Thursday, September 4, 2014

Consider No One Common Or Unclean! No One Includes You!

The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. 24 And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. 28 And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
 30 And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, [3] and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Acts 10:24-33 (ESV)
Peter finally makes it to Cornelius’s house. And Cornelius is so excited he has assembled everyone, his family, relatives close friends, all are there to hear what Peter has to say.
Cornelius falls down to worship Peter. It gives you an insight to the Roman mind. They were not as skeptical as we are today. They assumed gods could manifest themselves in human form. This gets Paul and Barnabus into trouble later. Cornelius knows that this man has been sent by God, and so he is very careful to show what ever respect is possible. He oversteps this just a bit. And Peter gently corrects him.
Peter himself is a bit taken aback by all the people who have come to hear what he has to say. Immediately he recognizes God’s time has come. This is an opportunity that God has prepared, and he will seize it with everything he has.  “God has shown me that I should not consider any person common (profane) or unclean.” And this is at the heart of mission. Rather, every person is sacred.
“God has shown me that I should not consider any person common or unclean.” This is such an easy thing to comprehend, and yet such a hard thing to actually put into practice. I suppose much of this is because the actual fact is we are all unclean, and none of us really want to admit that either. But we are. We are sinners, and if we are clean it is only because of the forgiveness of Christ. That same forgiveness he has given to all. We are made clean and holy by the blood of Christ, which he shed for the world, for all. We have then no ability to separate ourselves from others in such a way as to think we are better than them, or that they are worse off than us because their sin manifests itself in a different way in their lives than it does in ours. Consider no one common or unclean. Consider them all sacred. I mean if anything our reaction to these people should be that which Cornelius shows to Peter. These people are sacred, and the needed to be treated with the respect of the sacred. The fact that we don’t do this, shows all the more the misery of our sin and our own need for the same forgiveness that has made them sacred in God’s eyes. But it also shows that we don’t much consider ourselves sacred, or holy. And yet we are! You are holy! You are sanctified!

And that is precisely the biggest problem in the popular theology of today, the Weslyan blight on the American landscape. It attaches sanctification to your ability to follow God’s law. It wants to quantify progress in sanctification one way or another by how well you or others follow God’s law, (as interpreted, added to and detracted from by men posing as theologians, but that is another story all together.) Hey Look! I found my hobby horse and I’m going to ride it! No seriously this is the problem with modern ideas of what sanctification, holiness and purity mean. And it is all hogwash. It’s backward. The concept is that you make yourself holy by following God’s law, and abstaining from premarital sex etc. And the biblical concept alla 1 Cor. 6 is, you are holy, so don’t profane yourself by profaning others, don’t throw your pearls before Swine. Love yourself! Love yourself, God loves you, so love yourself. The problem as we often see it is that we don’t love others as we love ourselves. The commandment actually takes for granted that you love yourself. And the real problem comes down to that you don’t. Not really. Not in the way you should. We can be selfish, egotistical and narcissistic, but these are really a perversion of love for self. It’s a shadow of love oppressed by sin and death. But if you are going to love others as yourself, you really have to love yourself first. And this is a problem. How do we learn to love ourselves? Luther’s answer was through daily repentance in which we drown the Old Adam in baptism and rise to live a new life. In other words, return to the source of your sanctification, that which sanctifies you and doesn’t profane you. And that which sanctifies you is your baptism, your burial into Christ and your resurrection to new life in him. Or one might say, the love of Christ for you that is manifested in baptism. We love because he first loved us. We dump our sins, and refuse to hold on to them, but in so doing we see that we are not so different than our neighbors, we actually share their sins, and if we look hard enough we find we are so depraved as to covet their sins. Most of our outrage against other sinners is a thinly veiled jealousy that we haven’t been able to do the same thing and get away with it. And when we finally grow tired of our own pet sin, we confuse that with sanctification, when really all we have done is found some new sin to occupy our time. But we think we are somehow getting to be more holy, more Christ like, more sanctified. As Gerhard Forde says, “don’t confuse senility with sanctification.” No, you can never be more sanctified than you are the moment you are baptized. It’s a state of being. You are holy, just as God is holy, and God considers no one and nothing to be common or unclean. It is part of his holiness to consider his creation, including you, to be holy and sacred, so we too, in sharing his holiness, bathing in his love, bathe others in his love and consider no one to be common or unclean. 

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