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.