|IT IS FOR EVERYONE
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 14, 1997
Today is our Rally Sunday - and together we are beginning a new “Church Year.” And as I have been thinking about today - and where we have been in the last few years - what we have seen God doing in this congregation - I have been wondering where He will lead us this year. And are we ready? Are we open to the possibilities and opportunities that He may have for us? We want to be ready - prepared for what may even be unexpected - prepared when the Holy Spirit leads us into opportunities for witnessing which today we may not imagine.
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system - this system which separated people according to their social classes - the caste system which was dividing the people of India.
So, one Sunday Gandhi decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said, “If Christians have caste differences also I might as well remain Hindu.”
Who could imagine that Mahatma Gandhi would have shown up at church that Sunday - or what the results would have been if that usher’s prejudice had not turned Gandhi away from trusting Jesus as his Savior.
Here we are - Rally Sunday 1997 - and it would be easy to look forward to the status quo - to expect the expected. But, this morning - we need to be encouraged to expect the unexpected - to open our hearts and minds to the witnessing opportunities will God open up for us - the unimaginable possibilities - which can stretch us and move us beyond ourselves.
I’d like to invite you to turn with me to the 10th chapter of Acts - and as you’re turning - answer this question to yourself. “What are God’s possibilities for me?”
You see, if we’re not open to where God may lead us - then we’re like that usher in India who turned Gandhi away - we miss tremendous opportunities that God gives to us.
Often we Armenians put ourselves into categories. Like, “My family is Apostolic.” “My family is Evangelical.” “My spouse is Apostolic - but we still come here.” Or - We need to reach “our own” community and get “our” people to come to church. As if we shouldn’t be concerned with the other 19,700 Armenians in the Bay Area.
We also identify ourselves by where we’re from - and this sometimes divides us - We’re Hyastansies, or Beruitsies - Aintabsies - Halebsies - Kessabsies - "enchyansies."
And then, here we are in an Armenian Church - as someone has said, “Ethnically Armenian but living within the American Experience.” Most of our neighbors are American. How do we witness to them? And, what’s the point? They’re not going to come here to church. And anyway - they’re odars. We believe that God has made us to be Armenian and given to us a unique focal point of ministry. But, how does that relate to the American communities in which we live?
The issue is not whether we are Apostolic or Evangelical - and our family or ethnic background is not the issue. The issue we should be concerned with is whether someone knows Jesus Christ as their Savior. That’s what we should be concerned with. And we should be deeply concerned when we hold back from witnessing and fellowshipping and sharing because we draw artificial lines between us.
The call of the Christian is to bring people to Christ and to bring Christians to Christ’s Church. And often times we hold back - because we are uncomfortable with the circumstances and person we are called to share Christ with. This is a struggle which holds us back from God’s opportunities - and it was a struggle in the early church.
The early church - which was ethnically Hebrew - asked the question, "Should we witness to the Goyim?” - Hebrew for "odar." Is the Gospel for Jews alone - or for everyone?
In Acts 10:1-3 we read about a man named Cornelius - who was living in Caesarea. Cornelius is a military man - a centurion in the Italian Cohort. Most Roman centurions - captains over a hundred men - were hard military-minded men, usually rugged individualists, and cruel. But this man was different. He’s a godly man. He’s devout - he knows there’s a God, and he’s seeking for Him. And he gives alms. He is a generous man. More than that he is a praying man. He spends much of his time in prayer.
There is something else we should notice. While Cornelius is a religious man - devout and prayerful - he’s not regenerate - he’s not yet saved. There are many people today who think that all you need to do to be acceptable in God’s sight is to be religious - to be sincere - to be generous - to live a good, clean, moral life.
All these characteristics are not eternal life - they may be the prelude to eternal life - they may indicate a heart that is open to hear and respond to the Gospel. But, all the morality and generosity in the world will come to nothing until it leads us to the gift of God which is eternal life in Jesus Christ. This is what Cornelius needs - and God moves to answer his need.
In verses 4-9, an Angel appears to Cornelius and tells him to send to Joppa - a town about 27 miles down the coast - for a man named Peter - who is living in the house of Simon the Tanner.
In Joppa - God is working on the Apostle Peter’s heart. There is a need for healing in Peter’s spirit - healing from prejudice - Peter is closed to the witnessing opportunities that God has for him.
Peter is an Apostle - an inspired Apostle - born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. And yet he was a Jew - raised in Judea - and taught pharisaical prejudice.
The Old Testament says that God choose the Jews - not because they were smarter or superior in any other way than anyone else. He chose them because He wanted them to be a demonstration to all of the other nations of the relationship that God wants to have with every nation and every people. The Jews were a pattern of God’s relationship with other peoples - not an exclusive club.
