The Uncommon Life
Rev. Kurt Lantz Easter 5 C Acts 11:1-18
May 15, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear Christians cleansed by the Holy Spirit,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
You may remember that earlier this year, we requested you to pray for Bishop Juhana Pohjola and one of his church members, Paivi Rasenan, who is also a member of the Finnish Parliament and has been an active politician for over twenty-five years. They were both accused of hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community for a pamphlet written by Ms. Rasanen and published by Pastor Pohjola while he was the President of the Luther Foundation, back in 2004. The pamphlet explains the historic Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage from God’s Word, including His desire to bring forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ to all sinners. In March of this year they were both found to be not guilty by unanimous decision of the court. We rejoiced in that judgment.
It should not surprise any of us living in our post-modern society that not everyone was happy with that sound acquittal. An appeal has been launched to bring the case before the Finnish High Court, seeking to bring in evidence from all of the public speeches and statements that Ms. Rasanen has given over her entire political career, reaching back into the previous century. So, once again, we ask you to pray for Ms. Rasanen and her Bishop, our dear friend Juhana, who will have to go through rigorous examination and accusation once again.
And perhaps this will stir our hearts to pray also for all those who suffer prejudice in our society, that is pre-judgment, from those who will not be satisfied by any acquittal, even from the highest authority. And I am sure that we will find reason in our own hearts to confess our sins of prejudice before the Almighty God and Father of all.
“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them’” (Acts 1:2-3). They judged Peter to be guilty of prohibited contact with common people and, therefore, not keeping himself ritually clean and holy before God. They pre-judged him to be guilty before he could explain to them God’s judgment on this issue.
When Old Testament Israel was about to enter their promised land, at that time occupied with pagan nations that worshipped demons, they were commanded not to have contact with those demonic forces in any way. God’s people received grace and mercy from Him by eating the meat made holy because of its contact with God at the altar. They were commanded not to forfeit that divine holiness that was given to them, as they would if they shared in a meal that was part of the worship of demons. So they generally did not eat with people from other nations, who were not circumcised in the same faith as the children of Abraham.
As Peter recounted what happened in his case, we see that there was no threat of forfeiting the gracious bestowal of God’s holiness, for the Holy Spirit of God Himself had directed this contact of His apostle Peter with the Gentile family of Cornelius in Caesarea. The unanimous judgment of the Holy Trinity in the high court of heaven had made a judgment and His people are called to abide by it. We are called to abide by it.
“What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9). God is the judge. We are called to follow His judgments, not our own. His judgment declared that all foods are clean. The coming of Jesus Christ into our world and His victory over the demons has changed everything for us. So Jesus taught His disciples that it is not what goes into the mouth that makes one clean or common, but what comes out of the heart (Mark 7:19), that is, your faith.
There was a member in one of my former parishes who was shocked to see a ring of shrimp on the buffet table at a church dinner. He had spent a lot time listening to the teachings coming out of Herbert W. Armstrong’s The Worldwide Church of God. They had taught him that the instructions which God had given to the children of Israel concerning clean and unclean foods still applies to God’s people today. I don’t know how they can hold onto that in light of chapters 10 and 11 in the Book of Acts and what Jesus said about all foods being clean, or overall about the victory that Jesus has given us and the purification that we have in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
That is the point that we want to digest today. If God has called something unclean, then when can we call it clean? Only when He does. God alone can purify what is unclean to make it clean. He can take what is common and make it sacred because He is holy and He is the one who makes holy. This is the joy behind His own declaration of victory that we heard in the Epistle Reading from Revelation. “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, things are given new life: the unclean are cleansed; the common things are sanctified; we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.
That is what happened to the household of Cornelius. They had heard the Word of God. This Gentile family, descended from a nation that worshipped demons, had looked to the God of Israel with hope and faith. He sent them an angel to instruct them to seek out Peter; and He gave Peter a vision so that he would immediately go to this man and into his house with the decree: “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
To deny the Lord’s judgment that He gives the gift of holiness to people of all nations, denies the victory of Christ. He died and rose again to give life to the world. He has forgiveness, life, and salvation for all in His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. When we submit to the judgment of God in what He calls holy, we overcome our prejudices, our self-righteousness, and our bigotry. And when we recognize that He has made all of His children clean through Holy Baptism, we recognize that we are cleansed by Him and not by any intrinsic goodness in ourselves.
The Lord our God has made us holy. No one else, nothing else, has done that or can do that. The world does not get to declare what is holy and what is not. The world cannot make something God calls abominable become sacred simply by decreeing that it is so. Only the One who is Holy Holy Holy can do that. If the Triune God declares it to be holy, then it is.
On the other hand, what the Holy Triune God condemns remains condemned and we are powerless to change that. Our sinful desires and actions that go against His Holy Law are abominable and unclean; and those thoughts, desires, and actions make us unclean. Whether it is any of the sinful desires or actions of the LGBTQ+ community, or the sinful desires and actions of Christians who think they are holy because of their own “clean living”, they all stand condemned before the God who judges and declares what is sin.
In the Revelation given to St. John, the last word of Jesus Christ to His Church, He continues to state clearly, “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). That doesn’t just point at the LGBTQ+ community. That points at all of us and shows the need for a daily repentance that turns us away from our lies and our faithlessness as much as from our sexual immorality. It warns us against being such grand idolaters, who set ourselves up as idols to be worshipped by regarding ourselves as the ones to determine what is holy and what is an abomination. There is one Eternal Judge, the Highest Authority, the Supreme Court of Three-in-One who makes the final, eternal determination. He has revealed it all to us in His Word.
He is the one who declared all foods clean in order to teach us that people from all nations and cultures and backgrounds are offered His grace and mercy. Even peoples who worshipped demons collectively as a nation or individually, can find cleansing and grace in the one Eternal Judge. But He has not made the worship of demons holy. We can eat any food we like, but we cannot participate in the worship of any god we like, not even the one whose face we see in the mirror. There is only One and He will not give His glory to another. The first commandment remains in place, “You shall have no other gods.”
It is the same way with the LGBTQ+ community or any other collective based on desires and behaviours that God still declares to be against His Holy Law. You can come from the LGBTQ+ community and find God’s grace and mercy offered to you as He offers it to all, but you cannot continue to affirm those identities and actions that He has declared abominable. He has not withdrawn His condemnation against sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman. He remains the Eternal Judge whose laws cannot be undone by another. And yet, He still offers His forgiveness, life, and salvation even to those who come out of any such community of sin, or out of any individual, sinful deviance to be cleansed and purified by Him.
He offers His holiness to all. All sinners have a source of purification to holiness in the gifts of God no matter where they have come from. That is the power of His victory over sin, the power of His resurrection, the new life that we have through our baptism in the death and resurrection of Jesus. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). There is constant access to the presence of God and His holiness for all who turn to Him for forgiveness and mercy. As He promised to His disciples on the night before He gave His life for the sins of the world, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with Him” (John 14:23).
If we keep His Word, in calling sin a sin, and not calling common what He has cleansed, that is, if we acknowledge Him to be the God who forgives and saves us, He will be with us to abide with us, to strengthen us in our own struggles against sin, to cleanse us with His grace, and to make us holy with His presence. And if God would love us so much as to do this for us, through the Lord Jesus Christ, who are we that we could stand in His way to offer His grace and forgiveness to others?
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.