Sermon for May 10, 20201: "Peter, Cornelius, and the Gentiles -- a Good Name for a Band?"

“Peter, Cornelius, and the Gentiles…a Good Name for a Band?”

Beth Voigt

 

“We’re putting the band back together.” These words, from the mouth of Elwood Blue, rank up there as one of my favorite movie lines. I claim Chicagoland, and the Blues Brothers are my kind of people. I recently watched (thank you Youtube) a number of clips from the film. Not sure what my parents were thinking, allowing my brother and me and the neighborhood kids to watch this at the tender age of 11 or 12. However, the message is...heartwarming? The story is a tale of redemption for paroled convict Jake and his brother Elwood, who set out on ‘a mission from God’ to save from foreclosure the Catholic orphanage where they were raised. They must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. Along the way, they are targeted by a homicidal ‘mystery woman’, Neo-Nazis, and a country/western band - all while being chased by the police. What’s not to love?

I will say, in 2020 the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically signficant.” I just loved it for the music and bad words.

There is something about a band. About playing and singing together. About figuring out your audience, sound, and message. And your name! I am forever hearing words strung together and I think to myself, “That would make a good band name”. Hot Buttered Corn. Expiration Date. Mouthbrooders (more scientific than musical but still intriguing). The past three years my husband Bill and some friends have formed...a band. This is the realization of a dream. And randomness.. He works at the middle school with two guys - one sings, one drums. He met another guy (guitar) playing in the pit for the musical. The fifth joined the pit a few years later and sings in the church choir. They thought...let’s get together Tuesday nights at the school (they have keys) and mess around. Also, good excuse to avoid the drama of high school math homework. They had just one goal - be rehearsed enough to provide music for the end of the year teacher party (held in a barn, because this is Wisconsin).

The most difficult part was agreeing on their set list. What should they play? What could they play? Turns out, each bandmember is excellent at something another bandmember is not. They compliment! And they have similar tastes in music, mostly. When they don’t, they have to pace it off - persuade but also gracefully concede. Ability and range guide this as well.

For months they practiced. At the school. They were busted by the boardmember walk through one evening but the district administrator was cool. The night of the end of year party came...and they were good! They played an hour long encore. Comprise of mostly the songs they had already played because...those were the ones they knew. Fast forward to present day - they have a summer tour! Eleven dates this summer at local establishments, playing outside, living the life and their dream! All because...they put the band together. And they were not exclusive. No auditions.

In my Common English Bible translation, the header for today’s reading in Acts is “Peter, Cornelius, and the Gentiles”. Of course my mind went there - this is a great band name! If you take a moment to read back to the the beginning of chapter 10, you learn about a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort. Sounds mysterious...Cornelius is a spiritual but not religious  Gentile (not Jewish) living in Caesarea. He is of some importance to the Roman legion (military) and he has a vision. It was a clear vision...to send for an apostle of Jesus named Peter.

Peter, a devout and faithful Jew, really IS on a mission for God - he is an ardent follower of Jesus the Christ. Peter has a vision too. His is a bit more puzzling - possibly leaning toward bizarre. Peter was in Joppa, praying on the roof of his friend’s house, and he was hungry. While the food was being prepared, he fell into a trance and saw a sheet lowered down from heaven. This sheet was filled with all of the foods that good Jews were not allowed to touch, much less eat. There was a voice, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Peter, aghast, said, “No way Lord! You know I can’t eat what is profane and unclean!”. God comes back with, “What God has made, you must not call profane.” Whoa.

This happens twice more; and then, before Peter can make heads or tails of the vision, the sheet is snatched up into heaven and Cornelius’ men are knocking at the door, ready to take Peter on a long strange trip from Joppa to Caesarea.

Arriving at the Gentile house, he realizes Cornelius is also having a genuine experience of God. Peter begins to preach, to explain some things. But before Peter can finish, the Holy Spirit upstages, pouring through the room, and all of a sudden the fledgling band gets a whole lot bigger...

In the book of Acts, we see evidence of Peter stepping up to the challenge of getting the band...the church together. Peter quickly becomes the voice for the eleven remaining apostles. Peter recognizes the presence of the Holy Spirit in the cacophony of Pentecost. Peter is the one who begins to believe enough in the “greater things that would be done in Christ’s name” that he is able to heal, cure, and even raise someone from the dead. Double whoa.

