June 28, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Then Peter began to speak, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right….Surely no one dan stand in the way of their being baptized with water.’” (Acts 10. 34-35, 47)
Jesus’ last words as remembered and broadcasted in Matthew’s gospel was the benediction of the Great Commission. It said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; so now I say- Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of every nation, teaching them all I have commanded you and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I seal this with a promise: I AM with you always to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28.20ff.) I say “benediction” because it is far more than just marching orders for the disciples in their transition to being apostles. It is a moment of worship, praise and ordination. Matthew began this section of the gospel with Jesus’ appearance on the mountain in Galilee. At that moment, the disciples were immediately divided into two groups: doubters and worshippers. At the end, there were only worshippers commissioned to abide by the promise of Jesus. His promise was the blessing of His abiding presence. That presence could be none other than the Holy Spirit by which they would worship, and serve (the corelative meaning of worship), in spirit and in truth. I see this as a connection to what happened to the Samaritan woman Jesus waited for and revealed Himself to at one of Jacob’s wells. He said then, “The day will come when we will not worship on this or that mountain but rather in spirit and in truth.” In Joppa, this truth was made visible and thus validated.
It seems that Mark was not the only listener to the words of Peter. Luke, the author of “The Gospel of the Church,” shares with us this sermon of repentance and redemption in Cesaera as was similar to the one proclaimed in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost just fifty days following the resurrection of Jesus. There is little doubt as to the purpose of Peter’s tenacity. His strong faith was a powerful voice used to broadcast the good news. Peter was also consistent in that he was not gullible and simply believed at first sight. Peter had a need to be convinced. Even his failures, such as his threefold denial of Jesus as the Christ during the clandestine trial by the Sanhedrin, were a part of the testing of Peter’s need to believe. He had been “fire-proofed” by his experience of failure and reconciliation. We might say, “He did not easily believe but he was not easily dissuaded.” Jesus called him “the Rock” for a reason. Chiseled out of the stone from the foundations of the earth, he became a part of the Church’s foundation aligned with the Chief Cornerstone- Jesus the Christ. (I wonder if Dwayne Johnson would play the part of Peter in a movie about Jesus? I have also wondered if Arnold Schwarzenegar would play Jesus based on his famous Terminator quote “I’ll be back.” Sacreligious? A bit of humor, perhaps…but still.) Michelangelo was quoted as answering the question about his ability to create magnificent statues such as his David with “I see something in the rock and release it from its captivity.” I believe Jesus did the same with Peter. The Joppa experience was another one of those refining and smoothing moments.
I would want the Church to hear this message as well. The Church has become particular in broadcasting its message. While it is not prejudiced about whom it will serve with acts of kindness and “good works” of charity as evidence of loving others, the works tend to be the extent of their calling to be “the gospel.” The Church seems to fear going further and fears more trusting God’s command more fiercely. It is in the Great Commission that we are impacted by and exposed to our “first” agenda: broadcasting the good news which leads to baptism by water and fire. We should, of course, bind up the broken and heal the sick and gather in the widow and orphan and supply the needy and strengthen the nature and character of people and house the homeless and protect the weak and innocent. These are the evidences of our faith in the baptism we have received which is not merely of water but of the spirit. I say this based on any number of examples, but I will offer one as evidence when Jesus told the disciples to “feed the five thousand men and their families themselves.” It was not a task they could accomplish in their own right. What was needed was the added life ingredient of the Holy Spirit. This was demonstrated when Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and set a table before them in the presence of their “enemies,” themselves perhaps because they lacked vision and faith, which fed twenty thousand to satisfaction with leftovers for twelve disciples. There is little doubt as to the prosperity of the Church in its ability to minister to the physical needs of the people. But, the moral of “The Feeding of the 5000+” was not about the social gospel. The power of the story was exponentially more poignant. It was about the gospel of redemption. What was seen as not possible was revealed as without question! And that is the iteration of the story of “Peter and Joppa.” Is there not something stirred in your thinking when you hear the name “Joppa.” Joppa by the sea, a port out of which Jonah had decided to leave behind the call of God to minister to the “unclean” of Nineveh. But, Peter did not seek to leave Joppa by sea. He left by land and went to Cesaerea to meet Cornelius as God directed him. And in preparation for that event, God revealed to him three times that “what I call clean is clean; you don’t get to make that determination.” And what was clean was the blessing of baptism by water and fire, fire and water. The Word of God, the gospel of Jesus the Christ crucified and resurrected, was the “SOS” of soul scouring and restoring to wholeness. When Peter experienced it, by call and effect, he was left with no doubt and no choice as to what must happen from that moment on. It was all about redemption, reconciliation and reproducing the ministry of salvation again and again in every nation so that any one in any nation could not only receive the blessing but be included in the whole family of God, the community of faith in Jesus the Christ. It may have started with food but it ended with faith- a faith that saves the lost and confirms the found. That is the first business of the Church.
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
Father, thank You for abiding in us but also calling us into accountability by Your Word of faith. May our eyes, ears, hearts, mind, spirit and soul be wide open to the leading of Your Spirit in these troubled time. We ask this through Jesus our Christ in whose name we live, serve and pray. AMEN.