1 John 3:16-24

16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care– how can the love of God remain in him? 18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 20 Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. 22 We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24 The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us. (CEB)

Action and Truth

How do we know love? It’s a question Tevye asks his wife Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. After their second daughter makes her own marital match rather than following the tradition of marriages being arranged, a distraught Tevye asks Golde if she loves him. After all, the first time they met each other was on their wedding day. Their parents told them they would love each other in time but, because their daughters keep finding love before marriage, Tevye needs to know if his marriage to Golde has resulted in love. So he asks Golde if she loves him.

First, she calls him a fool, but he persists and asks the question again: “Do you love me.” Then, Golde says, “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house, given you children, milked your cow. After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?” But that’s not the answer Tevye wants. He wants to know, so he asks again, “Do you love me?”

Golde thinks about it, asking herself, “Do I love him?” And her answer is: “For twenty-five years, I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?” Tevye responds, excitedly, “Then you love me!” like it’s an accusation. And, Golde concedes, “I suppose I do.” Then Tevye replies, “And I suppose I love you, too.” Then, they sing together, “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know.”

How do we know love? Like Golde and Tevye, John the Elder tells us we know love because of the actions of God—the things God does—on our behalf. It’s not because God said, I love you or because God said Hey, dear little humans, this is what love is…, and gave us an explanation. Instead, we know what love is because Jesus laid down his life for us. In the actions of Jesus Christ, God has acted lovingly toward us and for us.

In much the same way that James declares how faith is recognized through actions (c.f. James 2:8-26), John tells us that love is known through actions. And, like James, John even gives a contra-example (c.f. James 2:16-17). Just as faith doesn’t exist apart from action, love doesn’t exist apart from action. John asks, “But, if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?” (1 John 3:17 CEB). It’s our action that reveals the truth and genuineness of our love. In verse 17, love is a verb. “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech, but with action and truth” (CEB).

Now, Greek subjunctive verbs aren’t always easy to translate into English, and love is a present-active verb in the subjunctive mood. So, my Greek professor might argue that, because the present tense indicates the kind of action, and non-indicative moods (such as the subjunctive) have little to do with time, another possible translation of this would be, “Little children, let’s not continue to love with words or speech, but in action and truth” (my translation).

So, instead of this sounding like a suggestion, as most translations make it seem (let us not love…), it’s probably intended to be corrective of either incorrect or inadequate behavior, which fits well with the overall tone of First John. It’s not enough to love in word or speech because words are easy to say and let slip away. Love is recognized, known, and proved through action. This action of love is how we know that we belong to the truth. Our loving action also reassures our hearts in God’s presence.

Our hearts can be fickle, and sometimes we’re harder on ourselves than we ought to be. We can wonder and even worry about our own salvation. We can ruminate on questions like, Am I good enough? Do I really love God? Do I have saving faith? One thing of which we can be certain is that our salvation is never defined by our feelings about ourselves. For one, we’re often wrong about ourselves.

John tells us that, even if our hearts say we’re not good enough, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. When we lack confidence in our standing before God, we can have confidence despite our lack of confidence because of God’s greatness. Because of our confidence in God’s greatness, we shouldn’t listen when self-doubt needles its way into our minds.

Our actions also act as proof to ourselves that our standing before God is in a good place. Earlier in the chapter, John said, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous” (1 Jn. 3:7 CEB). When we do things that are righteous, and that can be any number of things, we are righteous. Now, John continued that thought by saying that those who practice sin belong to the devil. But it’s the same definition that Jesus gave us. Just as a tree is known by its fruit, we are known by our actions. John the Elder must have been a Methodist, because this is the practical divinity of John Wesley.

