Fairmeadow Community Church of The Nazarene
October 24, 2021
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- 1 In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3 One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6 he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8 and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa. 9 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.Judging People is a Popular SportGod uses surprising peopleEveryone is welcome to pursue GodEVERYONE. All races. Men, Women, Children, whatever pronouns they use, however they identify, God loves them so we will love them.You don’t have to give approval to everyone’s lifestyle to love them. But you do have to care about more than just their lifestyle.You don’t have to understand everything about someone’s ethnic culture to be able to love them. But you do have care about their culture, their language, their family. You can’t just expect people to always make it easy for you. Does someone have to fully adopt your exact language, dress, and habits for you to see them as a whole person? Do you have respect for people who are different than you?General Colin Powell recently passed away. He served his country for 33 years. He had to overcome a lot of prejudice along the way. But he was that special kind of person who learned how to rise above and eventually how to bring people together. But his experience isn’t typical. Many people of color are discounted no matter how well they perform. I’m not talking about political ideology here. I’m talking about what I’ve observed with my own two eyes and heard with my ears. Whatever you think of his politics or all of his actions, we all eventually saw the level of achievement Powell was capable of, but many early people he encountered didn’t see that potential. All some could see was a large young black man. For many people a large young black man is a threat. If he steps onto an elevator people get nervous. If his complexion had been darker he might have had an even more difficult time. A good man. A hard working man come from good hard working people. But Powell had to break down the stereotypes through actions that met such a high standard he could not be denied.Let’s go back to Cornelius. He’s risen to the rank of a Roman centurion. A proven leader of 100 men or more. And he’s a good man. He gives to the poor. He’s seeking the one true God despite being surrounded by a pagan culture that values power and riches.But all of that would only get him so far in most synagogues of the time. Even Peter who had just stood up at Pentecost and seen the gospel go out in many languages to all kinds of people, wasn’t prepared to fully accept someone like Cornelius.He’s a Roman. He’s not Jewish by birth. He’s a Roman centurion. The list goes on. Peter might not bother to find out if he gives to the poor or prays and tries to follow God. Just by looking at him he knows he’s unclean. Or he thinks he does. This is going to limit how the message of Jesus goes around the world. So many seekers won’t be found under this prejudice.God was up to something big. Peter had been trained to look at the world one way. God did not waste anytime totally changing his outlook.Everyone is welcome to follow JesusWe tend to line people up in categories:Jew/Gentile Male/Female Slave/Free Here’s what God says about that:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.Could we add: Black/White? Could we add Hispanic or LantinX and white? Some are conditioned to hate on sight anyone who looks different. But in the church it’s becoming clear by this point in the story that God is having none of this.We can’t denigrate anyone because of their background. We can’t treat someone less because of their color. Even if we don’t agree with their lifestyle we are called to love people.Anyone who is willing to follow Jesus and his guidelines is welcome to join the journey.Peter has the vision. A sheet comes down full of unclean animals. Take Peter, kill and eat. No Lord, I’ll never do it. He thinks it’s a test of his morality. In a way it is. Will you cling to an idea that you have applied wrongly? Or will you hear God say, clean?Peter wakes up as there’s a knock at the door. God didn’t give him too much time to overthink it. He goes with these men. They also are good men. Peter arrives to a houseful of people Cornelius had found and loved and guided toward God. This man who wasn’t supposed to count because of his race. This good man God saw. Don’t call anything unclean that I have called clean. More importantly, don’t call anyONE unclean that I have called clean.A house full of people ready to hear what Peter has to say. God is really trusting Peter that he has learned this lesson very quickly. Cornelius is trusting that God has sent the right man to the right moment.34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”Peter nails it. He explains the grace and forgiveness of God. He settles it once and for all that the gospel is for everyone. God settles it once and for all that as Christians we are called to let go of prejudice and embrace others.Everyone is challenged to live God’s way34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.So God accepts people of any background. But in stepping forward in faith people step away from old ways of life and into a new reality. Anyone who confesses Jesus as Lord, makes a commitment to do what is right. Nobody is perfect. But God gives us the power to change. We may not achieve perfect performance but we can be filled with perfect love.And let’s put a few things in perspective. You are probably all from gentile descent. So you had no chance to know Jesus apart from this moment. Here’s another fact: Christianity has existed continuously on other continents much longer than ours. Africa, for example. We are all outsiders so how dare we exclude anyone from the good news.But don’t worry: God has the same expectations, nobody is getting a discount. But chances are you naturally focus on problems other people have but miss or overlook a few of your own.It’s best to focus on your own obedience rather than what you think others should doPeter’s focus that day was on what God was calling him to do: go with these men and share Jesus with them despite their differences. He saw the best in the people he encountered and knew God was working in their lives.Nobody ever makes it into the kingdom of God without a sponsor. Without someone who will believe in them, invest in them and love them.Rather than sitting in judgment on others, we better get in step with what God is saying on behalf of others.If we stand in the way of God reaching others, he will reach around us. We may find ourselves on the outside of God’s will and it will be our own fault. It’s not the place to be.47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.Don’t be the old Peter stuck in a mindset that excluded people trying to respond to God’s invitation. How much better to be opening the door. How much better to be open all people. How much better to be seeing what God has already done in their lives. How much better to celebrate reborn citizens in the kingdom of God.That’s what I’m in ministry to see and I hope it’s what you are here to see. I hope it’s what you want more than other lesser things. God is calling us to be flexible. Let’s not be ruling people out. God is calling us to care about those turning to God. Who is Cornelius in your life? Who needs your encouragement to find themselves all the way in to the church, to the kingdom of God and our blessed hope?Let’s pray...
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