DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
This week, I googled our church on my cell phone, needing some specific information when I was away from the office. Somehow I clicked on a website for our church that included “reviews.” The first review on the list was the following one:
“If you’re seeking a “real” Christ centered church — you should look into Christ Chapel Bible Church — tons of smiles and a welcoming spirit! RE:FUMC — Unfortunately, the pastoral staff at FUMC Ft. Worth endorses the findings of the “Jesus Seminar / Westar Institute, CA.” FUMC Ft. Worth has allowed fellows of the Jesus Seminar (or historical Jesus project) to hold workshops at the church and the church has most recently included the study of author and pagan, Marcus Borg, into the 2011 Easter preparations. This church is standing on dangerous ground in their efforts to embrace men (scholars) that we are all warned about in the Bible — men, like Marcus Borg, that view the Bible as a “philosophical and mythological” book from the standpoint of “keeping the early Christians in line” — instead of actually being the inerrant word of God! I encourage everyone to do their own research before attending this church.”
Now, I have good, good, really good friends who attend Christ Chapel, and I admire that church on every level. (I am not typing this “tongue in cheek.” I mean this.) I don’t believe that the individual who saw fit to insert this “review” (presumably to save good Christians from being misled by all us pagans who lead worship here) is representative of the humility of the Christian people of Christ Chapel. But the beliefs and thoughts expressed in this review are a useful jumping off point for the scripture from Acts of the Apostles I will be preaching from this Sunday in DiscipleChurch:
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 10
In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. 3One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. 5Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; 6he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” 7When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, 8and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.
9About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.13Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. 17Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there.
19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him. 24The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?” 30Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is righteous is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Who does Peter tell Cornelius (at verse 35) is acceptable to God? The one who believes certain things about Jesus or even about the Bible? No, it is the one who “fears God and does what is righteous.” And what was the “message” (the actual Greek word in the text is “logos” or “word” ) preached by Jesus to the people and repeated by Peter to Cornelius? The message of “peace.” Righteousness, in Luke’s gospel and Acts of the Apostle, is bound up with peacefulness, with what Matthew’s gospel calls “peacemaking.” How important is all this for Luke? Critically. This message of peace preached by Jesus surely echoes with a story at the beginning of Luke’s gospel—the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds of the Christ child bringing “peace on earth among those whom God favors.” (Luke 2.14) Peace for Jesus and Luke was more than an event, more than a change of relationship between sinful humans and a holy, righteous God. It was “on earth,” a Way of being and of doing, and certainly not just of believing.
An obvious theme of the above passage from Acts is about the breaking down barriers to gentiles like Cornelius from being fully accepted into the Way of Jesus.
But there is another theme here, also very important, that I will explore in my sermon this Sunday. In preparation for that, you might consider:
* the significance of Peter’s teaching the “message of peace” preached by Jesus to a Centurion in the Roman army;
* the impact of proclaiming to this commander of occupying Roman soldiers that this one Jesus is “Lord;”
* how Cornelius was called, and even required, to change his life when he accepted baptism.
Put another way, how would a commander of a foreign force be required to “fear God and do what is righteous” after he had heard and committed in baptism to living the message of peace on earth preached by Jesus, after he had accepted in baptism that Jesus and not any other earthly person or power is “Lord?”
And how are we required now to “fear God and do what is righteous?”
Has the message of peace preached and lived by Christ been suppressed by the American Church, including (but certainly not limited to) the ones who proclaim themselves to be “Christ-centered”?
See you Sunday?