You're All God's Favorite
A sermon based on Acts 10:34-38
Sunday, January 12, 2014 – Epiphany 2A
What a wonderful day it must have been for Peter! While praying one day he fell into a trance and saw a vision from God. In that vision, a sheet came from heaven full of all kinds of animals and God told him to get up, kill, and eat whatever he wanted. And for the first time Peter was allowed to eat crab legs, shrimp cocktail, and… mmmmmm… bacon. What a wonderful day it must have been for Peter!
Of course, God wasn't really concerned about just bacon when he gave Peter that vision. (That was just a side benefit.) It was really about people that God was so concerned. God was teaching Peter that he would no longer make a distinction between "clean" and "unclean" neither in animals, nor in people. His plan of salvation wasn't just for the Jews. It was for the Gentiles (that is, non-Jews) too. It was for Gentiles like Cornelius a man God would send Peter to visit to share the Gospel with that Peter might learn that God shows no favoritism.
After Peter saw his vision from God he did go to visit Cornelius. And when he arrived the next day he preached to him:
34 Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Some families just put the "fun" in dysfunctional. The Biblical Patriarchs did just that, usually by showing favoritism. After Abraham had his favorite son, Isaac, then Ishmael, "the son of the slave woman," and his mother were sent off into the wilderness to live in the desert. (Genesis 21:9ff) Abraham's favorite son, Isaac, in turn played favorites with his sons, loving manly man Esau more than Jacob who preferred to stay at home with mom than to go hunting with dad. Rebecca didn't help the situation by openly loving Jacob more than Esau. Jacob in turn played favorites with his sons, making it painfully obvious to ten of his sons that Jacob and Benjamin, the sons of Rachel were loved by him far more than the children of Leah or of the slaves, arousing such jealousy that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers after narrowly escaping murder. When the Patriarchs played favorites, it never ended well. Favoritism never does.
That was a lesson Peter was just starting to get. He was still growing in his faith and in his understanding. He now knew what the Old Testament prophecies meant, that they were pointing to Jesus all along. He knew that Jesus wasn't a Savior from the Romans or from poverty, sickness, or unhappiness, but a Savior from sin. But he had another lesson to learn on the roof of a house in Joppa. He would not learn that Jesus was the Savior from sin not just for a few, but for all.
Cornelius wasn't a Jew. He was a Roman. He wasn't one of God's chosen people. Jesus was for the Jews! Salvation wasn't for Romans! But now God was choosing Cornelius, a Gentile (a non-Jew), a Roman! And to drive the point home, he gave Peter this vision of a bacon filled bed sheet. And Peter was getting it.
"Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right."
Do you realize that too? That God does not show favoritism? Of course, you do, right? You know that God's grace is for everyone! And you never show favoritism either, do you? Do you?
The truth is, it's easy for us to feel like Peter did when he first visited Cornelius. It's easy for us to look at others and think they're just not the kind of people who belong in our church. Maybe they're a different race. Or maybe they've committed some terrible sin and their bad reputation doesn't belong in our church. Maybe they didn't grow up in the Wisconsin Synod and just don't understand our culture. It's easy to look down on others and think that we're better.
Of course, we'd never say that. We know that God loves all people. But does your human life ever give a different answer than your godly mouth? Do you ever play favorites? If we're honest we do. Maybe not with blatant racism, but if we really believed that, "Jesus Christ… is Lord of all," wouldn't we go after the unchurched and the dechurched, whether rich or poor, young or old, black or white, horrible sinner or apparent saint, no matter who they are, we'd go after them with all of our might, doing whatever it took to get the message of Jesus to them. If really loved God half as much as we profess, we'd love the people that he loves—everyone!—and we'd act like it. But we don't.
And for not doing all we can to share the Gospel with everyone, for having so much potential to do so many great things for the kingdom, but saying, "Nah, I'm not interested. I'm too busy working toward my goals to worry about God's goals," we deserve to be God's least favorite. For thinking and acting as if some people were unworthy of God's love while we deserve it, we become just as unworthy as they are.
The earliest Roman coins depicted Roman goddess, Justicia, with a sword in one hand (ready to punish the guilty) and balance scales in the other hand (to weigh the evidence to determine who was innocent and guilty). But since the 16th century Justicia has had a makeover. First she got a new name. She's known as Lady Justice today. But she also got a new accessory: a blindfold. This, of course, signifies that Justice is blind (or, at least, it should be). Justice ought to be impartial to one's race or class, how much money or power one has. Justice ought to be based on just guilt or innocence.
But if God were to treat us as like Lady Justice—completely impartial—how would we fare? God is impartial. He shows no favoritism. That means that your heritage and ancestry, your synodical affiliation, your money or position have nothing to do with how he judges you. And God isn't blindfolded. He sees right through you. One sin damns to hell and he sees them all. You and I are guilty. And there is no appeals process. There is no early release. There is no mistrial. His judgments are always right. And this is true for adult and child for male and female, for rich and poor, for powerful and powerless. For "God does not show favoritism…"
And if that were the end of God's Word to us, how terrible it would be. But "You know…" Peter told Cornelius. "You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him."
And you know too. You know who Jesus is. When God anointed him with the Holy Spirit at his Baptism, he was revealed as the Son of God. He was revealed as the sinless Son of God whom God loved, who pleased God in every way by his perfect obedience.
And you know what he's done. Peter went on in verses 39 and 40: "We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen."
And you know why he did it! Peter said in verse 43: "All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
And you know who he did it for: God… accepts men from every nation… Jesus Christ… is Lord of all. [And] everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
Even though Jesus pleased God in every way and had every right to be God's favorite, he gave up that status for you and me. He became the black sheep by taking our sin on himself that we might be forgiven. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
It's not just in his justice, but in his grace that, "God does not show favoritism…" Literally the Greek says, "God does not receive a face." We might say, "God doesn't judge a book by its cover." He doesn't judge by outward appearance, but by the heart, that is, by faith.
And by your Baptism, God has connected you to his Son and all he's done for you. He's given you faith in him. Now you are God's favorite. And so are you. And you and you. We are all God's favorites through faith in Jesus. No matter what we look like, how we act, who we are, what we've done.
And now that we fear God (that is, we have faith), we do what's right (that is, we produce fruits of that faith). We live to thank God! And we thank him by showing no favoritism. We give up racism, but even more we don't judge a book by its cover. The kid who's always getting into trouble? Don't write him off as lost. The girl who hasn't exactly remained pure? Don't treat her with contempt. The man who's rejected your every attempt to talk about Jesus? He's not in hell yet! Keep trying! They are all sinners in need of a Savior. Just like you. God shows no favorites and neither do we.
And moved by his grace we move out of our comfort zone to talk about Jesus with everyone. Share your faith at work, invite a friend over to your house, serve more at church, give more of your money.
Your efforts here at Grace and your offerings given here help spread the gospel around the world. Did you know that our webcast has been viewed in all 50 states and in 8 or 9 different countries? Did you know that a percentage of your offerings go to our synod at large to support the work of missionaries around the world. We literally total the offerings each month and send a straight percentage of what's received. This is how you help share the Gospel with all.
In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy once demanded that Linus change TV channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn't. "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?" asks Linus. "These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." "Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
God's will is that we be organized like that, that we stop playing favorites with each other and with those who need to hear about Jesus. And when we come together like this and work together as a single unit in the Church that God has brought us together in, we form a weapon of truth and power that is terrible for the devil to behold. We become a force of power that can't be stopped as we show Jesus' love to all people, as we powerfully advance with the Gospel of Jesus, the "Lord of all," so that, "everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." In his name, dear friends, amen.