Sunday, January 9, 2011

1.9 Baptism's Boundless Love

When you get a new car, what’s the first thing you do? When you jump into a rental car – before testing it’s capacities – what are your first steps? 1. adjust the seats 2. adjust the mirrors and 3. Tune THE RADIO. Everytime I’ve gotten a new car, the first thing I’ve done is adjust the preset stations. I want my favorites on those little buttons. I want the stations I listen to within easy reach. Do you know what I mean? Do you do that? Do you have your favorites preset on your car radio?
I don’t have my favorites just preset on the radio… my favorites are always within reach. They’re always close by. I have my favorite websites listed, my most common sites tallied. I have my books next to my bed. My fridge is ideally stocked with all the things I like.
I like Pizza… I could eat pizza several times a week. Are there particular meals you want monthly, weekly, daily? I get joked a lot about how much I like Pizza. Did you know I like Pizza? Like I said, I could eat pizza several times a week. I think my longest stretch of eating pizza is 9 days in a row. I like Pizza.
I’m the kind that could pretty much eat the same thing week after week. There doesn’t have to be much variation to my pallet. I like what I like, and might as well have it often! Others in my family… they need more variation. And so, I don’t just eat at Pudge… I eat at CPK, Little Caesars, Milano’s, Pagliacci’s, Olympia, Delfino’s… the Wallingford Pizza House, the list can go on and on.
There are definitely things we like to eat aren’t there… We have particular tastes and preferences. I like pizza and ice cream. Bree likes Thai food and sushi. Mark likes Burger Master, chips, and little smokies. Judy likes Raspberry Jell-O and Tea’ likes her quad tall decaf latte.
As I think about preferences, I think about the playground. Do you remember what it was like during recess in elementary school? When everyone was out running around, playing on the playground, and picking teams for dodge ball, soccer, kickball, basketball and even four-square. The drama, the emotion of picking teams, you always knew who the first picks would be. You could calculate who would be picked depending on who was captain… who would be picked first, second, third – last!
We do a good job of showing our favorites… but interestingly enough we also do a great job sharing what our least favorites are. Those things we like the least!
For me its things like meatloaf and potatoes, running and wearing shoes. We have entire systems set up in our society to share what our likes and dislikes are. This past Christmas Season a friend on facebook posted: “I Thinks its easier to pick a Christmas song I hate then pick a favorite.” She then went on to share her least favorite Christmas song.
We all have preferences. Things we like. Things we show favoritism towards. Whether we want to admit it or not – we all have favorites. We have favorite movies, books, tv shows. We have favorite passages of scripture, quotes, and even friends. And on the flipside, we all have our least favorites of each of those.
Whether we want to admit it or not – our society – as progressive and accepting of peoples as we might be, we still struggle with the playground antics of showing favorites. In this week’s Tuesday’s edition of the Seattle Times there was an editorial[i] written which reflected upon a failed effort to place ads on Metro Transit buses. The write said the ads accused Israel of war crimes as part of an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel.”
As I read the article and reflected upon the opinions of the writer, I believe whether we agree or not with his perspective – we must agree that we have favorites and we play favorites. Isn’t that what fantasy football is all about?
Let’s read the text of the day found in the book of Acts chapter 10 starting with verse 34.
Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
 39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
            Upon my first read of the text – I was struck by the first verse.
I always believe we need to begin by looking at a texts location within the larger picture. So, after having just woken up from a dream where  Peter saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. And upon the sheet were all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
          Peter replied “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” [ii] )
So following this vision, Peter being approached by some men who were sent to find him and bring him to their town to meet a man named Cornelius, began a two day journey to Caesarea. After meeting Cornelius he stepped into the house and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
At this Cornelius shared his story with Peter and that’s where we find our text… with Peter’s response.
Upon my first read of this text – I was struck by the first verse: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” 
            I am struck by this verse. I’m struck by its meaning and its implication upon our lives. I’m struck by its countercultural presence in our favorites stricken society. God does not show favoritism. God, the creator, sustainer, lover, redeemer does not show favorites. He’s not the team captain on the playground picking his team based on their ability or their mere loyalty!
