Acts 10: 1-17 & 34-38
Grace and Peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!
The title of this sermon is, “Adrift, Aimless, and Abandoned.” We have all felt degrees of each of these words during these last years of Covid, as we slowly emerged into a changed world. Our social skills were rusty, and we were used to taking a step back every time we felt someone come too close. Hugging anyone was very awkward, as was shaking hands. I remember one time during Covid when my husband Jim and I went to CVS and a very good friend of Jim’s came over with his hand outstretched and as Jim was reaching over, I shouted “NOOOO!” and grabbed Jim’s hand away. And scared everyone around us! But it was a very strange time in a scary, new world. And this is how the disciples felt, but not because of Covid, but because Jesus was no longer walking amongst them. So they also were “Adrift, Aimless, and Abandoned.”
Our first, very long reading from Acts tells the story of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius is a Roman centurion and a Gentile. He was considered by the Jews to be a “God-fearer.” He believes in God, prays regularly, and tries to live a good and generous life. An angel comes to him, to tell him to send for Peter.
Peter, meanwhile, is staying with a tanner, someone who comes into contact with the skin of dead animals—which means he is ritually unclean. Peter is in a half-sleep, up on the roof of this tanner, when he sees a sheet lowered from heaven full of unclean animals and he hears a voice saying, “Hey Peter, kill anyone of these animals and eat.” When Peter refuses because of Jewish law, he is told by the voice that “God does not make anything that is unclean” – and he is about to find out this also includes people, in this case Gentiles.
Peter then hears that someone is looking for him downstairs and wants him to accompany him to visit Cornelius, whom Peter knows is a Gentile. It becomes a powerful moment. Peter realizes the vision he had on the roof was not just about food, and that he was being invited to bring all people – now Gentiles - into a world of faith where they would hear how God forgave their sins. And he was going to be able to reveal how this happened through Jesus Christ. To show just how wonderful this moment was, God sends His Holy Spirit upon everyone who is listening to Peter… everyone! Jew and Gentile alike! The Gentiles were astounded to be a part of the special relationship that the Jews had with God. The Jews were reminded that they were missing an opportunity that was right in front of them… more workers for the harvest!
Many congregations, just like ours, are saddened by decreasing numbers and financial issues. We all talk about increasing our memberships. And we all probably pray on it quite a bit, since we all love our church families and our buildings. I have a feeling that God has been busy answering all prayers from many different churches. But just not the way we all hoped. His answer is, “I’ve prepared the harvest for you, now it is your turn to figure out how to bring it in.” Nearly every resource for evangelism mentions going outside our doors and that most new members come from congregants, who are on the inside, inviting others to “come and see.” And Jesus points to this in Matthew when he states, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few—therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And then Jesus summons his Twelve, and gives them authority over unclean spirits, and the ability to heal diseases and sicknesses. In other words, Jesus sends his Twelve out into the world. The prayer for more laborers became a push.
Jesus’s message was at first given only to “the lost sheep of Israel.” But it became a message to be shared with all. We also have been encouraged to go where we see a need and to find a way to serve and speak to that need. There are many right here in our own communities who need us, who need to hear words that will bring hope through forgiveness and love. Who need the companionship of others, who share their faith, or who need to have a place to start to build their faith. We are often more comfortable with those who have our own customs, language, habits, likes, dislikes, etc.
But even the twelve disciples were different individuals from different places. Perhaps it is no coincidence that they were chosen; but interestingly, instead, their diverse talents and gifts, experiences and backgrounds, would be invaluable as they were sent out to many different places and peoples. Jesus saw the people around him as those who were lost, and alone, without direction. As the title of this sermon reflects, they were like sheep without a Shepherd, “Adrift, Aimless and Abandoned.”
In our world today, there are many who feel this way, still. We hear it on the news, we read the stories on our computers or phones, we see the violence we perpetrate against each other, the arguments in our country – as rights we took for granted are slowly eroded. And how our leaders now spend more time competing for power and authority – instead of collaborating on programs and ideas for the good of all. I think about presidents like Roosevelt and Wilson, who are responsible for our beautiful national parklands. I don’t see that this could have happened in our current day with our parties at war with each other.
But I digress. Yes, it is a whole different time we live in and yet all peoples throughout history have had the same problems as we do, no matter where they are, or who they are, or what they have. So we pray that God will help us, in this time of plentiful harvest and few laborers. That we maybe can see a way to do things differently. I remember when Pastor Stephens was here, I asked him if he had a vision of what a church of the future could look like. He said he envisioned a building less concentrated on a sanctuary space much like this, but one with many rooms used for mission, as well teaching and serving others. And he saw this building being used by many people, not under any particular religious name, but gathered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish what Jesus modeled for us long ago. And doing it with an excitement and joy. Now that would be a church we would all love. And… that would be a harvest we’d like to be a part of. Amen.