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No Partiality

Acts 10:34-43 1-8-17


Bellingham First Christian Church
Rev. Gary Shoemaker

Robert Jones in his book on


the future of White
Christianity in America
writes, "Its hard to imagine a
more quintessentially
American cocktail than the
Super Bowl, Coca-Cola, and
America the Beautiful. But
in 2014, when Coca-Cola set
aside its well-known polar
bear mascot and instead
debuted Its Beautiful, a
one-minute ode to American
pluralism, the company
stepped into dangerous
territory. In the Super Bowl
ad, the camera panned over
Americans clad in everything
from cowboy hats to

yarmulkes to hijabs
including an interracial gay
couple at a roller rink with
their daughterover a
soundtrack of America the
Beautiful sung in seven
different languages. This
particular blend of American
symbols proved to be a
volatile one. The ad spot
immediately eclipsed the
game, where the Seattle
Seahawks were steamrolling
the Denver Broncos.
Viewers whipped out their
smartphones and computers
and began to do battle online.
By the fourth quarter, Twitter
had lit up with trending
hashtags defining the virtual
opposing teams:
#speakAmerican vs.
#AmericaIsBeautiful. Here's
a sampling of the tweets,
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which have apparently


become the preferred form of
communication these days.
CocaCola has America the
Beautiful being sung in
different languages in a
SuperBowl commercial? We
speak ENGLISH here,
IDIOTS.
Characters in these Cola
commercials, from Mexicans
to Indians, learn to
SpeakAmerican already! Or
better dont be in em.
If youre complaining about
the biracial Cheerios couple
& the multilingual Coke
commercial, you can buy a
one-way ticket back to the
60 s.

The skirmish was not


confined to the Internets
trolls. Even former
Republican congressman
Allen West took the time to
weigh in, writing on his blog:
I am quite sure there may be
some who appreciated the
commercial, but Coca Cola
missed the mark in my
opinion. If we cannot be
proud enough as a country to
sing American [sic] the
Beautiful in English in a
commercial during the Super
Bowl, by a company as
American as they come
doggone we are on the road
to perdition. This was a truly
disturbing commercial for
me, what say you?"
I guess, if I try really hard I
can understand the reason
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why there is such hostility to


those whom people consider
the 'outsiders'. But weren't
we all 'outsiders' at some
point in our lives?
There's something rather
ugly that's happening in our
country these days. And if
you're not feeling the sting of
it, it might be because we're
all part of the in-group. But
listen to the rhetoric from the
perspective of a young
Muslim couple sending their
child off to grade school for
the first time. List to the
rhetoric from the perspective
of our sisters and brothers in
the 7th Day Church of God
who were worshipping in this
place on these chairs just a
few hours ago.

Unfortunately, the ugly thing


that's currently happening in
our country that is driving a
wedge between groups of
people is nothing new. Our
scripture lesson today from
the book of Acts comes from
a very similar situation and
the same prejudice. How
God handles that situation
might teach us how to handle
the difficulties we have with
accepting those who are
different.
What do we have against
'outsiders' wanting to come
into the fold. And I'm not
pointing a finger here, I too
harbor resentment and
unease when I think about
people changing what I've
grown accustomed to. My
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culture, my place, my
importance.
So what does God have to
teach us here? Well, the very
first verse basically answers
that question...
But first the back story. Peter
has had a very vivid dream or
vision. And the message of
that vision is unmistakable,
stop drawing lines to exclude
people from the family of
God. Three times in the
vision (why does everything
happen in threes with Peter?)
three times in the vision God
offers Peter non-kosher food
to eat, and three times he
refuses. God chastises Peter,
"How dare you label
something unclean when I
created it!"

Peter suddenly realizes that


he's been wrong his whole
life. He has seen his faith as a
semi-private affair. It
belonged to him and his tribe,
and that was it! This love of
God shown through many
sources including and
perhaps most importantly the
life and teachings of Jesus,
this love of God was for
everyone.
It may be difficult for us to
understand the fact that the
followers of Jesus, up until
that moment, thought that
God's relationship was only
for them, only for their
people. Today, we just
assume that anyone can
become whatever faith they
want, including Christian.
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But that was not the case


back then. The relationship
with God was an exclusive
arrangement. And that did
not include those beyond
Judaism.
I said that it might be difficult
for us to understand that
mentality. But that's precisely
the mentality that has been
fueling much of the hate
speech and attempts to define
our culture from a whites
only perspective. We feel safe
when it's just us. We
understand the rules when
it's just us. We are
comfortable when it's just us,
because it's easier to function
within a culture that we've
been swimming in for our
whole lives.

It was exactly the same for


Peter and the early church.
So, here we find Peter
standing in the home of
Cornelius, an outsider if there
every was one.
The physical setting of
Peters speech is exclusively
Gentile in two ways. First,
Peter is in the city of
Caesarea Maritima. This was
the coastal city that King
Herod had built for his
Roman patrons. Not only
was this the capital of the
Roman province of Judaea, it
was also thoroughly Roman
in its character and
structures. The citys
crowning building was a
grand temple dedicated to
Caesar Augustus and the
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goddess Roma perched on a


hill overlooking its newly
engineered harbor.
Second, Peter is in the house
of an Italian officer in the
Roman army named
Cornelius. Jews do no visit
the homes of Gentiles as
Peter initially reminds
Cornelius. Previously in
Luke 7:6-7 a centurion living
in Capernaum had
messengers tell an
approaching Jesus that it
was inappropriate for Jesus
to come to his house. So
Peter is in a city and a house
where Gods people should
not be. Indeed the only
reason that Peter is in such a
Gentile location speaking to a
house full of Gentiles is that

God has arranged this


encounter.
The emphatic first words out
of Peters mouth are I truly
understand that God shows
no partiality. - I truly
understand that God shows
no partiality.
Here Peter has now
perceived the truth of what
Gods impartiality entails.
That God shows no partiality
is not a new theological claim
we see as far back as
Deuteronomy 10:17.
What is absolutely new here
are the implications of divine
impartiality. The character of
God as an impartial God now
means the character of Gods
community is impartial. The
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dividing lines separating Jew


and Gentile based on who is
clean and who is not
according the law have been
obliterated. This does not
mean Israel as Gods people
has been obliterated. Rather
the basis for membership is
now radically redefined. God
accepts people not on the
basis of ethnic identity.
Given how quickly we
Christians divide and
denounce and declare one
another heretical, could it be
that we need to hear this
story even more than we
need to hear the all-toofamiliar and all-toocomfortable Resurrection
tale? Could it be we need this
story to save us from our
arrogance and complacency?

How might it change the


church, change us, change
me, if Acts 10:35 was our
lead-off verse in the Jesus
story, our top go-to text?
It hurts my heart to hear
Christians putting down
people of other faiths and
cultures. It just goes against
the grain of what God has
shown us and how Jesus
lived. I don't understand how
we can hold the teachings of
Jesus in one hand and point
the finger of anger and
discrimination with the other.
It doesn't make any sense.
We need a revival. We need
an awakening. Only this time
it shouldn't be a revival for
personal salvation or an
awakening to spiritual gifts.
It's got to be a revival of
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God's plain teachings about


moving the lines to include all
of our sisters and brother.
We've got to keep up with
our God who has already
enfolded everyone in grace.
And we'd better pick up the
pace, because we're falling
further and further behind.

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