Look at Golde and Tevye again. When Tevye asked her if she loved him, she took a moment to consider the matter. She wasn’t sure and had to ask herself if she loved Tevye. And what did she do to find an answer to her their mutual question? She examined her actions toward him. “For twenty-five years, I’ve lived with him, fought with him, starved with him. Twenty-five years, my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?” Golde’s actions toward her husband told her that she loved him. Tevye recognized that, too. That’s why he pointed his finger at her and declared, “Then you love me!” Tevye saw it, too. He saw Golde’s love for him in her actions. We can see our love for God and our love for others in our actions. And we can see our lack of love for God and for others in our lack of action. How can the love of God abide in us when we see a sister or brother in need but don’t care?

Now, a few people have mentioned that, after reading 1 John, they felt bad about not handing money out to people on street corners. If we tithe, then we have no reason to feel bad or let our heart condemn us. By giving to our church, we’re already supporting all kinds of ministry. And there is something to say about giving our resources responsibly. So, if we’re worried that someone might abuse what we give them on a street corner, then give to the church, and to local shelters, and to local food pantries, and to relief organizations that do things the right way. The Community Emergency Assistance Board helps people in Mount Vernon who are having financial difficulty, and they hold appointments here at our church. And that’s only on the money side of things. We can do a lot more than give our money. We can volunteer our time at a mission of the church, or volunteer with another organization.

I love working with kids, so I’m at the Thrive after-school program almost every weekday, even on my days off. I volunteer each Fall to work with students for a writing project. I run our youth group alongside the Simpsons. There are innumerable ways for us to show that we care, to put our love into action.

One of the more difficult verses here is verse 22, which says, “We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22 CEB). It’s difficult because we’ve all asked for things and not gotten them. Now, this is not prosperity gospel where we can ask for that new Mercedes and God will deliver it to our driveway. Note what John says: we receive… because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. We receive whatever we ask of God when we learn to pray rightly, when we learn to pray for the things God wants for us. What are the commandment we’re told to keep? It’s actually one commandment in two, inseparable, parts. First, we believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Second, we love each other as he commanded us. The reason I say it’s one commandment is because John uses the singular to describe it: “This is his commandment…” (1 John 3:23 CEB).

When I look at John’s words to us, I can’t help but think that John the Elder had the same definition of belief as James. They were both disciples who walked with Jesus. They were both Elders of the church. They knew each other and had conversations about this stuff. Believe comes from the same root word in Greek as faith: (πιστεύω and πίστις). We need to believe—have faith—In Jesus and, according to James’ definition of faith/belief, that means our faith is active. When we see someone who lacks food or clothing, we do something about it. Belief is the first commandment John mentions. We believe, so we act like a person who believes by acting on our faith, our belief in Jesus Christ.

We also love each other as Jesus commanded us to love each other, which is an active kind of love. It’s interesting that First John uses the same example as James. If we don’t care when we see a person in need, how can the love of God, which does care about such matters, abide in us? Love is action. Love is what we Christians are supposed to do. Keeping the commandments keeps us in God, we abide in God by keeping them.

The parable of the vine in John 15 gives us a good idea of what Jesus meant about abiding—remaining—in God. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper… Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you” (John 15:1, 4-12 CEB).

That’s a lot of remaining, and it highlights that we must be coworkers with Christ. There’s no excuse for Christians to not get our hands dirty.

Aside from our actions, how do we know that God remains in us? John tells us it’s through the Spirit that God has given to us. The Holy Spirit is the gift promised by Jesus after his resurrection. The Spirit is the guide that strengthens the community of believers and, clearly, the one who inspired John the Elder to write this letter.

John wrote this epistle as the last living disciple. These are his words to us: believers who are generations removed from himself. He reminds us that Christians believe and love, and both belief and love are exhibited, proved, and shown to exist through action. Our actions are where belief and love become real.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

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Repent | 3rd of Easter

Acts 3:12-19

12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– the God of our ancestors– has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.

