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The Beginning of the Revolution (w/audio)

. Posted in Sermons

Acts 10:34-43

 Sermon:

This is not the usual kind of passage that we are used to hearing on Easter Sunday (at least in this church): a passage from one of the gospels that tells of women coming to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body, and wondering who will roll away the stone from the tomb. Then, to their utter amazement, they find that, for some unknown reason, the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. The scripture we just heard also does not tell us of an angel in white sitting in the tomb proclaiming that Jesus is not there but risen. Of course we also don’t hear of the actual appearances of the risen Jesus to at first confused and then thankful and worshipful disciples.

The passage we just heard from the Acts of the Apostles reflects the passage of time. Easter is in the past. The disciples’ first-hand experiences of the resurrected Jesus are several years back (maybe a couple of decades?).

But the story of Easter was not ancient history for them, any more than it need be ancient history for us. The risen Jesus is still present. Resurrection is still happening. Jesus is still alive and manifesting himself in the realities of everyday life.

And in the earliest Christian community this came in the barriers that existed between people being challenged and broken down. Before us, in this scripture from Acts, Peter has done a very radical thing for a man in his situation and from his time. He, a practicing Jew, has gone to the home of the Gentile and Roman Centurion (soldier) Cornelius. And he has gone based on a vision, on a calling by God. And he is welcomed by Cornelius based on an answer to a prayer by Cornelius.

At the level of the basic practices and teachings of his religion as a Jew, Peter knows he is not supposed to be there. He, a Jew, is not supposed to be associating with a Gentile—especially a Roman soldier Gentile like Cornelius. In perhaps some ways, Peter’s qualms about going to the home of someone like Cornelius seem rather quaint and a little silly to people like us who were not raised with religious laws regarding purity and cleanness. But then again we find in our own community barriers that often exist between blacks and whites, between poor and affluent, between immigrant and citizen, between people of different religions that have a way of reinforcing that maybe one is ok and the other is not ok, that one is good to be around and another is not good to be around.

As many of you know, this story about Cornelius and Peter is not just about those two individuals. The future of the church hangs on what comes of their meeting. Jesus had been a Jew who taught the central truths of Hebrew scripture. And the question was: would the church continue as sort of a sect within the Jewish faith? It was evidently a hot issue at the time.

There are some issues that cannot be easily resolved by citing scripture verses that fit into our preconceived worldview, as we well know. The church has gone around and around on hot button issues through the centuries without what seems like satisfactory resolutions for long periods of time—regarding slavery, women in ministry, LGBTQ rights.

But the good news of Easter is that the resurrection continues. Our risen Lord is still revealed. Maybe not to everyone, as we are reminded in Acts. But to some. To those of us who, like Peter and Cornelius, are open and waiting. To those of us who are praying. To those of us not afraid of an adventure. The Lord is revealed and the way forward is manifest.

I know. When you have grown up with a certain way, it is hard to let it go. When you have grown up being taught that this way is right and another way is wrong it is hard for any of us to abandon that. During his ministry Jesus was constantly coming up against life-long and often scripture-sanctioned prohibitions that kept different people apart—Jews from Gentiles, clean from unclean, healthy from sick, the righteous from sinners.

But sometimes people just know that it is time for a change. That Daddy, who was a deacon in the church, was a member of the White Citizen’s Council and believed that the Bible supported slavery and the separation of the races, but now that way no longer makes sense, now that is not the way of those who would follow in the way of Jesus. That sweet Aunt Polly just knew from her reading of scripture and all she had ever known in the church that women should not be ministers. And, when a woman was called as the pastor of her church, she thought it was wrong—that it couldn’t be justified. But now Aunt Polly’s view seems anachronistic and wrong.

Thursday night one of the families who was worshiping with us for our Maundy Thursday service stopped off to shop at The Target after leaving here. This is what the mother wrote on Facebook: “Tonight at Target my daughter picked pants and shirt from the boy’s section. My son picked pants from the girl’s section. There is no boxing these kids in. For some reason this reminds me of when our son was 2 or 3 and said he wanted to be Cinderella for Halloween. My Dad said, ‘The funny thing isn’t that he wants to be Cinderella but that his mom will let him.’ I took it as a compliment.”

There are a lot of ways that we can get boxed in by our society. In the back of our minds we are often hearing things like: “This is the way a person like you is supposed to be.” “This is the kind of person you are and you dare not deviate.”

But sometimes people do deviate. They do break out of the mold. Persons do that. Even churches can do that. It is because something gets a hold of them. It is as if a life emerges within them. It is as if Jesus is risen to help them be who they are intended to be and who they are called to be.

I was sitting in this sanctuary by myself for a time, until joined by a couple, who had also come to pray. It was on Good Friday morning a couple of days ago. Good Friday is sad for me, even anticipating the coming of Easter. Our old, rugged cross without the flowers on it was the first thing I saw when I would look up. And the passage of scripture I was reading from the Old Testament was from the 3rd chapter of Lamentations. As I read Lamentations, I sank with the writer into his reality. He was speaking out of a terrible time of calamity for the Hebrew people. Jerusalem and its temple had been destroyed by an invading enemy. Many people were either killed or led off into captivity. Yes, Lamentations is a good name for the book.

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!” the writer says. “My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.” Then, unanticipated, there is a change of mood in what the writer says in his suffering, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:19-24).

And, as I sat here on Good Friday with the words of that passage on my lap, I realized again how easy it is for us to get used to things in our lives—our fears and worries, the stuff that brings us down and brings others down with us, the prejudices that have been passed on to us by others and accepted by us, perhaps as children, without question.

But then I realized that we don’t have to yield to inevitability. We can be open to surprise. Like Peter and the early church we can be open to new possibilities of which we have never dreamed. We can be open to the presence of our resurrected Lord—offering us new life where we are and in the situations where we find ourselves.

The stories, that we see in the gospels, of the risen Jesus revealing himself to his followers on Easter are good news indeed. But it is important for us to know that these stories have not come to an end. In your life, in my life, in the challenges of our day in both world and church, it is important for us to remain open, it is important for us to be praying with expectancy. The Lord will be revealed again. We will know in our hearts as we face the pressures of life and death that the Lord is risen and holds each of us, always, in the arms of God’s love.

—William E. Warren, Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown, April 1, 2018

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