We Are Witnesses

January 9, 2011 Acts 10:34-43

We are Witnesses

Good morning!  It’s good to be back with you all this morning after having missed the last couple of Sundays.  It’s good to have our health back and our car in working order after getting sick in Pennsylvania and having car problems in Iowa.
Our house never looked so good as it did pulling into our driveway in the early morning hours last Wednesday!!

Our troubles aside, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and that this new year is shaping up well for you so far.
Every year at this time, I can’t help but think about New Years Resolutions.
I mean, I don’t make any resolutions anymore, but it’s still a fitting time for all of us to take stock of our lives and make some changes we’ve been wanting to make.
I’m a fan of the idea that at least once a year we can re-evaluate our lives and learn a few lessons.  It’s good practice to think back over the past year and at least come up with a few goals for how the next year might look different.
January is a good month to think about blank slates and fresh starts.  And since God is a God of second chances, fresh starts, and change; it seems fitting to bring that theme into our Sunday morning service when we have the chance.
This morning’s scripture has a lot to do with change; on more levels than we might guess at a first reading.
It’s fitting to read it at this point in the new year; but I think it’s fitting to read at this point in the life of the church, as well.
We’re entering a new year, but also a new chapter of church history where our old assumptions no longer hold true.  The world is changing faster than we can keep up, but through it all God is calling us to embody a faithful witness to the love and the grace that He has given us through the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ who has gone before us and who we follow into this new chapter of world history.  This new chapter requires new wine skins; new forms to hold the faith we profess, for even now the old order is passing away and the new is set to come!
It’s no secret that change is difficult to go through and seldom welcome.
In the midst of change there are always things to celebrate.
At the same time there are always opportunities to mourn the passing of how things used to be.
But whether we find ourselves in celebration or in mourning, the truth of the matter is that lasting change is very seldom chosen.
No matter how many new years resolutions we make, the biggest changes we accept are the ones that are forced upon us.
It often takes either a small miracle or a large tragedy to get us to change how we see the world and our role in it.
That is, unless we’re given a vision that’s bigger than we are and we can find our place in it.

See, this story from Acts chapter 10; it’s the middle of a longer story about the conversion of Cornelius and his household.  The part that was read this morning is just the sermon that Peter preached; which is an important part of the story; but it’s definitely not the most important part of the story.
He never would have preached this sermon if it hadn’t been for two visions that were sent from God.
This is a story about conversion; but before that; on a more fundamental level; this is a story about vision.
Where there is no vision, there can be no conversion; no lasting change.
All the preaching in the world won’t make a bit of lasting difference until the people catch the larger vision that God provides and take up their role in it.
This is a story about exactly that.
At the beginning of the chapter we read that one day, at about three in the afternoon, Cornelius had a vision of an angel who told him to send for Peter.  He was staying in the house of Simon the tanner by the sea in the city of Joppa.
So Cornelius sent some of his attendants to get Peter.
While they were on their way to get him, Peter had a vision as well.  Maybe you remember the story; he was on a rooftop waiting for lunch when he saw a sheet being lowered from heaven, filled with four-footed animals and reptiles and birds…animals that were not fit for Jewish consumption.
They weren’t clean.
But in the vision, Peter was commanded to kill and eat, not just once but three times he was commanded to eat these “unclean” animals.
The lesson was not to call anything impure that God has made clean.
While he was trying to figure out what this vision meant, the people that Cornelius sent showed up at the door and gave him their story.
The two visions came together.
And in God’s way of doing math, one vision combined with another equals conversion!
Both Cornelius and Peter were given part of the vision God wanted enacted.
But they needed each other to understand it completely.
We are witnesses to all that God has done through Jesus.  But He’s done so much that we still only have a partial understanding.
Peter’s vision was incomplete.  Until he went to Caesarea and met with Cornelius and his family, it was just a head game.
Likewise, the vision Cornelius had meant nothing until he sent for Peter to come and he could hear what he had to say.
When we are obedient to the vision God has given us, a whole different understanding of God is opened up.
This passage in Acts is important because it’s the first time Gentiles are invited to participate as baptized believers in the life of the early church.
Up until this point, Christianity was basically a sect within Judaism.
But the gospel that Peter preaches could not be contained that way any longer.

It’s true that this is a pretty amazing conversion story; the first example we have of a gentile family believing in Jesus and receiving baptism.
But it’s also true that there are two conversions that happen here.
Both Peter and Cornelius had a vision that was given by God.
And Both Peter and Cornelius underwent a conversion; that’s what happens when God’s vision comes together.

Whenever and wherever God speaks to his people and shows them a different way to be in the world; the result is changed lives, changed minds, and a coming of the Holy Spirit.  In this story, Peter learns that truly God shows no partiality.  But the simplicity of that statement can be deceptive.  It’s a universal message with very particular origins.  It’s a claim that can only be rooted in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That’s the message that brings conversion all around; that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses to the vision and the salvation that only God can give.
He shows no partiality and we can only be faithful to the vision that He gives.
We must trust that others have been given visions as well, and in bringing them together, we find a bigger, more compelling picture that demands conversion of all who see it.
See, that’s the hard part.  We all have visions.  We all like to think we’re working towards them and that God has given us a special role to play in bringing it about.
I’m all for visions, hopes, and dreams.  But unless the vision we’re acting on is changing us deep down and share them with others… we’re probably missing a pretty important piece of the picture.
You know the message–peace by Jesus Christ who is Lord of All.  God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power; he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
We are his witnesses to all that he has done.  They crucified him but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, to those who were chosen by God as witnesses.  He commanded his disciples to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.  Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
So, what’s your vision?  Are you witnessing to the picture God has given you?
Are you open to having others come to you with their piece of the picture?

I’d like to close this morning by just taking a minute to make a special invitation to anyone who would like to make a commitment to Christ this morning, to do so!
Whether you’ve made it in the past and would like to re-=affirm it, or whether you’d like to commit yourself for the first time.  Christine or I would love to talk with you and pray with you, as I’m sure any of the elders would be willing to do, as well.
We’ll be standing out by the front doors like we usually do.
Join me in the Lord’s Prayer as I close.
Our Father…

 

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