17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away. (CEB)

Repent

Throughout the Season of Easter, the lectionary provides a text from the Acts of the Apostles where we would normally find a lesson from the Old Testament. While I’m somewhat critical of this—because it can suggest, incorrectly, that the New Testament is more important than the Old—I think one of the reasons for the shift is to focus on the implications of the resurrection of Jesus for the community of believers. Several of the texts from Acts are sermons of Peter, and this one is the second of Peter’s sermons in the book. So, in essence, I get to preach a sermon on a sermon.

Musicians get to do this all the time. You have Variations on A Theme by Hyden composed by Brahms, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis composed by Williams, and so on. And, any Star Wars fan who’s ever heard Mars, The Bringer of War by Gustav Holst knows where John Williams got his ideas for the Star Wars score. So, maybe I should have titled my sermon, Variations on a Theme by Peter.

First, it’s important that we understand the social context of Peter’s sermon. Just as I am a Christian speaking to an audience of Christians in a Christian worship setting, Peter was a Jew who is speaking to an audience of Jews within a Jewish worship setting. The reason why this is important is because Peter gets a little harsh with his audience. He accuses them of rejecting Jesus, of killing Jesus.

One of the more disgusting pieces of Christian history is that some of our European ancestors used Peters words as an excuse to murder Jews in retaliation for killing Jesus. Peter’s Christian context was Jewish. He wasn’t anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic. He was a Jewish, Semitic Christian, and he would be horrified at how some Christians after the third and fourth centuries used his words to persecute his own people. Jesus, himself, was a Jewish man. There is nothing anti-Jewish or anti-Semiotic about Peter’s words.

Second, it’s important for us to understand the context of this text within the book of Acts because, obviously, verse twelve is not the beginning of the story. “Seeing this, Peter addressed the people…” (Acts 3:12a CEB).

And our first question is… Seeing what? What precipitated Peter’s sermon? Let’s back up and take a look. Acts chapter two tells us about the Day of Pentecost, which includes Peter’s first sermon. Then, at the end of chapter two, Luke gives us a little summary of how the Pentecost Christians ordered their life together as Easter People. By the time we get to chapter three, we have no idea how many days have passed since Pentecost.

Chapter three begins with Peter and John going into the Temple to pray during the established prayer time of 3:00 in the afternoon. Meanwhile, a man crippled from birth was being carried in so he could beg at the Beautiful Gate. When Peter and John walked by, he asked them for help. Peter simply told the man, “Look at us!” (Acts 3:4 CEB). The man looked at Peter and John expectantly, but Peter said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 CEB). Peter took the man’s hand, pulled him up, and the man’s feet and ankles became strong.

All of a sudden, this guy starts jumping. He doesn’t try out his newly-healed legs with baby steps. He walks around, leaping and praising God. Can you imagine the joy this man felt and how it spilled out of him?

All the people saw this man jumping and leaping, full of exuberance and shouting praises to God, and they recognized him as the same man who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate asking for money. They were filled with amazement and surprise. While the man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed at what they were seeing.

That’s what Peter saw. He saw the utter amazement and surprise written on the faces of the other Temple worshippers who had rushed together at Solomon’s Porch to see a crippled man jump and leap for joy and thanksgiving at being healed. And Peter asks, “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety?” (Acts 3:12 CEB).

I think this is one of the reasons why Jesus picked Peter to lead the fledgling church. The dude could preach. Paul couldn’t preach worth a lick. His gift was in writing. (2 Corinthians 10:10). But Peter, when he stood up to preach, he held his audience captive. After he preached his first sermon at Pentecost, three-thousand people were baptized into the church. After this, his second recorded sermon in chapter three, it depends on how one translates the Greek, but the church either grew to five-thousand in number, or they grew by five-thousand in number. Did you know the early church was the first mega-church? It was a big, Jewish, Semitic, predominantly Aramaic-speaking mega-church.

The fact that Peter addresses his audience as “Israelites,” which is their God-given name as a people, shows that he meant to honor them as God’s people who have their identity in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At the same time, he wonders at their surprise and amazement. First, he denies that the once-crippled man’s healing came by his or John’s own power or piety and immediately points to God’s glorification of Jesus—the same Jesus that the people handed over and denied before Pontius Pilate, the holy and righteous one they rejected and asked for a murder to be released in his place. They killed the author of life.

