Sermon – 05-15-22 – Easter 5 – Cycle C
Scriptures – Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35
Sermon Title: “As I Have Loved You: Even the Gentiles”
Do you know we are Gentiles? Unless we have some Jewish blood in our veins, we are Gentiles. As I read the Bible, I tend to identify with the Jews because after all they are the main characters! Jesus is a Jew. But, if there can be anything like a universal Jew, that is what Jesus is.
The apostles and other new Christians do not understand this universality of their risen Christ.
Some of have closed minds. “Isn’t Jesus only for the Jews?‘ they question. Even if some people stretch their close-minded thinking just a bit, they say, “Well, maybe. . .” The “maybe” meant that the Gentiles would need to follow all the rules of the Jews, including the surgical procedure called circumcision.
Well, God straightens this argument in certainty one fine day. He uses Peter. Peter is in a city called Joppa. You may remember, that last week, Peter heals Tabitha, also known as Dorcas. He continues in Joppa staying at the house of Simon the tanner. At a particular moment, he is praying and resting on the flat roof of the house. He has a vision. A sheet comes down from heaven full of all kinds of animals. As you may know, one of the many Jewish rules is, and was, that not all animals are “clean” enough to eat. Jewish people know better than to eat pork for example. A voice from heaven says, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.”
Of course, Peter knows better than to eat indiscriminately. The voice rebukes Peter saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Three times this scene is repeated. Finally, the sheet, with its animals of all kinds, is lifted and does not appear again.
Don’t expect this to be the end of the story. Three men appear at the gate of the house and ask for a person called Simon Peter. These three men have been sent to implore Simon Peter to come with them. How far, we wonder. Far enough to reach the house of an important man in Caesarea. Cornelius!
This Cornelius and his family are not Jewish. Therefore, they are called Gentiles. Even so, Cornelius is respected by the Jewish community. This family worships God, gives alms generously, and prays constantly. This does not mean that they think of Jesus as one of the persons of God. But, they have a strong relationship with God as a single being. Strangely, Cornelius is visited by an angel who calls his name, “Cornelius.” Cornelius says in fear, “What is it, Lord?”
The angel assures Cornelius that his prayers are being heard but God has more in store for Cornelius. Cornelius shall send messengers to this Simon Peter in Joppa staying with Simon the tanner. So two slaves and a soldier are the three people who arrive at the gate of Simon the tanner. Peter follows them, accompanied by a few believers from Joppa as witnesses. I am telling the story from Acts 10. The scripture we heard Joel read today is Acts 11 when Peter is reporting the event to his colleagues in Jerusalem. This is a very significant report.
We continue with this event. When Peter and the three messengers and Peter’s companions arrive at the home of Cornelius, they introduce themselves to each other. Cornelius has gathered friends and relatives in anticipation of Peter’s arrival. Cornelius wants to hear what God is giving Simon Peter to say. So Peter speaks, telling the story of Jesus’ life on earth and why Jesus was sent to earth.
While Peter is preaching, he witnesses the Holy Spirit fall upon all who are hearing the word. The Jewish people with Peter witness the Holy Spirit’s presence in this place, falling on these Gentiles. There was speaking in tongues; there was loud praising of God. Peter claims the Holy Spirit as he declares that these people be baptized. And so they are baptized in the name of Jesus!
And it is this very Jesus who had said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “I give you a new commandment. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The apostles learn to love the Gentiles. But, how possible is it for us to love each other as Jesus loves us. Maybe if we are willing to give our life so someone else can live, it will qualify to love as Jesus loves.
You may remember that part of the whole commandment idea from the Old Testament and which Jesus uses in the New Testament is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The question is how much do we love ourselves? How do we accomplish loving ourselves?
I propose starting with accepting how much Jesus loves us. It is like a circle. It is God who arranged for Garrett to sing on this very day with this very scripture. He was going to sing on another Sunday, but today it happened. Jesus loves me, this I know. We can read it in the Bible. Sunday School teachers and parents can tell us that Jesus loves us. But the real way we know that Jesus loves us is when he saves us.
You ask, saves us how? In some congregations, we would invite people to come to the altar to be saved. That is wonderful. Sometimes it happens to us gradually, sometimes suddenly. But I am thinking of being saved over and over every time someone forgives us when we hurt them; over and over when I forgive myself for hurting someone; over and over when God gathers us in his arms and transforms us, little by little or suddenly.
This past week God gave a wonderful gift to me. I even got Continuing Education credits for spending three hours listening to people who were severely addicted to something and how they were rescued and gained or regained a relationship with God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Some troubled people simply call their rescuer their Higher Power. For us, it is Jesus loving us, rooting for us, pushing and pulling us. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Let’s open the door, let’s step outside the door. Let’s find the people who need to know that Jesus loves them. In our own families we have people who are struggling with addiction. I learned that each of us has some kind of addiction. It is not something to hide. We need support. Do you know that we can provide Narcan free for you in the hope that you will catch your loved one in time?
Jesus loves all people – down and out, up and serving. People need us just as Cornelius needed Peter. Can we feel down deep that Jesus loves us and that he expects us to love everyone, not just people like ourselves? Even though Jesus was/is a Jew, he has barely any rules. Just love God, love ourselves, love others!