January 7, 2013 – Acts 11:1-18

January 7, 2013 – Acts 11:1-18 January 6, 2014

Peter's Vision of a SheetActs 11:1-18

“What God has cleansed you must not call common” (verse 9).

That is the message this morning.

St. Peter had a hard time accepting that when God called all foods clean, he, Peter, had better stop calling some of them unclean (or “common” or “profane”).

The Jews had a hard time accepting that when God called the Gentiles clean they had better stop calling them unclean.

And us?  We seem to have a hard time accepting that when God calls us clean and “holy” that we truly are, for He has proclaimed it to be.

At the heart of today’s lesson are two issues that are very much with us today.  First, the issue of pride, that we want to claim the power to say what is and what is not; we want the power to declare good and evil.  Second, the issue of seeing by faith what cannot be seen by the eyes.

What names does God give to His people in the New Covenant?  How many times has He referred to us as something like “the people who are still a mixture of good and evil” or “the people  who have been saved from their sins but still return to them like a dog returning to its vomit”?

What names does God give to His people?  Even we sinners call ourselves “Christians,” that is, ones who follow Christ and are made like Him.  God calls us “saints” or “holy ones” or “The Body of Christ” or “The Bride of Christ” or “The Temple of God”.

But sometimes we prefer to see ourselves and other Christians in terms of the sins we still commit.  And so we have a hard time forgiving others or forgiving ourselves.  Or we focus on what is yet unredeemed, instead of rejoicing in the miracle of our salvation in spite of our sins.

In the Anglican tradition, as well as among Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, the priest or presbyter proclaims God’s absolution and remission of sins upon His penitent people.  If your church has no Absolution then I think you are missing out on one way that God’s proclamation of cleansing is most powerfully realized in our life.  But even for those of who hear an Absolution every week, I wonder if we are really listening to what God is saying through His ordained ministers.  From the Book of Common Prayer the priest proclaims (in the Holy Communion Service): “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm you and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Absolution from the Morning and Evening Prayer services reads: “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live, hath given power, and commandment, to his Ministers, do declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins.  He pardoneth and absolveth all who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.

Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy; so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

What powerful words!  What powerful reminders of how God has declared what was unclean to be clean!

The real power and meaning of St. Peter’s revelation is not about the Kingdom of bacon and ham begin opened to God’s people (though among earthly blessings, I must admit they do rank fairly high!): it’s about us.  We, if we have been cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb, and if we truly repent from our sins and have a true and lively faith – we have been declared clean by God!  And what God declares to be clean is truly clean.

Therefore, we’ve got to stop treating ourselves and others as if we are still unclean.

The second reason we sometimes don’t accept that God has declared us clean is less a matter of pride and more a matter of faith or even a weakness in the religious imagination.  The fact is, even though I hear and understand and know that God has made me clean, I also see and understand and know that I still sin.  And I see everyone around me sinning as well.  It’s a difficult thing to understand – how God could declare those who still sin to be clean.

But that’s the miraculous and merciful part about it, isn’t it?  That’s the audacious love that God has for those who turn to Him: that even while we were yet sinners and are yet sinners, God loved us by revealing His Son to us.

I may still sin and feel unclean, but if I faithfully confess my sins and keep turning from them, then by the Blood of the Lamb, God keeps declaring me clean!

Who are we to call unclean what God has just called clean?

This truth, apprehended only by faith and repentance, should transform the way we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Whenever you have fellowship with a Christian, you are no longer encountering merely a sinner but also one who God has declared to be holy.  How holy?  Holy enough for God to dwell in them by His Holy Spirit.

What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean.

Prayer:  Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against thy holy laws.  We have left undone those things we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.  But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.  Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.  Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name.  Amen. 

Point for Meditation:

1.  Have you been faithfully confessing your sins and faithfully repenting of them?  If not, then this may be a source of continuing guilt and inability to see the forgiveness of God and His declaration of cleanness.  If so, then rejoice that God has truly cleansed you!

2.  Are there any brothers and sisters in Christ whom you have been treating as unclean, even though God Himself has declared them clean? 

Resolution:  I resolve to meditate upon the fact that God has called me clean.  I resolve further to take one practical step to understand this, by confessing my sins, by consciously turning from them, by viewing myself and other Christians as clean, or by rejoicing and praising God.

© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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