Pastor Sherry’s message for May 9, 2021
Scriptures: Acts 10:44-48; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 15:9-17
This week, I came across a list on the internet that describes 25 ways a person can tell you come from (or are a “naturalized citizen” of) Florida (I’m an import, but my kids are natives). Here are a few:
You know you are a Floridian when…
1. You only wear socks when you go bowling;
2. You search for parking places that have less to do with the distance to a store, but everything to do with locating shade;
3. You have burned your hand on hot seat-belt latches or hot steering wheels;
4. Anything below 70 degrees is considered chilly;
5. Your winter coat is denim—or a sweater;
6. You’ve driven through Yeehaw Junction;
7. You know that no other grocery store is as fine as Publix;
8. You are on a first name basis with the hurricane list…not Hurricane Andrew or Hurricane Matthew, but Andrew, Matthew, & Katrina, etc.;
9. You know that anything below a Category 3 is just not worth bothering about;
10. You know the 4 seasons are tourist season, love bug season, hurricane season, and summer.
11. And “Down South” means Key West.
But can you tell as easily that you are a Christian? If you didn’t wear a cross, would others think you follow Jesus? Given that we may be the only Bible non-believers ever read, what would they understand about Jesus by observing us? In your heart of hearts, do you identify yourself as a Christian? If so, how so? What attitudes and behaviors visibly demonstrate your faith?
Our Scriptures today have a lot to say about what best sets us apart as Christ-followers.
In Acts 10:44-48, Peter has been directed, by the Holy Spirit, to journey to Caesarea to the home of a Roman Centurion, Cornelius. Now, Peter had been staying with Simon the Tanner in Joppa (present-day Tel Aviv). While there, 3 men arrive at the door asking for Peter to travel to Caesarea with them, to meet with the Centurion. These 3 guys are Gentiles. And Caesarea is 30 miles to the north, and headquarters of the occupying Roman Army. Pilate made his home there. But the Holy Spirit tells Peter to answer the call—it’s a “divine appointment” as I described last Sunday.
True, Cornelius is an army commander of at least 100 soldiers. He leads soldiers who are natural enemies of Israel. But we are told he himself is …verse 22 a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. In other words, Cornelius treats the Jewish people fairly. He gives generously to their charities. Interestingly, he is also knownas a man of prayer. In addition, Peter is told that an angel directed Cornelius to send for him. When Peter obediently arrives, he finds Cornelius awaiting him in his home, with family and friends gathered around.
In today’s passage, Peter is interrupted mid-sermon. He has explained the Gospel and taught them how Jesus Christ is the long-awaited Messiah. Then Dr. Luke, the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles relates, (v.44) while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. Peter is stunned that the Holy Spirit would fall on Gentiles (Some scholars call this the “Gentile Pentecost”). He goes on to exclaim, (v.47)àCan anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. So, Peter authorizes their baptism and stays a few more days to help them deepen their new faith.
Now what makes this so awesome is that Peter would not have been predisposed toward saving Gentiles. Culturally, he held them in low regard. The Jews were the “Chosen People” of God; therefore they assumed everyone else was of a lessor order. He probably fell into the camp of new Jewish Christians who believed that all Gentiles must become Jews 1st before they could then become Christians. But, upon further consideration, he must have also recognized that God had (a) Sent him to them; (b) Already sovereignly baptized them in the Spirit—giving them His seal of approval;and (c) Remembered that Jesus meant for His disciples to leave their Holy Huddle in Jerusalem, and journey out among the Gentiles too (see Acts 1:8b) in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
So one way we can know we are Christians is to be obedient to the nudges/the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Another way is to love people enough to share with them what we know and have experienced with Jesus.
In 1 John 5:1-5, the “Apostle of Love” is pretty clear about what demonstrates we are Christians: Verse 1 We are children of God (Christians means little Christs) if we believe in Jesus. Verse 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. There we have the Cross again: Love God(the vertical) and love people (the horizontal). In other words, John is telling us to love (God and others) and to obey God.
Not surprisingly, Jesus states essentially the same thing in our Gospel passage, John 15:9-17: We stay attached to the vine (Jesus) by obeying Jesus’ commands. This includes the 10 Commandments, but also all the ways He both taught and lived out how we are to be. His point is not for us to be sinless—we can’t ! Rather we recognize when our sin has cut us off from the vine, repent, ask God’s forgiveness, and trust we will be supernaturally reconnected.
