Monday, August 8, 2011
Does God Show Partiality?
Pastor Shim’s Sermon for July 1 and August 7, 2011
The subject question is meant to deal with racial, national and religious preferences. Does God show favor to Jews as opposed non-Jews? Or any other nation or religion or anyone else who claims special status with God? The answer is in this message.
On February 1, 1960, four students from an all-black college sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. One of them, Franklin McCain, noticed an older white woman seated nearby looking at them. He was sure that her thoughts were unkind toward them and their protest against segregation. A few minutes later she walked over to them, put her hands on their shoulders, and said, "Boys, I am so proud of you." Recalling the event years later on National Public Radio, McCain said he learned from this never to stereotype anyone. Instead he should pause to consider others and seek an opportunity to talk with them. The first-century church, like ours today, was often fractured by divisions based on race, language, and culture. - David McFarland.
Peter was a product of his race, culture, and religion. Even as a follower of Christ, he struggled to overcome prejudice based on race and religion. Briefly, let me share the story of division, conflict, and prejudice. The story is found in first book of the Bible. The Book of Genesis tells us that God made Adam and Eve in his image.
From these two the whole human race came to be. However, Adam and Eve sinned against God. Sin became a wall of separation between the Holy God and Adam and Eve and their children. We inherited it too. God, wanting to resolve the problem of sin the cause of broken relationship and conflict, called out persons like Noah and Abraham.
God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God reaffirmed His promise of saving all people when he sent his son into the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God wants all people to have a chance to choose the gift of eternal life offered through Jesus Christ. In Acts 10, we read that God reached out to Cornelius, a Roman Captain. Jews were ruled by Rome. Peter, a Jewish follower of Christ had been taught all his life that mingling with gentiles was unclean. God brought these two opposing forces together in Christ to turn a wall of separation into a bridge of reconciliation in Christ for eternal togetherness.
God spoke to Cornelius in a vision about inviting Peter to his home (Acts 10:1-8). Cornelius made himself available to hear from God. He made an appointment with God. He prayed and fasted because God was his priority, and God showed up!
Why did God visit Cornelius? Cornelius sought God in daily prayer. Even though his country occupied Israel and his people worshipped their king and other idols, Cornelius and his household chose to worship the God of Israel. Cornelius also gave generously to those in need and prayed daily. It was while he prayed God sent his angel with a message.
He said, “Your prayers and your compassionate acts are like a memorial offering to God.” God was delighted by Captain Cornelius’ faith and love, and He let him know that. Is spending time with God in your daily to do list?
Why did God tell Cornelius to invite Peter to tell him about Jesus? We just learned that Cornelius was a good man and his good work pleased God, and yet he need to believe in Jesus Christ in order to be saved? The Bible says that salvation is not earned but received by grace because Jesus made it possible by his death and resurrection. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)
Peter was called to share the Good News about Jesus. God spoke to Peter to change his view about Gentiles in Acts10:9-33. Peter sought God’s fellowship in prayer, just like Cornelius. Perhaps he fasted as he waited on God. We read that he was hungry, and in a vision God showed him a buffet of all kinds of animals. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat.”
Peter resisted God’s invitation to eat what he gave him. Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” God said “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” God repeated the vision three times, then the food offered to him was taken back to heaven. Peter was troubled in his mind and wondered about the vision. Men showed up from Cornelius’s home. Would he accept the “unclean Gentiles?”
Peter took radical steps to overcome prejudice (Acts 10:17-33). While he pondered his vision, the Spirit of God interrupted him and gave him instructions, “Look! Three people are looking for you. Go downstairs. Don’t ask questions; just go with them because I have sent them.” The Holy Spirit gave a clear and strong command to Peter.
Peter took a risk by going to Cornelius’s house: His act of obedience was immediate. “So Peter went downstairs and told them, “I’m the one you are looking for. Why have you come?” They told him about Cornelius’s vision and that they were sent by him. What a change in Peter’s attitude! He opened himself to God’s grace to become His good will ambassador. Peter invited them into the house as his guests. His acceptance of the Gentiles meant he broke loose from his tradition of looking at non Jews as unclean.
The next day Peter and his six friends and three of Cornelius’s men arrived at the centurion’s house. When he met Peter, he fell down at Peter’s feet as in worship. Peter seemed alarmed by what he saw, and he lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” Peter told Cornelius they were equal in the sight of God.
Peter said, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you, but God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. For what reason have you sent for me?” Peter wanted to hear from Cornelius what God said through the angel and what he expected.
Cornelius told Peter about his vision, God’s order for him to send for Peter, and his readiness to hear God’s message. In Cornelius’s words in Acts 10:33, “So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
I started the message with the question, “Does God show partiality?” Peter said, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation, he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34)
Peter’s statement was affirmed in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
Shim Habte, Willows United Methodist Church,
544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988