Acts of Service Testify to Love–sermon text version

pink tulipsWell, today it is Mother’s Day and I would like to begin by acknowledging a few things. First, this is not a Christian holiday. It’s not in our Bibles. It’s a secular holiday, but it’s one that pastors and preachers are wise to mention if they want to stay on the good side of Moms everywhere.

It’s also important to acknowledge that while Mother’s Day brings great joy for some people, it also brings significant pain to others.

For those whose mothers are no longer with us, it can be a very painful day. For women who always wanted to be mothers but weren’t or for those women like me who have children who have preceded them in death, it can be a painful reminder and very lonely. For moms who have had wayward children, Mother’s Day can be extremely hurtful especially on a social scale of competitive motherhood and Hallmark Greeting Card moments. For some children, it’s party-like and praise galore! For some, a day of reconciliation. And for others, it’s like a day of atonement when they bring sacrifices of cards and flowers or gifts or willingness to do chores that lasts for a day and then a whole year’s bad behavior is wiped clean.

I’m always conflicted about how to present Mother’s Day. And I was talking about this with my neighbor and she asked what I was going to do with this morning’s sermon and I told her that I was going to preach on Acts, but I’d be sure to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day, for those who have been moms and for those of us who were birthed by a mom somewhere along the line…since that covers all of us. “Not me,” she said. “I was brought here by aliens,” she laughed, “and you were too but your secret is safe with me.” Good thing because everyone already thinks I’m a bit weird. The last thing I need is the Mother Ship coming to beam me up…

So on to Acts. We’re continuing our adventures of the earliest disciples and Peter (who had come to check out what was going on with Philip’s Come and See Ministry) now heads about doing ministry of his own.

In 2 short scenes and one long one, we see Peter’s acts of service testifying to the love of God for us. These scenes are a progression upward. It starts with healing, continues with an earthly resurrection from the dead, and concludes with the best kind of healing, the best kind of resurrection: Salvation to Eternal life in Christ. It’s an upward progression.

First the healing:

Acts 9:32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

Do you see how Peter encounters a man and simply says, “Jesus Christ heals you”? When reading narratives, little stories like this in the Bible, it’s always good to take a pause and think deeper.

  • Think about it: Peter was there when Jesus Christ healed people who were paralyzed and told them to pick up their mat and walk. Peter is just following what Jesus taught him.
  • Think about it: This man Aeneas has been bedridden for 8 years. But someone took care of him. This person or these people are never mentioned. They are the silent care-givers. They brought him through 8 years of suffering illness until God brought healing through a traveling minister named Peter.
  • Think about it: They did acts of service, not for public recognition, but because these good deeds testified to love. They carried him until he could hear the words that Jesus Christ heals you.
  • Think about it: Their silent caring…over 8 years of dormancy…finally bore fruit for this man Aenaeus and for all those who lived in Lydda and Sharon who would see his miraculous healing and turn to the Lord who truly saves.

Our second scene is a resurrection from the dead kind of like when Jesus healed Lazarus and yes, Peter was there too. And now Peter is following Christ again:

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” 39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. 40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Go deeper than the words and think about it!

  • Think about how the good deeds Tabitha did, her service to the poor communicated her love. They testified to love.
  • Think about it: Tabitha was dead, only hours away from burial in the Jewish culture and yet, these people believed that God could perform a miracle. That disciples like Peter would know how to bring her back to life.
  • Think about it: Peter had been there when Lazarus walked out of the tomb and when Jairus’ daughter was healed. Jesus sent people out and then said Talitha koum.  Peter’s words, if spoken in Aramaic, his likely language here would be Tabitha koum differed from Christ’s healing words by only one letter. Peter did an act of service that was patterned after that of Christ Himself…but Peter didn’t have the power on his own heal with a word the way Jesus did, so what did Peter do? He prayed.
  • Think about it: Tabitha’s earthly resurrection would be known, but it wouldn’t last. Someday she would die. Lazarus died. Jairus died. His daughter died. There is a greater healing than just physical walking like Aenaeus, or than coming back to earthly life like Tabitha. There is a greater healing.