We stay attached to the vine (Jesus) by loving others. Jesus says in verse 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
Later, He reiterates this concept in verse 17 This is my command: Love each other. Jesus learned to love from imitating His Heavenly Father, with whom He was in frequent, prayerful contact. John and Peter learned it from listening to and imitating Jesus. They knew they were to love Jews who love Jesus, and those who didn’t. Similarly, they were to love Gentiles (that’s us) who love Jesus, and those who don’t (that’s a lot of folks they and we interact with daily).
So then the question becomes, just how do we walk this out?
It’s fairly easy to love those who love and respect us. It’s a good deal more difficult to love…
1.) The rude and the disrespectful;
2.) How about Democrats or Republicans with whom you disagree?
3.) How about Gays or Bi’s or Trans?
4.) How about Muslims?
5.) Or the Chinese communists who are harvesting human organs, without consent, from political dissidents?
6.) What about liars, adulterers, thieves, rioters, and murderers?
7.) The power-elites who have tried to buy off elections, restrict the right to carry guns, and to censor our free speech.
8.) What about your neighbor whose dog barks all night or pulls out the garbage from your trash can?
Love and obedience are very important to God. He talks about both all throughout Scripture. Even if we can’t feel the emotion of love, we must make the decision to love. (Love is first of all a cognitive decision—as is forgiveness; the feeling follows, sometimes quickly, and sometimes it takes a long while to catch up.) Notice that Jesus had to command us to love one another maybe precisely because it is often so hard to do. GK Chesterton, the British satirist, said once, “Jesus told us to love our neighbors. In another place, He told us to love our enemies. This is because, generally speaking, they are the same people.”
One way to develop the discipline of love is to pray for those who bug you. Years ago, I was exiting the public library, not really with my mind on my driving but on other things, when I pulled out in front of a car full of college students who were driving too fast. They laid on their horn and all four of them “flipped me the bird” out their windows. I had my doctorate and even taught college students, so I was shocked that they would behave so disrespectfully toward me. I hadn’t yet learned this principle of love so their behavior made me mad. Two days ago, I was taking a walk through my neighborhood (it was a beautiful day!) when a car cruised by blasting their music out for the world to hear. Instead of interpreting that as a prompt to get angry, I saw it as a nudge to pray for the occupants of the car. I prayed that their ear drums would not be damaged and I prayed that they would recognize that not all of us shares their enthusiasm regarding their favorite music at that volume. You know what happened? Immediately, they turned the volume down! I think the Lord meant it as a lesson to me and an example for us all to pray instead of getting irritated. When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I learned of a pastor named Sam Shoemaker who came up with what he called the “Pittsburgh Experiment.” He suggested that when we get mad at another, or dislike their behavior, to pray for them for 30 days as an experiment. He challenged us all to watch and see what happens. He believed if we prayed for them for 30 days, either they would change, or we would change in such a way that their behavior would no longer bother us as much. His point was that our prayer changes things, in us and in others. Try it out for yourself.
The same is true for obedience. Even if we don’t want to obey, we choose to do so because we know that God is good and we trust that God is always right. And, as with love, we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us. He loves to help us love others! He also loves to help us obey Jesus or the Father.
Back in the 1980’s, Tina Turner immortalized a song entitled, “What’s love got to do with it?” When I first moved to Tallahassee to begin my doctorate at Florida State, I took my kids to a Tina Turner concert. What a voice and what fantastic long legs! Whew! The answer to her question in song is everything, Tina! Love has got everything to do with it! Love is essential to us. Love is critical to God. Throughout the Old Testament and the New, He emphasizes it again and again. He gives us many examples of people who loved well and those who did not. It is clear from these examples, as well as from His love for us, that we please Him when we choose to love. We also disconnect from Him when we don’t.
Obedience is also very important to God. This week, let’s observe ourselves and try to be more loving. Let’s also continue to try to be more obedient to Him—especially to those nudges from the Holy Spirit. Peoplemay recognize us as Floridians because we wear flip-flops or sandals, even to church, or because we all have at least one article of camo clothing, but this week, let’s be mindful of how they might recognize us as followers or our Lord, Jesus Christ.