Now, so far, Peter’s speech sounds bleak, and more than a little accusatory. But, we should note that his words are full of shared grief, and he’s probably including himself. Peter says, “This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence” (Acts 3:13 CEB), and “You rejected the holy and righteous one” (Acts 3:14 CEB). Those words denied and rejected are the same word in Greek. The reason I say he’s speaking of a shared grief is because that word is the same word used about Peter when he denied knowing Jesus. “Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, ‘This man was with him too.’ But Peter denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I don’t know him!’” (Lk. 22:56-57 CEB). Peter was just as guilty as the people, and he knew it.

Peter grounded his sermon in the patriarchs of Israel by saying, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13 CEB). The word in Greek for servant can also be used to refer to one’s immediate offspring: one’s child. It’s the same word used by Mary when she sang, “He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy” (Luke 1:54 CEB).

Then, Peter tells them that God raised Jesus from the dead, and he and John are witnesses of the resurrection. If you were wondering what John’s role in the story is, it’s probably to serve as the second witness to corroborate the claim Peter makes. Several Old Testament texts (Numbers 35:30, Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15) require two witnesses when bringing testimony against someone for a crime. But the same idea developed about any claim. If one person made a claim, it wasn’t enough to substantiate the claim. But if two witnesses agreed about a matter, it was enough (c.f. Matthew 18:16; John 5:31-32, 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1). John didn’t say anything, but his presence was required for Peter’s testimony about Jesus to be believed as true.

In a form of repetition similar to Hebrew poetry, Peter makes the same claim in three slightly different ways in verse 16. First, he says, “His [meaning Jesus’] name itself has made this man strong” (CEB). Second, he clarifies the first statement by saying, “That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know” (CEB). Third, he summarizes the first two statements by saying, “The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes” (CEB). It wasn’t Peter of John who healed the crippled man, it was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Now that Peter has made his accusation and shown that the crippled man was healed in the name of Jesus whom God has glorified, Peter let his hearers off the hook in two ways. First, he told them that he knows they acted in ignorance, as did their rulers (c.f. vs.17). Then, he reminded them that the Messiah’s suffering was a fulfillment of God’s word as spoken through the prophets. The death of Jesus was bound to happen.

Not only did Peter let his brothers and sisters off the hook for their participation in Christ’s death, he shows them a way forward. He called them to repent, to change their hearts and lives and turn back to God so their sins could be forgiven.

The healing of the crippled man highlights a misunderstanding that we share with those who stood listening to Peter’s sermon. It’s a misunderstanding about something that is absolutely fundamental about our shared life with God. Brothers and sisters, our faith is often stuck in a kind of functional atheism in which we believe that sin and brokenness is the rule and, should God ever bother to speak or act, that would be the exception. But in an Easter world, and among an Easter people, the presence and power of God is as prevalent as night and day, sunshine and rain, wind and calm.

Do we see it? Do we see the mercy of God in our midst? I’ve seen it big and small ways: from healings from disease to the smile of a child eating a fresh cucumber for the first time and filling their hungry belly.

Peter also reminds us that, when we do see the workings of God in our world, our response must be more than astonishment and surprise. We must change our hearts and lives so that we can live into the healing and restoring work of God and participate in it. We, like Jesus, are God’s servants and God’s children. What is our response as Easter People?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Acceptable | Easter Day

Acts 10:34-43

34 Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. 35 Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 This is the message of peace he sent to the Israelites by proclaiming the good news through Jesus Christ: He is Lord of all! 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism John preached. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and endowed with power. Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone oppressed by the devil because God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything he did, both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen, 41 not by everyone but by us. We are witnesses whom God chose beforehand, who ate and drank with him after God raised him from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (CEB)

Acceptable

It isn’t always easy to learn something new, especially if the new thing goes against what you’ve always known. I remember when I was first started playing guitar, my Grandpa taught me to play the G chord a certain way. And I got comfortable playing G that way. Sometime later, someone told me to try it with different fingers. They said it would be easier to transition to several other chords, and I could make the changes faster.

