New Testament Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Psalm: 148, page 861
Second NT Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
Gospel: John 13:31-35
One of my favorite prayers is King David’s prayer in Psalm 19: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, o Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Isn’t that what we all need? Strength and redemption!
Peter thought so. As we learned in the New Testament scripture reading from Acts, the Jewish Christians called Peter on the carpet! He didn’t overreact or get all defensive and offended though. Instead, he responded by listening to what they had to say. Then he addressed their concerns by providing them with facts – new information they’d never heard of before and, most likely, never considered.
Step by step, Peter carefully described the vision God had given him – not once but three times – to show he no longer needed to be concerned about Kosher foods because everything edible was now to be included on the menu! This was a big deal! For many centuries, food choices, food preparations, and menus for meals had been a major obstacle between Jews and Gentiles. The differences were so huge, in fact, they could never come together for a meal.
Sharing food and eating together is what we do after church services every third Sunday because dining together is a great way to welcome people, show acceptance, and get to know one another better as we chat and laugh and grab a desert before they’re gone!
Jews and Gentiles had never been able to do this, and so misunderstandings, snide remarks, and hostility had resulted over the years. Now, with Peter’s message, the Jewish Christians heard him saying that God had changed the dietary rules.
As often happens when we’re learning something new, we need to hear the same thing three times before it begins to sink in. God knows this about us, of course, so Peter received the same message from God again and again! Three times Peter received the same vision about the Jewish diet being made new – and much more inclusive of food choices! If Gentiles could eat it, so could he!
The Jewish Christians, however, were not convinced. So Peter told them how the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Gentiles, just as it had on them! What a shock this was! The people fell silent, which is an appropriate response to an “Oh? or Aha” moment!
This episode in Acts 11 teaches the importance of clearly communicating a viewpoint, especially if it’s unlike what people expect to hear – a view that makes all things new as perspectives begin to change and our embrace widens to include ideas and people unlike ourselves.
As this new information began to sink in, the Jewish Christians realized God was making all things new – for the Gentiles and for themselves. Once Peter had carefully explained to them why he’d dined with pagans, the early Christians realized that God had included in His plan of redemption the very people they’d thought were hopeless and beyond saving! They believed it! And they began praising God for including – not just more food in their diet but more people empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We, too, can praise the Lord whenever God brings us into the company of people who have different ways of doing things – people who don’t fit in at first. We, too, can give praise for God’s extended family, which brings to mind this poem from my book Praise:
Praise Christ our Body
Who holds us together
in cell and membrane,
tissue and blood,
tendon and tears.
Praise Christ Whose Body
each part of us –
an ear, an eye, a knee,
a scalp, a head of hair
with each curl counted.
Praise Christ Who gave
His body and
welcomes each one of us –
into the Body of Christ,
the Church –
to work, to play,
and pray together,
to love and forgive,
to worship as One Being
the Lord we adore.
Everyone needs saving! We could make a long list of things that come to mind – and perhaps we should as those very areas of aggravation or concern are usually the ones in most need of prayer and praise. Our own need to change some things is also nothing new!
After the fall in the Garden of Eden, the whole world fell prey to pain, suffering, and death. Everything God created had been placed under our care, but as care-less care-takers, we often left the air, land, water, living plants, and animals to fend for themselves! Then, along came the poet who wrote Psalm 148, which we read in the scriptures today, and heard its overriding theme of praise – praise that includes every created thing! Similar to the way Peter welcomed Gentiles into the family of Christ, the psalmist long before him had welcomed all creation into a new relationship with God and humankind.
Now we might think we have nothing in common with angels or the moon and stars or sea monsters or fire and snow and storms. We might think we have nothing in common with flying birds or wild animals, and yet, this psalms shows we’re connected with God and one another – not through missing links but through our ability to praise God and, indeed, the biblical instructions that we ALL need to praise. We are all connected through the earth itself as I hope this next poem shows:
Praise Our Playful God –
Who created us
from dirt and earth-mud –
like a Holy Child
loving the results,
but wanting more:
to mobilize us,
to propel us,
to respond to Him.
Even if we don’t feel like it, praising God is a way we show our trust in the Lord. Praising God – regardless of what’s happening – is a way we submit to God’s will. And, even if stars fall and fires sweep through town and snow covers the roads or the temperature outside gives us a sunburn in ten minutes or less, praising God shows we know that God knows what He’s doing.
So? What is He doing?
God is making all things new!
Praising God shows we believe that. It reconnects us with goodness and beauty and the wonder of each moment. Praise also gives us a new perspective toward ourselves, other people, and life in general. How? Praise frees us from judgmental attitudes and makes us ready to love.
In the Gospel reading for this Bible Talk, John reported the newness we have in Christ as we follow His new instructions. Even though He was about to be crucified, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment” – that is, a new perspective, a new viewpoint, a new way of seeing the possibilities for renewal found in all creation. Jesus said, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Instead of just following the Golden Rule and treating others as we want them to treat us, Jesus instructs us – no, He commands us – to love one another as He would. Then, He goes on to say, “In this way, everyone will know you’re My followers – if you have love for one another.”
May this poem of praise also be our prayer:
Praise You God, Our Tutor –
for instructing us in the love life
You want us to live,
for training us through
Christ Jesus and Your Word,
for coaching us with the help
of Holy Spirit and the counsel
of good friends who have
suffered through the ache
of daily living and have
come to know You well –
who have consistently come to ask,
“Lord, what’s the loving thing to do?”