Lives Changed: Gentiles
Fourth in a Series of Seven Sermons
Acts 10: 44 – While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the message.
Acts 11 – vs. 1 – The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the Word of God…vs.15 - As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them as he had come on us at the beginning….v. 18 So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
When we think about growing and healthy congregations, our thoughts may first go to numbers. Numbers of baptisms, numbers of people filling the pews, numbers of cars in the overflowing parking lots, numbers that indicate budgets getting balanced and debt getting retired. But we are seeing in these weeks of Easter, that numbers are only the effects of something deeper. They are the effects of the Holy Spirit working in hearts and minds, one at a time. At times in the Book of Acts and in church history, the Holy Spirit falls on and changes lives in dramatic fashion, as in the case of Saul and in today’s lesson, in the case of Peter and Cornelius, but most often watching Lutheran Christians grow in their faith is like watching corn grow. Slowly and surely, and only occasionally fast and flashy. In today’s sermon, I offer you seven scenes which will help us think about our Shared Vision in this place, which is to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ. Three questions we want to ask in each one of these seven scenes. Question #1 – How was the Holy Spirit changing lives? Question #2 – What did those changed lives look like? And #3 – For what purpose was He changing those lives?
Scene #1 The Holy Spirit falls on a few God-fearing women at their (monthly meeting). Today we are celebrating 100 years of our local Ladies Aid being alive and well, 100 years of meeting in a monthly kind of a way to receive God’s Word, 100 years of terrific fellowship, 100 years of giving their mites to support missions near and far. With that in mind, Scene #1 takes place in about 1958 and 1959 when I started attending Ladies’ Aid meetings with my mom. My mom would pile me in our Four door Mercury and we’d pick up Betty Cink / Myrtle Strege /Freida Krause (who I thought was about 100 years old) and off to little Peace Lutheran Church basement we’d go.
Every month, these sweet little old ladies would try to give a quarter for gas, every month Mom would say no, every month they would insist, and every month Mom would say, “ok, put it in the mite box.” What matters most about those Wednesday afternoons is that lives were changing slowly, but surely. Slowly but surely the Holy Spirit was drawing these ladies close and closer to their Savior, slowly but surely, these Gentiles were receiving the Word of God, slowly but surely the blood of Jesus Christ was cleansing their souls, slowly but surely, they were going back into their homes living out in faithful fashion their vocations as wives, mothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends. Why was the Holy Spirit showing up at their monthly meetings? So that sins could be forgiven, so that souls could be saved, so that marriages could be strengthened, so that one more generation could be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that the good gifts of God could be given, so that God could grant Gentiles the kind of repentance that leads to eternal life. That’s why!
Scene #2 The Holy Spirit falls on a grieving family as they just sit there and (listen to their pastor) Fast forward about ten years to September 5, 1968, a Thursday afternoon where our respected and trusted Pastor Dierks was reading and explaining Scripture to my parents, my sisters, a few aunts and uncles, my brother’s fiancé and me. The night before my brother Curtis had visited his fiancé Becky in Fargo, and it was late at night before he started the 60 mile trek back to the farm. About 2 in the morning, on Highway 46 near Kindred, he apparently fell asleep, missed a curve and he and his 1962 Ford Galaxie 500 crashed into the bank of the Sheyenne River. Ten hours later, in dramatic fashion, the Holy Spirit fell on our entire family as we just sat there and listened to our pastor. I say dramatic fashion because in those very hours, Jesus was messing with me in such a way that before I knew it I was announcing to my parents that I wanted to be a pastor some day. For what purpose did the Holy Spirit show up that day so full of trouble? So that one more pastor could be sent, so that the Gospel would be preached, so that sinners could hear, so that souls could be born again, so that sins would be forgiven, so that one more family would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are but strangers here, heaven is their home, so that one more little country church could lay one more Gentile into the ground rejoicing that Christ is risen, so that God could grant what He absolutely loves to grant, repentance that leads to life. That’s why!
Scene #3 The Holy Spirit falls on a devout soldier (as he prays). For Scenes 3-6 we go back to Acts 10 and 11, where the Holy Spirit falls first on a Roman soldier named Cornelius in an important city named Caesarea, at 3 in the afternoon. He was already a military man, a leader of men, and a commander of soldiers. He was a man who feared the one true God, a man who gave alms to the poor, a man of frequent prayer. In fast and flashy fashion, the Holy Spirit shows up that day in the form of a vision. A vision in which an angel of God appears, the angel indicates that God is in fact listening to his prayers, and directs him to send men to Joppa for the purpose of bringing back Simon who is called Peter. You ask why did the Spirit of God show up that particular day in that particular place? So that sins could be forgiven and so that souls could be saved first in the household of Cornelius and then in the homes of Gentiles for generations to come. So that Jews could learn that circumcision was a thing of the past, so that the crucified and risen Jesus Christ could be glorified, so that apostles and disciples could be set on fire not only for the Jews but also the non Jews. So that Jews and non Jews alike could know that what God has declared clean should never again be considered unclean, so that God would grant them the kind of repentance that leads to life, that’s why!
