Sermon Day of Pentecost, Yr C

Pentecost Sunday Yr C, 27/05/2007

Rom 8:14-18 & Jn 14:8-17

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Led by the Holy Spirit”

 

A Sunday School class was studying the Apostles’ Creed. Each member of the class was given a section of the creed to learn by heart; then Sunday by Sunday they would take turns to recite the creed, each student repeating their part. And so, one Sunday morning, the class began. The first child stood up and said, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” The second student stood and said, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.” Then there was a few moments of silence, before one girl spoke up, “I’m sorry sir, but the boy who believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today.”

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day that we celebrate not the absence but rather, the presence of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Even though we have two-thousand plus years of Christian history; the witness of the biblical authors; and countless saints and theologians of the Church down through the ages up to the present day—nonetheless, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of God The Holy Trinity, still remains somewhat mysterious to us. The Bible speaks in a wide and creative variety of ways concerning the Holy Spirit. Today we will explore a little our texts from Romans and the Gospel of John.

In our Romans text, Paul sees the Holy Spirit as our “Identity Maker.” What do I mean by that? Well, what Paul is saying here is that when we are baptized, we are made God’s children; we are adopted by God into God’s family. Thus we are led by the Spirit of God into the Church and into a new identity as sons and daughters of God. This new identity given to us by the Holy Spirit, makes us precious in God’s eyes, we are highly valued and loved beyond our human comprehension. So much so, that as family members, we are heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ—we share in Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism. Our identity as children of God thanks to the Holy Spirit’s leading, reminds us that we are of great value and worth.

 

The Princess Diaries tells the story of Amelia (Mia) Thermopolis (played by Anne Hathaway), an average, awkward teenager whose estranged grandmother (played by Julie Andrews) comes to America to give Mia the biggest news of her life.

Mia visits her grandmother at her opulent mansion in San Francisco. A butler leads Mia to the grand living room, where she stands amazed as several servants bustle about. Suddenly all the servants stand at attention as Mia’s grandmother enters the room. The contrast between Mia and her refined grandmother is painfully apparent. After some small talk, Mia, feeling uncomfortable, finally asks her grandmother, “What is it you want to tell me?”

Her grandmother answers, “Something, I believe, that will have a very big impact on your life.” They walk outside to talk, and her grandmother begins to explain, “Amelia, have you ever heard of Eduard Cristof Philip Gerard Renaldi?”

“No,” Mia responds. Her grandmother tells her he was the crown prince of Genovia.

Mia is as baffled as she is indifferent and shrugs her shoulders. “What about him?” she asks.

Her grandmother says, “Eduard Cristof Philip Gerard Renaldi was also your father.”

Thinking her grandmother is only joking, she laughs, rolls her eyes in disbelief, and says, “If he was a prince, that would make me a…”

“Exactly,” says her grandmother. “A princess. You see, you are not just Amelia Thermopolis. You are Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi, the princess of Genovia.”

Mia can hardly speak as this new revelation sinks in. “Me—a—a—a princess?”

The Bible says we are heirs of the God of the universe. The implications of that are far more surprising.1 One implication in particular is quite amazing. In today’s gospel, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit, here called the Advocate, or in other translations and paraphrases: the Helper, the Comforter, the Counsellor. This Spirit will assist us, says Jesus in loving one another by doing great works. The Spirit dwells, makes a home in us and among us. Therefore we are given the gifts and fruit of the Spirit—the greatest of which is love for one another. Here is a beautiful story describing how the Spirit works to produce love and great works within us.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister were jailed by the Nazis when it was discovered that they were hiding Jews in their home in the Netherlands. Eventually they were sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. There they lived in squalid conditions, surrounded by lice and rats and death. But even in the midst of such hardship, they continued to trust in God. They realised that the Germans might take their lives away, but in the end they knew that they had something that the Germans could never take away—their faith.

Corrie’s sister died at Ravensbruck. But in the summer of 1945, Corrie was released due to a clerical error. Following the war, she opened a home in the Netherlands, where those who had suffered like her could come and receive help.

In 1946 the German government gave the organization that Corrie had founded a place to do the same kind of work in Germany. The place: the former concentration camp at Darmstadt. Corrie accepted the gift, believing that there was no better place to teach people that the power of love is greater than the power of hate.

