31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 19, 2019
Acts 10:1-17, 23-28, 34-35, 44-48
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Although I miss Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, I am still a huge fan of Project Runway. It has new hosts, new judges. It’s even made a channel switch again, but one thing remains the same about this fashion design competition- its catch phrase. “In fashion, one day you are in and the next you are out.” And it’s true. One week you might be at the top in the competition and the next week you might be eliminated.
It’s sadly the way of much of the world, but it’s not the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of Jesus’ community. Not everyone understands that though. Even Simon Peter did not understand the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ community. Even after 3 years of traveling with Jesus, even after witnessing Jesus’ ministry of radical inclusion, Simon Peter believed that some people were in and others were out. It’s what he had been taught his whole life. Those born to the Jewish faith were in. Those who followed the laws handed down from Moses were in. And everyone else was out.
Peter thought things were going to be the same with the community of Jesus Christ. And then one day, in a vision from God, Peter learned that “what God has made clean, what God has declared good, no person should call unclean, no person should call unworthy or unacceptable”.
And if that vision was not enough, then God sent representatives of one of those very people Peter might have previously considered unacceptable – a commander in the Roman army. Cornelius was not Jewish. Cornelius was not in – or so Peter had always been taught to believe. And yet, Cornelius was a faithful man. Cornelius generously shared his financial treasure with the poor; Cornelius prayed and depended on God; Cornelius was thought well of by those in the Jewish community. Cornelius was a good man, a devout man, a faithful and upright man so why was he out? Why was he unacceptable?
And then Peter realizes, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” (Acts 10:34-35)
Peter discovers that all are welcome in Christ’s community, all are ‘in’ in the Church. Period. End of sentence. No qualifiers. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
That is what we believe in the United Church of Christ. That is what we believe as the First Congregational Church. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. That’s what we practice as we welcome Maddox into the faith and family of Jesus Christ. That’s what we practice as we welcome four new members into the fellowship of this Christian community. All who wish to have a relationship with the God of love we know through Jesus Christ are welcome here.
It’s not what all Christian communities believe or practice though so why do we welcome all? Do we do it because when Peter was hungry, he had a vision about four-footed creatures and a voice said, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’? Do we welcome all because Cornelius had a vision about Peter? Do we practice radical inclusivity because the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone that day– Jew and non-Jew, all who heard the word of God?
It is for all of those reasons and so many more that we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to welcome all. It is because the Bible tells us that in the beginning God created all creatures, all people, all animals, all of creation, and God called us all good, very good.
It is because throughout our faith story, going back thousands and thousands of years, over and over again, God has told us to welcome the stranger, to include the outcast, to honor both the child and the elder.
It is because we know deep in our hearts that in unconditional love Jesus Christ gave his life for all people. And it is because the Holy Spirit of God dwells within the breath and body of each person. Because the Holy Spirit of God chooses who she chooses to bless and not who we deem acceptable or worthy.
So if God loves all, if Jesus died for all, if the Holy Spirit chooses to dwell with all, who are we to say otherwise?
We aren’t. Our role is to welcome. Our role is to embody the extravagant love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. Our role is to nurture each person’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, inspiring and empowering each person to use their tremendous gifts for building God’s community of love, peace, and justice here on earth.
So this day, we are honored to practice that extravagant love and welcome as we baptize Maddox and welcome Marjorie, Mike, Ruth, and Steve. And every day, we are called – wherever our journey takes us, to continue to practice the love, unity, and radical inclusiveness that are the way of Jesus Christ that we might transform this world into God’s amazing community of peace and love.