"Strange Friends" - Easter 6B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
May 6, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Acts 10:44-48
Easter 6B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: May 6, 2018 – Easter 6B

Acts 10:44-48; John 15:9-17


Strange Friends


            Two very different people, from opposite backgrounds, met in the same house one day, long ago. Peter, of course, was a Galilean fisherman, a Jew, from the lower classes, who had been chosen by Jesus to serve as a prominent apostle. Cornelius was from the powerful echelon of society. He was a centurion – a Roman officer in command of 100 soldiers. In other words, he was part of the force that occupied Palestine. These men could not have been more different.


            And yet, God’s grace and power made a soul friendship possible, where there was only the possibility of hatred and fear before.


            Peter knew the rules. As a Jew, he wasn’t to go into Gentile homes. He wasn’t to associate with Gentiles. And under no circumstances was he to eat with Gentiles. Food purity laws were a big deal. They were the Word of God, in black-and-white, on the scroll. He knew he didn’t have the authority to change the Word. God said, through Moses, that Jews were to avoid certain foods. No pork. No carrion birds. No shellfish. To eat with these Gentiles would be tantamount to breaking the Word.


            Which is why it took a vision, repeated three times, for Peter to agree to see Cornelius. It happens earlier in chapter 10. Peter sees a giant sheet brought down from heaven, with all kinds of traditionally unclean animals on it. He hears a voice, commanding, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Peter protests, saying that nothing unclean has ever passed his lips. He’s kosher, after all. He follows the law. Why should he break it now? The voice responds. “You must never judge as profane what God has declared clean.”


            For Peter, this vision isn’t just about food. It’s about people. God has declared the Gentiles “clean”, or acceptable to God. Who is Peter to argue? So he goes with Cornelius’ messengers to Cornelius’ home.


            Cornelius has had his own vision, too, telling him to invite Peter to his home. When he meets Peter, an extraordinary role reversal takes place. Cornelius, the centurion, the elite, the powerful, falls at the feet of Peter the fisherman, Peter the Jew, Peter the nobody. Peter corrects him, and helps Cornelius stand. They are on equal footing now, equal before each other and before God.


            Cornelius explains his angelic visitor. Peter explains how he is learning that God shows no partiality to people. Peter begins to preach the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world. And suddenly, without warning, the Holy Spirit rushes into the room and settles on the Gentiles there. Usually the order for initiation into the Christian faith in Acts is word-conversion-baptism-Spirit, but here it is vision-word-Spirit-baptism. The Spirit shows up out of order! And not only are new people written in the book of life, two men who would never have otherwise associated with each other become friends.


            God is constantly prompting us toward friendships with different kinds of people than ourselves. We like to stay in the same circle of people, after all. It’s a human tendency. We’re far more comfortable being around people who look like us, who act like us, who think like us, who vote like us, who believe what we believe. It’s much more difficult to be with people who are different from us, let alone form a friendship with them.


            And besides, the term “friendship” has been cheapened in our culture to the point of meaninglessness. At last count, I have 497 “friends” on Facebook. Really? I have 497 friends? Of course I don’t. I have 497 people that I am associated with in some way – people I went to school with, people I worked with, people I sung with, people I ministered to and with. Only a small handful out of those 497 people are real friends, “soul” friends.


            Nevertheless, Jesus still calls us to new friendships with others. Why? Because Jesus himself is friends with them. If we look at our passage from John today, we hear Jesus say that no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This could mean dying for someone, as Jesus did. Or it could mean living one’s life fully for the sake of others rather than for the sake of self (as Jesus also did).


            Whichever we may be called to do, we know that we have a friend and Savior who loves us, who calls us friends. Jesus, our Lord, Master, and Teacher, is also our friend. We are his friends because he has already shown us the script for how things will play out in the end. Despite the evils of the world, despite the tragedy, heartbreak, and sadness, Jesus will bring us all to himself in the end. And it will be his love for us all that saves us.


            Jesus is the friend who tied a towel around himself and washed his disciples’ feet, performing the role of a household servant. Jesus, the most powerful – lowered himself willingly. Cornelius too, though powerful and influential, needs to hear what Peter has to say to him. And Peter needs to know that Jesus isn’t just for one group of people. Jesus is for all kinds of people – Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, rich and poor, and on and on. Jesus is our true friend in an age where true friends are rare.


            And Jesus sends us out to expand our circle of friends, to model Jesus’ friendship with us. To model the friendship between Peter and Cornelius. Because when we experience that kind of soul friendship, that friendship that loves someone else for who they are rather than for what they can do, we experience the love of God.


            Let us pray,


            Jesus, you are our true friend. Help us to heed your call to go outside of ourselves and show your friendship to others. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.