Sermon for April 28, 2013

Sermon for Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2013

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Acts 11:1-18

Sermon Theme:  “Inclusion and Going against the Flow”

(Sources:  Emphasis online Commentaries; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Merriam Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia)


Grace, mercy and peace to from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.


As a person who collects ancient fables, I was delighted to come across one the other day that relates to our sermon text.  It goes like this:

Once upon a time, the colors of the world started to quarrel.  All claimed to be the best, the most important.

Green said, “Clearly I am the most important.  I am the sign of life and of hope, the color of grass, trees, and leaves.  Without my life, there would be no plants or creatures.”

Blue interrupted, “You only think of the earth, but consider the sky and the sea.  It is water that is the basis of life, and the sky gives peace and serenity.  Without my peace, you would all be nothing.”

Yellow chuckled, “You are all so serious.  I bring laughter, gaiety, and warmth into the world.  The sun is yellow, and every time a sunflower rises up, the whole world starts to smile.  Without me, there would be no joy.”

Orange jumped in next:  “I am the color of health and strength.  I may be scarce, but I am precious, for fruits and vegetables of color carry the most important vitamins.  When I fill the sky at sunrise or sunset, my beauty is so striking that no one gives a thought to any other color.”

Red could stand it no longer, and shouted out, “I am the ruler of all of you. I am blood – life’s blood!  I am the color of danger and bravery, passion and love!”

Purple rose up, then, and proclaimed with great pomp, “I am the color of royalty and power.  Kings and bishops have always chosen me for their own, for I am the sign of authority and wisdom.  People do not question me!  They listen and obey.“

And so the colors went on boasting, convinced of their own superiority. Suddenly, there was a startling flash of brilliant lightning.  Thunder rolled and boomed.  In the midst of the clamor, Rain began to speak, “You foolish colors, fighting amongst yourselves, each trying to dominate the rest.  Do you not know that you were made for a special purpose, unique and different?   Join hands with one another and come to me.”

Doing as they were told, the colors united and joined hands.

The Rain continued, “From now on, whenever it rains, each of you will stretch across the sky in a great bow of color, as a reminder that you can all live in peace.  The rainbow is a sign of hope for tomorrow!”

As God said to Noah in Genesis 9:12:  “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  I have set my rainbow in the clouds , and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

I think all of us today are a little like the six self-important colors of the world in that fable,  and people in Jesus’ day were no different, not even His disciples.  It takes courage, a sign of true leadership, to go against the flow.  Peter had courage to share his experience among the Gentiles with those who thought Jews should not associate with Gentiles.  There were many in the Mother Church, that is, the Jerusalem Church, who criticized Peter for eating with Gentiles.  The real issue, of course, is not food, but inclusion.

In most churches that have controversies, the given issues are often not the real issue.  The stated issue may be a cover for the real issue of prejudice or a power struggle.  I think you see that in every church that has undergone a major conflict.  But, here in the early days of the church, in the story about Peter and Cornelius, it was no minor issue, it was a matter of life or death.  Did Jesus die for all people, or did He just die for His chosen people, the Jews?

This story about Peter and Cornelius actually begins in the previous chapter of Acts, Chapter 10.  Peter didn’t think that a Roman could become a Christian, but when he saw the work of the Holy Spirit in Cornelius, who was Captain of the local Roman garrison, he realized that God could reach anyone.  As he told the Christians in Jerusalem, “If then God gave the same gift to them as He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

It seems to me that Jesus made it clear to the disciples and others who listened to Him that He died for all people, that He came to save the world, not just the Jews.  It seems to me then that the attitude of most of the Judaisers, like Peter in the beginning, was an attitude of inclusion/exclusion and of prejudice, including racial and ethnic prejudice.

My mother’s family were Wendish-German descendants of those pioneers who established the LCMS “Mother” church in Texas, at Serbin.  My father was German, not Wendish, and he came from outside the County.  Like all Wends, my mother spoke high German.  My daddy spoke low German, which caused his in-laws to laugh at him.  Wends were prejudiced against Germans, especially Germans who spoke low German.  My mother’s snootiness about this caused me to grow up believing that my mother’s family was a cut above my father’s family.

But then in recent years, in exploring the genealogy of both families, I discovered nothing in my mother’s family that was even noteworthy.  However, I discovered that in the 15th Century there was a Spitzenberger who was the Captain of the Forest Rangers in the Black Forest who received a special citation from the Prince for the reforesting work he did after the devastation of the Hundred Years’ War.  France and Germany shared the same section of the Black Forest.

How silly it is!  Because all of us have descended from Adam, the in-between-lines are pointless.  Not one of us is worth a rat’s nest unless adopted anew into God’s family by Christ’s mercy.  His is the only lineage worth our concern.  Those who wanted to exclude the Gentiles were wrong!  So are those who make prejudicial judgments of any kind.

You know, you have to take Chapters 10 and 11 of Acts together to tell the story of Peter and Cornelius.  This story is about the meeting of Cornelius and Peter, the reception of Cornelius and his household into the church, Peter’s subsequent report to the Mother Church in Jerusalem, his response to critics, and the official endorsement of the Gentile mission by the Jerusalem church.

That the life of a Jewish fisherman should intersect with that of a Roman army officer is something we would not expect to happen given all the walls between the two of them.  But this meeting is a very decisive moment in the history of Christianity!  Peter’s change of heart and mind were necessary if the truth Jesus taught was going to survive.  Paul went from Pharisee and persecutor of Christians to a leader of the Mission work with Gentiles, now it was necessary for Peter to move in this direction, also.

Luke tells this story with awe as he describes the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Cornelius and his household as Peter was speaking to them, and Peter’s subsequent report to the leadership in Jerusalem.  This is a pivotal moment in the history of Christianity, as it validates, that is, it approves with conviction, the need for mission work among the Gentiles.  Now, at the very beginning, the young church can go ahead full speed with the Great Commission, “Go therefore and baptize “all” nations.”

Cornelius’ garrison was the only all-Roman unit stationed in Palestine during the days of Jesus – the only one!  For a Roman Captain to undergo this kind of conversion is truly an act of God.  It was a necessary act, because by observing it, Peter was convinced Gentiles should be included in God’s plan.

God knew His plan.  Jesus knew His Father’s plan for the salvation of mankind!  You and I know it!  But at this point in time, when the future of the Christian church was at stake, some of the followers of Christ did not.   The Holy Spirit saw to it that the church continued to follow the plan, as He does today.

Our Introit for today is an enthusiastic proclamation of this:  “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!  His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.  The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.  He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.  All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”  The new song is that salvation has been extended to all people.  The door to His Kingdom is open to all people.  Grace has unlocked the door and Faith takes you through it.  Because Jesus died on the cross for all people, there are no metal detectors to stop us!   Amen.


The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.