August 6, 2017: Who is in and who is not?

Posted on : Aug 3rd, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

One of the greatest challenges to the survival of Christianity is the issue of inclusion and diversity.  It’s been that way for a while, but it’s getting worse with each passing year.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” At the time, eleven o’clock in the morning was the standard time of Protestant Christian worship services.  How much progress have we made in Christian churches since Dr. King raised this concern?

The Multiracial Congregations Project led by Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no one racial group is more than 80% of the congregation. Using that standard, Emerson has found that only 8% of all Christian congregations in the U.S. are racially mixed to a significant degree: 2-3% of mainline Protestant congregations, 8% of other Protestant congregations, and 20% of Catholic parishes. Why these differences?

I’ll bet the numbers are even lower when it comes to diversity based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

One of the oddities of Christianity – and most religions for that matter – is that we tend to like to worship with people like ourselves.  This is especially odd in that it contradicts the witness and teachings of Jesus and his ministry.  Jesus was very multi-cultural (though even he had his own exclusionary prejudices to overcome) and was certainly one of, if not the most feminist religious leaders of all times.  And then Peter, the rock solid one who would be the next great shepherd of the flock after Jesus’ death, had to wrestle the demons of exclusion in the community as gentiles (who were also called “pagans”) wanted to be baptized and be part of the early Christian Church.  Dear God, Peter’s vision at Joppa went against everything his religion taught, and yet was pulling him towards what he knew the risen Christ was calling him to do.  His religion taught that only kosher-observant Jews could be baptized followers of Jesus.  The Risen Christ was telling him the opposite.

The early Christian Church almost self-destructed over the issue of “who is in and who is not.”  Today those same issues are tearing apart Christianity, Judaism and Islam and turning off the vast majority of Americans to even considering Christianity as a worthy religious path.

This Sunday as we continue our “Be the Church” series, we’re going to look at why it is that we like to be among people who think and believe as we do, and why Jesus and Peter didn’t think that was good for our faith.



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Acts 10:34 – 11:18

In this reading, the Apostle Peter gives witness to the power of the Holy Spirit which fell upon Jesus at his Baptism and upon both Jewish and Gentile believers.  Those upon whom the Spirit fell were called to be agents of healing.

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God.  This is the message God has sent to the people of Israel, the Good News of peace proclaimed through Jesus Christ, who is Savior of all.

That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  We are witnesses to all that Jesus did both in the countryside and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to be seen, not by all the people but by us who were chosen by God as witnesses, that is by us, who ate and drank with Christ after the resurrection from the dead.  And Christ commissioned us to preach to the people and to bear witness that this is the one set apart by God as judge of the living and the dead.  To Christ Jesus all the prophets testify that everyone who believes has forgiveness of sins through this name.”

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  So Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  Then they invited him to stay for several days.

Now the apostles and the community in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.  So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”  Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “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.  As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.  I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’  But I replied, ‘I can’t, my God!  Nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’  And a second time the voice spoke from heaven, ‘Don’t call profane what God has made clean.’  This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  Just at that very moment three couriers stopped outside the house where we were staying; they had been sent from Caesarea to fetch me.  And the Spirit told me to have no hesitation about returning with them. These six believers came with me, and we entered Cornelius’ house.  He told us he had seen an angel standing in the house who had said, ‘Send messengers to Joppa and bring Simon, who is known as Peter; he has a message for you that will save you and your entire household.’

“I had hardly begun to speak when the Holy Spirit came down on them in the same way it came on us in the beginning, and I remembered what Christ had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  I realized then that God was giving them the same gift that had been given to us when we came to believe in our Savior Jesus Christ.  And who am I to stand in God’s way?”

This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God, saying, “God has granted the repentance that leads to life – even to Gentiles!”

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