Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 28 April 2013, Fifth Sunday of Easter C

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Acts 11:1–18
What God Has Made Clean
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, 28 April 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Are you kosher? Is that even a Lutheran question? This morning it is. (Our communion wine is Mogen David brand, a name that means “star of David.” On the bottle it says, “Kosher for Passover,” with a triangle surrounding a K.) In Old Testament times, as well as in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people followed the purity laws laid out by the Lord and given to Moses. Even wine had to be prepared in a certain way. Animals had to be killed in a certain way. God’s ancient people were to avoid certain places, certain things, even certain people—especially those who were not circumcised.
So the question comes again: Are you kosher? In asking that I’m not asking if you follow Old Testament purity laws! I’m asking about you spiritually. Are you clean or unclean? Are you ritually pure?
The first lesson before us is a shocking one: to Peter, to the Jews around him, and to the non-Jews—Gentiles—whom Peter was sent to preach to and baptize.
1Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3“You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
This just wasn’t done. There was a group within the all-ethnically-Jewish early church that saw a place for the Old Testament Law alongside Jesus. They are the “circumcision party” because they expected all Christians to be circumcised according to the command given to Abraham.
Visiting Gentiles? The uncircumcised? This was just not done. Fortunately for us—since many of us are not genetically descended from ancient Israel—God saw things differently. Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples of all nations by means of baptizing and by means of teaching. All nations means all. Even Peter needed to be convinced, so he tells the story:
4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven.
Once was not enough for Peter or the Lord. Three times.
‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ ‘By no means, Lord…’ ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’
‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ ‘By no means, Lord…’ ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’
‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ What could Peter say that third time when he knew the Lord would reply, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common’?
Salvation is open to the Jew and to the Gentile—and fortunately for us—since all are not genetically descended from ancient Israel. We are all sons of Abraham by faith. As sinners, we sometimes allow our prejudices to surface within us. Sometimes they boil over into what we say and do and often in the lack of some good word or work we fail to do. Who do you consider unworthy to step foot in this church? How different is too different a person? Racism is a sin in need of confession and forgiveness. Paul later preached what we know from Genesis and today’s text. In Acts 17:26 Paul said “And (He) [God] made from one man every nation of mankind. Jesus commissioned the church to make disciples of all nations by means of baptizing and by means of teaching. Baptizing and teaching means NOT circumcising for religious reasons. All nations means all. Peter learned the Lord’s lesson well: ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ Have we?
Peter continues: 11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Are you kosher? Are you spiritually clean or unclean? Are you ritually pure? Are Gentile Lutherans kosher? Answered in the way of the law, Old Testament purity laws, no. We eat pork. We love bacon cheeseburgers. We see circumcision as a medical rather than theological and religious practice. But there is a better answer, one that is taught by the Lord Himself in our text. ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’
At times, you may have wondered if you were really forgiven. You may even have a hard time forgiving yourself for a past sin. This comfort is for you. You have been washed, you have been cleansed by the washing of the water of Holy Baptism by the Word. You have been justified, and you have been cleansed in the blood of Jesus so that He might present you, the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that you might be holy and without blemish. This is the good work of the Lord within you. So yes, you are kosher in Christ. You are clean in Jesus. ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ And that includes yourself.
As Peter and those with Him learned, repentance, Holy Baptism, and Faith go together. Today we are gathered around the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament.
Today after church our Confirmands have their questioning, their public examination before the Elders. These words are for their benefit—but for all adult members of the congregation, too.
We can rightly say that Christ has made you His disciples through Holy Baptism and instruction from the Holy Bible. You have been taught to cherish everything that Christ has given us in both the Old and New Testaments, but let’s be honest. We had neither the time nor the opportunity during your confirmation instruction to cover everything in the Bible. Nor did we have time to equip you for every specific situation you may encounter during your life as a Christian.
We have, hopefully, taught you to cherish the Word of God. The church has given you a handbook, actually a prayer book, the Small Catechism. You learned the Six Chief Parts, the six most important parts of the Christian faith. You have been given a toolbox to help you deal with the rest of your life. The Catechism was never intended to replace Scripture. It was intended as a lifelong guide to the Scriptures, a resource book, to help you think through a Biblical way to deal with whatever comes your way. That’s in addition to your pastor, and parents, and Christian friends.
The catechism is not merely a textbook to just sit on your shelf. A Bible, hymnal, and prayerbook will do you no good if they only serve you by collecting dust. In this world you will have trouble. People will deter you from holding on to Jesus. In the Christian life, you will always be learning something new from the Scriptures, something you may have forgotten, or may have never seen there before. Now, we are given to actively, and mindfully participate in all of Christ’s blessings for the Baptized, especially the Lord’s Supper. This is your inheritance! The Lord has begun a good work in you, and will bring it to completion in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
About the Cover: Peter never forgot the experience at Cornelius’s house. There he learned that God doesn’t play favorites. He gave to those Gentiles listening to the Gospel the very same gift—the Holy Spirit—that He had earlier given to all the disciples. Peter rightly concluded that there was no way to deny them the grace of Baptism. It’s an important lesson for us: God’s gift in Christ is meant for all!
‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ You are clean in Christ. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.