Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"para Dios no hay favoritismos"

Message preached January 9, 2005
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Acts 10

Order of Worship

"Ahora comprendo que en realidad para Dios no hay favoritismos..."

            Thatís what Peter said to those folks in the city of Caesarea - people he had met only that day. Forgive me, again, for practicing my all-too-inadequate Spanish with you, but next Sunday Iím supposed to preach in our sister church. Fortunately, I will have someone to translate. Please pray that brother Izzyís kidney stones will not prevent him from coming, for I have been counting on his easy-going presence to calm my nervousness.

"Ahora comprendo que en realidad para Dios no hay favoritismos..."

            Thatís this Peter quoting that Peter from long ago. In English, we hear it thus: "Now I comprehend that in reality with God there are no favorites." These are appropriate words for this day. They harken back to a transforming moment in the life of the early church, when people were baptized into the faith. That is something we have ourselves celebrated this morning, remembering when some of us declared our faith in Christ and joined our lives together in the Lord. Whenever God draws someone into our fellowship, they are not the only ones changed.

            This certainly was the case on that day long ago in Caesarea when Peter first spoke those words, as remembered by Luke - the physician we credit with writing both the gospel that goes by his name and that history of the beginning of the church entitled "The Acts of the Apostles." Peter was quite an "actor" on that stage. I donít mean "actor" in the sense of someone pretending to be another person, but "actor" as in "someone who does something." Once Jesus ascended, and the Holy Spirit descended, Peter was a model of activity for God. Who would have thought this bumbling fisherman would one day be a key leader in what would become a worldwide movement?

            "Someday you will fish for people," Jesus once told him. Little did this disciple turned apostle know how deep the water beneath his boat would become. Perhaps his biggest challenge came right at this point in the story as we have received it. Backing up a bit, it all started in the town of Joppa. Peter was visiting some believers there, encouraging the faithful and also, no doubt, "fishing" for men and women to follow Jesus among the Jewish population there.

            He had tossed his net into the water, so to speak, and was resting before pulling it in. This is where the story gets interesting. Perhaps you recall it. In the middle of a nap on someoneís roof in Joppa - picture a patio, not a boat - God interrupted him with a dream. Perhaps at the time it felt more like a nightmare, for in it a sheet descended full of all sorts of animals Peter had long been taught to avoid when it came to cooking up a good meal. You know, things the law of Moses said not to touch. Un-kosher! To be holy was to separate yourself from such unclean stuff.

            What made it a problem was a voice he heard in this dream (or should I say, nightmare?). This voice simply said, "Get up, Peter; kill and eat." His response? "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!" ... Oops, wrong story ... "By no means, Lord," he said in his dream. Aha! Peter recognized the voice. You can read the whole story at the beginning of this chapter in the book of Acts. Suffice it to say that, in this dream, God kept dropping this sheet full of unclean stuff in front of him and Peter kept backing away. The punch line, and that is what it must have felt like to this apostle - a punch in the gut, was this statement: "Lo que Dios ha purificado, tķ no lo llames impuro." In english: "What God has purified, do not call impure."

            Several years before this moment, when Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple beside the sea of Galilee, he told this simple fisherman to "put out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch." James, John, and Simon Peter had already been fishing since before dawn and were tired and cranky when this request was made, but they did as this stranger asked. The resulting catch was so big that their nets started to break (Luke 5:1-11). It was a transforming moment. When Jesus invited them to follow him, they left their boats and nets and did just that.

            Well, this day in Joppa was similar to that day in Galilee. Through a dream, God told Peter on that rooftop to "put out into the deeper water." Why was it deeper? Because now it included all the fish in the sea, not just the chosen people, the children of Israel. Only this time, Peter would stay in the boat. The voice of the Lord was calling him to reach out to folks he wouldnít have even considered part of his catch.

            Set-net fishing in Alaska twenty years ago, weíd toss back into the water any fish caught in the net which wasnít a salmon. The flounder were fun to do this with, because their shape was like a frisbee, and weíd try to see how times we could skip them across the surface before they sank beneath the waves. We were nasty, but there was no profit in flounder, at least not in comparison with salmon. Not in Alaska.

            When a gentile by the name of Cornelius knocked on his door after that dream (actually, it was some representatives sent by Cornelius, who was a Roman army officer), he would earlier have not had a second thought about tossing this particular fish back in the sea. God, after all, was partial to salmon ... I mean, partial to the jews - the children of Israel. They were his favorites. He set them apart from all the rest. That was how Peter viewed his world up until that very moment. And then the voice of the Lord in a dream changed everything.

