ORDER OF WORSHIP
- Call to Worship – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy (UMH 64)
- Opening Prayer – Congregation
- Creed: Apostles’ Creed (UMH 881)
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Pastoral & Peace Prayers – Rev. Val
- Peace Hymn: Be Still, My Soul (UMH 534)
- Scripture Readings – Rev. Val
- Message: Once Upon a Dream – Rev. Val
- Hymn: How Great Thou Art (UMH 77)
- Service of Holy Communion
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95/Song Sheet)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
NOTICE TO ON-DEMAND WORSHIPPERS
In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scripture readings and the message. The majority of the other content (minus the message) is available through our weekly digital/email bulletin (you can sign up on our Contact Us page). Union Grove UMC began celebrating Holy Communion weekly as part of our regular worship service on July 17, 2022. You are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.
Open the eyes of our understanding and prepare our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, that we may receive Your scriptures with much joy and rejoicing and may leave today having a deeper understanding of who You are and who You would have us to be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
*All scriptures today are from the NRSV.
Acts 11:1-18 – Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”
Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.
At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
Revelation 21:1-6 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
John 13:31-35 – When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Once Upon a Dream
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Now I know not everyone here eats meat, but most of us do, and I just want to stop for a moment and give thanks for the dream or vision had that made it okay to eat shrimp and lobster and bacon, amen?
Except that isn’t what this passage was about … well, not completely anyway.
You might be thinking, “aha! Here’s the clobber back verse where we’re told to take the Good News to everyone and break bread with everyone!” They think we’re “too” this or that because we welcome everyone and that’s just what this passage is talking about.
Except that’s not what this passage is about either … well and again, not completely.
Peter’s come back from his adventures in Joppa and Caesarea where he’s experienced this wonderful revelation in the form of a dream-like vision and an encounter that verified he had understood the vision completely. We know from the passage that, as Peter explained it, his dream was about taking the gospel to and accepting what, by Jewish standards, was unclean … Gentiles, uncircumcised gentiles on top of it and … AND … sharing a meal with them! Of all the nerve. At least that’s what his colleagues back in Jerusalem thought when they heard what Peter had done, and they got straight to calling him out for it.
Peter is explaining himself to those of the fellowship who clearly don’t like what he’s done. Peter has crossed a line in the eyes of some of those who are now accusing him.
We don’t know what tone his accusers took with Peter, but I believe we can all imagine it. We’ve all experienced in writing or even sometimes in person the angst and even straight up outrage of those who disagree with something having to do with church. They might have approached him gently, spoken rationally about their objections. Except people aren’t usually gentle when it comes to someone acting so callously with their faith, at least not these days, and in Peter’s time … remember … they were followers of Christ but they’d all grown up in the Jewish faith … in Peter’s time, what he did was flat out blasphemy bordering on heresy. Jews did not eat or have dealings with Gentiles if they could possibly avoid it!
When long-held beliefs and practices are threatened, people tend to lash out. Voices are raised and fists are shaken. Words like “how dare you” and “who do you think you are” were hurled and long-standing relationships were broken. The accusers felt challenged, felt wronged, felt unheard. It was a tense moment in the early church.
Peter stood his ground and passed the blame. “It wasn’t me,” he declared; “it was God. This wasn’t just an idea that I had or a strategy I decided to employ; it was a direct revelation from God.” That’s a hard line to argue, also hard to support. Perhaps the folks of that time were more in tune with hearing the voice of God and accepting such things as visions, but perhaps not. Not surprisingly, not a lot is said about what happened after this conversation. Was it convincing? Was there a general shrug of the shoulders and a general acceptance in this radical change in practice and understanding? The story we have seems to imply that it was so; the church is spread into the Gentile world, and the mission takes off by leaps and bounds. There are a few hints that there were still some battles to be fought. Just like Peter in this text, Paul is called on the carpet for extending the circles too wide and including those who should not be included, or in the way that Paul wanted to include them. He too argues that it wasn’t him, but the Holy Spirit that fell and there was nothing he could do but go along.
Maybe it was all accepted, and the new direction of the church went without a hitch, but that seems doubtful. More likely, there was anger and digging in of heels and possibly even a schism in the newly forged community of faith. Maybe we had the formation of the “First Reformed True Followers of the Way” Church in Jerusalem made up of those who chose not to accept this new teaching. Who knows?
