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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  • Back to School, Not Back to Church…

    …at least not all the way. Some ministries of the church are in action, others are not.

    Ministry is Continuing!

    To date we have shared around $7,000 with our local community to help relieve those affected by coronavirus, and we have another $2,000 we will be distributing now. This has gone toward food, diapers for families in need, rent & mortgage relief, and other purposes.

    Thank you for continuing to worship with us—our YouTube videos get around a hundred views each week, and in some cases, there are multiple people watching one screen. Thank you for listening. And thank you for your continued financial support.

    We are going to be doing some new things in the interest of our own spiritual health, fellowship, and the ministry of the church. The first is drive-through communion (or drive-thru, as it is frequently written).

    Drive-Through Communion — Sept 6th, 9:15-9:45am

    If you wish, you’re invited to drive through our parking lot on Sunday, September 6th from 9:15-9:45am and I will serve communion to you. You are just as welcome to partake of communion from home, as we’ve done the last few months.

    Fellowship Bike Ride — Sept 13th, beginning at 1pm

    On Sunday, September 13th we will have an FPC Bike Ride. We will meet at FPC and go on a 10-mile bike ride led by John and Jean Stewart. Maps of the route will be provided, and a shorter route will be available if needed. Some of the route will be on streets and some on dedicated bike paths. Meet us in the parking lot at 1pm, and we will depart by 1:15.

    Zoom Bible Study — every Tuesday morning from 8-9am

    If you’d like to join us for Bible Study we will begin on Tuesday, Sept 8th, from 8-9am. We will meet via Zoom so you can enjoy breakfast and coffee from home. The zoom link will be available on our First Pres Logan Facebook page each Tuesday morning.

    My role as pastor is to be a spiritual guide, someone who helps each of you on your faith journey (and as you might imagine, you help me just as much). I confess to you that feeling like we are connected and in touch these months has been a struggle. Continuing to not meet in person remains one of the more challenging decisions of my career in ministry. I want to see all of you each week. Worshiping at home via YouTube is certainly just as pleasing to God as when we gather and sing, but it doesn’t feel the same to me, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel the same to you. Hopefully, some of the above activities will help us with that.

    In the Presbyterian system the pastor does not make decisions about all of the activities and happenings around a church. The pastor leads worship, teaches through Bible Study and similar endeavors, provides pastoral care, and participates in many other diverse activities around the church and community. We have Elders and Deacons who take on other responsibilities, including making decisions about church activities (reserved for Elders, who serve on Session). Who does what around a church (and how we do it) is outlined in the Book of Order, which covers all kinds of things. But as you can imagine, there isn’t a chapter titled What To Do in Case of Worldwide Pandemic.

    The Elders that we elect as a congregation (you elect them, Pastor Meg and I do not vote) make many important decisions for each congregation, although pastors frequently share their thoughts and offer guidance for any vote that is taken. The Session of FPC Logan met on Wednesday, August 19 and voted unanimously to continue with online worship for at least the next month (until the next Session meeting, on September 16th).  At that meeting we will reassess the situation and take another vote for the coming month (or months). Session made this decision because we don’t feel it is safe for us to be in the same room for an hour together. Some people may be willing to take the risk. I am not, and neither are your FPC Elders. Of particular interest is the effect that the return to school will have on coronavirus numbers. Public schools and the Utah State University are back in class now, with both online and in-person classes. Also, of great interest is progress in vaccine trials. We are praying that one (or several) of these vaccine trials provides good news in the next few months.

    May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ be with you all,

    Derek

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