, trap stamps, guns, you know, tattoos. You know there was a day when they were strictly forbidden by "upstanding folks." And it is true that most folks who get them are of a certain stripe in society. But I saw them on all kinds. Although most of the folks effected by the tornado were low income, that wasn't the case with all of them. And I saw ink everywhere. If you want to get into a conversation with just about anyone, of any social class, ask them about their ink. Now for me and you, we may have a hard time not associating tattoos with the seedy side of town, drug users, wife abusers, and so on (there may be good reason for some that). But here in this text Peter is quick to point out that "God shows no partiality." He means that God treats and loves everyone the same. He doesn't count class status or income as important. He doesn't count tattooed over not tattooed. But that's not us, is it? The tattooed folks are just one example. There's also, homosexuals and immigrant workers, and small town white trash. I see it over and over, in myself and others, even you! You know what I'm talking about. The yards in town with the rundown houses always have a chained up dog in the yard. Why do people who can't afford to keep up their house have the extra expense of a pet to care for? Those tattooed parents whose kids run around in bare feet and tattered clothing. Those tattoos aren't cheap, why don't they buy decent cloths for their kids? Why do the poorest people standing in line at the Quick Shop for lottery tickets always smell of stale cigarette smoke? Well, God may not show partiality, but we do. We can't help it. We look at people and judge them by their appearances.
We might just have a bit of a problem if about a dozen tattooed, cigarette smoking folks showed up here this morning with their unruly kids in tow. Our poor sound system wouldn't over come the kid noise for you folks in the back row. We'd want to be happy they were here but I think we'd still have some issues. And how many of you were upset to find that furniture in the fellowship hall? and all those cloths and more? You see, we need to be reminded, just as St. Peter was the "God show no partiality" He sent Jesus to the cross for all people. And that " everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
That is the reason why the Holy Spirit gives us this text. You have this problem. I have this problem, too. The early Jewish Christians struggled with this same issue. Even Peter had to have a vision from God to accept Cornelius the gentile, Roman soldier as a believer. It happens in the book of Acts right before this reading. Peter was praying on the roof. God showed him a sheet with animals he was not suppose to eat. God said, "Kill and eat!" Peter refused. "What God has made clean, do not call unclean." God replied. It took three times for Peter to take the hint, then Cornelius came knocking at the door telling Peter God sent him to hear about Jesus. Peter got the picture. God shows no partiality. He loves Jews and gentiles the same. In fact, the gentiles were to be saved by Jesus, too!
But don't you know that Peter still had a difficult time with the idea. Listen to St. Paul in Galatians 2 in an incident that happened sometime later.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”” (Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)
Paul had to set Peter straight. Peter was living a lie, pretending to accept the gentiles when he was alone with them. But when the Jewish Christians showed up he ignored them.
Behind this all is our sin. We like people who are like us. In fact, those Church Growth principals say that if you want a successful church you need to set up in a place where the people can all look the same. It's what WE would prefer. That's preaching what itching ears want to hear. We mistrust people who look and act different. We mistrust people who seem to have their values all backwards. We want them to see Christ as Savior but maybe they could do it in their own church, or one of the other churches in town.
This isn't God's idea of the church. It took some doing but the early church finally came around to God's way of thinking. Peter came around. St. Paul built his whole ministry on the idea. God shows no partiality. That's another way of saying, we are all in the same boat. We are all sinners. Young and old, newly confirmed, or old hand; rich or poor; tattoos or none. Sin is our common denominator. Don't think that the same sin is not at play when we don't want those people here as they don't want to come to church with those people. But the sin is not loving others the way that God does. How does he love? He dies for the sake of people who were quite different from him. They want him dead. They work him over with a cat of nine tales. They drive nails through his hands and feet. They push the cross into its deadly position and stand by watch until he dies. They mock him and laugh at his suffering. Jesus says, Father forgive them. They wear tattoos and mistreat their children. They buy lottery tickets they can't afford. They use drugs and drink too much. They work the system to be able to stay unemployed. They lie and cheat and steal. And Jesus says, Father forgive them. We ignore their needs. We make it especially difficult for them to hear the Word of God in the place where he brings it. We make them uncomfortable, so that they won't return. We look down at their sin as if we have none. Jesus says, Father forgive you. You see we all have the same need. Forgiveness. It comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. It comes only at the cross where he suffers and dies for the sake of all sin. It comes to you and me the same as the Roman soldier, the Pharisee, the drug addict, the homosexual, the deadbeat dad, the gossip, and the tramp. It is forgiveness given to the undeserving. Forgiveness given for the sake of Christ. Forgiveness give in spite of our sin. Forgiveness given as we stand at the cross with nothing good and only our sin to give. It is the work of the Holy Spirit poured out through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ and Holy Baptism, and the Lord's Supper for you and me, and for them.
Lord, help us to let nothing stand in the way of the preaching of the Good News to every creature.
If you want to be a better witness, if you want to be a more loving servant of the poor and the lonely and the disenfranchised, and every Christian wants to be these things, don't look to who they are and what they do. Look to yourself, see your own need for forgiveness. See Jesus on the cross for you. See him pour water on your head and proclaim you forgiven in Jesus Christ. See him preach this Good News gift right into your ears. Open your mouth and see Jesus in the bread and wine given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. See your need and see your Savior. His love and forgiveness for you will overflow freely; even to those who are different; even to those you have trouble loving. You will see their need clearly in yours. You will see their forgiveness clearly in yours. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.