Sermon – May 10, 2015

Acts 10:34-11:1 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth 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. 39 And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Humanity, ever since Adam turned from God to go his own way, has been building walls of separation between people, groups, nations, and races. One of the greatest plagues of the modern world is the division that drives wedges between people. Whether it be between different races or between the rich and the poor. Whether it be between Lutherans and Catholics or between the in-group and the outsider. Division, discord, even hatred and violence are the fruit of the self-centered, arrogance which builds walls between one another. Perhaps none are so tragic as the insider-outsider mentality which congregations often develop. “Those people don’t belong here.” “I don’t know why those people come here. It is our church, it is for the members only. Stay away.”

In the days of Christ and St. Peter, such division between Jew and Gentile was far more than a mere clash of cultures or racial prejudice. As Peter, in our text states, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation.” The separation of races was actually codified in the law. Peter was breaking the law by entering the home of Cornelius. But, Peter goes on to say, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.” Everyone centered on Jesus Christ who calls all people, everyone, no matter what race, or nationality, or language to repent and believe in him. In place of walls, God binds us all together by the word of Christ. Christ came into this world of walls, of prejudice, of separation to tear down the walls, to make us united with one another. Anyone who continues to erect walls between people commits deadly sin and will be judged when Christ returns.

But, Father’s love binds all people together in his Word for our salvation. Peter reveals the love the heavenly Father has for Cornelius and all those in his house. He does this by opening his mouth out of love for those people unloved by the Jews. He said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.” Therefore, O Christian, for you to show such partiality, prejudice, and division is nothing short of a most contemptible sin of rejecting God’s love and living in opposition to God. God’s very character is love and unity, thus says the Apostle John, (1 John 4:7-8) “7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” And again he says, (1 John 3:14-15) “14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ has forever changed the world. Jesus’ cross holds out the victory that pulls down one wall after another. The Apostle Paul proclaims, (Ephesians 2:11-16) “11 Therefore remember that at one time … you were … separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” So Peter, in the home of a gentile, Cornelius, proclaimed “good news of peace through Jesus Christ.” The Word of God’s love for the Church means peace, binding all people to his one-for-all-salvation. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (I John 5:1)

God the Son binds all people to the Word of our forgiveness. Peter declared this love to gentiles. He tells that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, and that includes you, O sinner. To Jesus all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. You have built walls of separation. You have despised and hated other just for being in the wrong group. You have shown a mentality that loves only those inside your group, your click, but excludes people on the outside. But whoever repents of his sin and believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. I declare to you now that your sins are forgiven in the name of the one who bore your sins on the cross and who was raised to give you eternal life. Jesus death was the ultimate act of love to save sinners. His enemies put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day. Christ saw the cross to be the cure which binds all to him. Jesus’ love is the gift he gives for the world. He told his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” (John 15:9).

Jesus’ death is the cure of life, covering a multitude of sins. This love means forgiveness of every sin of the whole world. It means you are forgiven of your hardness of heart and lack of love for others. And the Holy Spirit showed Peter the love has had for the gentiles. He loves to bind all people together by the Word in Baptism. That love of the Spirit is shared around the Word and Sacraments. In Baptism and Holy Communion you receive that love of God. And in Baptism and Holy Communion you receive the power of the resurrection of Christ which raises you to newness of life. Which raises you to love for your neighbor. The power of resurrection is now at work in you to renew your heart in love.

The Holy Spirit showed Peter the love he was to have for the Gentiles. It is a love that goes beyond the walls of separation built by men. A word that speaks across borders, across races, across languages. A word that raises the dead to life and makes you new people in Christ. A word that gives you faith in Jesus Christ.

It is a word that enables you to share God’s love with all people. It empowers you to speak the word of forgiveness to those who sin against you. It emboldens you to stand in the face of opposition and hatred and fearlessly proclaim the resurrected Lord of all nations. It is a word of reconciliation that tears down the walls and borders between you and others and makes us all one in Christ, one body, one church, one temple of the Holy Spirit. This word is a work of God in your midst. As you pray for God’s mercy upon those who hate you. As you pray for your enemies that God not count their sins against them. As you join your voices with Jesus on the cross who said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

We in our society have set aside this day to honor and thank God for the gift of our mothers. The estate of marriage was created by God when God made Eve from the side of Adam and gave her to him, and said, “The two shall be one.” Marriage is first and foremost the outward working of God’s love and the unity he created between himself and mankind. It is a reflection of the image of God which is a unity of Three Persons in the trinity. Marriage is the ultimate expression of union. Disunity, hatred, prejudice are all discord and division that goes contrary to who God is and contrary to the bond and unity of marriage.

And the love of a mother for her child is a reflection of the love of God for his children. A love that is steadfast and unchanging. A love that transcends even misbehavior and rebellion of the children; but is constant and unchanging. That is the love God has for you; the love he has for all people; and the love he expects of his children.

And in Christ he is a merciful God who forgives the sins of his children to a thousand generations. Lord, have mercy on us, and hold not our sins against us on the day of judgment. Amen.

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