Blog Post 51
Sermon January 17, 2016
Love Crosses Boundaries, Acts 10, Galatians 2
Introduction: If we are going to live a “pro-love life” we have to talk about overcoming racism.
In American race can seem like a “black and white” issue especially if you are either black or white. African slavery was legislated and protected for half our national history and racist policies were the law of the land for longer than that. The scar from this institutional, societal, historical racism affects everything in contemporary America culture.
But the race question in American involves much than Africans and Europeans. If you are not white or black you experience the race issue in America very differently. This highlights the truth that racism is not an American problem it is a human problem. It is a problem for Serbs and Croates, Pakistanis and Indians, Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks and Turks.
If we are going to be pro-life people we have to deal with the issue of racism. We start with the early church and an issue that irrelevant to us today but was not back then, the inclusion of Gentiles into a Jewish church.
Read Acts 10
God sometimes works to put us in circumstances where we see with his eyes and past our racist assumptions
Peter is the leader of the post-resurrection Jesus followers, which still a movement of Jews.
Cornelius is a God-fearing Gentile who has a vision and calls for Peter.
Peter has a vision he cannot understand until he meets Cornelius. The vision prompts Peter to go to Cornelius’ house where he see what God is doing in the Gentiles.
For many people, especially those who have grown up in one cultural setting God will sometimes move us across boundaries by giving us a “Cornelius moment,” a situation he has set up to help us see someone of a different race or class in a new way. The best thing that Peter did at this point was to be responsive to God, and to allow God to change his perceptions. Notice that for Peter, not eating with Gentiles was a religious mandate. Now God was telling him otherwise. God knows that our racism and prejudice runs deep; we will use everything at our disposal to rationalize our views — including God. This is why God made his acceptance of the Gentile so obvious. He poured out his Spirit on the non-Jewish seekers, manifested through in speaking in tongues. This was the same experience the Jewish followers had on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2.
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
When God brings you a Cornelius moment the best thing to do is be open to what God is doing. The worst thing to do is to close it off out of fear or prejudice.
For many people this is not always so clearly supernatural. They join the military or play in a sports team and encounter people from a different ethnic groups. This is something God uses to disarm our racist assumptions. Sometimes, like Peter you see evidence of the Spirit of God at work and you know you will never be the same.
In a perfect world this first experience would be enough: you encounter people who are different, see them with God’s eyes and you never have a racist opinion again. But often this is just a first step because life is not that simple and societal opinions are not so simply changed. We will eventually face a situation that is more complex which is what happened to Peter.
As the story of Acts unfolds Peter is arrested, imprisoned and miraculously freed. After that he disappears from the narrative. Many think he went to Antioch where he mixed freely with Gentiles and Jews in the church there. At least he did until he felt pressure from the Jewish believers. These “men from James” as they are called by Paul, wanted Gentiles to be circumcised and follow Jewish customs before being included in the church. Paul records a scene from Antioch where he confronts Peter over his treatment of Gentiles.
Read Galatians 2
11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
This incident reminds us that when we assume we are free of racism we are usually wrong.
Peter could certainly claim to be past his prejudice against Gentiles. But in this situation he needed to do more than just not hate Gentiles. He needed to openly associate with them so that all would know they are accepted by God.
The first incident with Cornelius challenged and changed Peter’s heart. But the second in Galatia called him to participate in a symbolic action. His failure to do so was racist even thought it was essentially only “doing nothing.” In a society like America where racism is institutional as well as personal sometimes doing nothing is sin.
Peter’s actions remind us that most times we don’t see our racism.
Conclusion – assume that you are lying to yourself about your racism.
Ask God to lead you to a Cornelius moment if you have never had one.
Assume that there are things that you are not seeing, ask God to open your eyes.
Seek God and others as you stand up for the Gospel against racism