Scene #4 The Holy Spirit falls on a hungry apostle as he (wrestles with Jesus in prayer). Scene #4 takes place by the providence of God the very next day, about noon, in Joppa, as Peter went up on the roof to pray. Three times Peter had denied his Savior on the night he was betrayed, countless times Peter had cried his tears of regret and wished he could have had a do over. Now the Holy Spirit shows up as a hungry disciple waits and watches and wrestles with God in prayer. Peter sees as strange a dream as he has ever seen. He sees heaven open up, he sees a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners, he sees all kinds of unclean animals, and he hears the command to kill and eat. Three times Peter refuses, three times a voice from heaven insists, and before could figure out what was happening, a delegation from Cornelius arrives as commanded, and the mission of Jesus Christ moves forward. Why would the Spirit of God show up at high noon in the form of a stranger than fiction kind of a vision? So that Gentiles could be included, so that well intentioned but dead wrong people of God could be corrected, so that Peter could take necessary next steps, so that true and reliable witnesses could do what true and reliable witnesses do, so that sinners could be baptized, so that the Risen Christ could be honored, and so that God could do what is in His nature to do, grant the kind of repentance that leads to life. That’s why?
Scene #5 The Holy Spirit falls on a few Gentiles as (Peter preaches) Scene #5 finds Peter and a number of Christians on their way, the following day, from Joppa back to Caesarea. It finds Cornelius kneeling down before Peter, but Peter telling him to stand back up. It finds Peter and Cornelius tag teaming to a large gathering of people and once again the Spirit of the living God shows up to do his thing. While Peter was still preaching, the Holy Spirit came on all who were hearing, and before the day was done Gentiles were speaking in tongues, Gentiles were getting baptized one right after the other, Gentiles were joining on a mission they had no idea how it might end.
Scene #6 The Holy Spirit falls on a few critics as Peter (tells them what he now knows) Scene #6 is our appointed lesson for the day, we find apostles and brothers throughout Judea hearing that Gentiles were receiving the Word of God, we find Peter going back to Jerusalem, we find circumcised Jews criticizing, and we find Peter explaining. Even as began to explain, even as he began to tell them what he now knew, just like clockwork, the Holy Spirit came on all who were in fact using their ears to hear, He came on every single one who had been appointed for eternal life, He came as promised. By now you don’t even have to ask. You know the answer to why the Spirit of God shows up wherever and whenever His Word is preached and listened to and believed and remembered and held onto. So that souls can be saved, sins can be forgiven, heavenly mansions can be reserved, and lives can be changed. So that lives can be changed for the better and for others. To say it in the way that Luke records it, so that objections to truth can be dropped, so that God can be praised, so that God could grant even to the Gentiles the kind of repentance that leads to life.
Scene #7 The Holy Spirit falls as often as sinners (repent) Our final scene isn’t final at all. It’s all that we have time for. Although the scenes of our lives have been ordained before we were ever born, they need to be lived out, one at a time. Although God has promised to work everyone of them out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purposes, they still include all kinds of decisions on our part. Decisions that flow out of a fear, love, and trust in God above all things, or decisions that flow out of a fear, love, and trust in this world above all things.
The kingdom of God is like is like a busy and stressed out and weary woman going to her Ladies Aid meeting, going to her small group Bible Study, going to church on a Sunday morning, going to her Bible on a Monday morning, and as often as she goes there, as often as she just sits there and listens, that often the Holy Spirit of God falls on her. That often, ever so slowly but surely, that often, from the inside out, she is changed. She is changed for the better, and she is changed on behalf of others.
Finally, the kingdom of God is like a middle aged man who from the world’s point of view is as successful as can be, but every time he looks in the mirror at night, and every time he prays, and ever time he thinks through what matters in life and what doesn’t matter so much, he finds himself wanting to get down on his not so young knees anymore and cry out for mercy. As often as he cries out for mercy, he knows that mercy is his. Even more than that, he knows that in that moment, the angels of heaven are in fact rejoicing, his life is in fact changing, the name of His Father in heaven is being hallowed, and the kingdom of His God is coming. Or to say it the way Luke likes to say it, God is granting yet one more Gentile the kind of repentance that leads to life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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