First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 9, 2005
The Second Reading: Acts 10:34-38
Sermon: "God Shows No Favoritism"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Second Reading:
Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."
God Shows No Favoritism
First Sunday after the Epiphany - January 9, 2005
We all have our favorite things in life. Just for a little fun let's do a simple show of hands concerning the following possibilities of preference.
1. Mountains or beach?
2. Chocolate or vanilla?
3. Coffee or tea?
4. Beef or seafood?
5. Spring or Autumn?
See, we all have our personal like or preferences. They are neither right nor wrong. They are simply our preferences. In the little things of life these personal likes and dislikes are perfectly fine. They help define who we are.
Actually, without these different preferences life would be pretty boring. Can we imagine life without various shades of color? We wouldn't have various shades if we all liked the same shade of blue or red. What would it be like if we all enjoyed the same style of house? What would life be like if we all preferred the same job? Variety is almost necessary for us to enjoy the breadth of God's creation.
Let's take this analogy a step farther. What happens when preferences become favoritism? Have we ever been in a situation where we have either witnessed or been a part of favoritism? A teacher likes certain people in the classroom more than others and shows it. A little league coach of any sport, shows favoritism to one set of boys or girls over other members of the team. In a dance class there is the one who is the star and can do no wrong.
Favoritism is the dark side of personal likes or dislikes. On the surface it can lead to hurt feelings and a feeling of inadequacy by those who are wronged. As it goes deeper it can lead to complete exclusion, sexism, racism, injury and even death. Favoritism at its worst is pretty nasty.
One of the hardest places to see favoritism occur is in churches. Sometimes it does happen between individuals. What I'm talking about is institutional favoritism. There was a time when people were excluded from worshiping in certain Christian churches because of their skin color. Sexism was rampant in the church at one time. Women had to wear certain clothes. They were not allowed to speak at a gathering. They could not participate in certain aspects of the religious life in worship or in making policy. These areas were reserved for men only. We even had rules that precluded visitors from taking communion at the Lord's Table. Please notice that the table is described at the Lord's Table and we were saying baptized people who received communion in their own church were not welcome. We had, in fact, placed ourselves in the position of host for a banquet we did not prepare. We have come a long way from where we were.
The issue of favoritism is not new to us. It has been around for a long time. Today's reading from Acts is an example of the issue being handled in the early days of the Christian church. We come into this reading near the end of the story. It is important to know the early details. There was a centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius. He was a devout man who was humble before God, generous to those in need and devout in prayer. He had a vision where an angel told him to send some of his men to get Peter from the city of Joppa. Cornelius listened to the angel and sent his men on the journey.
While Cornelius' men are on their way, Peter was praying on a roof top. He had a vision three times. In the vision the heavens were opened and a large sheet was lowered with a wide variety of animals on it. A voice told him to get up, kill and eat. Peter objects because the animals are unclean. Then the voice answered him again, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." In other words don't place yourself any higher than you ought.
Peter was still meditating on the vision when Cornelius' men arrived. He goes with them to Caesarea. He meets Cornelius and hears his story. Peter learns that God has brought him to this gentile's home so this household will hear the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Please remember that at this time, the Apostles believed the Gospel was to be shared to the Jewish people first then the Gentiles. They were beginning in Jerusalem and then going out to the Hebrew communities in other areas. Now, Peter is brought to this place with this gentile household where the owner is a Roman centurion. He is to share the Gospel with this man now. He is not given a choice. He is told to share the Gospel immediately.
Right then, Peter has an AH-Ha moment. He understands what God intends. We hear the results of this moment of understanding in his first sentence; "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." Did we hear what Peter just said? God does not show favoritism. We should be ecstatic to hear these words. These words are Good News for us and for everyone. God loves us all. We should rejoice that even though the world around us may exclude us, God does not.
At the same time, we should take these words to heart in another way. If God does not show favoritism, then should we? I've already shown some ways that we have as the Episcopal Church shown favoritism in the past. What about today? Do we welcome everyone who comes in our door equally? Do we favor some people because of their position or status in the community? Do we allow ourselves to believe we have certain status because we belong to Episcopal Church? Would we treat somebody different because they don't know our ways of worship?
There is no room for this kind of favoritism in this church. We are called to share the Good News. It is our sole mission. We can't accomplish that task if we are not open to God's people. This church, this table, our hands, our feet, our wills and our lives belong to God. We are called to be welcoming agents of God's love to all whom we meet and all who enter these doors. When we welcome others to join us we are doing God's will. Furthermore, we enrich our own lives. For we get to see their view of God's world. We get to share our unique preferences together and share in a fuller picture of the wonder of God. Today, we pray for the willingness to be open to all of God's people. And together we say, AMEN.