God Is the God of all

March 29th, 2019

Acts 11:1-18

In my first year of seminary, I was required to take a course affectionately referred to as “Super Bible.” On the academic quarter system of this seminary, all the way from August to May, I would be in this course, taught by two professors, studying the Bible from cover to cover. One of the most difficult aspects of this course, or so I thought, would be the “interview” with these two professors where we reviewed an assigned passage from Scripture. I was assigned chapter 10 of Acts. The interview was not the terrifying experiment in torture and excruciating pain I expected but, instead, a delightful experience forever etched into my heart and mind. These two gifted Bible scholars shared with and coaxed from me the image of a God who is the God of all. I will say that again, God who is the God of all. Say that with me: God who is the God of all. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Let’s see if we are at that point in our lives today.

In today’s passage Peter, the “prince of the disciples,” a Jew among Jews, returns from a visit to those non-Jews who had accepted the word of God. When he arrives in Jerusalem, Peter is called upon to relate his experiences. The Jews in Jerusalem respond negatively, and take a stance that perhaps God does not intend for the message of salvation through Jesus to extend beyond Jewish racial/religious borders. Peter asserts that the visit confirmed for him what all Jews should have known and lived in the first place; God is the Creator of all. God’s question becomes Peter’s question as well: “How can we, as humans, judge any creation of God’s as being ‘profane or unclean’?” While the images on the sheet in Peter’s dream, depicted in Acts 10, were primarily animals, Peter was quick to realize that God used the animals to represent humans, and no human should ever judge another as being “profane or unclean.” Dietary laws, used by the Jews for centuries, had limited their social interaction with others and now threatened relations among Christian believers. The barriers between people had to come down, and God used Peter to begin the destruction of those walls.

As we continue our Easter journey of new life, there can be no greater rebirth than our acceptance of all. We must certainly embrace the view that all human beings are made in the awesome image of God. Here it is, the Easter season of 2016, and we wish we could declare the end of all “isms,” especially racism, but we know this is not yet true. I invite you to look around this room and see all of God’s people present with us. Do we, on this Sunday morning, reflect the whole spectrum of society today? Have we broken down the walls and barriers of race as we know we should? Have we allowed God to open our hearts to lovingly welcome all who come to join us in worship?

Peter shared what he received from God. Peter came to understand that God works in mysterious ways to help change our attitudes and perceptions of others. We cannot do it alone. Peter had been taught that Gentiles were unclean; that to interact with them was unclean. To sit down and eat at the same table with Gentiles was one of the worst things imaginable. It took a visit from God in a vision to change Peter’s perception of the Gentiles. This same God visited the Gentile Cornelius with a vision, calling him to send for Peter. Perhaps both men were frightened; change of habits and customs is frightening. But the obedience of both brought great blessing to the Christian church. Peter called it the blessing of the Holy Spirit coming down as they met together in fellowship; the Holy Spirit coming as God’s gift of strength and comfort for those living the new life in Christ.

On this Sunday, then, we should ask ourselves some questions about our lives. First, are we praying on a regular basis? Peter modeled a life of obedient and willing prayer to God every day, using the model taught him as a child and by the Lord. Second, are we praying in such a way that allows God to speak to us? I don’t need to remind us that prayer is not a dictation to God of our “To Do” lists. It is a regular and integral part of worship. If we are praying on a regular basis, are we obedient when we hear God’s leading or do we stay mired in our destructive ways? Our journey is more fruitful when we are obedient to God. In a couple of Sundays our journey of faith will lead us to the celebration of Pentecost. It is not too early to ask ourselves if we are yet aware of the power of the great gift from God that can still change attitudes, perceptions, and yes, even lives. Let our rejoicing in the God who is the God of all be like the psalmist’s in today’s Psalm 148: “Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and women alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven” (vv. 10-13). It is my prayer that your presence in worship today has brought new wisdom, peace, and, as the psalmist says, “joy, the joy that endures”—the joy that helps spread God’s love to those who need it most! Amen.

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