First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

Reason to Celebrate

Reason to Celebrate
Acts 11:1-18
5th Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019


Pink and white? Or, teal and gray? That’s the picture and the question posted on Facebook this past week. 

What color do you see? I’m pretty convinced there’s only one answer: it’s teal and gray. Am I right? But the article accompanying the pictures says the actual color of the shoe is “mahogany rose” or pink. The way we see it apparently has to do with the different ways our brains work. Something called “color constancy,” where our brains compensate for differences in lighting and white-balance by automatically filling in information.

I’ve been looking forward to hearing you confirm that I’m right: that the shoe really is teal and gray. 

This is a disagreement we can deal with. If we see different colors, we might find that a little hard to believe, but it doesn’t shake anything in us, it doesn’t challenge our belief systems or put us in a position of feeling like we need to get into a rumble because you know I’m right and you’re wrong.

There are so many controversies around us happening every day that challenge us in much bigger ways, that make this particular difference kind of fun. I think of the conversations in Washington about congressional oversight of the presidential office, there’s the decision made by the Alabama legislature this past week, that cause some to respond with their concerns about reproductive rights, while others are focused on the rights of the unborn. We can’t even step away from controversy in the life of our church as we are in the midst of conversation about homosexuality, of sin, of who’s welcome and who isn’t…

We see things differently. We have different opinions. We have different histories and experiences, and sometimes those differences cause us to turn our backs to one another, because we’re each convinced that we’re right.

I see teal and gray, and if you see pink and white? Well, you’re obviously seeing it wrong.

The story we read in Acts chapter 11 involves a significant difference of opinion. A very different way of looking at things.

The disagreement begins to unfold in Chapter 9 as we read how Peter has been teaching and proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Remember how he and the other disciples had been jailed, then released from jail and instructed to keep quiet? We know they didn’t; Peter continues to teach and to heal the sick, including a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who has been bedridden for eight years. In Joppa Peter raises Tabitha from the dead. The word spreads: many people hear and come to believe in Jesus because of these things.

Peter then settles in Joppa for awhile, in the home of a tanner named Simon. This arrangement would be an unexpected one, as a tanner’s occupation involves turning animal hides into leather. Contact with dead animals is considered “unclean” by Jewish law, and yet it is in
this unclean household where Peter eats, sleeps and sets up his temporary home base.

It is in this household where Simon experiences the dream/the vision that he later describes to his brothers in Jerusalem that we read in this morning’s text. Three times God tells Peter, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  Three times God repeats it, because Peter is hesitant—this is so against all he’s ever been taught/against everything he’s ever known.

At the same time that Peter is experiencing this vision, a centurion in Caesarea by the name of Cornelius, who is a devout, generous and God-fearing man, also experiences a vision. An angel from God comes to him and instructs him to send men to Joppa, to get Peter and bring him back to his home. Peter experiences another vision telling him to go with them—he does, and after they spend the night in Joppa, they all travel together with some other believers to Caesarea where Cornelius has gathered friends and family together to listen to what Peter has to say. Peter acknowledges what they all know: that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, and yet God has shown him that he should not call anyone profane or unclean.

At the request of Cornelius, Peter shares the gospel with all who have gathered. While he speaks, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, and those who accompanied Peter are astounded that the Gentiles are filled with the Spirit. They’re speaking in tongues and lifting up the name of Christ.

“Can anyone prevent these who have received the Spirit from being baptized?” There is no reason not to do so, and so they’re baptized, and at the invitation of their Gentile hosts, Peter remains in their home for several days.

What we read today in Chapter 11 is Peter’s retelling of what he has experienced. He’s confronted by fellow Jews when he returns to Jerusalem from Joppa. They don’t understand. Why in the world would you accept hospitality from Gentiles? Why would you sit down with uncircumcised men and eat with them?

We’ll go back to the book of Genesis for a bit, and to the early history of God’s people to help us understand their confusion. You’ll remember how God called Abram, telling him to leave his home and to go to the land God would show him. As Abram responds, God promises Abram that he will be the father of many nations, and God makes a covenant with him and all his descendants. In chapter 17 of Genesis, we read that God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham that the sign of the covenant between them is circumcision. It is a sign that will distinguish them from every other nation and every other people. It’s a sign that they belong to God. It’s a sign of their shared covenant. It’s a sign that distinguishes who’s in and who’s out. It’s been a way of protecting the faith, of assuring themselves that they haven’t blended into the common culture so deeply that they can no longer be identified as Jews, distinguished as God’s people.

But now Peter is ignoring that sign. He has stayed in an unclean household. He’s broken bread with uncircumcised men; with outsiders who don’t know anything about Jewish law. Isn’t that a compromise that goes against what God has told them to do?

It’s understandably unsettling to his fellow Jews. It’s been unsettling to Peter, and so he shares the story of what happened to him up on the rooftop to explain why he’s acted in the way he has. As he describes that experience step-by-step, I think it’s also important for him to hear it again as well, to remind himself that God is doing a new thing. And this new thing is setting the church on fire! The Spirit is at work! 