            Now, I suppose Peter could have said, "Aw, it was only a dream," and paid it little attention. Havenít you ever had nudges like that? We often have this mistaken notion that God only speaks in grand gestures. It has to be big, we think, to get our attention. When we began our worship with the 29th Psalm and all its majestic talk of "the voice of the Lord" this and "the voice of the Lord" that, did you find yourself thinking it didnít really speak to you, because youíve never really heard this "voice of the Lord?" At least not in the way the psalmist seemed to be talking about? Iíd venture to say we hear "the voice of the Lord" a whole lot more than we realize. God, however, may be speaking in ways for which weíre not really listening.

            Peter allowed himself to be bothered by that dream. I say "dream," though most English translations refer to it as a "trance." In the original Greek (and, by the way, in Spanish also), it is "ekstacy," which should not be confused with the party drug used by some young people today. What Peter saw on the rooftop was not drug-induced, nor was it a good feeling that helped him forget all his problems. No, it troubled him afterward. He kept thinking about it, like you would a strange dream you had just before waking up. When he then heard a knock on the door, the voice returned. Was it an actual voice, or a continuation of his pondering over this dream, doesnít matter. The proddings of God come to us in many ways, from scripture to nature to conscience.

            We often say that what we hear from within, the voice spoken to our heart, must conform to, not contradict, scripture. Here, however, Peter heard a Word which was contrary to everything he had been taught. God was telling him to go with those who were knocking on his door, people he quickly discovered were not among Godís favorites, the chosen children of Israel. Everything he had been taught as a Jew told him to separate himself from Gentiles. Even Jesus had said he had been sent to bring good news to Godís chosen people. There were cracks in the wall that separated Christ from the rest of the world, moments when Jesus connected all-too-briefly with those who were not Jewish. However, it remained for the early church to carry out what Christ accomplished on the cross.

            As I said, this was a transforming moment in the life of the early church, one that would trouble Peter (in a good way) for the rest of his life, one that would forever change the church. On this day, Peter decided to go with those who knocked on his door, and on the next he discovered in Caesarea people who had already experienced God speaking to them. This Roman soldier, Cornelius, had himself had a dream. Thatís why he sent representatives to Peter, asking this apostle of Jesus to visit.

            It was to them that Peter spoke those memorable words: "Now I comprehend that in reality with God there are no favorites." He went on to share his message - what God had laid upon his heart. Only now, something had changed. No longer was it just Godís favorites who were part of the good news. Now "in every nation anyone who fears God (who seriously pays attention to this "voice of the Lord") and who responds with justice and righteousness, God accepts them" ... anyone and everyone ... no favorites. Telling the story of Jesus, Peter ended with these words, "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins (itís a new day!) through his name."

            While he was saying this, before he even had a chance to get around to inviting people to be baptized, Pentecost happened. Right then and there! The Holy Spirit went to town, Caesarea to be exact. Obviously, God wasnít stingy with his presence, lavishing it only upon some but not others. Godís arms were wide open. So were the eyes of Peter and those Jewish believers in Jesus who came to Caesarea. They, themselves, were changed by this visit....

            Later on this week, I and five others from this church will fly to visit our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic. Unlike Simon Peter in the Bible, this Peter is not heading there to "bring" the gospel to those who have never received it. Then, again, the original Peter didnít bring Jesus to Caesarea. God was already there. In many ways, that Peter needed to witness this new beginning. It forever changed him. In that sense, I/we need to go and see what God is doing among our friends in San Juan. God, after all, has no favorites. We "Americans" are not Godís chosen people, you know - well, not any more than our Dominican friends. They, in fact, are probably more "alive" in the Lord than we are.

            By the way, I was nervous about what I might preach next Sunday. I mean, what do "I" have to share with them? Iíll have only been in San Juan one day. I donít know their language. I donít really know them - thatís why weíre visiting, to get to know them a little better. Iím not bringing Jesus. Heís already there - powerfully so, from what Iíve heard.

            It was on the road home from visiting Izzy Rosas this week that God spoke to me. Was it a literal "voice of the Lord?" No, not in the dramatic sense, but then, God nudges us in so many ways, if only we would listen. The Bible story that will lie at the center of whatever I share from the heart will focus upon Jesus calling Peter to become a new kind of fisherman, combining it with Johnís resurrection story of Jesus telling Peter to cast his net on the other side of the boat (John 21:1-8). On this trip, I will be learning from my brothers and sisters in San Juan de la Managua about fishing from the other side of the boat.

            Do pray for me and the rest. May we echo what Simon Peter once said: "Ahora comprendo que en realidad para Dios no hay favoritismos..." Now I comprehend that in reality with God there are no favorites." Amen? Amen!

            Speaking of prayer, Ron, as church board chairman, would you lead us. Those going this week, please come forward....

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Acts.

©2005 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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