Acts 11:1-8 & John 13:31-35 & Psalm 148
Letting go of the former things so as to be ready to receive the new things God is doing. In order to do that we need to be humble and teachable. We need to pay attention. We need to listen. We need to observe. Listen. Pay attention. Observe.
There are all words that come to mind as I think about our bible readings this morning. Peter had to “pay attention” to something that was dramatically different. Something had happened. Something changed. He had a vision of a large sheet being lowered from heaven with all kinds of animals and wildlife, including birds and reptiles. Then he heard a voice that said, “kill an eat!” This is repeated three times for emphasis. Peter protests, saying he has never eaten anything unclean—he has always observed his strict Jewish dietary training. Then he hears a voice — God’s voice — “What God has made clean do not call unclean, common, profane!”
Something has changed. The Old Testament basic rules of life for Jewish faith has changed. What at one time had been basic and fundamental in Jewish customs and belief has shifted. What happened? What changed?
One word. The cross. Jesus’ purpose for life. His life, death and resurrection as defined by the meaning, victory and purpose of the cross.
The message of the Gospels, the major, unifying theme of the entire New Testament, everything points to the cross of Christ and its significance for us as believers.
1 Corinthians 1:23-24 “…we proclaim Christ crucified…the power of God and the wisdom of God…”
1 Corinthians 2:2 “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
Remember Jesus’ final words spoken from the cross before He gave up His spirit (died)? “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The cross changes everything. All the Old Testament points to the long promised One—the Coming One—the Messiah—Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. All the New Testament points to the reality that Jesus came, and now nothing is the same as it was before.
Our Gospel reading from John 13 quotes Jesus as saying He is with the disciples only a little longer, that He is going somewhere they cannot go. Where is He going? To the cross. To that place that bridges heaven and earth to bring the two back together again. And then He gives us a “new” commandment. New in kind, different from before. Love one another.
Consider these words from Ephesians 2:13 to the end of the chapter. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, in His flesh He has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the law that He might create in Himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it…”
In our world today we struggle with major political and philosophical differences. But this divide is not new. It is accentuated today, but we have struggled with major differences and hostilities down through the ages—from the beginning of time.
However, for those of us who pay attention, for those of us who are listening, we can see a way through this mess…for ourselves and those whom we can influence. It is the difference of the cross!
Our Christian faith helps us to see and act differently. We can see people through the cross—to be “cross eyed” if you will. To love one another the way Jesus loves us; warts, faults and mistakes and inadequacies. To love unconditionally. That is a hard call, but a freeing and liberating call.
Consider Psalm 148. It is part of the last five psalms in the book of psalms. If you look at Psalms 146 through 150 they have something distinctive in common. They all start with the phrase, “praise the Lord.” That is a direct translation of the Hebrew word, “hallelujah.” They are like a chorus of praise to God, an hallelujah chorus. Note Psalm 148 begins with the injunction to praise, starting with the dwelling place of angels—heaven. Heaven is not outer space. It is more like an undefined, non-spatial fourth dimension. Then the psalmist goes to celestial space—the sun, moon and stars, inter planetary space. Next is the earth, this planet we live on and all its physicality. Mountains, hills, seas, rivers, animals, wildlife, etc.
Then the psalmist moves on to humans—the entire human race. The psalmist’s point? That all living and non living things, all creation ought to praise the Lord. To join together in one great big hallelujah chorus. Because God has raised up a “horn of salvation” for His people. Jesus! Who lived, died and rose again for us to give us life and hope and peace and purpose!
Our readings this morning are a call to join together in worship. We draw close to God in worship. We draw close to each other in worship. In Christ the differences between us — all the differences — become inconsequential. Worship changes everything. The cross enables us to draw close to God past all our differences and to see the wonder and glory of God and His love for us and all humanity, all creation.
If there is one message I can share with you and with graduates that are going out into the world it is this, the message to pay attention to God in Christ and through Christ, that we all join together in that universal hallelujah chorus of praise to the God of all creation who has given us life in Christ Jesus.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.