More detailed information about Corrie ten Boom and her family may be found in her book, The Hiding Place. The life of Corrie ten Boom is an example of Jesus’ promise that those who trust him will be able to do great works.2

Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church; in people like Corrie ten Boom; in you and me. The Spirit who walks along side of us; dwells in us, gives energy and the breath of life to us. The Identity Maker, who adopts us children and heirs of God through our Baptism. The Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth about God, Christ, the world, and ourselves. Who leads us down paths in our journey of faith to live meaningful, grace-filled lives and make a difference in the Church and in the world by loving one another as Christ has loved us. Amen! Come, Holy Spirit!

 

1 Craig Brian Larson & Lori Quicke, More Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching: 101 Clips to Show or Tell (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), pp. 28-29.

2 Citation from Emphasis Vol. 25, No. 1, May-June 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co., Inc.), p. 39.

 

 

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Sermon 7 Easter, Yr C

7 Easter Yr C, 20/05/2007

Acts 16:16-34

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Paul and Silas in Philippi”

 

Today’s first lesson is quite a story. Actually, one could say it is a series of stories within the larger Story of the Christian Church’s beginnings at Philippi. It is an action-packed story—and provides us with a rationale for the title of this New Testament book, The Acts of the Apostles. There is never a dull or boring moment in this story; one act quickly follows another, building to a climax and joyous resolution at the end of chapter sixteen. Let’s take a closer look at the story and explore a little how it connects with us today.

First of all, it is a continuous story from where we left off last week, in the home of businesswoman Lydia at Philippi, who herself, along with her household, converted to Christianity and insisted that Paul and his co-workers stay at her house for a while. Now, as Paul and his companions were going to the place of prayer, they met a slave girl, described in the NRSV translation as having “a spirit of divination.”

What does this mean? Well, according to Dr. William Barclay: She was what was called a Pytho, that is, a person who could give oracles to guide (people) about the future. She was mad and the ancient world had a strange respect for mad people because, they said, the gods had taken away their wits in order to put the mind of the gods into them.1

Paul, after days of listening to this slave girl speak of him and his co-workers, becomes annoyed with her and does an exorcism on her, saying: “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” We learn that the slave girl was healed of this mad spirit “that very hour.” Paul here is carrying out one of the jobs that Jesus gave the apostles when he sent them on their mission—namely, to cast out evil spirits. Paul and his co-workers believed that there was power in the name of Jesus Christ. This power was able to work for the health and well being, the healing of those who were sick and oppressed mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The Church, to this very day, continues to “renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises” whenever someone is baptized into the Christian faith.

Luke goes on to tell us that the owners of this slave girl were not pleased when Paul freed her of the oppressive spirit so that she no longer continued with fortune telling, thus taking away the wealthy income for her owners. There is an important lesson in this detail. That slave girl being exploited by her owners for their own selfish gain is a story that tragically continues to this very day. There are millions of children in the two-thirds world who are exploited in similar ways today. Wealthy corporations hire young boys and girls to work like slaves for next to nothing in their sweat factories. Some girls are also sold at a very young age and placed into the slavery of the sex trade in large cities around the world. Some boys are recruited by terrorist death squads to shoot and kill innocent people—leaving irreparable scars within their souls for life. The slavery of children goes on to this very day, and we as Christians need to pray and work for the freedom and well being of these children.

It is rather telling too, I think that Luke fails to give us any more details about this slave girl. We don’t even know her name; nor do we know what happened to her after Paul had cast out the spirit of divination from her. Did she return to her old way of life again? Did her owners continue to exploit and abuse her? Or, as I’d like to believe, did she become a member of the Christian Church at Philippi? Did someone, perhaps Lydia, take her into their household and treat her with love and respect? We don’t know, since her story is left open-ended by Luke. So, too, in our world today, there are too many stories of too many children who remain unnamed; whose lives are a living hell; who remain hidden and forgotten. May God have mercy upon them and deliver them from the evils that they suffer. May God move us to work for the freedom and justice, health and well being of these children.

