Lent & Advent

Advent 2020 – December 8

Jim Hopkins

December 7, 2020

Yes, All are Included
Ann Jefferson
(Rev. Ann Jefferson is Director of Community Life and Spiritual Care at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA)

Acts 11:1-18 (NIV)

The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”

Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.

11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

I’m so glad when Jesus came to pass out our blessings, He included me –
He brought joy to my soul and right now I’m confessing, Jesus included me
Jesus included me – He included me
When he said, “whosoever will, let [them] come – let [them] come”
Jesus included me.

James Cleveland (He Included Me)

This gospel song was one that I always loved as a young person.  Besides the beauty of the music delivered through the incomparable James Cleveland, there was something about this song that spoke to my heart as an awkward teen becoming a young adult, trying to fit in at school and in the world as a “church girl.”  Those teen years weren’t the only times in my life that I found myself wrestling in that way.  Other seasons along the journey – college, seminary, adulthood – brought their own challenges of navigating the desire and demands to conform socially, politically, emotionally, spiritually, and theologically.  Whenever I have found myself feeling more like an outsider than insider, this song reminds me that I am included in the love and plan of God made manifest in Jesus.

In today’s passage from Acts 11, we find a classic “insider/outsider” confrontation playing out between Peter and the circumcised followers of Christ in Jerusalem.  He was accused of associating himself with the uncircumcised and inviting them into the same promises of God as those who first believed in Jesus as the Christ.  Instead of celebrating that the Gentiles “also had received the word of God,” they were more concerned that Peter had violated religious protocol by sitting down to eat with those who didn’t bear the external witness of those considered favored by the Holy One.

Even now, in our day and especially across our nation, this conflict between the insiders and outsiders, the welcomed and the excluded, the acceptable and the rejected has become its own pandemic within a pandemic.  Sadly, so much of this virus of fear, hatred, and division has been fueled by so-called evangelicals, deeply rooted in the false premises of religious and cultural supremacy. The good news of “whosoever will” has been contorted into the bad news of “whosoever is like us.”  And those who claim the name of Christ have become the arbiters of who qualifies as “clean or unclean.” 

But as we contemplate again Jesus’ advent into our turbulent world, we are invited to remember that only God has the sovereignty to determine who is welcomed to the table of Christ’s love and salvation.  Peter’s account of God “suspending the rules” to make room for the outsiders follows a pattern of the Divine Embrace of the unlikely, even to the choice of a most unusual birthing room for Emmanuel – “God with Us.”

As we prepare our hearts during this Advent Season unlike any we have ever experienced, may we remember that Jesus included us.  And may we become ambassadors of Christ’s expansive welcome, seeing all those whom God calls holy as siblings worthy of sharing every blessing we ourselves have received.

LABC Zoom Gatherings

No Soup, But Study -6:00 p.m. Tuesday

Wednesday Prayer and Bible Study – 10:30 a.m.

Together In Spirit – 6:00 p.m. Thursday

Holiday Letter Writing to those in detention – Thursday 7:15 p.m.

A Time For Prayer- 10:00 a.m. Saturday

Looking Ahead

Blue Christmas Service – 2:00 p.m. Sunday, December 13