But in a typically human fashion - which we as Armenians - who with pride point out that we are “the first Christian nation” - we sometimes do ourselves - the Jews began to believe that God had chosen them because they were superior - and that God was not interested in the Gentiles. A good Jew - as Peter had been taught - would have nothing to do with a Gentile. If he touched one accidentally on the street he would go home and wash. This bigotry was deep in the Apostle’s heart.
Peter is up on the roof praying - and while he’s praying he gets hungry. And while the people downstairs are preparing something for Peter to eat - he falls into a trance and has a vision from the Holy Spirit.
Acts 10:11 - Peter “saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. (12) In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air - all the things which according to the Jewish dietary laws were not to be eaten. (13) And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ (14) But Peter said, ‘No Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’”
God is trying to heal Peter of his prejudice and says to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” - And Peter says no. Three times they argue with each other.
And as Peter is thinking through what God has told him - the men - these three Gentile men - sent by the Gentile Cornelius show up at the door asking for Peter. The Holy Spirit says to Peter (19) “Behold, three men are looking for you. (20) Rise, and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” (21) And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for...”
In verse 23 we read that Peter even invited these three men in to be his guests for the night. This is unheard of. A Jew inviting Gentiles into his house - as guests. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter’s heart.
Many years ago - Dr. Hudson Armerding - who was the President of Wheaton College - got up in chapel and shared with the entire student body the dilemma that he was facing as a college president. Many supporters of the school were becoming upset by the fact that when they visited the campus they saw many long-haired youths there and many with beards. This bothered them greatly and they had refused to give money because of it. Dr. Armerding said the school was really in a financial bind because of this trend. Their whole operation was being threatened by the withholding of funds by certain donors who had been strong supporters of the school, up until then. And the whole student body sat there breathlessly anxious to learn what the administration’s stand would be.
Then Dr. Armerding called out of the audience the young man who had the longest hair and beard in the whole student body, and asked him to come up. This was a complete surprise to the young man, but he came to the platform. Dr. Armerding turned to him and said, “You have long hair, and you have a long beard. You represent the very thing that these supporters of the school are against. I want you to know that the administration of this school does not feel as they do. We accept you, and we love you. We believe that you are here to seek and to find the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.” And he reached out and embraced him! The student body rose as one man in a moment of acclaim for their President, for his expression of that kind of love and acceptance.
This is what God wants to do - to remove all the partitions and barriers - and allow His Gospel to be freely shared with all peoples.
Peter, when he arrives at the home of Cornelius - when he hears Cornelius’ story - his seeking after God - in verses 34 and 35 we read, “And Peter opened his mouth and said; “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, (35) but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” - God is not prejudiced towards someone because of their family or ethnic background - their wealth or power - their hair style and outward appearance - God looks deeper to our heart attitude towards Him.
In verses 36-48 Peter shares the Gospel with these Gentiles - the first example in scripture of the Gospel being shared with Gentiles. And the Gentiles receive Jesus as their Savior - and then Peter stays with them - in the Gentile home for several days.
It has been said that, “Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes into which we’ve relegated them.”
Dodie Gadient, a school teacher for 13 years decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about. Traveling alone in a truck with camper in tow, she launched out. One afternoon rounding a curve on I5 near Sacramento in rush hour traffic, the water pump blew on her truck.
She was tired, exasperated, sacred, and alone. In spite of the traffic jam she cause, no one seemed interested in helping. Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, “Please God, send me and angel.... preferably one with mechanical experience.”
Within four minutes, a huge Harley Davidson motorcycle drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard and tattooed arms. With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck. Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck attached a tow chain to the frame of Dodie’s disabled truck, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.
The intimidated school teacher was too dumbfounded to talk. Especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket: “Hell’s Angels — California.” As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say. “Thanks so much,” and carry on a brief conversation.
Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. You may not know who you’re talking to.” With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley. With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared.
When we drive through our neighborhoods - what do we see? As we have contact with people in and outside of the Armenian Community - are we concerned with their salvation? Homeless people? Other ethnic groups? People who dress strangely - physically challenged people - people who irritate us - those who honor Satan and not God - people who struggle with sin just like us but don’t cover it as well - Do we look with disdain or consider what God’s possibilities may be for reaching them? Do we turn away or turn our hearts to God in prayer - going through our neighborhoods praying for people - open to God’s leading to share the Gospel. Can we say with Peter - “Now I realize that God does not show favoritism - but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.”
As a congregation, where will God take
us this year? Today -
God take you - and to whom - as a witness for Him? Are
we willing to
lay aside our prejudices and fears - and trust Him?