As Luke continues the story, the slave owners, in revenge after losing their exploitive income; roughed up Paul and Silas; brought them before the legal authorities and accused them in public of trumped up charges. Paul and Silas are scapegoated for being Jewish and acting in un-Roman ways. The age-old hatred against the Jewish people rears its ugly head here and Paul and Silas are unjustly convicted, beaten and imprisoned. Today, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head all over the world. One Jewish organisation which monitors anti-Semitism has reported alarming increases in incidents of hatred acts against Jews in many of the democratic nations of the world, including right here in Canada. As Christians our connection with the Jewish faith and the Jewish people is inseparable. Our Saviour and Messiah, Jesus was a Jew, and most of the writers of the New Testament were Jews—as were most of the earliest disciples of Jesus. Therefore, as Christians we need to work against this hatred of the Jewish people today. Moreover, the story of the abuse of Paul and Silas by the legal authorities is a repeated story of millions of people today around the world who face injustices because they are often minority groups and different in some way from the people in positions of power, who remain in power by persecuting and abusing others. Our calling as Christians is to protect and defend the victims of injustice around the world and in our midst. May God grant us the courage and compassion to do so.

As the story continues to unfold, Paul and Silas, after enduring their beatings, were handed over to a Philippian jailer who threw them in prison and put them in chains and stocks. Then the plot thickens. Paul and Silas are not disheartened by all of the injustice that has overtaken them. No, rather than being paralyzed because they were victims, they worship God, pray and sing hymns and the other prisoners listen to them. Now if that had been us, I wonder what we’d have done. Would we, like Paul and Silas have been worshipping God at midnight with prayers and hymns? Or would we have complained about our situation and wallowed in self pity? This detail of the story reminds us of Paul’s admonition elsewhere to give God thanks for all things. Why? because God is actively working out his good purposes in and through all things.

While this is happening, an earthquake shakes off the prisoners’ chains and opens all of the prison doors. The jailer, waking up and seeing the open prison doors, thinks the prisoners have escaped. He realises he’s responsible for them, so he pulls out his sword with the intention of taking his own life. Paul shouts out to him and reassures him that everyone is still in prison, thus preventing the jailer from committing suicide. After this, the jailer realises the faith of these two apostles is contagious and asks them how he can be saved. They tell him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” It is the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus that works within the heart and mind and soul of this jailer and his family that then leads them to receive baptism and thus become Christians. Our calling as followers of Jesus is the same. We too are given the Word of God to proclaim to others that they too might be drawn into the Christian faith. Jesus has given us the ministry of bearing witness to people of every background. The invitation to become members of God’s family is an open one—everyone regardless of their status, their occupation, their race, their class, their gender, their age, or whatever is welcome and invited to be a member of the Christian Church. Do your friends and neighbours who might not be Christians or have any church affiliation know this? If not, what can you do to make this known to them?

It is interesting that the story continues with another familiar theme in that early Philippian Church—namely that of hospitality. The jailer and his family welcome Paul and Silas and look after their needs. They washed their wounds and offered them food. Such is the ministry for us too. As we learn elsewhere in the New Testament, we love, because God first loved us. After we receive the grace, love and forgiveness of God through our Lord Jesus Christ; we then respond by acts of love towards others, just like the household of the jailer at Philippi. Such acts of love make a big difference for countless people every day around the world—touching their hearts and lives and drawing them closer to the Lord: food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, love and care for the widows and orphans, education for the illiterate, healthcare for the sick, to name some of the ways in which we can and do make a difference by supporting our ELCIC’s Global Hunger and Development Appeal and Canadian Lutheran World Relief, as well as our local organisations like the Women’s Shelter, the Champion’s Centre, and so on.

May we continue to be inspired by God’s Word, which gives us life and salvation. May we share it faithfully with a world in need, just like Paul and Silas. And in so doing, may we celebrate with joy and thanksgiving what our risen Christ is doing and shall do in and through us. Amen.

 

1 Wm. Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1976), p. 124.

 

Sermon 6 Easter, Yr C

6 Easter Yr C, 13/05/2007

Acts 16:9-15

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“Lydia and the women of Philippi”

 

Years ago, when there were only a few women in ordained ministry; when my wife was being called to serve the Bashaw Lutheran Parish; the bishop at the time asked the call committee how they would feel if their next pastor was a woman. There was silence for a while, then one of the call committee members spoke up, saying: “It would be alright, if her husband could play the organ.” Well, I don’t play the organ; nonetheless Julianna did receive the call to that parish and was blessed in her pastoral ministry there. Her parishioners, for the most part, came to love and accept her as their pastor.

