From Lesser to Greater

Easter 6B, May 10, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” [Acts 10:47]

This morning, I want to start out our message with a word of encouragement from me your pastor, to each of you who make up this congregation we call Trinity Lutheran Church.  You truly are a welcoming and loving bunch of saints, and your diversity proves that.  You are made up of Asian, African, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Polynesian, wealthy, middle class, and poor.  You love each other equally and you are willing to offer up what you have to help each other when asked.  You seem to be following God’s example… you are not a respecter of persons.

All that being said, may I suggest that we take what our first reading (Acts 10:34-48) has to heart, and see if we might still have room to grow, both as individuals and as a congregation?  Good, let’s get started.

Another way to rephrase Peter’s question, would be like this: “Does anyone see what God is doing differently than me?  I see Him saying that He wants to save all people, regardless of who they are or what they are; regardless of what they’ve done or what they haven’t done?”

Did you notice that no one disagreed with Peter?  Now, don’t dismiss this fact because it is very relevant to what God is doing both in our reading and within our community today.  You see, prior to this day, God was seen as a national God, or a God of the Jews.  The Jews believed this, and it tended to steer them towards looking down on other folks; people who were not a part of their nation.  Peter was of this same mindset to an extent; he couldn’t help but be that way because he had been mistakenly taught this mindset from childhood.

But prior to our reading, in Acts 10:1-33, we discover that God had prepared Peter for a shift in his thinking through a vision.  In his vision from God, Peter was shown a great sheet that came out of heaven with all kinds of un-kosher creatures; you know creepy crawly things.  And in the vision, God said, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

Now prior to Peter’s vision, a gentile Roman Centurion who feared God but did not yet know him also had a vision.  And in his vision he was told by an angel to go to the home where Peter was staying and invite him to his home to share the gospel.  And obedient to God’s command, Cornelius sent his men to find Peter and ask him to come and speak.  The next day when Peter arrived at the home, Cornelius welcomed Peter, and Peter proclaimed these wonderful words: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

And then Peter said a prayer, opened his moth and he began to preach this sermon: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

To those Jewish Christians who were accompanying Peter, and had not the privilege of the vision, this all must have seemed very odd, and out of order.  They must have been thinking, “These are Roman gentiles and not Jews; why is Peter preaching to them our gospel?”

Before they had time to object, and before Peter could even finish his sermon, the Holy Spirit acted in a way that would make God’s desire clear to everyone there and everyone who would hear about this day: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

No one that day attempted to prevent these people, who were foreign to God’s holy people from becoming part of Christ’s body; from becoming part of the church.  The gift of speaking in foreign languages was the same work of the Spirit that was done with the apostles and disciples earlier on that first Christian Pentecost.  In other words, God was telling Peter and all of the Jewish Christians that these gentiles, and all people of the earth are equal to the Jewish people; equal in their sins and equal in their need for a Savior.

The blood of Jesus was poured out for not just the sins of the Jews, but for the world, and the waters of Holy Baptism is for all sinners who have been crushed by God’s perfection as demonstrated through His Law and desire forgiveness of sins, and to be born anew, recreated through the washing of the water and the Word!

Would you look around this sanctuary please and tell me what is missing, or should I say who is missing? (Pause) Where are the young people?  Where are the children and young adults?  Oh, we have had plenty of the young people come to visit; we’ve even baptized at least a dozen of them in the last few years, but where have they gone to?  Do you know?  If you don’t know where they’ve gone to, do you know why they left?  Could it be that they left because they didn’t feel that there was a place for them here?  Could it be that we have been so impressed with our diversity in regards to race, ethnicity, and economic standard that we were beginning to feel like we have done all things well, and that there is no more room to grow?  Could it be that we have become a respecter of persons in regards to age?

The title of our message is, “From the lesser to the greater,” because that seems to always be how God works.  He takes the things that we may look down on and turns them into the very thing that brings His law to shame us with our sin of superiority and then shape us with the gospel, the forgiveness of that sin, with the challenge to go and sin no more.  In other words, God has taken that sin from us, so now we must identify it, mark it, and avoid it.

From the lesser to the greater for Peter meant, receiving a message from God about unclean food and then applying that message towards people he felt were unclean. For us today, from the lesser to the greater can be seen in our own lives and discovered within the lives of our neighbors, no matter their age.  We see this play out in our own salvation don’t we?  God moved each of us here this morning, at some time in our own lives from sinner to saint.  That is, within the waters of our own baptism He recreated us through the same word that created the universe, and He recreated us into His very own children.  But He didn’t stop there did He?  No, daily he moves us from repentance to forgiveness; from sin to salvation, and He does it through the same means that He uses to save others who are not yet a part of us; He does it through the proclamation of the gospel (the preached Word), Holy Baptism, and His Holy Communion where He feeds us His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine.

All of these things, along with our own witness and conversation with our neighbors, points our hearts and minds back to the very same thing which equally saved us and continues to save us; we are taken back to the Word of God.

Did you notice a moment ago when I was listing God’s means of grace, or His means of giving us faith to believe and confess in the name of Jesus, I also included your own witness and conversation with our neighbors?  This is because we the church are to grab onto and utilize the Word of God in all of its forms.  In both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is the Word of God along with the working of the Holy Spirit that brings faith to the one receiving these gifts.

There’s no magical power in any of these things that simply works by itself; it is all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring faith to the one that is receiving.  The content of the Gospel contains and delivers God’s power for salvation as it creates faith and speaks to that faith.  Just as we struggle to avoid removing the speck from our neighbors eye while ignoring the log within our own, so too we often need a sermon, or a fellow believer to apply the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection to our own hurts and desires of comfort.

Young people today are hurting and aching for that gospel comfort, but they will unlikely find it by simply paging through their Bibles or listening to a 20-minute sermon.  They want to see that gospel hope in action; they want a guide or mentor who will teach them the personal truths of proclaiming and believing in the mystery of eternal life as it is revealed within the name of Jesus.

The voice of the gospel is a living voice, and it lives through each of us.  A sermon on Sunday is a great God ordained example of that Living voice of the Gospel, but if that is the only voice that young people are hearing, I am afraid that with what they face every day in this world darkened by sin, it may not be enough for them to over come the trials they are facing.  They need something more; they need you!

Young people need to be mentored; they need to be reminded by us that they are important to both God and the church.  Young people need mentors, surrogate Christian parents and Grandparents to come alongside them and remind them that what they know and believe of God matters.  They need to know that we older Christians are not that much different than them.  We too, have been moved from sinner to saint and we too struggle to live out the life of Christian while also fighting to put to death our old sinful natures.

While it is true that young people think, talk, and dress differently than we do, they have one thing that is the same: They desire to know God’s love and mercy.  They desire to know the mysteries of salvation that the church declares are theirs through faith in the name of Jesus Christ.  Will you please be that man or woman for the next young person that comes into our midst?

It is my prayer that we will all be aware through the help of God that He has called each of us to be conversing with others, even young people, and consoling them with God’s good news in Christ.  It is you God has chosen to teach these young people He brings into our midst about the abundant love He has lavished upon them through His means of grace that He so freely gives out right here at Trinity Lutheran Church.  I pray we will do this both as individuals and as a congregation for the glory of God and saving grace that calls us out of this lesser world of sin, into the greater glory of eternal life.  I ask this in Jesus name, Amen!

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