Acts 10:44-48 & John 15:9-17
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
Today we have heard the tail-end of two stories. Peter concludes that our usual measuring rods for other people and other styles of being and just plain otherness have been drawn too narrowly. If those who have not been a part of our religious tradition can tell of the wonders of GOD, there really is nothing to keep us from being joined together.
How did Peter arrive at looking at others through GOD's eyes instead of simply his own eyes or those of his group? Well, he had an experience. He didn't arrive at it through thinking, but thinking helped him make sense of his experience.
Peter's experience was that of hunger. He was waiting for food to come when he had a vision of a tablecloth coming from GOD with all sorts of food elements on it that Peter's rules said were not to be eaten. This happened three times with GOD saying, "Eat," and Peter saying, "Your rules keep me from eating," and GOD saying, "Eat."
Finally Peter got it - the previous rules were changing because GOD said there was something more important - that there be more life for more people. There was something larger than just Peter's comfort level.
Peter opened up to see how much better it was going to be with a greater variety of people involved. If Peter were here today he would applaud the slogan of United Methodism - open hearts, open minds, open doors.
Peter's heart was opened past his own experience to that of the Gentiles, the others. Peter's mind was opened to be able to talk about his experience and help others appreciate it. Peter opened doors to bring more people in to follow Jesus in growing in love with GOD and with one another.
As you may know we have been without a Worship Team for awhile. Recently we formed a Team that was in the process of evaluating our worship experiences so we could make the adjustments that are appropriate for us. Before we could get that process underway a new vision came from one of our praise bands. Given the low attendance at our praise service and how that drops every summer: Given a desire for the music parts of our congregation to cooperate rather than have everyone simply do their own thing: Given the need for good information based on experience: our Worship Team decided - for the summer, we will go to one Sunday worship time at 9:00 where we can have the music leadership from both services work together. This will not affect our Saturday service which will continue as is.
As you might imagine this idea, coming so close to summer, surprised everyone (though it wasn't more surprising that Peter encountering that tablecloth and being asked to renounce some of his faith's dearest held principles of uniqueness and special relationship with GOD).
We are trying to keep open to listening for the movement of GOD in our time and place. So, we couldn't just dismiss this out of hand and claim it was too late (GOD's timing, as strange as it can seem to us, is just right). We couldn't avoid the realities of attendance. We couldn't escape the need for good material to evaluate for our Fall worship.
So, while we could keep doing the same thing we have done for several years, it seemed appropriate to run it through our process and see what happened. There have been a couple of meetings to seriously question whether going to one service for the summer is really the thing we should be doing this late in the game. It turned out that after conversation with one another and taking all the factors into account that we could - we have several times come out with a unanimous consensus that this is indeed what we need to do. I'd be glad to talk with any of you about this and more information will be coming in the next newsletter and a special congregational letter.
It will be interesting to see how we do with living up to both Peter's witness and the slogan you see before you - open hearts, open minds, open doors.
Now, let's look again at Jesus' conclusion to a longer section. He leaves us with that wonderful new commandment, to love one another.
In some ways Peter had it easier than Jesus because it is generally easier to change in regard to strangers. It is much harder to change when we are dealing with family.
Jesus has just gone through a time of shifting models with the disciples. Jesus, the Teacher, washed the feet of the disciples rather than having them wash his feet. Jesus even washed the feet of Judas who was about to betray him. Jesus announces that he does not see us as slaves or servants, but friends.
That is a lot of change for the disciples to take in all at once. It challenged their hearts and their minds and what they were going to do as a result of these changes.
Jesus has just gone through a teaching about roots and vines and branches and fruit. All these different parts are thoroughly intertwined with each other. One might say that they are one as Jesus and GOD are one. One might say they are one like Jesus and you are one. One might say they are one like us in this congregation are one.
To use the worship image again, we have divided worship up according to music styles just like we have in the past divided religion into rules about what's holy and what is not. (remember the rules about dancing and card playing?) (remember Peter and the rules about Jews and Gentiles and how the two shouldn't mix?) (remember Jesus calling his disciples friends and then they betray him?)
Hopefully we will find out that we can worship beyond our previous limitations. To do so will take us in the direction of open hearts, open minds, open doors.
As we weave together images about Peter's tablecloth, banners, worship schedules, new commandments, and the like, we may find ourselves intertwined with more and more of life. A part of this woven vine is applying the open hearts, open minds, open doors slogan to both the external parts of our life and the internal.
We do need to find ways to open our doors to more people. I was pleased to have a young black man drop in Saturday morning while I was working in the office. We were able to talk about an event in his life and find some possibilities for change to make life better when he gets betrayed by himself and others. I don't know that he would be comfortable worshiping here but there are more and more churches that are intentionally going out of their way to cross the usual worship boundaries because they care so deeply about those who have been shut out in the past. For those kinds of doors to be opened we will need to do some work on our hearts and minds.
We do need to find ourselves involved in real experiences that touch our heart. One of my friends tells of an experience in Texas where a community had a free clinic that treated illegal immigrants. The church there got divided over whether to help fund it because some thought it promoted the illegal and churches should not question their government. It seems there was a meeting held at the clinic to gather more information. While they were waiting a big-eyed little girl was also there in the waiting room. Of course the grandmas and grandpas who thought they were against the clinic for good reasons found out this little girl who stole their hearts was one of those being helped by the clinic. That experience changed them, opened their heart. Then they were able to think differently and be supportive of a place of kindness and healing.
So often our previous thoughts keep us from experiencing something better. Peter's thoughts did that to him until he experienced GOD's new openness and his mind changed and he was able to open doors to the outsiders.
So often we have been keeping relationships stuck in the same old pattern and need to hear Jesus shifting things from servants to friends.
So often we mistake one thing for another. Sometimes we limit worship to particular music or time or place or people we are with.
It is my hope we will find a way to see how all of life is intertwined and growing and moving forward. It is my expectation that we will find a way to be a part of the best of our United Methodist tradition as we rejoice in GOD's way of surprising us into opening our hearts, our minds, our doors.
Again and again we will find that we have been afraid of our fears and those of others and that it really is better to live in the open than simply repeating what has gone before. I believe GOD has even more wonderful things in store for us if we but open our hearts, open our minds, and open our doors to the knocking of GOD's love. In opening ourselves to loving those who are definitely different than ourselves and loving those who are all too much like ourselves we will find the gift of GOD's presence - love.
As you experience a surprise of openness this next week, remember Peter and Jesus.
O GOD of a new future, bless us with the experiences we need
to open our hearts, our minds, and our doors to the movement
of your Spirit. Amen.