Today in our passage from Acts, it is interesting that Luke tells us it was the women, not the men, who were the first people at Philippi to hear the gospel preached and be baptized into the Christian faith. Although Paul has a vision in the night while he is at Troas; and in that vision he sees a man pleading with him to: “Come over to Macedonia and help us;” it is rather ironic that when Paul and his co-workers arrive at Philippi they meet women who listen to Paul’s preaching, and one of them at least, Lydia, along with her whole household, were baptized into the Christian faith.

Even though at this time in history society was very patriarchal, Luke in his Gospel and in Acts admits that there were some women who played a significant leadership role in the ministry of the early Christian Church. Let us take a closer look then at this Lydia, who was she anyways? Well, according to Luke’s description of her in our text, she was: “a worshipper of God,” or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “a God-fearing woman.” In the book of Acts, Luke mentions other people, often they are Gentiles, who worship and fear God, and some of them seem to have contact with or even worship in Jewish synagogues, believing in the One True God of heaven and earth. At any rate, Lydia was obviously a woman of deep faith in God.

Luke goes on to describe Lydia as coming: “from the city of Thyatira.” Now Thyatira was a centre of commerce and known for its many trade guilds. It was located in the country of Lydia, in western Anatolia, present-day Turkey. Lydia was bounded on the west by the Aegean Sea and profoundly influenced the Ionian Greeks in the 7th – 6th centuries BC through such economic developments as the use of metallic coinage. It was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus II in 546 BC. It later passed to Syria and Pergamum, and under the Romans it became part of the province of Asia.1 It is rather interesting that Lydia then is actually named after her country—this could perhaps suggest that she was an influential citizen of her nation.

Luke continues to describe Lydia as: “a dealer in purple cloth.” Obviously if she was from Thyatira, and now in Philippi, she was a travelling business woman, who was independent and had the financial wealth to carry out her work in this way. According to Rev. Dr. William Barclay: Lydia came from the very top end of the social scale; she was a purple merchant. The purple dye had to be gathered drop by drop from a certain shell-fish and was so costly that to dye a pound of wool with it would take (quite a large sum money).2 Moreover, as Luke mentions later in this text, Lydia has a “household,” and has a “home.” If she owned property here in Philippi as well as back in Thyatira, then she must have been a businesswoman with considerable wealth. This is an important point I think for two reasons: firstly, it gives us a clue that there were some women, even in a patriarchal society, who were able to pursue an occupation outside of the traditional roles as housewife and mother, and become relatively successful and influential in their society. Secondly, according to Luke, it was the will of the Lord who called Lydia into the Christian Church. Luke tells us: “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In other words, the preaching of the Good News is for everyone; in this case, it touched the life of a rich businesswoman, Lydia. Then, Luke goes on to say that after Lydia heard the Word of God preached by Paul: “she and her household were baptized.”

The reference to “her household” is important here. Firstly, again it tells us that Lydia was the head of the house, and a woman of means. She may have had family members in her household as well as slaves or servants, we cannot be certain, however this is quite likely. Yet, to have a household implies several people, not merely herself, and thus the need for resources to support such a household. Secondly, a household, in most cases, is intergenerational; therefore this passage may very well describe the baptism of children, perhaps even infants. Yes, it is by inference, but nonetheless it is quite possible that Lydia’s household consisted of children, maybe even infants. It seems too from the text, that all, not merely some of the household were baptized, since the way Luke words the phrase gives us the sense of being inclusive of everyone in the household.

This sequence in the story also is quite important and instructive to the Church for today. We have here first of all God’s call to preach the good news in Macedonia. Then we have Paul and his co-workers obeying that call by travelling to Philippi and seeking out a place and an audience to hear and receive the preached Word. Then we have God working through that preached Word by touching the heart of Lydia who obviously believed in the message of the Gospel. Then in response to the preached Word, Lydia and her household were baptized. This sequence in the story is also very similar to what we continue to do in the Christian Church today. We continue to trust that God calls people into the ordained ministry. God sends those ordained pastors to certain places to preach the good news. God’s Holy Spirit continues to be at work through the preached Word, and touches peoples’ hearts. God still leads people to seek the sacrament of Holy Baptism and become members of the Christian Church.

