CHRISTIANS CAN’T BE CHOOSY
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
This is the second Sunday after Christmas; the time of Epiphany - “appearing” – that small window of time between Advent and Lent. This is the time when we would hear of the appearing of “Kings and stars. Doves and voices. Water. Wine. Transfiguration.” We’d be looking at snapshots of the improbable. We’d be asked to stand on that boundary between the mundane and the eternal. But, today, I want us to travel a parallel path alongside tradition and go straight to the matter:
church. More specifically, this church – The Village Church – and why The Village Church now.
One of my favorite authors, Howard Thurman, Christian minister, educator, and mystic wrote:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.
Indeed, the work of Christmas has never stopped. The work that the Church universal and any local congregation has been called to so has and never will stop. And while the Christmas decorations may be stowed away for another year, everything that Christmas signifies still goes on. Emmanuel: “God with us.” The gift of new life. Strength in weakness. The fulfillment and ongoing possibility of hope, love, joy, and peace for all people.
And while the carols and crowds have died off, our shingle that says who we are remains outside this building, on our website, on the theater’s marquee, on our weekly program, and on the tee shirts that some of us wear. “Welcome” it says, because we are a hospitable, an open and affirming church. A church for all people, all the time, no matter what. But, I wonder about what it takes to be a welcoming spiritual community; the enormity of it all. I’m not simply speaking of being welcoming in terms of LGBTQ+ issues, but in all the ways of being welcoming. For instance, theological welcome. And, there’s the issue of what it physically takes to be a welcoming community: place, preparation, time. Thinking again of the words of Thurman’s meditation on the work of Christmas, that is some heavy lifting. And for some of us we may be caught off kilter in our declarations of being welcoming.
If you know the back story to our text this morning, you will remember that Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, a central figure in the Christian community even now, was called on the carpet for his choosiness, his xenophobia – his dislike of people because of their nationality. His reasoning was that people who were non-Jewish were unclean, sinners, unworthy, outside of their God’s concern. Cornelius was a Greek, coming from a nation and culture that worshipped many gods and had other “strange” customs. And, he was a military man; a man of war. Even so, Cornelius freely accepted the good news Jesus taught, and the ministry of his disciples. He, and many others. For these reasons, it took heaven and earth to move Peter off of his butt and out of his preconceived notions of who was acceptable and who was not acceptable in the Kin-dom of God. It took awhile, but he did move, and the rest is history.
The Church of Jesus Christ and this church are called to welcome everyone who finds life and health in the Gospel. We are called to spread this good news without fear or favor of any person or group regarding anything; the identifiers they assume for themselves, or the one's culture assigns to them. The Church stands as an alternative society; its reason for existing and the ways it operates are different from other institutions. Love is its doctrine. Discerning God’s truth is its sacrament. Service is its prayer. And trust in the Spirit of God is the glue that binds it all together. The transformation and well-being of all people is its bottom line. Nevertheless, like Peter, we often pick and choose what we see and respond to in the call to discipleship issued by Jesus of Nazareth. We busy ourselves making our church’s comfortable for ourselves that we sometime don’t realize that we’ve made it uncomfortable for someone else, or, impossible for them to come in. At times, like Peter, we focus on non-essentials instead of identifying what is essential – critical to true community.
Yes, Christians can't be choosy about who God loves and calls us to be in relationship with. Even so, we can be clear about the depth, texture, and tone of our relationship together. With all this diversity among us, what's essential? What are the non-essentials? For me the essentials are:
-All who come inside embrace the God revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. This God calls, saves, heals, and sets free.
-Availability matters next in line: that we each stretch and share the load; our welcome is not welcoming to those who are already here is we are not here to do our part…sometimes more than our part.
-Language and behavior matter: truth and tenderness together; motives can easily be discerned,
-Place, setting: just as we need wings to fly, we need roots to hold us in place, to nourish us, to launch us into our work.
And, likewise one central non-essential is:
-ironically, belief; for me takes a smaller role because as we go deeper into our relationship with God, and our knowledge of scripture grows the discreet beliefs we cling to will become more informed and more textured by what it means to be alive now.
I think love and service and worship are important and essential to us here at the Village. As we move into the future we need to hold on to the fact that we are welcoming, but also that we welcome ourselves, and that are tender with each other and with ourselves.
When I look at The Village Church having been here three months, I want to be clear that we should NOT not be choosy because we are a small community and we are desperate for any and everybody regardless of what they bring with them. But, we should no be choosy because we have a chance everyday to do the gospel, be the gospel in the most intimate and tedious way. We are choosing to guard against anything that would harm and disrupt the healing and creative work of the Spirit in our midst. We embrace all by exposing the cards in our hand of high trust, high commitment, and high vulnerability.
Peter had to learn that lesson, and so do we. We learn it in light of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and
gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In doing this, the work of Christmas continues. In fact, it’s the only way it ever can be accomplished