Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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A New Humanity (Easter Sunrise)

Acts 10:34-43

 What do we see when we look at humanity?  I think it’s hard for us not to see divisions everywhere.  We have a hard time not seeing a world divided into black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, native-born and immigrant, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist.  We could go on all day.  And there are a lot of voices out there that want to increase those divisions because it benefits them in some way.  

 This is not so different from the way that Peter saw the world.  Some of the divisions are different.  Fortunately, we are not as likely to divide the world into slave and free as Peter was.  But for Peter, there was one huge division that loomed over all others:  Jew and Gentile.  If you were a Jew, you were chosen by God, loved by God, acceptable to God.  If you were a Gentile, you were unclean, unacceptable to God, you were excluded from God.  

 If the gospel message was going to be fulfilled, that division had to end.  Acts chapter 10 was one of the moments when that wall started to come down.  The chapter begins with two visions given to two different men, which was understood to be a sure signs that God’s will was being revealed.  

One vision was given to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, but also a devout man, well known for his prayers and his gifts to the poor.  He loved God and neighbor.  He was one of what the Jewish people called the “God-fearers.”  God-fearers were Gentiles who found something good in the Jewish God, but they did not convert for some reason.  The Jewish view was that all other people were excluded from the presence and favor of God, and the dividing line was circumcision, without which a man could not convert.  In his vision, Cornelius was told to send messengers to Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter was having another vision in which God told him to eat unclean animals, to break his kosher diet.  Peter refused to eat anything unclean, but God told him that he was not to call unclean, unacceptable, what God had accepted.  Peter didn’t know what the vision meant until Cornelius’ messengers showed up.  

Peter and the believers with him went to Cornelius’ home.  Certainly there was plenty of discussion between them about what God was doing.  The combination of visions from God, reflection on God’s Word, and consultation with each other led them to a radical conclusion:  God was opening the Church up to all nations.

Peter began his message with a statement at odds with everything he had believed up till that moment:  God does not show partiality.  He accepts people of every nation who honor him and seek to do what is right.  The desire to honor God and do good shows the responsiveness of a person’s heart to God.  And in every nation, there are people who want to honor God and do what is right. 

Peter preaches the gospel message.  No doubt what we have here is a condensed version, but we can see that it includes all the essentials.  It starts with John the Baptist who announced the coming of Jesus, the Messiah.  He was anointed with God’s Spirit to do powerful works.  He went about doing good and healing.  He was rejected and crucified.  What could better illustrate the sinfulness of humanity and our need for a Savior than the fact that human beings put to death a man whose mission in life was to reach out to the exile, heal the sick, and feed the poor?  

But God’s purposes prevailed.  Death could not hold the Lord of Life.  He rose from the dead.  He appeared to his followers.  And he commanded them to preach everywhere that he is the judge of the living and the dead.  

He is the one the prophets testified about.  Peter and the other Jewish believers knew the Old Testament.  They knew God told Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him.  They knew God sent the prophet Jonah to deliver a message of deliverance to a foreign nation, even one that was an enemy of Israel.  They knew the prophet Isaiah foretold that Messiah, the heir to David’s throne, would be a banner of salvation to the whole world.  They may not have paid attention to those things, but they knew them.  And when God revealed his will that the Church would be a home of salvation for all nations, they remembered them.  

The final confirmation that this was God’s will was when the Holy Spirit fell on these “uncircumcised Gentiles” just as he had on the apostles.  Who could argue with that sign?  

When we look at humanity, we see division.  But God’s vision is a new humanity united in Jesus Christ.  God sees a new humanity in which every person can be included, if they will receive Jesus.  We need to be careful not to lose sight of God’s vision.  It is very easy for us to fall back into thinking of ourselves as God’s only chosen people.  When we do that, it’s easy for us to think of anyone who doesn’t look like us or think like us is also “rejected by God.”  And we can’t hold back the message of Jesus, keeping it only for those who look like us or think like us.  It is a message that came into history in one particular time and place, but it God’s message for every time, every place, and every person.  

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