This story also teaches us that often we, like Paul and his co-workers need to continue with the mission of the Church by going out into the world and sharing the Good News with them in various places and situations. We, like Paul and his co-workers, are called to be missionaries for Christ, whether around the world or right here in our own community of Medicine Hat. We, like Paul and his co-workers, need to trust in God to work through our obedient thoughts, words and actions—that others will indeed be reached with the Good News and it will have an impact in their lives.

A commuter on a suburban railroad was known to every regular rider on the 5:15 local. He was a well-dressed, quiet young man. As the train pulled out of the station, he would go to the front of the car in which he was riding and walk down the aisle, speaking to each seatload of passengers as he went. “Excuse me, but if any of your family or friends are blind or threatened with blindness, tell them to consult Dr. Carl. He restored my sight.” It was courteous, confident, and courageous testimony, repeated faithfully. The man had good news, and he shared it. This is evangelism!3 We never know how much God can accomplish to reach others through our obedient, faithful thoughts, words and actions when we share them. The Gospel is Good News, The Best Good News of all for everyone, therefore worth sharing with them.

You may not be able to preach like Paul, who was likely one of the best if not “the” best, most articulate preacher in the early Church; however you can follow the example of Lydia, who, after she and her household were baptized, she offered hospitality to Paul and his co-workers. I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Hospitality is a very important ministry. It can make all the difference in the world, especially to strangers.

Methodist International House in London has for years now been a Christian home—even if temporary—for students from overseas who arrive in England and have nowhere to live. This is how the idea began.

Until the political unrest sent her home, Hilda Porter, a big-hearted Barnsley woman with an indomitable spirit, had been a missionary in a bandit-infested area of China. Then the war started and the Blitz hit London.

Hilda worked with the homeless and she sheltered with them each night. They soon saw that “Auntie Hilda” knew what it meant to sleep rough.

During this time, she found overseas students living in poor conditions, homesick and lonely. She mobilised the Methodist Church into starting an international home for them. She tramped around for days to find suitable accommodation, and started International House as she was to name it, in Inverness Crescent. With help she cleaned it from top to bottom, so that the rooms could be occupied immediately.

Hilda has long since passed on, but she is still remembered lovingly by people from many countries. She believed that all of us are God’s children and she lived her life to prove that this is true.4 On this Mother’s Day, we too celebrate and remember all mothers who have given of their lives for the betterment of their children, the church and the world. Their contributions are priceless, may God continue to bless all mothers.

We too can learn from and be inspired by the hospitality of Lydia to Paul and his co-workers, who were strangers to Lydia and her household. Out of that hospitality grew a new Christian congregation at Philippi. We never know how the Lord can use our hospitality to make all the difference in the world and in the church. Amen.

 

1 Cited from <www.answers.com>.

2 Wm. Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1976), p. 123.

3 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 171.

4 F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1992, meditation for June 17.

 

Sermon 5 Easter, Yr C

5 Easter Yr C, 6/05/2007

Acts 11:1-18

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 

“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

 

You have probably heard all of those crazy light bulb jokes before, so please forgive me for this one: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Lutherans don’t change. Change. In today’s first lesson from Acts, Luke tells us the story of Peter’s vision at Joppa, and how that changed him personally, as well as the early church. One of the most difficult facts of life can be change. We all struggle with changes from time to time. Change is not always easy or welcome—yet, it is necessary, whether we like it or not. Plus, as we learn today, some changes come directly from God.

James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon fascinated us with its account of Shangri-La, where nothing had changed for hundreds of years. Yet how dreary and depressing it would be if that were true; a child remaining always a child, workers forever in the same job, living in the same house, wearing the same clothes. In actuality, nothing stays the same for more than a moment. Nature’s cycles are always in change, through the seasons and through the years. Trees sprout as seedlings, growing steadily through the annual cycles of bud, blossom, full leaf, and then dormancy, until the old trees die and fall to make place for new. The famous architect Louis Kahn pointed out that sunlight itself is never constant; it changes in direction and intensity every minute of the day, every day of the year. Change is part of the natural order and helps make life interesting.1

