Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sermon from May 2, 2010 Acts 11:1-18

Rev. George Miller
Acts 11:1-18
“Heavenly Hospitality”
May 2, 2010

Heavenly Hospitality: that’s what we’re here to celebrate today.

This morning we share communion, and per the United Church of Christ’s custom, no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Not just at Emmanuel UCC, but here at our communion table.

God’s heavenly meal is open to all. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, white or black, gay or straight, old or young, Republican or Democrat, Buckeye or Blue n’ Gold or if your Facebook status says you’re a Dorothy or a Sophia, a Rose or a Blanche, you are invited to share in this meal and to taste just how good God’s Kingdom is.

That’s why this is called the Lord’s Supper. Not the UCC’s Supper or Pastor George’s Supper, but the Lord’s Supper.

And since God is Lord of all, everyone is invited.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to some, but for other’s who have been denied communion elsewhere because of what they believe or who they voted for, to say we have an open table is revolutionary.
Why? Because food matters, and it was the sharing of food that allowed our faith to grow.

Food matters. We see and hear this is today’s reading. Peter is returning from a victorious evangelism trip in which he converted the family and friends of a Roman soldier.

But instead of being greeted with shouts of congratulations Peter is asked “Why did you go to Gentiles and eat with them?”

Not “Good for you” or “Hurray” but “Why did you eat with people not like us?”

To understand their concern, let’s do some history. Once upon a time, the world was divided into two kinds of folk: Jews and Gentiles.

The Jewish people were the chosen people, the ones through whom God was going to bring redemption to all of the world. The Gentiles were everyone else.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery, parting the Red Sea for them. God blessed them and wanted to make sure they were raised right, away from the negative influences of the Gentiles, with their false gods and acts of injustice.

So, as it is said, God met with Moses on top of a hill and gave out a list of commandments, things to do, and things not to do.

Some of these commandments dealt with food and can be found in Leviticus 11. These are the Kosher Laws that forbid the eating of pig, lobster or shrimp, as well as mixing milk with meat, which meant a cheeseburger’s outta the question.

It may sound odd to hear that you can’t enjoy a piece of bacon, but think about it: if you want to limit who your family can interact with, limit what they can eat.

How can your son hang out with the rowdy kids at a birthday party if they’re serving pulled pork and cheeseburgers?

Or for your daughter to date Gene the Gentile if his favorite restaurant is Red Lobster?

Or for your family to attend the neighborhood shrimp boil?

Food matters, so if you limit what people can eat, you limit who they can eat with and perhaps limit how much they are influenced by outside sources.
That’s great if you want things to forever stay the same, but because of the Christ-experience change was happening.

You see, Jesus was a Jew, as were the earliest disciples who followed him. After his life, death and resurrection, people began to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, and they would gather to celebrate the Good News.

For the most part, the earliest Christians were Jews who would meet in the homes of local rich widows and they would share a meal.

In fact, back then worship was like a pot-luck in which everyone brought food and during the meal they would celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

In the early church you could not separate food from worship, nor worship from a meal.

But therein was a major problem. Some of the newest members were non-Jews, Gentiles who had heard about or had an experience with Christ that they wanted to share with other believers.

But how could Jews and Gentiles eat and worship together if they ate completely different things?

Would Gentiles have to convert to Judaism? Would Jews would have to violate the Kosher Laws?

If someone didn’t decide things real quick, there was a chance Christianity could die out forever.

Thankfully, someone didn’t have to decide: God stepped in and did it for us.

That is what today’s reading is all about. In Acts 11 we see how God takes his people towards another step of boundary breaking inclusiveness.

Jesus has been resurrected and the Spirit has been poured out; people are being blessed all over. Peter has gone up on the rooftop for some alone time in which he is fasting and meditating.

During his meditation he has a vision: a picnic blanket comes down from heaven filled with all the foods he can’t eat.

A voice tells him to eat but Peter says “No way Lord, I’m Kosher. I will not break dietary rules.”

The voice says “Everything is Ok to eat: have yourself a shrimp cocktail or a ham sandwich.”

But Peter refuses to listen. Because of a faithful stubbornness that I find beautiful, this vision takes place two more time times until finally Peter says “OK God, you, you win. You always win.”

And just then Peter is invited into the home of a Cornelius, a Gentile who asks to hear about Jesus.

If it was not for the vision, Peter would have turned down Cornelius’ invitation, but instead Peter steps inside a non-Kosher home, shares in a meal and Cornelius becomes the first Gentile in the book of Acts to become a Christian.

Food matters. It was food that could have kept Cornelius and Peter apart, but God’s stepped in and allowed them to share; not just at the table, but in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading is not a foofy tale about why we can enjoy crab legs dipped in warm butter. But it is another example of the ground-breaking way in which God, through Christ, has entered into our lives and transformed the world.

Because God changed the rules about who can and can not eat at the table, a millennium of regulations regarding social interaction has been altered; folks from all different backgrounds are given yet another way they can interact.

Peter’s rooftop experience was revolutionary in that now God is saying there are no clean or unclean people; there are no insiders or outsiders.

It means that the drama nerds and computer geeks can eat at the table with the cheerleaders and football stars.

It means that snow birds can eat with native Floridians. And it even means that Bukeye fans can sit down and eat with everyone else.

Food matters. It matters more then we know.

Food nourishes our body and soul, it bonds us to one another, it creates community, and food becomes a way to experience God.

Before ending this message let me share with you how I learned this to be so. It was 15 years ago. I was attending Grace Temple Deliverance Church, a black Pentecostal church where people called each other Brother or Sister, Mother or Deacon.
I was just George.

We were getting ready for the church anniversary dinner. For weeks Rev. Battle talked up the event, telling us of all the good foods we’d be eating.

She mentioned something called chitlins. She looked at me and said “Now you probably never had them before, but let me tell you, you’re in for a treat. Ain’t nothing in the world like chitlins.”

She said that at first I wouldn’t like chitlins, that after a second try I’d say they’re nasty, but after a third try they’ll “taste just like candy: you’ll want to eat them all the time.”

The congregation gave a knowing, communal laugh.

The day of the dinner arrived. We went to the fellowship hall, and sure enough the spread was mouth watering: macaroni and cheese, collard greens, smoked turkey, sweet potato pie...and chitlins.

I went through that line, loaded up my plate, smothered the chitlins in hot sauce and took a bite.
Dr. Battle was right: they were the nastiest smelling, tasting food I ever did eat; I fought to keep them down. But I didn’t complain. In fact I went back for seconds and had me some more.

And an interesting thing happened: from that day on, my name changed. From that day on I was called Brother George.

By sharing a meal I became a part of the church family. It didn’t matter that I was white or couldn’t tell a mustard green from a collard- I was welcomed and I was loved.

And whenever I go back, Dr. Battle always invites me to a meal.

In conclusion, food matters. Food matter more then we know. It nourishes our body and soul, it bonds us to one another, it creates community, and food becomes a way we experience God.

Today’s scripture shows us how God uses food to surprise us and break old divisions down so that Jesus Christ can be proclaimed near and far, from Red Lobster to Sam’s BBQ from Wendy’s to White Castle.

So as we get ready to partake in communion, let’s be mindful that this meal comes via heavenly hospitality, hosted by God our Parent, Jesus our brother and the Spirit, our vision giver.

Let us all, as one, share and taste just how good God’s Kingdom is.

Amen and amen.

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