5th Sunday of Pentecost – Sermon 8
Prayer to start
May the words from my lips and the thoughts in our hearts be acceptable to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
How would you describe your ideal man or ideal woman ? – good looking, – intelligent, – charming, – makes you laugh ? – caring? – I’m sure those of us who have taken the plunge will immediately think of our partners. – but what about our ideal Christian ?, – How would we describe one of these ? – somebody pious? , joyful, – prayerful, – reads the Bible, – always willing to help others ?. Yes why not – oh and er – of course – must be an Anglican, – knows their BCP’s from their ASB’s – knows what a Canticle is – and be able to sing the Psalms – and the responses – then there’s confirmation ?
Trouble is if we’re not careful we start setting the standards required, not God – and this is the trap that the early Church at Jerusalem had fallen into.
The N.T. lesson is an account from Peter to the leaders of the church at Jerusalem who were gathering to discuss whether circumcision and obedience to the Jewish law was required by the Gentiles.
up to this point, most Christians were Jewish – and many that weren’t Jews had been accepted because they had been brought to the Christian faith through the Jewish scriptures.
Some wanted this new faith to be an extension of Judaism – trouble was – the Gentiles were accepting the word of God and wanted to become part of the Church –
so far they had been tolerated as a fringe activity – but now they wanted to be in the main stream of the church – and this was upsetting some of the well established members –
So how was the church going to deal with this new trend of modern evangelism ? –
– Well God was way ahead of them – His plan was much bigger than they ever imagined –
He wasn’t just after a few Jewish converts – He wanted the whole world – bringing the Gentiles into the church was very much part of his plan.
and He was to use a meeting in a Jewish Port between two men, Peter and Cornelius to demonstrate this
So who was Cornelius?
Well – He was a centurion in the Roman army – known for his piety and for giving alms to the poor – He and his household prayed to God – He wanted very much to be Christian
– on the outside he fitted the Christian image – except of course that he was a Gentile – but on the inside something was missing – his faith –
Cornelius had a vision – he saw an angel of God who told him to send for Peter – who would help him.
In verse 14 –
“he will speak the words that will bring salvation to you and all your household”
And what about Peter?
Peter was staying in Joppa. (or Jaffa as it is now called) – with a tanner – (man who tans animal hides) – this was an odd place for him to be because Peter was an orthodox Jew – who supported the observance of the Jewish practices as part of the Christian faith – and there would probably be pig skins around the place which he would consider unclean .
– Peter went on the roof to pray – many houses had flat roofs – and there saw the vision of a giant sheet being lowered from heaven with all different sorts of animals on it – and some of these were considered unclean and forbidden by Jewish law –
– then the crunch – God told him to kill and eat them –
in verse 8 Peter said
“No Lord – I have never eaten anything unclean !”
But the voice said it again and again – three times – before he realised what God was saying to him.
God was making it clear – that the Church was to receive a new order of Grace – Peter’s vision wasn’t just about getting rid of food laws – it was about destroying all racial barriers – Peter realised this and accepted that the Gentiles were to be invited into the Church as equals – the old Jewish principles were to be revoked – No longer were they to depend on ceremonial cleansing – there was a new cleansing from God
a cleansing of sins by the blood of Jesus Christ and sanctified by the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Peter was instructed to meet with Cornelius at his house and to help bring him to faith –
In verse 10 it says –
“Even before Peter finished preaching he was to see the Holy Spirit come to Cornelius and his household, – in the same way that the Holy Spirit came to the disciples on the day of Pentecost”
in Chpt 10 v 46 –
“for they could hear them speaking in tongues of ecstacy and acclaiming the greatness of God”
This was God demonstrating in a dramatic way His acceptance of Gentile believers into the Church on equal terms.
– After this, Gentile converts did not have to comply with any special Jewish requirements – and Christianity spread rapidly in places like Antioch which became the base of Gentile evangelism throughout the whole of the Roman empire –
So what do we learn from is this passage about our church mission in Lymm
First – Its God’s Church – and – God is moving His Church forward according to – His plan – like the Jewish Christians – we should not therefore expect events to unfold according to our particular preferences – we have to recognise that God’s Church does not stand still – its changing to meet the needs of people today.
Our Church at St. Mary’s needs to be changing to meet the needs of the people in our village – our Gentiles are out in the street, the office, in the shops and we have to be prepared to welcome them into the Church – its what God wants –
God’s church is built on His Grace which He freely gives to everyone that comes to Him – His Holy Spirit is not just for those who are on the inside – but for everyone .
Second – Like Peter and Cornelius
we are called to play an important part in God’s plan for this Church – our contribution may not be on the same scale as Peter’s or Cornelius’s – but it’s just as important to God – it might not involve thousands – but God doesn’t want to lose anyone – every person is important – the lost sheep who we might meet in the shops or the office or at the bus stop are just as important as the many millions that have come to God through Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ –
Our faith is vital – Jesus died so that our sins can be forgiven – so that we are free to change – to leave our past sins behind and start a fresh – to live in the way that God wants us to – we receive freedom from God so that we can pass on this message of freedom to others – our faith is essential for our lives – and for those who we meet.
and Third – It shows us that God will help us – He will send the Holy Spirit to help us carry out His plan – but its not all one way – for this to happen we have to make sure we are in contact with Him – we do this through prayer – Peter prayed on the roof top – without prayer he wouldn’t have known what to do – without prayer we cannot receive from God – If we don’t receive we can’t give –
Like Peter – we have to put God’s wishes before our own – It couldn’t have been easy for Peter to discount all that tradition and ceremony – He knew he would be criticised – but he stuck to it – and played his part in convincing the church leaders to follow God’s lead
– We need to be prepared – ready to talk with whoever God puts in our path – Peter was ready to talk to Cornelius about Jesus – are we ready and prepared to discuss the Gospel with others? – do we read our Bibles – try to understand what Scripture is saying to us – do we radiate God’s love to others – through our conversations – by the way we live our lives?
We have to act – We have to commit ourselves to using the skills we have been given for the benefit of God’s church – He will help us – He will send His Spirit to do the work – Peter helped Cornelius so that the Holy Spirit could transform his life – We are charged by God to help those we meet – so that the Spirit can breath afresh into their lives.
So are we willing to be part of God’s plan here in
Lymm? Is our Church open to all ? – or do we give the impression that its an exclusive club with entry on our terms?
God’s Church is not a place for perfect people –
God’s church is for those who are prepared to start out on a new pathway of life – and freedom through the saving love of Jesus Christ –
God wants each one of us to play our part in encouraging those into His church who are ready to make that step – and develop a relationship with him.
Do we know someone like Cornelius in our village? – or at work? – someone on the fringe of church life? – are we prepared to encourage them further ? – to come into the centre – are we prepared to encourage them to come and meet Jesus? – its down to each one of us – we are all part of God’s plan – and like Peter – with God’s help we will succeed ! –
After Communion we say a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord to affirm our commitment to reach out and bring others to Him –
Send us out
In the power of the Spirit
to live and work
for your praise and Glory
Prayer to Finish
In the name of the father, Son and Holy Spirit