God Doesn’t Play Favorites

On May 6, 2019, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

God Doesn’t Play Favorites Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Easter 3 (2019) Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Rachel Held Evans was a progressive Christian in the Bible Belt. She was […]

God Doesn’t Play Favorites
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Easter 3 (2019)

Let us dwell together in peace, let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression; and now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Rachel Held Evans was a progressive Christian in the Bible Belt. She was a writer who explored spiritual themes.
A couple of weeks ago, Rachel went to the hospital with flu symptoms. She had an allergic reaction to the meds they gave her, and she was placed in an induced coma. Yesterday morning, Rachel Held Evans, 37 year old wife and mother, died.

I want to read you something Rachel wrote, so if you were not familiar with her before you can be blessed at least once by her progressive christian witness.
She wrote:

“If you are looking for [bible] verses to support slavery, you will find them; if you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them.
If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them; if you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them.
If you are looking for reasons to wage war…[or] to promote peace, you will find them…This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not ‘what does it say?,’ but ‘what am I looking for?’…
If you want to do violence in the world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.”

In these human words, God’s voice is heard.

Rachel tried to open the word of faith to people who had been excluded, wounded, demoralized, or heartbroken by the misuse of religion.

Rachel believed in grace, in love, in compassion. Sadly, there are still far too many people who wield influence and power who use religion as a poison gas to choke the joy out of those who don’t fit into their boxes. And that, interestingly enough, is what our scripture reading discourages today.

Acts 10: Cornelius loves God. He’s not a member of the faith community, but he prays and he’s very generous with good causes. But he’s not “in” the religious community. He’s still on the edges of it. Why hasn’t he joined? Maybe it would get him in trouble with his job as a Centurion. Maybe he doubts he’d be fully welcome. Maybe the requirements to join are too onerous. For whatever reason, he’s not all the way in…yet.

But he’s giving, and praying, and trying to serve in the ways he can.

And he gets a clear vision. He is clearly told to connect with Peter. No guessing, no riddles, not funky symbols…just a directive…reach out to Peter. Cornelius, the person not in the religious club, had a direct line to God. How about that?

Peter, a religious leader, he also has a vision…but he can’t figure it out. It wasn’t as clear as Cornelius’.
A blanket with a bunch of animals falls out of the sky and a voice tells him barbecue up one of the animals that Peter doesn’t think are edible. In fact, his religious training tells him those animals are unclean. He has religious reasons to reject those animals. So he refuses.

Peter hears from God. God tells Peter to do a thing, and Peter says, “I don’t think so.”

God tells Cornelius to reach out to Peter, and Cornelius says okie dokie.
God tells Peter to throw some meat on the grill, and Peter says, “You can’t make me.” Who’s open to God in the story so far?

Cornelius saw, heard, and responded.
Peter saw, heard, and refused.

Of course, Peter’s vision of food wasn’t about food. Once he see’s Cornelius’ messengers, he understands that the barbecue blanket symbolized people he had judged to be unworthy or unclean. But God made them. They were part of the creation that God calls very good. What God has made, what God has blessed, you don’t get to call unclean. No one is rejected by God.

Peter accepts Cornelius’ invitation to visit. If we had continued reading we would have seen Cornelius welcoming Peter warmly and honoring him.

Cornelius is generous.
Cornelius has an active prayer life.
Cornelius responds to the promptings of God.
And Cornelius has been gracious to a man who without out divine intervention might have judged him to be unworthy.

Peter will ask what Cornelius wants from him, and Cornelius says, “Just preach.”
Cornelius wanted good news. Cornelius wanted to hear that he was God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
He wanted to hear that there’s not a spot where God is not.
He wanted to hear that God is a loving Presence that will not and can not reject him for any reason. What do you want Cornelius? What do you need? I just need to hear some truly good news.

And Peter starts to preach for Cornelius and his household. And while Peter was speaking, the story tells us, the holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his loved ones. The power, the glory of God fell on them. They weren’t members of the religious movement. They weren’t considered by some to be worthy. But Cornelius was generous, and gracious, and responsive, and when he heard the good news he longed for, the power of God fell on him and Peter took notice.

Those people…them….those Roman pagans, those military types, those outsiders, those foreigners, those queers, those gender non-binary folk, those people who call God some other name, those people who look or sound or pray or love or speak differently than we do…THOSE PEOPLE have been touched by the holy Spirit, the spirit of wholeness, the spirit of goodness, the glory of God. Whodathunk?

The story concludes by saying that those people were then baptized in the name of Jesus…that is, they were welcomed, just as they were, the way Jesus would have welcomed them. They were immersed in the good news that God is love, and that love leaves no one out.

God loved Cornelius from the start.
Cornelius was open to God from the start.
It was Peter, it was the church that had to learn to open up and be a bit more welcoming, more inclusive, more affirming of different kinds of people.

God doesn’t play favorites. God’s love embraces us all, unconditionally, and forever.

The church is still learning that lesson. We aren’t here to spread hate and fear and condemnation; we are here to get over that pettiness and see the light of God in every life and welcome the world in the name of Jesus.
We are here to affirm the sacred value of all people.
We are here to offer good news, and the good news is that the bad news is wrong.

We are here to proclaim tirelessly…whosoever will, may come, because you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. And this is the good news. Amen.

There is good for me and I ought to have it.
I am God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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