• Steven Marsh

Hope–All Are Called: a Reflection on Acts10:34-43

Hope is not partial. However, we live in a society that is. Biased attitudes and actions persist. As with Peter’s confession in Acts, the good news of Jesus points us to an inclusive vision to guide our lives. Timothy F. Sedgwick, the Clinton S. Quin Professor of Christian Ethics at Virginia Theological Seminary, writes, “Life in Christ is a new life marked by forgiveness of sins, by doing good, and providing justice to those who are oppressed, and by proclaiming to others that God has done mighty acts for us in Christ and that Jesus is Lord of all.”[1]

Unfortunately, a new study reveals many of us have a hidden bias against anyone with a foreign accent. According to a summary of the study in The Wall Street Journal, “The further from native-sounding an accent is, the harder we have to work, and the less trustworthy we perceive the information to be.” It gets worse: “Researchers found that the heavier the accent, the more skeptical participants became.” In other words, if it sounds like you’re not from around here, my suspicion radar is on high alert. My bias about you isn’t based on your character; it’s based on the fact that you talk “different.” …In biblical terms, we show favoritism toward people who resemble us. Perhaps this study shows why we need Jesus’ help to uproot our partiality and love people who don’t resemble us, especially people from different racial, ethnic or national groups.[2]

The text in Acts makes four points for our consideration in pursuing a non-partial and inclusive Christian faith. First, Jesus was sent by God the Father for everyone. Cornelius was a Gentile and Peter was a Jew. For the most part, the Jewish establishment did not want Gentiles to convert to Jesus without adopting certain Jewish practices as well. Although Peter wanted some adherence to said practices by Gentile converts to Christianity, Peter made it abundantly clear to Cornelius that following Jesus was radically different than assenting to a religion’s structures practices. Second, Jesus exercised a ministry of healing. Cornelius wanted the salvation Jesus offered. He not only wanted eternal life, but also the ability to live life differently now. Cornelius rejected the notion that Gentiles could not speak with Jews and sent for Peter. Through Peter, Jesus healed Cornelius. Third, Christians witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Peter declared to Cornelius the power of the resurrection. He didn’t start with Cornelius’ family history. Peter didn’t outline a psychological profile embracing Cornelius’ unique personality type. It’s the resurrection that matters. Finally, believing the liberating news of Jesus results in the forgiveness of sins. Peter announces to Cornelius that his sins are forgiven in Jesus Christ. Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead not for any benefit to himself, but for the benefit of Cornelius, you, and me. Jesus’ baptism, earthly obedience, crucifixion, and resurrection were for all people.

Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Baptism is not only the sign of God’s promise of salvation by grace, but is the seal of God’s promise to save humanity. Again, Sedgwick writes, “In baptism by water in the community of faith we experience the power of God at work.” [3] The inclusive benefits of the cross and resurrection are declared at the font.

God’s acting in Jesus makes the hope of salvation real. Hope is generous. And generosity is not biased. As Martin Thielen writes, “The Bible teaches that generosity leads to contentment and well-being…Giving of our time, money, kindness, encouragement, love, and service enriches us. When we practice generosity, it makes us bigger, more complete, and more fulfilled.”[4] Jesus’ baptism was God’s generosity on our behalf and for our benefit. Jesus was baptized for you and for me.

[1]Timothy F. Sedgwick in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 232.

[2]Clayton M. McCleskey, “Accentuating Bias,” The Wall Street Journal (10-2-10) | posted 1/10/2011 on http://www.preachingtoday.com

[3]Timothy F. Sedgwick in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume, 232 and 234.

[4]Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 77.

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