In our passage from Acts today, we learn that change is also part of the supernatural-spiritual order and helps make life for people of faith interesting. The first interesting thing we see in this passage is that change is at first not welcomed, doubted and approached only reluctantly. Peter himself, we note, was given the vision of the sheet with animals, birds and reptiles of all kinds not once, but three times. And, Luke tells us, a voice from heaven spoke to Peter not once, but three times, telling him: ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ The heavenly voice also said: ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ If you or I were Peter, would we believe such a vision and welcome the message that the heavenly voice spoke here to Peter? I wonder if we would be any different than Peter. We too likely would not at first welcome such a change; we too might very well doubt the vision and the message; we too, like Peter, might approach it rather reluctantly. However, obviously Peter did believe the vision and the message of it, even though as a good Jew, who kept the dietary laws of the Torah, such a message would have been very difficult for him to accept at first. A faithful Jew like Peter had clear cut beliefs about what was clean and what was unclean. Jews like Peter also knew God’s people; the Jews were the “in” people, the ones whom God had saved and would save, while the Gentile, non-Jewish people were the “out” people, the ones whom Jews ought to avoid because God didn’t favour them. However, after Peter accepts the vision and its message, he goes to Jerusalem to “face the music” of the Jewish Christian Church leaders there. At first, they were not amused and criticized him. At first, they did not welcome such a vision or message—rather; they too were doubtful and approached it reluctantly.

However, another interesting point of this story worth noting is that Peter does not argue and debate with his critics here. It is so easy to become defensive and turn to argument and debate when one is being criticized because we feel threatened by our critics. Yet, Peter does not respond in that way. Rather, according to Luke, Peter explains it to them “step by step.” He shared with them what happened to him. The other amazing thing about this is that his critics actually respect him by listening to him and accepting what he has told them. They believe what Peter said was the truth and that it came from God. This passage is a rather timely one and very instructive for our ELCIC today. We are caught up in a seemingly never-ending debate and argument about same-sex blessings. We are getting absolutely nowhere. Neither side seems to be respecting or listening to the other side. Instead of all the debate and argument and becoming defensive and feeling threatened by one another; I think we could learn from this passage in Acts today. When sides are taken, lines drawn in the sand and positions are hardened, we tend to assume that we are right and God is on our side. However, what we really need to ask is: “Are we on God’s side? Could we be wrong? Do we need to change like Peter did and like the Jewish Christians did long ago?” Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying one side is right and the other side is wrong—although that may be true—what I am saying is that both sides could benefit if they were to follow Peter’s approach here in our passage. If both sides could listen to each other with respect and discern what it is that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell them in and through the other side; then perhaps we would not be in the situation that we find ourselves today. Perhaps, with the working of the Holy Spirit, we would be able to come to a favourable understanding and agree on what God’s will and truth is concerning this issue.

As Peter and the other Jewish Christian Church leaders at Jerusalem knew, and as we know, change is not easy. It can be difficult and lead to a lot of conflict and hurt. However, if handled with care, with prayer, with the word of God, with humility, and an opening listening to the Holy Spirit and one another, change can be very affirming, it can actually unite us and lead us into a deeper love for the Lord and for others.

Rev. Dr. William Willimon tells the following story: I was in a church where the preacher was fulminating in a sermon against moral decay in (North) America. As an example of (this), the preacher used the AIDS epidemic. These people with AIDS are getting what they deserve, the preacher implied. Sin leads to sickness. Case closed.

After the service, on (his) way out, (Rev. Dr. Willimon) struck up a conversation with an older man, a longtime member of the church. (They) spoke about the sermon. The man said, “I used to think just like the preacher. Then I got involved in our town’s home for AIDS victims. I go there every week to be with these young men. Most of them have been all but forgotten by their families. I do what I can. To tell you the truth, I get more out of them than I give. It’s done wonders for my prayer life.”

There’s a question for us, lurking behind today’s text from Acts. The question is, “Will we allow the Holy Spirit to prod us today, to give us a vision, to drag us, as it dragged our apostolic forbearers before us, kicking and screaming, all the way toward the wideness of God’s mercy?”

Or will we hunker down right here with folk just like us? Safe. Secure. Boundaries firmly fixed. The Holy Spirit gone on elsewhere, instrument of a living God determined to have the whole world as his own.2

May God grant us the grace and wisdom, with the working of the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us into his way, truth and life. Amen.

 

1 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 30.

2 Wm. H. Willimon, “When the Outsiders Become Insiders,” in Pulpit Resource Vol. 26, No. 2, Year C, April, May, June 1998 (Inver Grove Heights, MN: Logos Productions Inc.), pp. 28-29.