Growing the Circle

Posted on 06 May 2018, Pastor: Adam Yates
  • Acts 10:44-48

    While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.  

 

A

s someone who stands up here to preach regularly, I really appreciate our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning. Peter is preaching to a small group of believers. Now, perhaps he had started going on a little bit long, or maybe his words were, how shall I say, a little less than inspiring that morning? Whatever it was, Peter found his sermon being interrupted, and it was interrupted by none other than God.

God said, “Enough talking, let’s get this show started.” There for all to see, while Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit descended upon all who were present, and they began speaking in tongues and extolling God.

All the people who watched this happening were shocked and astounded. They were not shocked not because someone had interrupted the preacher, though that surely would be shocking. They were not astounded by the fact that it was the Holy Spirit who was the one doing the interrupting, though that was certainly astounding.

Indeed, we do not tell this story so that we might remember the miracle of the sermon cut short. The importance of this story, the scandal whispered from the lips of the shocked observers, was that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jew and Gentile alike.

Sure, there had been gentiles who had listened to and been moved by Jesus’ teachings. There had been gentiles hanging with the crowds that always appeared wherever Jesus went. Jesus himself had even ministered to the gentiles, performing signs before them and healing them.

But the disciples had never really considered them to be a part of their Jesus movement. In the minds of the disciples, this Jesus movement was first and foremost a Jewish movement. In the minds of the disciples, gentiles would have to become Jewish if they were to follow Jesus. In the time after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the disciples expected others to become like them before they would be accepted into the fold.

On this day, God throws open the gates of the Church. On this day, the Holy Spirit descends upon the circumcised and the uncircumcised alike, without condition.

God’s love is one of those ideas that is easy to underestimate because it is so difficult for us to comprehend. We often think about God’s love, unfortunately, in a sort of kumbaya-sense, because wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along and live together in peace. While, sure, that would be nice, it doesn’t really have anything to do with God’s love.

Our understanding of the divine love must be rooted first and foremost in God’s choice to take our form, to wear our flesh, to become like us and walk among us in order that God might abide with us. Jesus’ life and ministry, the entire incarnation, is an expression of the divine love. It is a love so great that it would choose mortal life, a love so great that it would accept us in our brokenness and forgive us for our sins, a love so great that it would then also choose death for our sake.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples so that they can understand what is about to unfold, so that they might see that the crucifixion is not a betrayal or defeat, but a choice freely made, a life freely given for the ones that Jesus loves.

But there is more to it than that. Jesus adds that if we are to fully understand God’s love, if we are to fully comprehend Jesus’ love for his beloved, then we must also participate in it. “You are my loved ones if you do what I command,” Jesus explains, “and that commandment is this, that as I have loved you, you now love one another.”

The disciples struggle to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. Truth be told, I think we struggle to understand what Jesus was trying to tell us.

As Peter stood there, silenced mid-sentence, watching the chaotic scene unfold before him as the Holy Spirit moved through the crowd of people, I think that he began to grasp what Jesus had been trying to tell them. In that moment, God made the church a bigger circle and Peter understood that when Jesus commanded them to love one another, he hadn’t meant just the other disciples or other Jews, he had also meant the gentiles.

We continue to discover this truth again and again in every age. God is continually casting the circle of the church ever wider. The Holy Spirit shocks and astounds us in every generation when we realize that Jesus didn’t just mean for us to love people of European descent; when we realize that Jesus didn’t just mean for us to embody his love towards heterosexuals; when we realize that Jesus didn’t just mean for us to love people who speak our language or come from the same country that we come from; when we realize that Jesus didn’t just mean for us to love people who share our same political ideologies or values. On those days, we come that much closer to understanding the nature of God’s own love for us. On those days we come closer to understanding what Jesus did when he handed his life over for us.

My friends, we must ready and always attentive so that when the Holy Spirit is throwing wide the gates in our midst, we might have the wisdom to see and understand what is happening. Standing there in the cacophony of tongues, Peter understood. Peter understood and stepped through those open gates to embrace the very people he had once thought were outside the boundaries of the faith. The Holy Spirit is constantly growing the circle of the church; constantly challenging our understanding of who is included in Jesus’ command to love one another with the same love that he loved us; constantly inviting us to participate in that very same love.

Preached by Adam Yates