11:1-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers[b] criticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Sometimes we hear stories about ministers being called up before some council or other and asked to explain their actions. Maybe they married a gay couple, or gave undocumented persons sanctuary in their church building or gained a reputation as someone who didn’t respect the systems that were in place. Or maybe something in their personal life came under question. That used to happen to gay and lesbian ministers a lot. Sometimes those stories are very public. Sometimes they are kept quiet. But they are always worrying. The decision of the council in question might change the entire direction of the church - and that worries a lot of people.
Peter was in Jerusalem because the council wanted an explanation for his baptism of Cornelius and every person in Cornelius’s household. Here was an uncircumcised Gentile. A believer, yes. He was one of those Gentiles who went to Temple and believed in Yahweh, respected the prophets and followed the law. But he hadn’t yet been circumcised, so he wasn’t yet fully Jewish. And yet . . . .Peter baptized him. Not just him, but everyone in his household - his wife or wives, his children, all the servants and workers in the household, even the children down to the tiniest infant. Everyone in the household. None of them circumcised. None of them fully Jewish. The council just had one question, really. “What were you thinking?” So he told them the story, just as it had happened. How he had a vision from God, and that vision led him to understand that God is not just the God of the Jews, but of the Gentiles also. And since Gentile was understood to mean “Everyone who isn’t a Jew” that pretty much meant everyone. All of them. Wow. What a concept. Jesus came for All of us. Even them. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son to heal it. The world. All of it. All. Of. It.
You may have noticed the slide show going on behind me. You may, in fact, have not heard a single word I said because of the slide show going on behind me. That was a risk I decided to take this week, because this slide show is quite frankly, amazing. Time lapse photography taken in Yosemite Park. I forget who sent it to me - maybe Alan. But I was blown away by the beauty it shows and decided to save it for Earth Day. Yes. For those who missed it, Earth Day was Friday. According to my Disciples planning calendar, Earth Stewardship Sunday was last week, but you know, sometimes I ignore the calendar and celebrate things on a day that works better. This year the scripture reading for this week was much more appropriate, I thought, to Earth Day. “What God has made clean, don’t you make unclean.” And ok, that might be a bit simplistic, given the fact that we live in an area with even worse air quality than LA. Who knew that I would have to use my asthma inhaler so much more often here than in Los Angeles? It’s a farming community, for Pete’s sake. It’s supposed to have clean air and lots of water. And yeah, I get that we’re in a drought, which makes having enough water a problem. But the air? … a subject for another time, perhaps. Because Earth Day is about much more than air quality. It is about all the earth - the earth animals, sea creatures, plants, and minerals. It is about the way every single thing on the earth somehow interacts with every other thing on the earth so that it all works properly. When a bug becomes extinct, it will soon be followed by a larger bug, a bird, a certain kind of plant that bird helps to propagate by eating its seeds . . . when bees go away we won’t just stop having honey, we’ll stop having food. And we will die.
All means All. All means everything, everyone. It means we have to lavish love not just on other humans but on all the creatures of the earth, all the insects, all the minerals that enrich the soil in which we grow our food . . . In this place, in Selma, California, that really should be a no brainer. But I grew up on a farm, too. And I know that we really didn’t care about the groundhog’s place in the ecosystem. We just knew he dug holes that sheep and cows stepped in and broke their legs. So we shot him. We didn’t care about the fact that some bird only ate the bug that ate big holes in the corn kernels. We only cared about the corn. So we killed the bug with poison. And maybe the bird died for lack of food. We didn’t care about the poison that was getting into the food that way either - I don’t think anyone was thinking about those things then . . .
Frankly, it’s really hard to care about All. All is a huge word. It’s easy to care about this issue or that group of people. But it’s really hard to even wrap our minds around the concept of “All.” I could list environmental concerns until we’ve all missed lunch, and not get close to the end of the things we need to think about. I could name a long list of different categories of people we need to concern ourselves with, and I would miss some. All is a really, really big word.
