"Who was I that I could hinder God?"
Today is Earth Day Sunday and our gratitude for the marvel of the Earth, which is our home, is great. We are grateful that as a family of God we are called to care for God’s earth. And so this is a wonderful day to be baptized. It is a wonderful day to be baptized into the family of God. My message today will focus on the family of God.
Revelation 21:3 tells us that the home of God is among mortals, among people like ourselves. God will dwell with us on this earth, and we will be God’s people and God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death and permanent separation will be no more, crying and pain will be no more, for these things have passed away and God is making all things new. What a great day to be baptized!
Baptism is saying out loud that we are God’s children; we are members of this people of God. Baptism is a promise to live our lives with this identity prominent in our consciousness. Baptism is holding the vision of God living with us and we as community in God. Baptism is a recognition that our old ways of thinking and old habits are gone because God makes our lives new and wipes each tear and guides each step we take. God is doing a new thing in us! What a great day to be baptized to live with this understanding in all that we do!
But let’s look more at this new thing God is doing. The new thing God is doing is enlarging our understanding of who God’s people are. God is enlarging our understanding of the people that God chooses to be with. This new thing God is doing might be shocking to us! For Peter, it was shocking.
Peter saw a vision. In his vision, a sheet from heaven came down with beasts of prey on it and Peter was told to kill the beasts and eat the meat. Peter was surprised and responded that he could not eat unclean food. The voice of the Lord in his vision was telling him to do something that did not correspond to the rules and rituals of his tradition. He was being asked to do something against the norm. Peter, always striving to do what is right and holy, says to the Lord that he cannot obey. But the response is, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times in Peter’s vision, which immediately led into the Spirit telling Peter to go with the Gentiles from Caesarea and not to make distinction between them and the Jews. Peter was instructed to deliver the message of salvation, which I like to call the message of God’s love, to the Gentiles just as he delivered it to the Jews.
The new thing God did for Peter was to help him see that God does not make distinction between people. God will dwell with all people, not just the ones Peter thinks are God’s people, and moreover, God will be with people in a way that God sees fit. The new thing God did for Peter is to give him an understanding that, as it says in verse 18, “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” We do not know what that repentance looks like because the scriptures are not specific. But the new thing God did for Peter and is doing for us is to break down the barrier between the in-group and the out-group, the Jews and the Gentiles, the believers and the non-believers, the ones who say the right words according to our traditions and the ones who do not. The new thing God did for Peter and is doing for us is to help us see, as it says in verse 17, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I, that I could hinder God?”
God gives the gift of love, the gift of God’s presence to all people without distinction. Verse 17 says that some receive this gift when they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But who are we to hinder God, if God will give the same gift to others in ways that are not known to us? Who are we to hinder God’s power among people God chooses to be with, and who are we to hinder God’s presence among those that God seeks out? For, as Revelation reminds us, “the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them.... God himself will be with them.”
The new thing God is doing in our lives is to broaden our understanding of who belongs to the family of God. What a great day to be baptized, for God is giving us a radical vision of inclusivity beyond what our traditions and social norms will tell us. Who are we to hinder God, if God will speak to people in ways that God did to us when we heard the message through the life of Jesus Christ? We do not know how God will speak to others, but this much is clear and this much we are commanded to do; what God calls clean and good, we are not to call profane and sinful.
And we are given another commandment; we are to love one another. We hear Jesus speaking to us in the Gospel of John: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The distinguishing mark of a disciple of Christ is the love one has for others. This is what Jesus commands. In this passage Jesus does not command his disciples to recite a certain creed, nor to even identify with a particular religious group. Jesus says, if you love others, they will know you are my disciples.
What a great day to be baptized into the family of God. God has chosen to be with us without distinction. Who are we to hinder God? All that we can do is to love one another. That is the only way we can truly show our baptized identity and our loyalty to God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.