baptism  Acts 10, Matthew 3:13-17

It has been 12 days since New Years

Almost two weeks

I won’t ask for a show of hands for who has kept their resolutions so far.

And if I did, I could not raise my hand anyway.

I didn’t even take on a New Year’s resolution.

It is not that I don’t believe in them.

I even think resolutions serve a good purpose—they signify hope for change, and they can encourage groups of people to come together to work toward a goal– building community; they can even be humorous, as some of mine have been in the past; there’s nothing wrong with a healthy attitude about oneself.

But I sure hope you didn’t decide to make your resolution this year to come to church every Sunday. Don’t get me wrong….I want to see you here. As a community committed to doing the work of Christ together here in Scottsboro and beyond, carrying on the ministry of those who’ve gone before us, we need to be here.

But making a promise not to miss church, well, it is a bit problematic.

(Now, if you made this your resolution, God bless you….and I’ll ask you for a little grace as I proceed here).

It seems to me, you see, that promising we’ll go to church every Sunday or even almost every Sunday sets us up for failure…not only because…well sometimes we’re not feeling well, or the clock doesn’t go off, or the game last night ran late, or…whatever, (there are a myriad of reasons—I’ve heard them.)

Then, when we don’t go, we feel as if we’ve let ourselves down or worse, let God down—and none of this is going to help us feel closer to God.

As it happens, this is what God is most interested in—us. The real us, not some aspirational us, but persons with questions and needs and mixed emotions, not someone pretending to be perfect, but persons who wonder…. just what is it God is asking us to do?

We can take no better example of such an imperfect and questioning person than the apostle Peter for our consideration on this matter. Sweet Peter, who throughout the gospels is shown to be the impulsive one: the one who jumps in the water before he considers just how he is going to walk on it like Jesus, the one who is so excited about Jesus’ teaching at the last supper, that he impetuously says, then Lord, wash not just my feet, but all of me. Peter, who promises he’ll never desert his Lord, and then denies Jesus three times after his arrest.

Yes, Peter, it seems earned a reputation of being a bit reckless, but more importantly, for us, is that Peter is also wholly relatable.

And surprise, It is this same Peter, who Jesus wants to lead the church going forward: saying to him, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Peter shows us it is in just being who we are, we are best called to be apostles for Jesus.

Peter also shows us, we need to be willing to keep an open mind about what God has in mind for our apostleship.

Today in the NT reading we hear Peter doing just this.

The story is in the book of Acts—a book written about what happens to the apostles after Jesus is crucified and resurrected –it is essentially the story of the beginning of the Christian church.

In chapter 10 of Acts, that we read part of today, we find Peter on the roof of his house praying one day…(picture a flat rooftop, with a rug to sit on and place for tea, not our western steep pitched roofs all shingled and steep)

Up until now, Peter and the other disciples’ work had been among the Jews, witnessing and bringing them to Christ. But this story we hear today is quite different. Peter finds himself unexpectedly summoned to a Roman soldier’s house after seeing a strange vision from God.

Just before the Gentile visitors arrived to ask Peter to come, Peter had heard a voice tell him, in his vision, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” So Peter goes with the men. And what we read out loud today is the speech he gave at the gentile’s house beginning with the words,

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

These words may not seem so striking to us, that God shows no partiality, but they should strike us. First, because it is clear that Peter himself was struck when he heard from God what he was to say.  He even tells those assembled, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call anyone unclean.”

It’s not that Jews thought God excluded Gentiles, their theology believed that God will reconcile all people to himself in the last days. It just seems Peter didn’t think it was his job, to witness to Gentiles.

The believers who had come with Peter were also astounded, “that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,” this passage goes on to tell us,  for they heard the gentiles speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Peter was sent to these Gentiles to teach a message of radical inclusion, one he had just learned himself.

Secondly, this lesson should strike us because if we’re honest, we know Christianity can still be exclusive, acting as if there are insiders and outsiders. When we know if we’re at all listening to Jesus, if we’re reading Isaiah, we too, like Peter, are to see vision of family that God desires for everyone.

God Adopts us…all, as children, right now, right here in our earthly journey, as imperfect as we are, we are God’s.

I have a few friends in my life who were adopted as children, given up by their biological parents and taken into a new family. And I have some friends who have adopted children of their own. It is quite a curious thing to most of us—the experience of adoption.

We wonder what the back story of the child is. We think how trusting and brave the parents must be. We hope that the new family will find ways to love and support one another as they grow closer.

We also scarcely know of the struggles there are in adopting a child. One of my friends told me recently that their biggest struggle has been, getting their child to believe that this is real, and forever, and that she won’t be sent back to foster care if she’s bad.

What do you do to help your child understand, they are always yours, no matter what?

You take your child by the hand, and hold on; You walk, hand in hand, sharing your experiences and all that you have. You stay with your child and assure them. You model for them what love is and tell them when you are pleased with them.

I think we are enamored with adoptive parents because it seems so amazing…sharing such a love, a deep parental love with a being you’ve grafted into your family, is the stuff of greatness.

Yes, Adoption is an extraordinary sharing of love, And it just what God does for us in baptism. We are brought into, grafted into, the family of God and we become heirs of God’s kingdom, with all the rights and responsibilities of being part of the family.

Jesus models this for us in his own baptism, hearing God call him my beloved, and then immediately beginning his ministry.

Next week, we’ll baptize a new member of the body of Christ, Hopefully, you can be here. We’ll renew our own baptismal covenants. Recommitting to what we believe, and what we’re called to do as the church.

Spoiler here…the promises we’ll make have nothing to do with being at church every Sunday.

The church does not exist to be an end to itself.

This is what Peter learned and we need to hear again.

The church does not exist to be an end to itself.

We come together to worship God, to give God thanks, and to support one another, so that we can be sent out to find our ministry and to serve all people—impartially, incredibly, as Peter would call it, loving all of God’s  divine, diverse creation as part of our own family.

Stir up in your Church, O God, that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship and serve you in sincerity and truth. Amen.