I didn’t like it. It was difficult, uncomfortable for my hand, and it made my pinky hurt. It wasn’t how my Grandpa taught me to play a G chord. The new way was messing with what I had always known. But, as I kept practicing, I realize the person was right. If I played G the other way, switches to other chords were faster because my hand barely had to move. Now, I can play a G chord in a lot of different ways.

Learning something new is even more difficult when it goes against something that’s deeply ingrained within us. Especially if the old thing is something we KNOW is right and the new thing is something we KNOW is wrong. We’re liable to put a lot of energy into fighting the new thing rather than giving it honest consideration. That’s what happened to the Jerusalem Council, the full assembly of Israel’s elders, when the apostles came along doing weird new things: preaching, teaching, and healing in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul’s teacher, Gamaliel, suggested that the Council let the apostles go after they were arrested. If their new thing was of human origin, it would fail just like all the other failed movements. But, if this new thing originated with God, then no one would be able to stop it. Instead, the elders of Israel might find themselves fighting God. The Council let the apostles live but had them beaten and told them not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. Most of them couldn’t accept the new thing God was doing.

Learning something new is what happened to Paul. You might remember that he was called Saul before he took the name Paul, and he used to hunt Christians down to arrest them. Acts 8:3 puts it this way: Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison” (CEB). Later, as he was on his way to Damascus to arrest more Christians and drag them as prisoners to Jerusalem, a vision of Jesus showed him that the new way was a God thing, and Saul needed to get on board with it. Within a few days, the man who had been breathing murderous threats against Christians was preaching the good news all over Damascus.

Peter had a lesson to learn, too. Now, note that this is the Christian-Peter; the leader-of-the-church-Peter; the Peter who was the reason people would set their sick friends and family members out in the streets in the hope that when Peter walked by, his shadow would touch them-Peter. This Peter still had a hard lesson to learn about the new thing God was doing.

You see, Peter was a faithful Jewish man, and he knew, to the core of his understanding of God’s ways, that salvation was for Jews. His Jewish faith also told him that Jews were not supposed to associate with Gentiles. He knew that as truth. Faithful living required that he have no association with Gentiles. But then, he had this weird vision. He was up on the roof of a house in Joppa when he saw heaven opened and a large linen sheet being lowered by its four corners. Inside the sheet were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told him to get up, kill, and eat. But Peter said, “Absolutely not, Lord! I’ve never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Then, the voice told him, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This scenario happened three times, and left Peter bewildered. Then, three Gentile men who had been sent by the Centurion, Cornelius, showed up at the gate looking for him, and God told Peter to go.

You know what the first thing Peter said to the crowd of Gentiles gathered inside Cornelius’s house was? “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders. However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28 CEB).

Now, at this point, it doesn’t seem like Peter was convinced of any new thing, any serious challenges to the certainty of what he already knew. The way Peter puts it, all he knew for sure was that God told him he couldn’t call the Gentiles dirty. He was obviously ill-at-ease, and it’s a racial-ethnic kind of ill-at-ease.

If God had not specifically told Peter to go, there is no chance that Peter would have gone to the house of an officer in the Roman Legion. Rome had conquered the independent Jewish Hasmonean Kingdom and occupied their homeland less than a hundred years prior. You can almost hear the reluctance and distaste dripping from Peter’s lips when he says, “You all realize that it is forbidden for a Jew to associate or visit with outsiders.” <Deep Sigh> “However, God has shown me that I should never call a person impure or unclean. For this reason, when you sent for me, I came without objection. I want to know, then, why you sent for me” (Acts 10:28-29 CEB).

