Luke 24:1-12; Acts 10:34-43
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. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Good morning! He is risen!
I don’t have any jokes or funny stories to share with you this morning. I love to get you laughing at the beginning of the sermon. By now, you’ve probably figured that I’ll say just about anything to get a laugh out of you folks. And that’s true. But today I hope that the joy of living in the love and the knowledge of the resurrected Christ is better than any wisecracks that I might make.
It seems that joy is in short supply these days. Joy is distinct from, though related to, happiness and pleasure. Happiness and pleasure can fade quickly. Joy endures. Joy goes hand-in-hand with hope. Hope and joy are essential parts of the Easter story; they are the antidotes to fear and anxiety. Hope and joy are the fruits of the life in Christ.
To be fair, a lot of my messages have been about anxiety—the anxiety of what it means to be the church in this time and place, and also the challenge of following Jesus into the uncomfortable places. I’ve also spoken of the things in our world that divide and confuse us, scare us and cause anxiety. But this morning, the story has changed. The tomb is empty!
The story of the church in our society is the Easter story. Of course, that’s always been true, but the context in which we receive that truth and live into that truth has changed greatly over the last thirty or forty years. I’m talking about the institutional church—the place we go on Sunday mornings, and the community that develops in a particular place where believers gather to worship.
Palm Sunday represents the church that many of you remember from thirty or forty years ago. It was great while it lasted, but when the context changed, when the external realities changed, some of the very same people who shouted, “Hosanna,” also shouted, “Crucify him!”
In recent years, we have been the church of Holy Week, when we focus on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We don’t want to believe that we are going to be like Peter and deny Jesus before the rooster crows, but we are reminded that we have already done so and we will do so in the future. That’s a very uncomfortable place. We don’t want to see Jesus arrested or suffering or dead, but we know that we must watch. And that, too, is a very uncomfortable place.
Frankly, we don’t know what to do with the suffering and the grief. We want to go back to the way things were, but we can’t. That doesn’t stop us from trying, from being like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary (the mother of James). They went to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body, according to Jewish custom. They were upholding the old form, like those of us who still come to church every Sunday. And there, they were met by two men in dazzling white robes who told them that the context had changed, that the old realities had gone away: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
“He is not here, but has risen.” He is risen, indeed!
That’s the new reality that we see in the Book of Acts, where we meet Peter, who is no longer a disciple, but now an apostle. Peter is speaking to a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who had summoned Peter to his house. Cornelius is an outsider. He is described as being a God-fearing man, but he is a Gentile, not a Jew. Cornelius is aware of the message, but he doesn’t have it quite right; he doesn’t know what it truly means to be in Christ.
Before Peter tells the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to Cornelius, Peter reminds Cornelius that he, Peter, is violating Jewish customs: “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.” Of course, Cornelius must know this, but Peter is proclaiming a new reality!
In this morning’s reading from Acts, Peter tells the gospel story to Cornelius: Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ life, the people who were healed by Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Of course, Peter wants Cornelius to know the details of the gospel story, but there’s more to this story, to the sermon that Peter is preaching:
The whole sermon proceeds from what is a new confession: “God shows no partiality.” This does not describe God as indifferent or detached; Peter means that God does not play favorites among people. Put positively, God has concern for all humanity and welcomes all peoples.
By saying, “God shows no partiality,” Peter is saying that the message of God’s love, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the life and work of Jesus Christ, and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for everyone! This is a radical message of inclusion. This is how the message of the gospel was spread.
Earlier in this same chapter of Acts, Peter has a vision in which God showed him that nothing—no animal or no person—was unclean. Thus, Peter came to understand that the gospel message does not just apply to the house of Israel, but it applies to everyone. And if it applies to everyone, then the Apostles must go out and take the message to everyone.
For too long, we have listened to the Easter story and believed it was just about us, those of us who were gathered here in worship. What’s more, we came here and listened and many of us believed that was all we had to do. We just had to come to church, where we would hear a comforting story and that was it. We could leave this place and go on about our lives. We forgot that this story calls us to act.
As Peter tells us, “God shows no partiality.” The message is for everyone. God does not love us more because we are gathered in His house on Sunday morning. If you believe that God loves you more, then you are mistaken! God loves all of His children and all of creation; God weeps when any of us turns away. If Jesus came to call back the lost sheep of Israel, then we, too, must call back the lost sheep of the church. That’s no small task, but we’ve got to do it.
That means we have to go outside of these walls and offer our witness of the resurrected Christ to everyone we meet. That means that we have to love the lost and the least and the people we don’t like. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is our commandment, too; it is our mandate.
If we stay inside these walls, then we take possession of the Easter story. And if the Easter story belongs only to us, the faithful remnant of Christians who come to church every
Sunday, then eventually, this place changes from a sanctuary to a tomb. Jesus doesn’t like tombs. No grave can contain Him. We are called to live in the light of Easter morning, not the shadows of the tomb. We are called to go forth and shine with the light of Christ’s love! We are called to live in the hope and the joy of Easter morning! We are called to share that message with those who have lost hope, with those who are lonely, with those who are broken and hurting.
The women who came to the tomb on Easter morning were expecting to see the reality they had always known. In their world, the power of the Roman Empire was without equal. The forces of sin and death had broken Jesus’ body, and the women went to the tomb, responding in faith, as pious Jews, obeying all the laws and customs of their people. What else could they do, now that Jesus was dead? But the tomb was empty! God had done a new thing!
The hope and the joy of the resurrection is that God’s love can overcome the forces of sin and death here on Earth. Now we have to leave the tomb and tell people about this new thing. We have to preach this story with love, compassion, mercy, humility, and joy! For people who were raised outside of the church, this is a strange message. For people who have left the church, it is a message that rings hollow. In order to preach, we will sometimes have to listen before we speak. That’s why humility is so important—we can’t let ourselves get in the way of the message. We must go forward, doing Christ’s work and witnessing to His love. That’s what it means to be an Easter people! We must go forth and live in the light of Easter morning! Thanks be to God. Amen.
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are an Easter people. We are called to be Christ’s church in the world, the world today. We are called to live in the light of Easter morning! We are called to love one another; to act with justice and mercy; to walk humbly with God. So go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
 Matt Skinner, “Commentary on Acts 10:34-43,” retrieved from: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2834