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January 9, 2005 (Epiphany I: Baptism of Jesus)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

Acts 10.34-43; Matthew 3.13-17

Brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen

The second lesson for this morning, from the book of Acts, needs a little setting up. This is downside of using lectionary, sometimes the text is cut from a story, and the power of the story is lost, I think. This story is from the 10th chapter of Acts, and at the beginning of the chapter we meet Cornelius, a Roman soldier who had become a faithful Christian. The author of Acts tells us that Cornelius tithed and took care of those who were less fortunate. Cornelius has a vision in which God tells him to send for Simon Peter and ask him to come to his house.

So, Cornelius does as he was bid and sends messengers to the place where he was told Peter was staying. As the messengers were approaching the city Peter was staying, he himself had a vision. He was on the roof of the house, waiting for lunch to be prepared and he saw a sheet lowered from heaven. On it were many animals--birds of the air, fish of the sea and animals of the land, we are told. The problem was that many of the foods were restricted by Jewish dietary law. When the sheet and animals were before Peter, the Lord told him to eat, and Peter protested. Saying that he had never eaten any unclean or profane foods. The Lord answered and said, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." This happened three times and then the sheet was drawn back up to heaven.

And, Peter was left, sitting on the roof, trying to figure out what this vision meant when the messengers from Cornelius arrived. I imagine that Peter was not too pleased to be pulled away from his contemplation of the vision, but the Holy Spirit told Peter to go and greet them and go with them, because they were sent by the Holy Spirit. So, Peter traveled with them to the house of Cornelius where he found the household full of gentiles waiting to meet him and hear him speak. This was a big deal because Peter had been preaching the gospel of Jesus to the Jews. There was a disagreement at the time about whether the gospel should even be shared with the gentiles, and the first thing Peter says to Cornelius is, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?" Cornelius responded by simply saying, "tell us what the Lord has commanded you to say." It is here that our reading for today is situated. I think this is a moment of truth for Peter. He knows a lot that he could share with these people--he walked and talked with Jesus for years, and after the resurrection. There were many things that he could talk about and he could certainly pretend that it wasn't because of the vision that he was sent here, that it was pure coincidence that Cornelius' messengers arrived at the conclusion of Peter's vision. I wonder if he hesitated, if he gave God a mental "stink eye" before he began his sermon, by saying "I truly understand that God shows no partiality." Not "God told me that God shows no partiality," but "I truly understand." I wonder if he spoke with passion, or resignation, or was it a moment of epiphany or enlightenment for him? I like to think that Peter had his own personal "aha" moment.

When I began teaching at the University of Kansas, one of my first lectures was to cover a topic that I really never understood that well as a student. I had taken 3 semesters of classes in which the topic had been covered, passed tests, but never really understood what it was all about. So, as I was preparing for this lecture, I looked at a variety of books, and studied and read finally came to a point of understanding. There was a moment where it all made sense, and it all seemed so simple. I could not wait to tell my students--to share my knowledge and the fact that I recently came to my own understanding, and that they were lucky to have me to go before them to figure this all out! If you have ever taught, formally or informally, you probably understand that excitement--the passion to share what you have learned.

Think for a moment--about who you are and how you live you lifeŠwhat does that say about your passion for God, for Jesus, for God's people. At this point, I need to tell you that seminarians are not the best examples. This can best be demonstrated by the typical seminarian in an airport. Typically, at least once in seminary, we will end up next to the person, either in the terminal or on the plane who wants to talk. And the conversation usually begins, "What do you do?"

"I'm in grad school."
"Oh, that's such a great campus. I love Cal."
"Well, I'm not at Cal. Our campus is close by, though."
"Oh, what school do you go to?"
"Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary."
"Wow, what are you studying?"

It is as if we will do almost anything to avoid saying "I'm studying to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."

The good news is that this isn't about how "good" of a Christian you are, or I am. We all sin and fall short, and when we do fall we are held by God and loved and forgiven--totally and completely.

I think that it is about really believing what Peter came to realize: that "God truly shows no partiality." Buying into the "no partiality" idea is harder than it seems, I think. It means believing that God loves "that other" person just as much as God loves you. Not one iota less, or more--the same amount. For some of you, it may be really believing that God, does indeed, love you just as much as other people. This is most difficult to believe when your world seems like it is collapsing around you.

Last week, I talked about Jesus being a living exegete of God--someone who has studied and interprets God for us. And so we look to Jesus to help us understand that God, indeed, shows no partiality. Today we heard the story of Jesus' baptism, the beginning of his public ministry. From this point on in history, ever since Jesus came to the Jordan, nothing has been the same. At this moment he humbles himself, and asks John to baptize him. In doing so, Jesus identifies himself with sinful humankind--something he does again and again throughout his life. Beginning at this moment, Jesus becomes the tool by which God lays healing hands on a broken world.

During his life, Jesus did many acts of healing and when he died, the responsibility to continue his work fell to Christ's followers. And today, as a member of Christ's living body in the world, in this time and place, what are you called to do to help heal the brokenness around you? I can't answer that question for you, we all need to come to our own understanding of God's call on our lives. But, it is not something to do alone. We come together to worship, pray and renew ourselves for our work in the world, you may talk to another person of faith to help you discern. It may come in the form of a picture on the news, or a plea for help from a friend of family member, or a question from a stranger in the airport. Or you may be a person in need and your hand is outstretched hoping someone sees your need. We all encounter those moments in our lives where you need to respond to the still, small voice that tells you to "Do it."

When we following the prodding of the voice, and when we don't, God announces to us, as he did to Jesus at the Jordan, "this is my son; this is my daughter, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

May the Lord of peace himself, Jesus Christ, give you peace today and always.


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