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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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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