When we say “All Means All” in the church, though we tend to think rather narrowly. I have to tell you, one of my pet peeves is the narrowness of focus with which we use this phrase. I know that when the resolution to be a Welcoming Church was passed at General Assembly it caused quite a ruckus, especially in the Hispanic Churches. A number of Hispanic congregations dis-associated themselves from the denomination, because they believed that they were being told they had to include LGBTQIA folks. (And for those who asked, I looked it up. The QIA part means Queer, Intersex and Asexual. We can have a conversation about gender and orientation fluidity some other time.) Well, they kind of were, but they also really weren’t. It’s not like we’re hierarchal - we have no bishops. We don’t have to do what the General Assembly resolves to do. Our General Assembly can pass resolutions until the cows come home, but no congregation will be required to implement those resolutions. So they could have stayed, lodged a protest, as the ObraHispania did, and continued doing as they have always done. It’s sad that they don’t want to welcome everyone, but they could have. Lots of congregations chose that path.
The thing is, though, they were wrong on another count. All means All is not just about being accepting of LGBTQIA folks. It means exactly what it says. It means that every person is welcome here.
And by welcome we do not mean "you may come, sit over there and whatever you do, don’t change anything!!!”
By welcome we mean, or we should mean, “come in, sit where ever you like, join us in everything we do, and bring your ideas! We LOVE new ideas! We want to find new ways to reach out to our neighbors lovingly. We want to carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone we possibly can.”
Now I’d like to invite everyone in this room who is 30 years old or younger to come forward, please. . . . .
At the Regional Gathering the other week they announced that the Region finally called a Regional Youth minister. Yay! And that new youth minister stood up in front of us, bragged about how great the youth of the region are - they even led a workshop! Just like grownups! - and she said “They are the future of the church.” Our children, youth, and young adults are the future of the church. Right?
Wrong! These are the church now. These are where the energy and ideas and crazy geekiness come from that are leading us into the future - and the future is now. Paul had a great fund raising idea - which has been a little slow getting off the ground, but is going to be great fun and should bring in some much needed money for ministries of this church. Jordan keeps designing cards and brochures that help us tell everyone how great this congregation is. This week a Disciples app was released - which means if I want to know what’s going to happen at General Assembly next summer all I have to do is click on my phone and all the info pops up - and I am fairly certain that the person who designed it is under 30. Jason and Leah, while perhaps a bit older than these, have been adding bits of Tech that take us out into the internet through our website and Facebook and YouTube. Christian is getting us on Instagram with his awesome photos. Alisia regularly volunteers to read. Jorge does pretty much anything he’s asked to do, as does Jimmy. These are the church - now. Not sometime later, when we are ready to relinquish the reins. But now, sharing the responsibilities and burdens of leadership, including committee work. They are already doing it! I can’t tell you how happy I was to see a college student on the Search Committee. It told me you take them seriously. These are part of ALL . . . OK, you can all go sit again.
Now, for us older folks. I’m not saying we’re done. Or that we aren’t tech savvy. Not by a long shot. It’s just that we are all part of All, and that everyone who shows up here is not just welcome to sit and watch, but to stand and deliver - to be present and part of everything we do, every decision we make. There can be no Us and Them in the church . . . only Us. All.
Although we tend to think of Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, because he is the one who went out establishing churches in Gentile lands, it was Peter who first convinced the Council of Elders in Jerusalem that All means All. Whomever God has made clean - even Gentiles, even Samaritans, even lepers, even whomever we might think is unclean, unwelcome, or unacceptable today.
Developmentally challenged people
Non-English speaking people
Citizens and undocumented aliens
People with a criminal record
Addicts and Alcoholics
People who understand the Bible differently than we do
People whose life style is different from ours
Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Partiers, Tea partiers, and Coffee Partiers
And no doubt others I can’t think of right now . . .
God said to Peter, What God has made clean, you must not call profane. And the Council in Jerusalem proclaimed, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” And remember, Gentiles is everyone who isn’t Us. The Good News, my brothers and sisters, is that God has opened the gates of life to every person on the earth. That Jesus came to call every one to be healed of the burden of sin we all have carried. That repentance and forgiveness are there for anyone who desires. The Council in Jerusalem agreed to welcome all, everyone, into the church, into their family, into their lives. Let us do likewise.