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)

This entry was posted in Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

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

    Pastor Derek

  • Pages