Saturday, May 16, 2009

Unexpected Grace

Acts 10:44-48


Who are the people who we’ve left out? Who are the people that we consider to be too far gone to include into our community? Who are the people that we just think that wouldn’t be interested in being “church people,” because they obviously haven’t made the commitments to be here every Sunday or to help out with all the everyday church stuff that takes such hard and dedicated work from “faithful” people for the church to run as well as it does? We’ve all seen people who we would never think would really part of all this good stuff that goes on in church – people that we’ve counted out because they aren’t around and they’re obviously more interested in other things than having faith in God. Sometimes, it just seems like there are people who it would almost be a waste of time to invite or share the good news with. Sometimes, we just simply count people out.

When I was living out in western Kansas in the small town of La Crosse, KS, my family would get the nightly news that was broadcasted from Wichita, KS. There would be segments of news that dealt with the local area we lived in, but we also would hear reports every night about the goings on in Wichita. Wichita, like any other big city, had its part of town where bad things, shootings, thefts, vandalism, seemed to happen on a regular basis. There was even one particular intersection in Wichita that I remember being in the news on a consistent basis – 21st and Grove. This was one of those proverbial parts of town a person that had concern about safety would want to avoid, just because there was a chance that something could be going down there.

We didn’t go to Wichita often, because it was over three hours away, but we would go to Wichita when my mom would have to go there for board meetings at the Lutheran Social Services office from time to time. This usually happened without any major happenings, and we usually thought of these as small family vacations during the busy church year. However, one time, as we came into town, something did happen – the engine stopped and wouldn’t turn over. Our was dead and wasn’t going to go anywhere by itself anytime soon. The thing was our car decided to break down right at the intersection of 21st and Grove – the very same intersection that we would hear about on the nightly news. We were stranded at the very place where just didn’t want to be when in Wichita.

Obviously, by my presence here right now telling you this story, nothing terrible happened that night. In fact, something absolutely wonderful happened that night when we were stranded in what was supposed to be the “bad” part of town. Within just a couple of minutes of being stranded at that intersection, people came to help us roll our car into a parking lot while others directed traffic so that we might safely get into that parking lot. Right there, in that notorious intersection, God’s love and care was shown to us by people who, by the conventional wisdom of the day, should have otherwise taken advantage of our situation. God’s love and grace came to us unexpectedly in the help of strangers who didn’t know us or what we were in town for.

Peter too was surprised by the unexpected ways that God’s love works in all people. In fact, we hear a story today from the book of Acts that tells of Peter’s complete surprise. Peter is shown that even the idea that someone who he had thought was simply profane and unclean was someone who the Holy Spirit could inspire to the same faith that he himself has. The general idea had been in this very early church, DAYS and weeks early even, that Jesus had come to be the savior for the people of Israel, and only the people of Israel. The Gentiles were people who did not know God and certainly didn’t follow the Law that God had given as a gift to the people of Israel in the wilderness through Moses. They didn’t share the circumcision that was an outward physical sign of being of God’s elect people. They ate things that the Law considered to be profane and unclean. Certainly, the message of the good news of God of Israel sending the Son to save God’s people would not be for Gentiles. Peter didn’t expect them to be able to hear the good news. He counted them out – that is until God showed Peter and the rest of his followers starking differently.

God comes to Peter and tells him in a vision this simple message. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This was something that Peter had to hear THREE TIMES before he truly understood what it meant for him and his ministry. That is simply this: God’s love and redemption is something that is freely given to all creation. God’s chooses what to make clean, and God chooses to make even those things that were considered to be on the outside clean. So, while Peter is speaking to these Gentiles, these people on the outside of Jewish society the Holy Spirit falls upon them and inspires them to faith in who God is and what God has done. God chooses, and God gives, especially to those people who we think are on the outside of the people we would expect to hear and trust in God.

So, I ask you again. Who are the people we expect would never be a part showing God’s grace to the world? Is it the single mother who we think is scamming the government by living off of welfare while we do the hard work that pays for that? Is it the young couple who would rather be up all night on a Saturday drinking and carousing than coming to church on Sunday morning like a good Christian should? Is it the migrant worker or immigrant who has come here to work a job that pays a little money to help support his or her family? Is it the person who has left church because of a conflict that no one really knows what it was all about anymore?

The power of Holy Spirit works in ways and works in people who we might never think the Holy Spirit could bring faith in God’s steadfast love, laying down the life of the Son so that we might live! While this may condemn us in our short sightedness and our propensity to categorize people on the outside, this is grace for us in our lives as well. God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s saving grace knows no bounds, especially the bounds that we construct for ourselves. God breaks through our barriers. God crushes what we expect that we deserve. God comes to us as we are no matter what we are. If God embraces the outsider, then God just as surely embraces us in our own sinful ways as we place our trust in our reasoning, in our constructions, and in our good deeds and not in the God who gives us our life. We are all deserving of God’s grace because we are all in desperate need of God’s grace in our lives. These are the gifts that God has given us, that God has given us freely. No wonder that when Peter saw that these outsiders were extolling God he proclaims that baptism, that entry into the Body of Christ which is the church, is something that cannot be withheld. God’s free gift of grace is exactly what makes baptism and the Lord’s Supper sacraments. They are the places where we see, taste and touch God’s love for us. Come to table! Receive God’s goodness! Receive the forgiveness of your sins! And GO and share that good news even to the people who we may think are outside of God’s grace and forgiveness!

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