The Holy Spirit Shows the Way

May 19, 2019

Summary

Prejudice.  Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

The world is full of prejudice.  Prejudice is what we use to divide ourselves into groups, factions, and parties.  We use prejudice to keep people; out, down, away, apart, oppressed, depressed, enslaved, and without.

Prejudice can be based upon; gender, race, culture, class, sexuality, religion, belief, looks, abilities, and…well, practically anything.  To be prejudiced is a part of our base nature, or another way of looking at things, it is a result of original sin.  It is an innate quality that we as humans need to admit to wrestling with in our own lives.  Like any sin, it is only when we confess it that we can then, with God’s help fight against the prejudices and inequalities of the world.

And you ask, how do we do that?

Like Jesus says, “We love one another.”

 

When I was a teenaged boy in high school, my school building had an intercom system with a speaker in each classroom.  This system allowed the principal’s office to share announcements with the school’s students and teachers each morning, as well as when needed throughout the day.  Occasionally an announcement would be made at another time of the day.  Quite often it would be something like, “Would Joel Rova please come to the principal’s office?  Again, would Joel Rova please come to the principal’s office?”

If the student requested was you, immediately you would hear your classmates say, “Oooh, the principal’s office!  What’d you do?  Joel’s going to see the principal.  You’re in trouble!”

And, quite often you were.  Now before you get the wrong idea, I was not routinely called down to the principal’s office in high school.  Only once did I have to visit the principal’s office because of my behavior, and for the sake of the confidentiality surrounding my fellow perpetrators I cannot tell you why!

From some of the smiles I am seeing, some of you might have comparable stories too!

Today’s story from Acts eleven reminds me of those summons to the principal’s office, for they are comparable.  As we read, Peter gets, ‘called down to the office.’  Peter has to go before the leaders of the church in Jerusalem to explain himself.  The other leaders in Jerusalem are upset because of his visit to the home of a gentile.  When Peter visited the Roman centurion Cornelius, in the city of Caesarea, he and his companions did more than just visit, they also ate with their non-Jewish host over the course of four days.  So, Peter was summoned because he was in trouble.

Before we go farther let me remind you of a few things.

In the Torah, which is the first five books of the Jewish Bible, and thus, the first five books of the Christian Bible, God commands that his chosen people, the Jewish nation keep themselves apart from the people whom surrounded them.  God did not want his people to become worshipers of other gods, of false gods, and the best way to do this was to give them laws of separation.  These laws were important for the Jews, but they were also laws that created prejudices, both for the Jews towards their neighbors, but as we know from history they also created prejudice by their neighbors towards the Jews.  One of the primary ways God used to keep his people separated from the surrounding nations was to give them a strict diet, and then forbid them to eat with non-Jews.

Peter and his companions obviously broke these God-given, time honored rules and the other leaders wanted to know why!

We know, that Peter often acted emotionally, and so did things very spur-of-the-moment.  Remember when Peter suddenly offered to build huts for Moses, Elijah and Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration?  Or, when he angrily cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant? Or, in the post-resurrection text we read two weeks ago, when Peter put on his clothes and jumped into the Sea of Galilee to swim to shore to see Jesus?

Well, his fellow leaders and friends knew Peter even better than we do, and so were expecting, I am sure, that Peter would have no good reason for visiting Cornelius, or eating with him and his household.  I think the other leaders were supposing that Peter would confess his mistake and ask for their, and God’s forgiveness for his actions.  But he didn’t.

No, as we have read Peter had simply followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.  For once, Peter had followed through with his instructions to the very last detail.  Perhaps this is why the vision was shown Peter three times, for he needed to listen and obey.

You see, Peter’s obedience in going to preach and teach to the household of Cornelius changed the course of the early church and made Christianity as we know it, possible.  Up to that point, belief in Jesus as the Christ was reserved only for the Jewish people, at least as it was understood by humanity.  Up to that point, the disciples all believed that to be a Christian, a person needed to be a law abiding, righteous Jew, and of course they did for that is what the Bible told them.  Yet, that is not how God wanted it anymore.  God, in Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit decided that it was time that all people had the opportunity to become a chosen person of God.  It no longer came down to which tribe you were, or how well you kept a law, or any number of laws.  Jesus had come to die for the world!

No, as we see again and again, and as Paul later points out in Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The time for separation, the time for the creating of prejudices, the time for ‘walls’ was over, all of God’s beloved creation, all people were chosen to be saved by God, through Jesus.  Righteousness was now the action of God, not man, and the only thing needed was for a woman or man to recieve Jesus’ gift of life, through faith.

And as the Holy Spirit told Peter, and showed his companions, God’s gift was for everyone through grace by faith.  And of that, we need to be thankful!

Jesus loves each of us so much, that he died for us, but not just us, he offers his gift to all people.  All people, regardless.  There can be no prejudice that we set in the way of God’s gift of salvation.  We cannot erect any walls to keep those whom we dislike, fear, or think less of, from Jesus gift of life.  None.

The Holy Spirit moved through the household of Cornelius, and every person, from the babies to the elderly, and all were baptized both by the Spirit and water.  Though every leader of Jesus’ church up to that moment had though it impossible and forbade it, God decided differently.

How often do we allow our prejudices, or dislikes to get in the way of other people hearing the good news of Jesus?  How often do we erect walls, or points of separation that keep people from experiencing God’s love?

Too often.  We’ve got to stop it.  No more.  We’ve got to stop trying to take on God’s role of judge.  That is not in our mandate, that is not what we’re called to do, for that is God’s work. No, we are called to different work.  We are to obey, what Jesus commands.  As we read in the gospel of John, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

You know this, Jesus always comes back to teaching, preaching and commanding us to love.  Love your neighbor!  Love your enemy!  Love your sister, your brother!  Love one another!

It is that simple, and it is that hard.  Let us have the courage of Peter, and in the face of human judgement, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, and love our neighbor, whoever they might be!

Amen.

Bible References

  • Acts 11:1 - 18
  • John 13:31 - 35

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