Which brings along with it, a whole new set of controversies. Shouldn’t these Gentile converts be expected to behave like we’ve been expected to behave? Shouldn’t they follow Jewish law? Shouldn’t they observe dietary restrictions and be circumcised before baptizing and receiving them into the faith?

(As Peter tells his story, the group of brothers are silenced as they realize the number of those being converted, and how the Holy Spirit is working. This is all so different. It’s beyond their ability to understand, but God is doing a new thing—a good thing—and they know they
don’t want to get in God’s way.)

What’s our first response when something new or different happens? We’re skeptical! We criticize! It’s like watching a skater perform on the ice, with all the judges off to the side evaluating every move: well, that’s not right, not quite, I don’t think so. We turn into little
judges eager to flash our critical scores because we’re most comfortable with doing things the way we’ve always done them, with the way I’m comfortable. It worked for me, it should work for these folks, too.

A friend introduced a new acronym to me the other day: CAVE. Citizens Against Virtually Everything. There are negative Ned’s and Nellie’s everywhere, inside and outside the church. Loss of control, uncertainty about the future, fear that I’ll no longer be considered
important, anger and frustration over issues that may have nothing to do with what’s being criticized are only a few of the possibilities that might motivate a person to join the ranks of CAVE man or woman.

Change is hard. It isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy in the early church and it isn’t easy for us today. We have our perception of how things should be. It’s hard for us to see something in a new and different way.

Scott and I are fans of Chicago Med, a television show on Wednesday nights about an emergency room where the doctors and nurses create at least as much drama between themselves, as the sick and wounded who come in for their care. One of the story lines has
involved Dr. Connor Rhodes who is a gifted surgeon with a life-long issue with his very wealthy and controlling father, who happens to be on the hospital board. Dad has recently needed heart surgery and then had a relapse but somewhere in the midst of all that, Conner and his dad got into a big battle because Conner has always been convinced that it was his father’s fault that his mother committed suicide all those years ago. Conner goes to his father’s home and spends some time in a photo album and talking to the long term housekeeper and discovers that his mom was actually absent for many of his growing up milestones because of her own issues that had nothing to do with his father. The idealized version he had created of his mom was just that—his own creation. When Connor returns to the hospital to apologize, his father is in full cardiac arrest and can’t be resuscitated. He shares his grief with a friend later that evening, and begins to
wonder what else he’s misperceived. Who else has he negatively judged over faulty perception.

Sometimes we need to adjust our vision; to see things in a new and different way.

Perhaps we need to look at the church in a new and different way. To paint a little different picture. To consider new things, new opportunities. To see new possibilities. To allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in a little different way.

(As Peter tells his story, the group of brothers are silenced as they realize the number of those being converted, and how the Holy Spirit is working. This is all so different. It’s beyond their ability to understand, but God is doing a new thing—a good thing—and they know they
don’t want to get in God’s way.)

I can’t help but wonder, what does God have in mind for me…for each of us?
Consider the what-if’s:
What if God has something new for me…for you?
What if my comfort/if your comfort with old ways keeps us from a
blessing that is just beyond our ability to see?
What if our willingness to risk change could make a difference—a
profound difference—in my life…in your life….in someone else’s
Where might God be calling us to Go…to be…to do?


Now is the time to face the challenge. Let us open ourselves to the energy that comes with doing a new thing. Let us give ourselves the freedom to change. Let us dare uncertainty and risk. Let us see if there is something God wants us to do, in our church, in our lives. Some
new thing.

Will you pray with me:
God of ages past, God of ages to come, you see our lives of today.
We praise and thank you for the comfort that comes from realizing you have always been
with us.
We praise and thank you for your presence in our future, in our growing, in our
stumbling, in our changing.
We seek you today to find strength for the journey.
We confess our need for greater faith to trust in your guiding hand, and we ask your
forgiveness for the times to come when our human frailty keeps us from resting in your ways and
We seek you today to find courage for the journey.
Holy Spirit, grant us creativity and open hearts to rise to the challenge of serving you in
an ever-changing world.
Grant us boldness to step out in faith in ways that reveal your radical, unconditional love.
As we lift our prayers, may we be filled even now with your strength and courage. May
we shed our fears in the knowledge that it is the power of your grace and love that gives life to
our offerings of service to your creation.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our hope and strength.

O God of life, of love and possibility,
We gather together in your name, grateful and blessed.
There are times when we feel lost and alone, and yet you are with us.
There are times when we’re uncertain of which direction to turn, and still you guide us.
They are times when we insist on making our own path, and still you remain close, ready
to respond, when we cry out in our distress.

We get used to the way things are, and at times say we long for a different way…and yet we’re creatures of habit and don’t always expect you to offer us new possibilities or direction. We can be stubborn and stiff necked… Admitting this, we ask you to help us keep our eyes and our ears and our hearts to your possibilities. Help us to see beyond our own limited vision to what you have for us.

We lift up to you the needs of our world, our community, and all of those who we know are dealing with difficult times. We pray for Jim Rimel at the loss of his sister, and for all who grieve. We pray for those who are ill, lifting up to you those listed in our worship folder, and all those we silently name before you now. We trust in your love and care and your ability to bring healing. Hear now, our silent prayers… 

All these things we pray in the name of the one who taught us to pray together, saying…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.