A Reading from the Book of Acts, the 11th Chapter
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Here’s the whole take home message for today’s sermon. Are you ready? Here it comes… God is calling us to roll out the red carpet, not to BECOME the carpet. God is calling us to put out the welcome mat, not BE a door mat.
This is really, really important to understand. On the night in which Jesus was betrayed… the night of the Last Supper… Jesus gave all his disciples a mandate. (That’s what "Maundy" means in Maundy Thursday… it means mandate.) That mandate was to love one another, as Jesus first loved us, we also should love one another.
A little later, after the resurrection, Peter had this vision of a giant sheet filled with pulled pork barbeque, lobster and shrimp cocktail dropping out of the sky. With that vision, and God’s insistence… not once, not twice, but three times to get it through Peter’s thick skull, Peter finally understood that God’s love, God’s grace, God’s radical gift of an abundant life that is meant to begin now and never end... That Gift of God’s love that Jesus first shared with the disciples wasn’t just meant to be shared with only the other JEWISH people but with ALL people and ALL of creation.
Now stop for a second. Take a deep breath before you move forward from here, because much, much, much too often when we hear that we should love one another and hear that it should reach all people, we forget an equally important part of Jesus’s mandate. He said, “AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, so also you should love one another.” This love we are called to is a particular kind of love. It’s the particular kind of love Jesus first had for us! Much, much, MUCH too often we hear that we are to love one another and somehow that gets twisted in our minds to believe that we are to sacrifice all of who we are… to give the OTHER whatever they want. Too often we say, “Well, Jesus sacrificed completely on the cross, so we need to sacrifice ourselves completely.” But take a good look at that crucifixion scene. Remember, Jesus was crucified between two others. They both had something to say to Jesus, if you’ll remember. The one said, “GET ME DOWN!” The other said, “Jesus, remember me.” Notice this! Jesus didn’t give one of those two what he demanded. Does that mean Jesus didn’t love him? No! Does that mean that Jesus didn’t treat him with Christian love? Of course not! The difference is that one accepted Jesus's invitation to share in that particular, mutual kind of loving relationship, while the other simply wanted to use Jesus to get what he wanted… to get down from that cross!
The love that we are mandated to pass on to the world is a particular kind of love… it’s Christ’s love, and Christ’s love has absolutely nothing to do with manipulation, guilt or allowing yourself to be abused, taken advantage of or used. God is calling us to roll out the red carpet, not to BECOME the carpet. God is calling us to put out the welcome mat, not BE a door mat. Christ’s love certainly transforms us, changes us… but it doesn’t demean us. Christ’s love does not blackmail, give ultimatums, use tears or guilt to get what it wants. Christ’s love doesn’t twist words or facts or play the victim. Christ’s love… the love we are mandated to pass on, calls us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. It calls us to DO what is in the other’s best interest, even when that means telling someone NO, they can’t have what they want.
Look, if a meth addict came into the church and wanted to start cooking meth in the kitchen, would saying NO to them be an un-Christian thing to do? After all, it’s what they REALLY want to do! We’ve said we are welcoming and inclusive of all people. Aren’t we supposed to sacrifice to give others what they say they need, and Meth addicts really, really, REALLY NEED meth, right? So, it’s not just a “want” it’s a NEED!
But we wouldn’t let that happen, would we? We’d say NO, right? So if saying NO to something like that, which is destructive to that person AND to our community is alright, then why is saying no to other destructive behaviors un-Christian? The bottom line is it isn’t un-Christian. Just as Jesus himself said “no” to the thief on the cross that wanted to manipulate Jesus into magic-ing him down, we too are allowed to say “no” when people try to manipulate us as well, because Christ’s love does not manipulate. God is calling us to roll out the red carpet, not to BECOME the carpet. God is calling us to put out the welcome mat, not BE a door mat.
Christ’s love has healthy boundaries. Christ’s love WOULD sacrifice time and money and mercy to help that Meth addict find treatment and Christ’s love WOULD stay with them through their ups and downs, but if that person was not ready to be healthy, if they insisted on cooking meth in our kitchen, Christ’s love would say, NO!
Christ’s love also calls us to love kindness. Just like we are called to do what is in the other’s best interest, we are also called to gracefully accept the kindness of others. In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit wasn’t creating a Faith Filling Station where some only gave and others only received. The Spirit was creating and is still creating communities of God’s children who give and receive from one another as they have need. Sometimes we give and sometimes we receive. Christ’s love isn’t one sided.
I know we don’t like it. We don’t want to admit we need help and we’re often stubborn about receiving it, but Christ’s love is mutual. We take our turns giving and receiving… giving kindness, help and love at one moment and then genuinely appreciating and humbly accepting all of it back in the next. The Holy Spirit is creating a community of mutuality where we all give of ourselves and we all receive the gifts of others. We can’t have one without the other. God is calling us to roll out the red carpet, not to BECOME the carpet. God is calling us to put out the welcome mat, not BE a door mat.
Finally, Christ’s love calls us to walk humbly. To be so damn sure of ourselves that it would take God’s booming voice reverberating in your ears from heaven THREE whole times to get us to open our hearts and mind to God doing a new thing is not somewhere we are called to be.
We are indeed called to love one another and “one another” is clearly all of creation, but that love that God first gave did not ask Jesus to blink out of existence for the benefit of the world. God’s love… Christ’s love… the love we are called to pass on… is a love that invites all people and all of creation into a deeper, mutual, respectful, relationship built on the genuine give and take of a Spirit created community. That love doesn’t replace the Body of Christ, it gathers all of creation INTO the Body of Christ!
Christ’s love is an invitation to be in community with one another and with God. We celebrate and participate in that each and every week around that rail! So remember, as you drink and eat, God is filling you again with that very particular kind of love and is calling us to pass it on by rolling out the red carpet, not BECOMING the carpet… and by putting out the welcome mat, not becoming that mat. Amen.