            So, what are the implications for this kind of nonpartisan boundless love on our lives and on our world?
            In the Gospel text[iii] we read about the baptism of Jesus by the hands of John the Baptist. And then we follow that text with this one from Acts where Peter is given a vision of things the community considered impure or dirty becoming pure and clean.
            The vision, God’s words, Peter’s epiphany – there’s a light bulb that goes on in his heart and mind. What the community had segregated and created social laws and practices against, God breaks down. God breaks down the segregation; the us-and-them. He opens up, perhaps what never should have even been closed.
            In Christ’s baptism, love is boundless. The favorites we think are played – no longer hold merit. Peter tells us that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. I believe one of his strong points here is the part about every nation. Every nation! God accepts those from every nation – with their differing practices. Every Nation!
God accepts. God Loves. It’s through the baptism of our Lord that we too are given the ability to accept and love. Through baptisms boundless love we can move beyond the confines of the playground hierarchy where favorites, not just of games or balls – but of people are played out. We must move beyond the confines of the playground hierarchy.
Through baptisms boundless love we can embrace beyond the limitations of our societal preferences for the newest gadget, toy, fashion and click! When we embrace the reality afforded us through Christ’s baptism we can move beyond the empirical strivings for wealth and fortune. Through God’s reconciling work found in the dying and rising of baptism, we can move beyond these worldly traps and into God’s upside down kingdom; where national boundaries disappear, racial tensions are blinded, and cultural stereotypes are ignored. 
Upon reading this passage – I am struck by the first verse: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” 
The last part of this verse keeps pulling my attention to Micah 6:8 - He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
When we’re honest, and we slow down… I believe we will realize that Peter’s words ring true. And beyond the “at times” not so simple act of acceptance – we will find God doing more! He not only accepts those from every nation who fear (or love) him and do what’s right (or live justice, mercy, humility) but he actually seeks us out. He seeks us out, each of us. From every tribe, kingdom, and nation. We’re not his afterthought – but rather his forethought. We are his beloved – from every tribe, kingdom and nation!
Throughout this chapter in Acts, we hear the story of God stepping out - beyond our man made walls and limitations. He steps beyond them to embrace and share his love with those on the outside. He’s breaking walls down, and leveling the playing field. He’s running a no cuts tryout.
Do you know what I’m talking about? A No-Cuts Tryout! He’s inviting all who are interested, to come and learn what it means to run on his cross-country team where failing is as important as winning. We’re invited to join our brothers and sisters from across seas, oceans, and continents; we are invited to join our brothers and sisters from across denominations, perspectives, and life experiences – in his kingdom where he shows no partiality for the rich and well adjusted. If there is any partiality – it is for the sick, the broken, the disenfranchised, the poor, the hurting, and the lonely.
Through God’s baptism flows boundless love.
It is because of God’s baptism that we are able to do things we do. Things like opening our doors to the stranger; throwing a feast for the homeless; sharing from closets and cupboards. It’s because of the boundless love of God that we devote space to latte’s, cappuccinos, and conversation. We do this because, like Peter – we realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism. We do this because we know within our local and global neighborhood there are others just like Cornelius who have seen, tasted, and experienced God’s boundless, unconditional, grace-filled life, soaked in love. They’ve experienced God’s Prevenient Grace, his grace that goes out before; his grace which meets you where you are, before anyone even knows where to find the real you.
We must be faithful to the visions and passions God is placing before us. We must be willing to step out beyond the comfort zones of the way things are and have always been…We must step out and allow Peter’s faith and trust in God’s Lordship to rule true for us! When God asks, we must be willing to go against the norm. God’s spoken words upon our lives are more poignant than any tradition or nation.

The question of the day simply boils down to: What preferences, prejudices and favorites are you playing… that God is now lowering down a white sheet before you?

Let us, on this second Sunday of a new year – remember our baptism in Christ, and step out beyond the walls of our institution. Let’s follow in Christ’s way. Let’s forget our playground antics of favoritism and boldly follow as Peter did, allowing God to speak his boundless love through us.
Allow Christ and his baptism’s boundless love to redeem all of which HE loves!

As you go, forgo your preferences for Christ’s redemptive kingdom of love. Go and Love.