Which brings us to the third scene—the greatest healing yet. I sure wish I had a few weeks to spend on this amazing passage in Acts 10. We could learn so many truths by studying this longest story in Acts for weeks and weeks! We could learn:

  • That fearing God is wisdom.
  • That generosity to others, caring for the poor are the horizontal (to man) part of what Jesus said was the most important commandment, Love God and love others.
  • Prayers and gifts to the poor rise to God and are noticed by Him with great joy and favor. God blesses us when we bless others.
  • Prayer is how God makes His will known to us.
  • That no one is too common or too undesirable that we cannot reach out to them. Today’s low-life is tomorrow’s brother or sister in Christ.
  • That repentance of our prejudices is important. Baltimore could learn that.
  • That we must wrestle with those things that make us uncomfortable, and ask ourselves why. It’s in the wrestling that we discover our hardness of heart and our prejudices, and our unwillingness to change or to live like redeemed people.

testify to love bluertActs 10 is rich with all kinds of important theological truths if only we read for understanding of the hidden gems of truth.

But the one I want to focus on today is that acts of service testify to love and God sees these and can bless us for them.

Cornelius was such a man. God fearing. Devout. Generous to the poor.

But these things alone couldn’t save him.

These things alone couldn’t save him. Cornelius needed more.

He needed the Gospel.

And that’s why the angel in today’s story prepared Peter to overcome his natural prejudice against Gentiles and prepared Cornelius to receive eternal life by sending someone who could tell him about Jesus and what Jesus had done. Good deeds were not enough. He needed Jesus! We cannot study the whole passage today, but since it’s definitely worth a read, that’s what I’m going to do (inserting a few comments along the way)

Acts 10:1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. [generosity and prayer are good things!] 3 One day at about three in the afternoon [regular time of prayer] he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked. The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. [Just as Jesus feels everything we do to the Church, God knows all the good things that are done in service to others.] 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” [Simon the tanner would be on the outskirts of the city because of the smell of tanning. It was considered an unclean profession so it was surprising that Peter would be staying there.] 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. [Cornelius is already preparing his servants and fellow soldiers for what is to come next, hearing the Gospel] 9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. [noon was not a regular time, but the roof was away from the bustle of the household] 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. [Why Peter didn’t believe the first time, we don’t know. The words No and Lord don’t go together very well. Perhaps he thought it was a test, but then again it might be a reflection of how ingrained the prejudices were in him. Good Jews aren’t like those low-life Gentiles who will eat anything. Sometimes it takes a lot for us to give up our prejudices.] 17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” [Peter was already prepared for this by the vision.] 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” [Peter knew he was not to be worshiped. He was only a messenger with a message of good news.] 27 Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. 28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?” 30 Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” 34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” [This is the fullest accounting of the Gospel in any of Peter’s speeches.] 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Far better than just a physical healing, or an earthly resurrection, Cornelius and his whole household got the best testimony of love that anyone could ever ask for. The best healing, an eternal one!

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This is the best act of service that testifies to love. It is an act of love that stands alone.

In the upward progression of healing, resurrection to earthly life, and salvation to eternal life, there is one that we can routinely bring about. We can do acts of kindness and service, we can pray, and we can listen for God’s voice and direction. We can ask God for favor as we do the one thing that we can do in that upward progression. We can share the Gospel. We can share the Good News. Eternal life is not ours to give, but when we share Jesus with others, like Peter did, God will do the rest without favoritism or prejudice.

And just like motherhood with wayward children, or the silent caregivers of Aenaeus, we may never hear words of thanks, no words of recognition, there may be no appreciation, or awareness that what we’ve done has done any good, but we have something better than a once-a-year obligatory Hallmark holiday, we have a faithful God who sees all the good deeds done and hears all the prayers we’ve prayed as silent caregivers, and we’ll know on the other side of heaven what God knows now…because He is faithful to do the rest.


Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on May 16, 2015

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