Then, Cornelius told Peter his story, about an angel who visited him during his 3:00 prayers and said, “Cornelius, God has heard your prayers, and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to him. Therefore, send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter” (Acts 10:31-32a CEB). Cornelius told Peter that he sent for him immediately, and Peter was kind enough to come, and now, here they all were, ready to listen to what the Lord had directed Peter to say.

Peter’s message begins with himself. “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 CEB). Before this moment, it was inconceivable to Peter that Gentiles could become disciples of Jesus. But there he stood, in a house full of Gentiles, ready to preach the good news of Jesus Christ because God had led him there and showed Peter that God was doing something new.

The message was this: God had anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; Jesus traveled around doing good and healing everyone and overpowering the devil. The disciples bore witness to the things Jesus did in Judea and Jerusalem. Then, Jesus was killed by crucifixion on a tree, but God raised him up on the third day and allowed him to be seen by those who knew him in life, who ate and drank with him on a daily basis. Jesus commanded the apostles to preach and testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. And, everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins.

Even though it was contrary to what Peter had always known and held as faithful truth, Peter learned the new thing that God was doing, that people in every nation who worship God and do good are acceptable to God, even those who have no previous experience with Jesus, the Jewish faith, or what makes Jesus significant within it. It was unheard of! It was unimaginable! Throughout the whole of Acts 10, Peter’s long-held assumptions get replaced by God’s new thing.

We all have long-held habits and assumptions that we know, to the fullness of our conviction, are sacred and holy and right. With the same conviction, we know that those on the other side of those lines are sinful, unholy, and wrong, just like Peter thought of Cornelius and those of his household. We might even have Scripture to back up our positions, just like Peter did. But, when God moves outside of our interpretations of Scripture, when God decides to do something different, something like Easter, that new thing can turn our convictions and Biblical interpretations upside-down. Even the Scriptures tell us that God confounds human wisdom, so why should we be surprised, or affronted, when God proves our holy certainties false?

Our assumptions need adjusting from time to time, because God is not a prisoner of our assumptions. God is not constrained by what we think is right and holy. God acts. And when God acts, we’re often surprised—if not scandalized—by the things God does.

God took on human flesh and was born of a poor young virgin from some backcountry town? Most people had different ideas about God, believing God was too holy and set apart to ever do something so icky as becoming a human being.

Even the disciples rejected the idea that God’s Son would be killed by being crucified on a tree. They wanted to follow a victorious Messiah to restore the Kingdom of Israel, not a failure who would be killed. You might remember that Peter took Jesus aside a chewed him out for suggesting it.

And this resurrection thing: a mangled body, full of holes and a back flayed raw, with a chest cavity and heart pierced by a spear got up and walked around for forty days? He spoke to people, ate and drank with them, appeared to people inside of locked rooms?

In a day when the church is confronted with divisions of all kinds: race, ethnicity, beliefs about gun laws, abortion, human sexuality, immigration, war in the Middle East, to name only a few, it’s important for us to hear that no matter how many ways we try to tear ourselves apart, divide and separate from each other, and draw lines in the sand over issues, God continues to find ways to put us back together again. Peter came to realize that Jesus is Lord of All, and that’s a lesson we need to learn, too.

The resurrection of Jesus threw the doors of the church open wide—probably wider than we’re comfortable with. Sometimes we try to wrench them closed just a little more. But we are recipients of God’s Kingdom, not its doorkeepers. Resurrection means that whoever worships God and does what is right is acceptable.

Now, we can try to qualify what’s meant by “does what is right,” but the comments in the text about Cornelius suggest it’s quite simple. Cornelius loved God enough to pray, and he loved his neighbors enough to give generously to meet their needs. He loved God, and he loved his neighbors. He did works of justice, he loved mercy, and he walked humbly. That’s what God finds acceptable.

Resurrection means that anyone who believes, anyone who trusts in Jesus, receives forgiveness of sins. The question is, can we learn that lesson as well as Peter?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay