Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sermon: Surprising God!

Acts 10: 1-35
(God of surprises...or what Peter did next)

A couple of weeks ago, over Easter weekend, as many of you know we had some of the family staying; during the weekend, Lara was shocked to hear raised voices coming from the kitchen, and horrified, asked Jamie if that was Alastair  and me arguing. After a moment’s reflection Jamie said, “No, that’s mum shouting at a politician on the TV!”

We have reached the season of extreme rhetoric; and I am increasingly avoiding every news programme, bulletin and current affairs programme because all it does is make my blood boil.
In my younger days I was an ardent political junky; I lapped it up; supported and enthused over one party and generally saw the world through one dimension. I was assured, confident and knew (in my own mind) what was right and what was wrong.
The older I got however, the less assured I became. For suddenly the old views seemed naive and unrealistic. I realised that in a bid for power, politicians were willing to compromise, not just the small stuff, but the big stuff too. And it became clear to me that one single truth simply did not exist.
So now I find I cannot listen to debates and interviews, because no one will answer a direct question; the presenters badger and the politicians bluster.
What, you may be thinking, has this got to do with Peter’s vision?!
Peter had, his whole life followed a very strict set of rules and instructions. He knew without doubt what was right and what was wrong; what was allowed and what was forbidden; who he could speak to, spend time with, and who was considered unclean, unacceptable.

It is hard for us today, to hear the retelling of this encounter between Peter and Cornelius and understand the enormity of it.
It is as outrageous and extreme as the idea of Ed Milliband and David Cameron entering into an agreement to work together.
It seems utterly impossible and offensive.

Peter needed to have that vision more than once because for him it really was going against everything he believed about the world. He knew the score:
Gentiles – you do not associate with; you do not visit with – they were unclean
Food – strict laws attached to what was eaten and how it was prepared
Rules & rituals – for every occasion there was a ritual attached, from how to cook, to how to prepare to eat, and what to do if you were accidentally contaminated.
For Peter this encounter with Cornelius turned everything upside down
Suddenly everything he knew and understood up to that point no longer made sense...
I wonder if he remembered Jesus words?
“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth...” not food but words.

This encounter cannot be underestimated.
Up to this point, the good news was for Jews; if non Jews wanted to become followers of Jesus then they were expected first to become Jews. For Peter a great light was suddenly shining down, Cornelius was there, waiting to hear about God’s plan, and Peter suddenly saw it all:
 “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. 35 Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to.”

Suddenly Peter realised that the Good News he and the others had been tasked with sharing was so much bigger than they had thought – when Jesus had given his final instruction to them, he really did mean ALL nations – not just the twelve tribes, but every nation, in every corner of the world... thus began the greatest mission in all history.

Peter’s revelation through his vision, is a wonderful insight for us too.

God surprises!
We have a surprising God, and God can take us to places we do not expect. If you had told the 20 year old Julie what would happen to her, where she would live; places she would visit; things she would do – well, I know for sure I would not have believed it; or I would have been appalled, outraged, horrified and dismayed.

Yet here I am; 35 years on from 20 year old me.
Living in a different place
Part of a different denomination
Doing a job I would have considered was totally beyond my capabilities
Viewing the world in a totally different way
And living in a way I would never have believed possible.

We are blessed to follow a surprising God
Who has plans for us we will never know about – until the time is exactly right
And then, when the penny drops, the lights turn on
Life will never be the same again

What a blessing!

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