What is clear from our text is that something changed. Some understanding, some position, some rule – written or unwritten. What’s not so clear is what exactly that change entailed. That this vision, this redirection was not about food is clear to Peter, at least. This is not a new way of looking at bacon. It is a new way of looking at people. What God has made clean, you must not call profane, that’s the word that came to Peter in the vision. The one put into practice at that very moment when some men appeared at his door. This statement is about people. The people God has made clean, Peter must not call unclean or profane. People.
But which people? Well, that also seems clear in the context of our text. It is the Gentile race, non-Jews, who had been considered unclean and therefore unapproachable, especially in intimate settings like eating together, abiding together, acknowledging the existence of, and things like that. You know, life stuff. That seems a safe assumption.
It is, however, an assumption. The vision isn’t specific, really. There is no word that says these people named here are now made clean and those people over there are still in the unclean category. Peter’s interpretation of the vision was larger than that. In the previous chapter, the living out of the vision, Peter says, “but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” (Acts 10:28) A little later, he says again, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Anyone, no partiality. All-encompassing statements. He doesn’t say, “You are now not unclean” or “These people should be included.” He says, “All.”
Think about that for a moment. Is it any wonder he was challenged in this behavior and in this interpretation? He was confronted by those who wanted to say, “But what about . . . ?” What about this group or that type or this nationality or that ethnicity? What about the ones who wear their hair this way, or who speak like this, the ones who live differently and love differently? I truly have seen that God shows no partiality. What a radical hospitality that represents, don’t you think? What an awesome rethinking of our role as witnesses to the Christ we follow that would be. Rather than judgement and exclusion, we proclaim acceptance and inclusion.
Dr. Darryl Stephens says it this way:
“Growth in Christ-likeness allows us to love each other, to encourage development of each person’s full human potential. Flourishing is for everyone, not just for the select few or the demonstrably pious. As children of God bearing God’s full image, all of humanity is redeemed through Christ. Each person is invited to flourish.” – Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship (United Methodist Women, 2021, 84.)
Flourishing is for everyone. There’s a thought, isn’t it?
We offer that opportunity here at Union Grove. We offer it because you all chose to be like Peter instead of like his colleagues. You chose to be welcoming and affirming to anyone who walks through those doors, anyone who you meet, anyone we as a church and you as individuals serve and that is a great big pile of awesomeness, especially in this day and age when most people seem to feel the need to pick and choose who they give a hoot about. Especially in this day and age when it seems like lawmakers are working overtime to write laws that declare this group or that group invalid or having less rights.
There are thousands of UMC churches right now that are having a “Peter and his colleagues moment” … deciding who they are willing to accept and who they aren’t. Deciding whether to remain part of the larger connection or move on to a new or different denomination that suits their idea of what is acceptable to God.
I’m not sure they’ve read this passage. I’m not sure they would recognize themselves in it. But I am sure God is bigger than any box we could put Him in, any limitations on what he finds acceptable. I wish they could see it through my eyes. I wish they could see things through your eyes, too.
Peter wasn’t the only dreamer, though. John, the author of Revelation was visionary, too. His vision was witnessing heaven above come into place on earth. And he, too, received a divine message – See, I am making all things new. And, while we’re all prone to see John’s Revelation as an end time prophecy, I want to make clear that it was not. It’s understandable why people see it that way, but it was a letter to the seven churches that existed then … while John was still alive. It was written the way it was in order to hide its true meaning and REVELATION from any Romans that might intercept or otherwise get their hands on a copy of his letter. By the time John wrote this, the emperor was heavy into persecution of any and all Christians, so he wrote the letter using a kind of vision inspiring language. The readers at the time would have made that connection, would have understood what John was trying to tell them. And he was telling them what it could be like if they all worked and hung together – a beautiful new community of God and of Jesus.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
We mess up and break that commandment probably more than any other commandment in the Bible. Love one another. I know I mess it up.
Peter dreamed that there was no one on this earth God considered clean. God had already taken care of the cleaning bill when Jesus sacrificed us for our sins.
John dreamed of a beautiful, loving, compassionate beloved community.
I dream, too. I dream of the day this church is filled to capacity with every oddball, ragamuffin, broken soul within travel distance.
We’ve drawn a wide circle here, but we need to draw it wider still. We need to cherish the dream and vision you all set for this church a year ago. We need to continue to look for answers, ask questions, and build our community here so wide and so full of the saving power of Christ. What do you think? What’s your dream?
Receive this prayer, O God,
and transform us through them,
that we may have eyes to see and hearts to understand
not only what you do on our behalf,
but what you call us to do
so that your realm will come to fruition in glory. Amen.
- All works cited within the text above.
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