Sermon – Easter 5 – Acts 11:1-18
Grace and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Bear Creek, WI
"The Same Gift - Repentance that Leads to Life!"
We turn our attention to the reading from Acts. I don't know about you, but I haven't heard a lot of sermons on Acts over the years, nor have I preached on it much. But now, as a missionary, this account of the early years of the Christian church holds new interest for me. It was very much a missionary time for the early Christians, as the apostles shared the Gospel beginning at Jerusalem, but then to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And Peter's struggles in those early days were an important part of the story – as he, along with the rest of the Jewish disciples, struggled with the idea that Gospel was for the gentiles, too. How did this message of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen from the dead – how did it relate to these outsiders? These people who maybe didn't know of the Old Testament, who ate unclean foods, and who after all, weren't even circumcised!?
I suppose some preachers would start with a harangue about how we Christians need to be more welcoming to the outsider. That we're like the Judaizers who think that Jesus is only for us. That we think we're the only ones who deserve God's grace. And that we better shape up in our attitudes and actions and get busy reaching out and welcoming the unbelievers. That maybe we should even drastically change the way we do business for the sake of the lost – you know, like Peter had to eat new foods and all – that we Christians should get out of our comfort zones and our tired old ways of worship and practice... and... well... I'm not going to do that.
Nor am I here to pat us all on the back for being so wonderful. To the extent that we are welcoming and reaching out, thanks be to God. To the extent that we do support God's work here at home, and in far away lands, thanks be to God. And even if we have to turn a poor pastor from Minnestoa into a Packers fan to do it, it's a price we're willing to pay, thanks be to God. No seriously, thanks be to God for the good work that he does among us to support his mission. He deserves the thanks and praise for any good work that we do, any gift we bring he first gave to us, any love we show is a reflection of his love for us.
Of ourselves, we are like Peter and the early church – confused, self-concerned, inwardly focused. But in joyous response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – everything changes. For in his death our sins are paid, and in his resurrection our new life comes to light. Easter changes everything, and by God's Spirit at work in us, we are new creations, children of God, heirs of eternal life.
And friends, this is what the mission of God is all about - that the outsiders, the unbelievers who come to Christ – that they receive the same gift that we have. We receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ! We receive the gift of a rebirth in the washing of renewal that is baptism! We receive all the benefits won by the precious blood of Christ, shed for us in his innocent suffering and death. It's all about the gifts. And the gifts for God's people in Christ are all the same. God's love, his eternal, everlasting, sin-and-death-destroying love – shown in the death of his own Son on a cross long ago. Gifts which come to us, millenia later, through humble means of word and water and bread and wine.
This is why our mission work, as Lutherans, centers on these gifts of Christ. This is why we're going to Singapore to plant a Lutheran church – meeting weekly around the Word of God and the Sacrament. Yes, we're just going to do church – but oh what a gift that is! And it's the same gift, the same gifts, that you treasure here each week in Bear Creek.
We have no magic formula for foreign missions. We have only the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the preaching of him, crucified for sinners. We have only his washing and his meal, to which he attaches his word. But these gifts are enough. They are the gifts that bring repentance that leads to life.
When the other early Christians heard about God's work through Peter to bring these gifts to even the gentiles, they rejoiced. They glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Repentance that leads to life. This is the very Christian faith. This is what it's all about, repentance that leads to life. That each day we would see our sins in the mirror of the law, and that each day we would return to the font of our baptism in repentance, and that each day we grow in faith – knowing that our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. And by the Holy Spirit working in us, grow also in love toward our neighbor, for we have been so loved. Repentance that leads to life. The same gift God gives to you, he gives to all who would believe in Christ by his grace.
May God grant repentance to all who hear his word, and now also to those who hear it through us, even in Singapore. For the same Jesus who died for them, died for you, who lives for them, lives for you, who gives his gifts to them, gives gifts to you, even today, in word and meal. Receive them, in repentance that brings life, in Jesus Christ, amen.