Easter 6, May 9, 2021
Seeing as God Sees, Loving as God Loves
Text: Acts 10:34–48
We begin with a story. It had been a long time since Tyson had gotten out of bed on a Sunday morning to go to church. Oh, he would go to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve with his family whenever he would fly back home for the holidays. But that was the extent of his involvement in church, ever since he’d gone to college.
This Sunday was different. He was tired of being alone. He was confused about life. His job left him unfulfilled and wanting more. He was empty. That was the word that he thought best described his life: empty. Maybe it was time to give Grace Lutheran Church a try.
He had passed by Grace Church a thousand times going to and from work. So on one particular Sunday, summoning some courage, he got in his car and timed his departure from his apartment intentionally so that he would arrive at the 10:30 a.m. service at 10:32. It worked well. He slid into the last row of chairs unnoticed by everyone, except for the usher who slipped him a bulletin. Scanning the congregation, Tyson noticed some families, some elderly couples, some younger people, some sitting with others, some, like himself, sitting alone.
Tyson heard the last of the pastor’s pre-service announcements and was surprised when he heard the pastor say, “We’re so pleased you’ve made your way to Grace Church today. We believe God led you here today, and we truly want you to experience God’s grace today. G-R-A-C-E: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. God bless your time with us today.”
The part about “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense” took Tyson back in time twenty years. His own pastor had used the same acronym to define “grace” in his seventh-grade confirmation class. With that old memory on his mind, Tyson settled back in his seat for the worship service.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we hear about God’s grace in a unique way in Acts 10, where Peter proclaims, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (vv 34–35).
God shows no partiality. That’s the way it is with His heart of grace. His love reaches to anyone, anywhere—all nationalities, all races, all ages, all types of people, rich or poor, lifelong Christian or new believer. God’s love reaches to you who have known and worshiped God as long as you can remember, and His love reaches to you who are searching to fill the emptiness in your lives like Tyson was. No one is out of the reach of God’s love. Aren’t you glad that’s true for you? That you are included among those God desires to save? Aren’t you glad that it’s true for everyone else? (And I mean everyone!)
Are you glad? Do you see all people as God sees them? Do you love them all as God loves them? I am guessing maybe not.
What is our experience with people? It’s that the people around us, sometimes, can be difficult to love! You’ve been hurt by the words and actions of people. Close relatives have disappointed you, have failed you. At work, you may have been passed up for a promotion by someone who didn’t deserve it when you did. Do you see those people as God sees them? Love them? Now remember: A little self-evaluation and honesty should cause you and me to understand that, sometimes, we are difficult to love, too.
If you struggle with this, join the club! Peter and the other early Christians were Jewish believers, and they thought that Jesus came only for other Jews. Then Peter received a request from a man named Cornelius—a Roman soldier, a centurion, a Gentile, not a Jew—to come to his house. So Peter goes to his home. When he arrives and sees a whole crowd of Gentiles eager to hear God’s Word from him, he gets it! Peter went on to proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection to Cornelius and the other Gentiles that day. He said, “To [Christ Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v 43). The Spirit fell on these people, and they were baptized. God showed no partiality. His love engulfed them, and they were saved.
It is clear that God loves all people and that He desires all to be saved through faith in Jesus. All need to be saved because all people are sinners. Everyone has it. God sees this sin clearly in the worst of us and in the best of us, in people of all types and ages, all nationalities, all races, in all places. Sin deserves God’s punishment. It deserves death, even eternal death.
And sin sure creates problems among us. Showing partiality (“playing favorites”) is the sin God’s Word is uncovering today. And this sin of showing partiality can have big-time consequences. In our partiality, we might listen only to people who agree with us and not to other points of view. We might value the opinions of longtime church members but disregard the opinions of new members. We might talk with our friends at church while we ignore new members and visitors who really need a friend, like the Tysons around us. We play favorites.
Our playing favorites, our showing partiality, can result in feelings of superiority or inferiority, depending on the side we’re on. It can lead to an attitude of “this is my church, not yours.”
We need help. Some divine intervention. And God delivers that help and intervention. God sent Jesus into this world as the divine partiality-buster. Jesus showed no partiality. He did not play favorites. He crossed the boundaries of society, bringing hope and forgiveness to shepherds and fishermen, to the woman at Jacob’s well who’d had five husbands, to a chief tax collector in Jericho. He healed. He restored. He fed.
Jesus perfectly loved and obeyed His heavenly Father. And God the Father laid on His Son the guilt of us all! My sins were on Jesus. Your sins were on Jesus. The sins of all people of all generations, all nationalities, all races, all ages, all types of people in all places were on Jesus. God shows no partiality.
Jesus suffered on the cross. He died. But on the third day, He rose from the dead. This was the great sign that the Father accepted the sacrifice of His Son. The sign that sin is forgiven and that life wins. Nothing could stop the apostles from proclaiming the Good News of the resurrected and victorious Savior, and nothing should stop us either: “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v 43). Everyone! God shows no partiality. This includes you, my brother in Christ, my sister in Christ, for God loves you.
But there’s more Good News. The love that saved us is the love that also transforms us! Living in that love of God, we can be different people, people who don’t play favorites, people who willingly and joyfully love and serve all types of people.
What might this love of Jesus look like for you in your relationships at work and at school? That that co-worker or fellow student is dearly loved by God. Jesus died and rose for them too. How will you show your love to them?
What can the transforming love of God for you and for all of us mean for our life together in our congregation? We live in an impersonal world, a harsh world. People yearn for community, a place to belong, a place where they are loved and accepted. This kind of church will listen. It will serve. This kind of church will attract others. For God shows no partiality, and neither will we in our congregation.
God Corrects Our Vision So That We Can See People as God Sees Them, and Love People as God Loves Them.
Returning to the story of Tyson’s visit to Grace Church, that congregation didn’t play favorites; the people there showed no partiality. Tyson got the sense that it was okay that he was there. He heard about Grace, God’s riches for him, the wanderer, the seeker. Tyson could tell that God’s love for him in Jesus Christ was beginning to fill his emptiness that very day.
After the service, Tyson was greeted by the usher and his wife, by the pastor and others. The pastor asked his name and said, “It’s so good to have you here, Tyson. Please come back next Sunday.” As Tyson made his way to his car, he was already making plans to do just that.
In the Name of Jesus.