May 19, 2019 sermon

Posted by on May 19, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

May 19, 2019

The apostle Peter had a problem that many people can identify with. He thought that he was superior to others because of who he was. Today’s reading from the Book of Acts makes it clear that Peter thought the Good News of Jesus was for the Jewish people and not for those who were referred to as Gentiles, which includes all those who are not of the Jewish people. Because Jesus was a Jew and all of his disciples were Jews, Peter believed that Jesus’ message of love and salvation was only for the Jews. But in a vision Peter received from God he realized that what he believed was wrong and he needed to let go of his biased beliefs.

I wonder if we realize how important this passage of scripture was to the fledgling Christian faith. If Peter and the other original disciples of Jesus had continued to believe that Jesus’ message was only for Jews, Christianity as we know it today might not exist. After all, even the apostle Paul was a Jew, although he took his message to the Gentiles as well. What I would like us to think about today is how attached we are to our own many beliefs.

For instance, many Christians continue to believe that while God may love all people, only Christians will be saved. Of course, many people of other faiths think much the same thing, only it is the people of their faith who will be saved and not Christians. This kind of belief system has caused such great pain and suffering in our world throughout history that we have to stop and consider whether such beliefs can ever be true. Thankfully, not all people hold to such beliefs and are much more open to other possibilities.

Why is it that we humans so often believe something and then close ourselves off from other possibilities? One example might be the belief that the sun revolved around the earth instead of the earth and other planets revolving around the sun. So entrenched into the belief system of all people for centuries of human history was this belief that the earth was the centre of everything that when someone dared to suggest otherwise, those people were labeled as foolish and heretical and often sentenced to death. The Christian church could not tolerate or even consider the possibility that their beliefs might be incorrect. Today, we know that what was once believed was not true. But there are other beliefs that are still held as true that are also being challenged, and as in the past, the religious institutions often reject these new possibilities. They do this because they are afraid. Fear always drives people to hold onto their beliefs even when it is obvious they are doing harm and not leading to peace and love.

An example might be the belief that when a person came down with some kind of physical illness or suffered from a mental illness, that this person was possessed by a demon of some kind. The bible is full of stories like this as are other historical documents. Only recently, in the span of human history, have we discovered that there are very tiny organisms that can cause physical disease and that there are various chemicals that flow throughout our body that can lead to mental illness. But many people, including doctors, resisted these new ideas and held onto their old belief systems, continuing to use what they believed were helpful methods in an attempt to heal people that we now know did more harm than good.

Think about all the other beliefs that humanity once thought was ironclad and indisputable that have now been proven to be false. People thought the earth was flat at one time and that the blue sky that we see above us was a solid dome that one passed through to get to heaven and the molten lava that gushed from the earth was what awaited those who ended up in hell. I wonder how many people continue to hold onto such beliefs in today’s modern world. I certainly do not.

Or what about the belief that God is a man and therefore men are superior to women? Think about the great harm this sort of belief has caused for women and continues to be one of the reasons some men continue to put all kinds of restrictions on what women are permitted to do. In many countries of the world today, females are treated inhumanely simply because of such religious beliefs.

I could go on and give you many examples of things that were once believed to be true have been proven to be false. I could also give you many examples of ways in which powerful people have used the various belief systems to their advantage. But I’m sure you are probably well aware of many of them yourself and don’t need me to outline them for you.

So, where do we go with all of this? Do we simply toss belief systems aside and need to have everything proven by science before we accept it as true? I don’t think that would be wise. Even what we thought was proven by science has been found to not be true at times. For instance, there is now being work done on quantum computing that may put an end to our current beliefs about how the universe operates and the limits of the universe as we know it. It seems that nothing is sacred anymore.

And this is the point of my sermon today. We must be very, very careful about making what we believe to be absolute truth with no room in our minds for other possibilities or truths. Including our belief about who and what God is! Yes, you heard me correctly. I am suggesting that we should avoid ever thinking that what we believe about God is completely reliable and absolutely truthful.

I make this suggestion because of our reading from the Book of Acts in which the disciple Peter, the rock of the early Christian church, was absolutely convinced that the Good News of Jesus was only intended for the Jewish people. What a surprise it was for him to discover that Jesus’ message of love and grace was for all people, without exception. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for Peter to wrap his head around this new belief when his faith had claimed for thousands of years that God favoured Peter’s Jewish people above all others? Yet, Peter was able to let go of his old belief and embrace a new one. How unfortunate that the Christian church then fell into the same trap Peter had been in and began to claim that God favoured Christians above all others. I don’t believe that this was ever Jesus’ intention!

So, what was Jesus’ intention? What does he want his followers and disciples to believe? We can find the answer in today’s Gospel reading from John where Jesus is reported to have said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. 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.” (John 13:31-35)

That’s it! No lengthy instructions or religious laws or complicated theology or adherence to creeds or anything else that sets one person above or against another. In fact, just the opposite. The only thing that Jesus asks of his followers is that they love one another as he has loved them. And we all know that love never does harm to another. We all know that love of the sort Jesus speaks of has no room for judgemental attitudes or airs of superiority. We are all aware that the love Jesus lived by and died by was a sacrificial love that looked out for others as much or more than himself. I am convinced that Jesus would be shocked and feel betrayed by any belief system that claimed you had to believe in certain ways or follow certain traditions or accept certain doctrine to be loved by God. This is the danger of belief systems that are considered ironclad and leave no room for other possibilities.

Sadly, our own Lutheran tradition has made this mistake in the past. Martin Luther was a great theologian and brought to the forefront that we are saved by faith through grace, which we Lutherans are very thankful for. But Luther also condemned people who believed in adult baptism or did not accept his beliefs. This is something we Lutherans are not thankful for. Luther was very intelligent and struggled with his own belief system, which was quite refreshing and helpful, until he decided that his belief was absolute and left no room for others beliefs.

So, today’s sermon is a reminder and a warning that we must be so very careful about what we believe, and even when we are confident in our belief, that we do not become arrogant about that belief. Let us remain open to other possibilities and other people’s thoughts and beliefs, as long as they do not do harm or promote hatred of others. The one belief I think we should all hang onto and not compromise on is the belief that we are to be people of love in all situations and with all people.

So, there you go, I’m now promoting a belief that I think is ironclad. But until someone shows me that such a belief is harmful or false, I will continue to cling to it as my anchor, my rock, and my salvation.

What about you? Do you have a belief system that you follow as your guide in all that you do and say? Do you believe that justice is best handled with the tooth for a tooth philosophy? Or do you believe in grace? Do you believe that it is better that you win, no matter what situation you are in, or do you believe in a win-win outcome? When you are wronged in some way, do you believe in getting even and getting revenge or do you believe in forgiveness? Do you believe that it is okay to take advantage of others in business so that you can make a nice profit or do you believe that you should treat others in the same way you would want to be treated? Do you believe that God is on the side of some over others, and that God is usually on your side, or do you believe that God is on the side of everyone?

What do you believe? Or have you never really thought about it and simply go through life, taking what you can and giving when you can, without considering the ramifications of what you believe and what you do?

All is ask today is that you take at least a few minutes, and hopefully more than that, to think about what you believe and whether those beliefs do harm to anyone else. If they do, maybe it’s time to reconsider those beliefs and open yourself up to other possibilities. If they do no harm to anyone, then give thanks and may they continue to support and nourish you throughout your life.

I believe in the scripture passage that says “God is Love in whom no fear exists” and I will continue to hold onto that belief until someone shows me it is a harmful belief or one that does harm. I would enjoy hearing what you believe.