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Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 6, 2018 – Sixth Sunday of Eastertide
Jesus speaks to us once again about our call to the ministry of all Christians today. We are all called. Some of us see it more clearly than others.
It is also possible to see it more clearly…or differently than it really is. But we are called to watch…and to listen…with faith…and hope…and love.
Just so, Abraham heard God’s voice call to him to leave all that was familiar to him…and to go to “a place I will show you.” Since that day…at the very least…we have been called to see things as no one has seen them yet, and to step into the unknown, knowing only that God was with us.
We do not choose God. God chooses us. We do not wield power. Power wields us.
We could not have described or explained God to you at the time we were asked to take a step that would never be able to take back. But we understood God’s claim over us in a way that came to us before our power to reason...and in a way that goes beyond our power of reason…but we know there was something and someone there…with us.
James Shaw can’t tell you why he was able to rush a Waffle House shooter in Nashville a couple of weeks ago, but he insists it was not because he was a hero. He did the right thing, and it was the only real option he had.
But everyone else was hiding or trying to find a way out of the restaurant when Mr. Shaw ran toward the danger rather than away from it…just trying to save himself, he said…but he responded a different way than everyone else.
He didn’t choose to be a hero. The circumstances chose him. His true character was revealed for all the world to see…at a Waffle House in Nashville at 3:25 a.m. one Sunday morning.
Moses quarreled with God before he accepted his call.You want me to do what?Are you sure you have the right number?I have never done anything like that before.It is too much for me.
But then, God told him to simply be…just agree to try…go…and I will be with you. This is just another way for God to say, “You don’t choose me. I choose you.”
Just so, God called Elijah and Isaiah and Ezekiel. Just so, God is present in the story of Ruth speaking to Naomi…Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever it is you die, I will die. Where you are buried, I will be buried.
She spoke with love and courage in a terrible situation. She did not abandon her mother in law… refused to do it…she did the right thing anyway…showing us once again that God gave us, with free will, the power to do incredibly beautiful things.
None of them chose God. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not Ruth. Not Esther. God chose them, and in them and through them, God revealed new grace to the world… new power to the world…new heights – and depths – of love to the world…because they were more faithful than rational, more loving than analytical.
They gave their lives to God and God gave their lives back to them …invested them with so much divine power that we still talk about them today…but not as much as we talk about Jesus.
God chose him, too.
He was not a man with a degree, like the one Luke had.
He was not a man with a position, like the one Paul had.
But he was a human being with a heart …like the one God has…with a clear and timeless vision of the truth…like the one God has…with an unending, indestructible love for everyone, everywhere, at all times and in all sorts of circumstances… a love for us like the one God has.
That is the man who came into the world and refused to die. That is the man who saw the weaknesses of his followers and refused to abandon them…even after they had abandoned him.
That is the man who stood history on its head, so that we could count the years we walk on the earth… backwards and and forward from the day of his birth.
That is the man who told a nation that had been destroyed that he would rebuild their Temple, if it were to be destroyed, in three days.
And here is the man who told anyone who would listen that if his life were destroyed he would be raised back up to life…to life everlasting…in three days.
And he told them…and us…how to do it. It is simple…but we are complicated. It is easy…but we are difficult.
Still, our Great Friend told us, we can do it. Just follow me.
Lay down your nets and follow me. Let the dead bury their dead and follow me. Take up your cross and follow me.
I choose you. Follow me.
We know all of this in our hearts and minds as we ask what it is that we can do with our lives…what light do we have to shine upon a weary and fearful world.
You don’t need to know all that you can do or all that you might be asked to do. But you do know that you will follow.
So take a step. Breathe a word. Engage in a random act of kindness. Stand up for the one who has no friend. See the treasure in the one who has no money. Feed the one who is hungry. Comfort the one who mourns…
And find joy in the joy you give… hope in the hope you express… love in the love you give away because Jesus loved you first.
Before you could take care of yourself, someone who loved you shielded you, fed you and nurtured you. They may not have had any training or certification for the job, but if they loved you they became real to you…and more real to themselves as well.
Our narrative from Acts tells us of the pivotal event that extended Christ’s call to the world beyond his disciples and beyond his own people…to all who would call him Lord and Savior.
There is a tremendous debate in progress on whether you need to convert to Judaism to become one with Christ. Do you need to be circumcised? Do you need to observe the dietary commands of Judaism?
Some said Yes and some said No, but the proof is in the pudding and the best way to give your testimony is with the witness of your life. Peter thinks that he understands the scriptures to say all who do not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob do not have a place in heaven.
Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is committed to paganism and must affirm regularly that Caesar – not Christ – is God on earth. But Cornelius has a dream.An angel instructs him to summon Peter to his home.
Then Peter has a dream in which all sorts of food are being lowered to him and the angel is saying, “Get up and eat.” He protests that he would never eat forbidden food. The angel tells him that nothing God has made is unclean and he must eat.
The angel is from God. God has chosen Peter…as surely as Jesus did on the sea of Galilee. He is not asking Peter to do something Peter doesn’t want to do. God, through the angel…the ‘messenger’…is telling Peter what God wants him to do.
He awakens…like you might awaken from a dream, but also like Abraham awakenedin Genesis and Moses awakened in Exodus, and like Ruth and Esther were awakened by their circumstances…just as Cornelius’ men arrive to escort him back to the great man’s house.
Everywhere else in the Bible, people hear the Word and are converted… to Judaism or Christianity…after a time of reflection. But here, in John, they are converted as hear the Word.
We begin our reading today from the moment Peter said these words. “No sooner had he said…” What has he just said?
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” He is telling them what his dream just has taught him.
Then he tells the story of a good man who healed the sick and raised the dead…a forgiving man who was falsely accused, illegally arrested, unfairly tried and hung upon a tree…a man who was raised from the dead…the Son of man who has commanded them to tell all the world his story…that others might come to understand and follow him and them.
No sooner had he said these words than the Holy Spirit had come upon the listeners…just as it had come upon Cornelius in his dream…and Peter in his. The Spirit moves swiftly now. Peter baptizes them …Cornelius and his whole pagan household…without a catechism or any further instruction.
The believing Jews who had come with him are as amazed at this as Cornelius’ family had been at the Word. Peter baptizes them …Cornelius and his whole pagan household…without a catechism or any further instruction.
They don’t promise circumcision. They are going to eat the way they always have and what they always have. But they now understand Jesus and will follow him.
There was a retired postmistress at Huntley, where I preached before I came here, who wrote a poem about communion and…I think…what I have been talking about here.
I want to leave you this week with the gift of this poem in your hearts. Remember Me, by Ginger Macrow.
‘Do this,’ He said, ‘In remembrance of Me.’
Then He gave His life to set us free.
With bursting heart that swells within
We take the cup that bears our sin.
We drink the wine and break the bread,
And vow to remember what He said.
Oh, how He must cry in anguish now
For the empty cup, the broken vow.
We accept the cup so freely given;
He spoke just two words of admonition.
Listen now and hear his plea –
‘Remember Me – Remember Me.’