Sharing the good news, should not be an Epiphany!

by Sean Foster on January 12, 2014

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.
Amen.

Does anyone know the story of Helen Keller? I know we all recognize the name Helen Keller…

Keller was born in 1880 and because of a childhood illness when she was not quite 2 years of age; she was left blind, deaf and mute. But her life was a miracle not because she ever regained her vision or hearing; the miracle was her committed and relentlessly optimistic family, and a patient teacher named Anne Sullivan.

Helen’s world was dark. She was only able to communicate a few things with a few hand gestures. But when she was seven, her parents arranged for a visually impaired teacher to come work with their daughter. Anne Sullivan spent months signing words into Helen’s hands.
• Everything she touched
• Everything she ate
• Every person she encountered
Sullivan would sign in the palm of Keller’s hand.

At first, she didn’t get it. The random motions being drawn into the palm of her hand – they didn’t connect. But Sullivan refused to give up, she continued to spell out words in Keller’s hand. And then, finally, an Epiphany. Finally, a breakthrough moment was had for Helen. Water was being pumped out into Helen’s hands, and Sullivan would sign the word water over and over again on the palm of Keller’s hand, and suddenly, she got it! She understood that the random hand movements being imprinted onto her hand meant something. Those gestures were real and tangible. They were naming what she was experiencing.

Finally, communication, literature, human interaction were made possible. The miracle for Helen was a patient teacher named Anne Sullivan.

• Recognition.
• Making the connection.
That was an Epiphany moment in Helen Keller’s life.

You can watch the Helen Keller story “Miracle Worker” on You Tube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4XJ-hPa8G0 (simply cut and paste link into your browser)

In the above passage from the history book of the early church: The Acts of the Apostles, Peter is sharing the good news of Jesus the Christ. Indeed, for those who listened to Peter preach that day, it was a moment of Epiphany for the people. In fact, if we read to the end of the chapter, we would have heard the response to the good news that Peter preached was for those people who received this wonderful Epiphany was to be baptized. (Acts 10:48)

But to fully understand our lesson that Janice read to us, we need to understand the Epiphany that Peter had in the verses that precede our lesson. Peter is given a vision by God.
• He is given a new understanding.
• He is given a new understanding of his ministry.
• He was given a new understanding of God’s work through His Son Jesus the Christ.

I mean, despite the fact that Peter has spent three years following Jesus in ministry. Listening to Jesus teach, having those teachings explained, watching Jesus heal, cast out demons, spending time with the outcasts of society, and literally and personally watching Jesus usher in kingdom of God.

But Peter is Jewish, and like all of us, we all carry our own biases. Those things that we learned growing up that became foundational to who we are – those are things that are hard to unlearn.
• We resist new things.
• Those things that we believe are foundational to who we are.
• Those things that we find challenging.
• Those things that we question.
• Those things that we find position-ally different from what we believe to be true and right.

Peter was Jewish. He believed with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength that Jesus was the Messiah; but he believed as he was taught from his days growing up that the Messiah was for the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone. The Messiah was for God’s chosen. The Messiah was to save the Jewish people.

I know, Peter was there when Jesus gave the great commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15) Peter was there listening to Jesus teach in his last days when he said to his disciples: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold; meaning the Gentiles. (John 10:16)

But as a Jew from birth – Peter didn’t rightly understand Jesus words to go into all the world and preach the good news. Going into all the world meant Peter’s world of Judea and Jerusalem. In fact, the early church was initially comprised of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but instead of embracing Jesus teachings fully, they became Jews who tenaciously remained Jewish but believed that Jesus was the Messiah and Savior of their lives. But for Peter, Gentiles were not part of this covenant. In Peter’s mind, Jesus did not come to save the Gentile world. They were unholy and un-redeemable. Jesus was for the Jewish people; not those heathen Gentiles.

And I mean, this was the great Epiphany that Peter has in the verses that precede our lesson. Three times Peter is given a vision to help him understand the fact that God had included Gentiles in the covenant that God established through his son Jesus the Christ. That God truly loved the entire world, not just the chosen of god, the Jewish people. (John 3:16)

And please understand, this does not negate the importance of the Jewish people.
• God’s covenant was first with the Jewish people.
• God’s first love was the Jewish people.
• His love and salvation was shared through his chosen.
And God’s Love, His Grace, His mercy, His Forgiveness, His Salvation, and the Gift of Eternal Life is extended to all through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.

What was once limited to God’s chosen, has now been extended to all nations – all creation. And it is no longer a covenant based on the law and trying to please God; it is now based on Grace where the cost of our sin, the price of being in relationship with God is paid by Jesus.

For Peter,
• it takes three years of following Jesus,
• listening to His teachings,
• witnessing His death and resurrection,
• His ascension into heaven,
• receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
And then three visions to finally understand – that Jesus is truly Lord of all. Peter learns that he should not call anyone profane or unclean. (Acts 10:28) Jesus came to redeem all! This is a huge Epiphany moment for Peter.

For in our text today – Peter responds to this Epiphany by sharing the good news of Jesus with Gentiles. Listen to the opening words of Peter’s sermon. I truly understand that God shows no partiality. (Acts 10:34)

Peter preaches the good news to Gentiles because he now understands that Jesus is not just for an exclusive group. Jesus is Lord of all for all its multitudes of peoples.
• Death could not hold Him!
• Our sinful ways could not defeat Him.
As Handel celebrated in his Hallelujah Chorus: The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever, to the glory of God.

But we too need to be open to God, and to be open to his direction in our lives. What is God’s will for our lives? We tend to believe that we have it all figured out and want things to remain static. But I don’t believe that for a minute. The good news of Jesus cannot remain stuck behind the walls of churches. The good news needs to be released.
• The church must stop thinking that the church is a building.
• The Church: you and me, must go out into the world and share the good news of Jesus Grace and Love.
• We live in the age of mission.
• We must stop thinking of mission work happening on some foreign continent.
• The mission work of Inviting all to be alive in Christ – must happen here.
• We no longer live in the age of Christendom.
• That is a huge Epiphany for the church to learn and embrace today.
• To get up and out.
• You, Me, We are the Church!
• We must take the Church beyond these walls!

Peter learned, and quickly, that God’s love was not reserved for just the chosen people. The Church today needs to learn that the good news is not just for those who believe it is to be shared.

The greatest Epiphany the Church could have today in Canada is that it is not about us. For too long it has been.

A-men.

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