What Shall We Do?

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Acts 11.1-18; John 13.31-35

This church, this congregation has lived and worked through some tough, tough, controversial issues. Just last year, we had to fight it out about what kind of chairs to buy for Bruner Hall! Blue? Red? Green? Cushioned? Not cushioned? Even now, we face tough issues, we have this patch of grass out here that keeps being flooded and for some reason it’s called Lake Heins. Carole dubbed it, you can ask her to interpret it for you, I don’t know. We have to decide what to do with that Lake Heins. What do we do?

And yes, there are a few more issues with which we have wrestled. Torture. Our response to human sexuality. Issues and discussions in current society, We ask as people of faith, what do we do in these issues?

Well, Peter and the early church also asked, What do we do. Christians, by nature of our faith, ask what do we do in light of the situations and the circumstances that we face? That was the question, what do we do, the church faced when they heard that Peter had gone to the home of Gentiles. Shhhhh! You’re not supposed to be with them, Peter! What did you do? You ate with them?! You stayed with them?!

But in response, Peter tells a story. He was hungry up on a rooftop in J0ppa by the coast of the Mediterranean. And while his stomach rumbled, he prayed and he falls into a trance. Peter’s vision, on the surface that we heard about is about eating unclean food, but we find out very quickly that the subject is not unclean food, but unclean people. Namely the Gentiles.

The Gentiles had received the word of God and been baptized, and at this point in the history of the church, the boundary that separated Jew from Gentile was still in place in society and in the Christian community. It was a clear boundary, a wall maintained by religious law and custom. But God was doing something new. Something which was smashing the social, political and ethnic boundaries of the day.

What God has made clean, you must not call profane. To keep up with me, says the Spirit, you cannot make a distinction between them and you. You can’t let law or custom stand in your way. Follow me to the stranger’s house.

But our text, the one that we heard from the 11th chapter, is not about that, what Peter did. The text we read this morning deals with how the church responds to the new thing that God was doing. To be sure, Peter repeats it in detail, the prior events. Emphasizing their importance for us, as readers. But in this text, we are hearing about the reaction of the community of faith to those events. The church raises its hands and says, What do we do?

According to the social boundaries of the day, Peter’s association with the unclean people made him unclean. And he risked being ostracized from society, even from his community of faith. Peter sticks his neck out. In our story, he has to face the music.

When he goes to Jerusalem he faces the charges of crossing that set boundary: You went to the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them. What do we do about that, asked the disciples. You see, in this story, the church is experiencing another instance of God doing what God does: inviting strangers, outsiders, those who are excluded, those who are marginalized, ostracized… God invites them to become friends.

Now other sources give us the hint that the struggle to keep up with God in welcoming the stranger was not as easy as it appears in our story. The struggle in Paul’s letters, and in the Gospel of John and a number of old testament texts and more, was bitter, with the forces resisting God’s inclusive love always putting up a big, big fight.

But thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord. God is stubborn. Persistent. And because the Lord is stubborn, we who were strangers, we Gentiles, we who were strangers are now friends. Now the question comes to us as we encounter those who are strangers in our day. What do we do?

No doubt you have heard in some measure of the new law recently passed and signed in Arizona: SB1070. It is, by all accounts, the toughest (or harshest, depending on your perspective) enforcement bill in the country, directed at undocumented immigrants.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Lent in the Midst of COVID

    We’re in the church season of Lent, a time of journeying with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem and to the cross.  In addition to Sunday worship services on YouTube we will be adding short mid-week Lenten devotions from Pastor Meg and myself (also available on YouTube).

     Last month Mary-Ann Muffoletto sent me a picture. She took a ‘screen shot’ of our most recent Zoom congregational meeting, and I’m thankful she thought to do this. This is the moment when we ordained and installed new elders and deacons to our church. This is usually a sacred moment of our worship together on Sunday mornings, a special time for those new deacons and elders and also for the congregation as these individuals step into leadership positions for us. We’re usually doing a “laying on of hands” at this moment, as we offer a prayer for these new officers. This last year Presbyterian churches around the country have doing this via Zoom, and here we are, lifting up our hands as a blessing for these church officers, as we lift them up to God in their new roles.

    The big thing on our mind in the church office and with Session is when will we be back in worship together? I don’t have an answer for you at the moment, but as more people receive vaccines and transmission rates continue to decrease in Utah and around the country, we get closer to that time. Two Session members have volunteered to work with Pastor Meg and myself on plans for when we get back into the building. Outdoor worship services in a park is also a possibility before we return to our church building. When we are back in the sanctuary and Bruner Hall together our plan is to record the service and make it available on YouTube for those who choose to continue worshiping from home.

    I want to close by sharing a few things with you about our building during this last year. You might think the building has been empty and unused, but I assure you this is not the case. While most of our activities have been put on hold, several things have been occurring in our building. Session approved Loaves & Fishes to serve take-away meals and that has been ongoing through much of the year. Additionally, numerous recovery programs (similar to AA) have been meeting throughout the year (for some people, being able to attend a sobriety meeting is a life and death matter). And finally, the Red Cross has been holding blood drives every month or so. Craig Mortensen passed along to me that Red Cross blood drives at FPC collected 490 units of blood in the last year. Most of these units even came from willing donors… (just kidding!). All of these activities have required people to wear masks and socially distance to prevent spread of COVID.

    It brings me great joy to think of how many people Loaves & Fishes has helped, how many people have continued their journeys of sobriety, and how many people were helped through blood donations in the last year. Each of these activities come with some risk of COVID transmission, but Session approved them because they are essential for certain members of our community. All of these happenings are possible because of the use of our church building. I thank all of you for your ongoing support of FPC Logan. I know we aren’t worshiping there, and many of us are anxious to be back in the sanctuary (I am too). Thank you for bearing with us and our cautious approach. Good things are indeed happening through use of our building and because of our collective journeys with Jesus Christ.

    Grace and peace be with you on your Lenten journey.

    Pastor Derek

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