Peter stands tall and ready with a strong lyric and sound melody. But just when Peter thinks he has navigated the toughest challenge, the Holy Spirit wants to add more voices. How will this work?

“What God has made you shall not call profane.”

            It is about 30 miles between Joppa and Caesarea. I bet that journey was as confusing as it was tiring for Peter. Maybe he was ticking off problems in his head:

         - What will the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem think? Add new band members that don’t know the songs?

- How will we maintain our identity as God’s cosen people? We haven’t learned to harmonize...

- Do I have the energy for this?

All I can imagine that Peter was sure of on that trek was God had a part for him. And apparently God had a part for...them.

With the inclusion of the Gentiles, the role for the established, responsible types like Peter shifts. No longer is he the steward of the tradition, the explainer of the truth, the gatekeeper of the movement. His responsibility is now to recognize where the Holy Spirit is moving and try to keep up.

God says, “I’m putting the band back together.” What was divided by law is reunited through grace.

Peter immediately understands. “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

This pandemic has exposed, once again, discord in our midst. In our congregations and friendships and even families. In ideologies and traditions. Dr. Stacy Johnson of Princeton seminary has said, and it reverberates especially now, “The church that we have given our lives to faces a tsunami of change. Our structure. Our worship. The ways we communicate. Our place in the culture. Our expectations of membership. The kinds of people who are drawn to our ministry and mission. The places where the gospel needs to be lived.”

This is the old/new song echoed in Acts; the band has an open call for members  - no need to audition. Show up on Tuesday. Don’t worry, the kids will get the math...eventually. Hear the faint motif of the Gospel - “but I have called you friends”. If we consider ourselves a part of the original, we need to remember our initial play list, the one tune we all knew by heart - “Abide in my love...love one another.”

At the end of the Blues Brother movie Elwood has this to say, at the big fundraising concert, surrounded by fans and all the enemies they made, including the law, getting the “band back together”. He says, “We’re so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight. And we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois’ law enforcement community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you all enjoy the show, and please remember people that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive there are still some things that make us all the same. You, me, them, everybody, everybody!” and they launch into the song, “Everybody Needs Somebody”. To love. I want to be in that band.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Psalm for Languishing - Kate Kooyman

 

Oh God.

Our brains are so tired of being on high alert.

We’re so exhausted by constant, changing math-problem of threat.

So flummoxed by the difference between our own panic and our neighbor’s.

We’re exhausted with our own judgments,

Irate at the fogging of our glasses.

Puzzled by the shifting norms,

the endless lack of consensus for how to do this well.

We’re so grieved by the profoundly broken trust

that distances us from the ones we’re called to love,

the ones called to love us.

God. We’re so tired.

It makes it hard to focus.

We’re sick of cooking,

sick of Netflix,

sick of walking the same dog down the same streets.

We’re getting sick of our lives.

It’s hard to remember what it felt like

to have ideas, to put in an effort, to rise to an occasion.

We just don’t care like we used to,

don’t find much delight anymore.

Can’t remember how to grab hold of things that matter.

De-fog our vision, God.

Help us to see with clarity again.

Help us to look around us and notice the others

who are in this moment with us.

Help us to name this languishing,

this dogged powerlessness.

And help us to feel less alone.

May our participation in the community of the honest

Restore in us some joy.

Beauty in this bleakness.

Hope in this ongoing unknown.

Call us forward.

We forgot which direction that is.

Help us onto our feet, and summon us to toddle toward your beckoning voice

like children, learning to walk.

Help us to trust.

Help us to laugh.

 

You are a bounteous God.

And we can sort of remember bounty.

We remember laughter, hugs, events.

We remember wearing eyeliner

and eating food that we did not prepare.

We remember meeting new people.

We remember the feeling of possibility.

 

So draw near to us, O bounteous God.

In this unexpected, interminable moment.

Gift us with what we admit we fail to summon for ourselves:

a grateful heart,

a trusting spirit,

a peace-filled mind.

Surprise us once again with your daily graces:

birdsong, a sprouted seed, a laughing child, a cup of coffee.

Remind us of your cosmic care,

of the largeness of your world,

your timeless purpose,

the goodness of your promise.

You love us, you see us, you keep us.

Thanks be to you, O God.

 

 
  August 2021  
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