Friday, January 20, 2017

Let's Go Fishing -- Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 the people who sat in darkness

    have seen a great light,and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

How many folks here like to go fishing?

I have a lot of friends who enjoy going fishing. 

One friend I have never seems to catch anything, but that doesn’t seem to bother him.  One day I asked him if he’d gone fishing the week before, and he said he had.

So I asked him if he had caught anything, and he said he hadn’t.

But then he told me "It's not important how many fish I catch. After all, it's called 'fishing' not 'catching.'

What bothers me most about my friend is not that he might not be a good fisherman. But I'm not sure he always abides by the fishing laws.  He was on a trip in North Carolina one time and he wanted to some fishing.  He didn’t have a fishing license, but that didn’t stop him.

He hadn't been there more than 10 minutes when he turned around and saw a uniformed man standing just a few feet away.

"Are you the game warden?" my friend asked the man.

"Yes I am. Lemme see yo' fishin' license, boy."

"I'm not fishing," my friend insisted.

"If you're not fishing, I'd like to know what in the world you're doing," said the game warden.

Very calmly,  my friend lifted the fishing pole, pulling the line out of the water. At the end of the line was a hook and on the hook was a live minnow. My buddy looked at the game warden and said, "See, I'm not fishing. I'm just trying to teach my son's pet fish how to swim."

Fish stories. Gotta love 'em. What brings them to mind this morning is this reading from our New Testament Lesson, in which Jesus is beginning his ministry. And here at the beginning, he starts by preaching and by calling his first disciples. He calls these four by name and says, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people."

In other words, he is making evangelists out of these common fishermen. He is calling them to follow him so they can learn how to share the Good News of the Gospel and share the Christian Faith throughout the world.

Evangelism has become an uncomfortable word in this day and age. We think of people passing out printed pamphlets and brochures on the street, television preachers, and people going from house to house knocking on the doors of strangers' homes. There is something embarrassing about it.

Or maybe it is our multi-cultural society in which we want to accept people in all of our diversity -- maybe we don't want to come across as trying to force others to believe like we do.

For whatever the reason, most of us are uncomfortable with the concept of evangelism. We read a passage such as this one from Matthew and we think, "Thank God He didn't call me to do that kind of work."

But not so fast. In Matthew's Gospel the first thing Jesus does in his ministry is to call people to share the Good News. He refers to them as fishers of people. Then at the end of Matthew we find Jesus concluding his earthly ministry. The very last words of Matthew's Gospel says, (Matthew 28:18-20) "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'"

That passage is called the Great Commission and it is given to all Christians, reminding us that we are all called to go and to make disciples of all nations, or as Jesus put it to these four common fishermen, we are all supposed to become fishers of men and women.

So, my question to you today is "when was the last time you went fishing?"

And I don't mean the kind of fishing my buddy does with a fishing pole.

When was the last time you went fishing for some men and women to join the church?

Probably not many of us have been fishing for people lately, so let's get to work.

First things, first, we need to learn how. Fortunately, Jesus gives us a lesson by example in the reading from Matthew's Gospel.

The first thing a fisherman needs to know is where to fish. My buddy is not the only one who likes to fish. I like to fish also. One time, I was in a boat with one of my elders and we hadn't caught anything at all. We'd been at if for a while, and just for fun, I said, "Jim, you see that buoy over there. There's a fish over there just waiting to be caught. I think I'll throw my line out there and catch it." Then I cast my line exactly where I'd talked about. Believe me, no one was more surprised than I was when a fish immediately took the bait. I brought in a beauty. Jim looked at me and was absolutely amazed.

"I've never seen anything like that," Jim said. "Do that again."

Well, of course I couldn't. Because I really didn't know exactly where another fish was. But those who fish will know that there are some places where fish probably are. A good fisherman will look at the land and the water, and will know some of the things about what is under the water.

Now, as a fisherman of men and women, where are the people to be caught and brought into the Kingdom of God?

What Jesus did was very simple. He went to where the people hung out. In this case, he went to where they worked for a living -- on the lake, literally trying to catch fish. They were doing their usual routine -- catching fish, mending nets - going about their normal routine.

We can do the same. We can go out to where the people just normally would be found. Work. School. The health club. The bridge club. Wherever we happen to meet people, that is where we happen to meet an opportunity to become a fisher of men and women.

Step two. If you are going to catch fish in the water, you need to know more than just WHERE to fish. You need to know WHEN.

When I was a teenager, my father and I would go to Myrtle Beach at the same time every year because that was when the pompano were running. We knew that by experience.

I went fishing with one fellow one time who had a complex mathematical formula based on the phase of the moon, the tides, the temperature, and other factors. When all these factors were at an optimum, he'd go fishing.

Probably the best method for fishing I've ever heard about was one a church member in a church I used to serve subscribed to. He sold fishing equipment, and if sales were good, he knew the fishing was good. But if no one was buying any fishing equipment, he knew the fishing was bad.

How about the "fish" that Jesus sends us after? One of the best opportunities is at a moment of transition. Perhaps a birth or a death, new home, new job, NO job.

One cyber-friend of mine writes,

The dedicated fishermen in my parish...are ever watchful and sensitive to change - they watch the currents in the water, sniff the air for moisture, aware of changes in weather as lows and highs invade the atmosphere, watch the terrain under the boat looking for habitat that contain the fish. And they change - when the circumstances change going deeper in the water, switching lures when light intensity in the water changes or when they are in clear water vs darker water.
Good lesson for "fishers of people" as well. Be sensitive to the changes in people's lives that might make them hungry for a word of good news.

Speaking of hunger, that brings to step three -- selecting the right bait. I went fishing at a lake in South Carolina one time with my father. This is, by the way, a true story.

We were sitting in a boat fishing and all across the lake you could see the fish were so active, they were constantly jumping up out of the water and coming down with a splash. And by the way, this is a true story.

Every time one would jump up, I'd cast my line in that direction and try to catch the one I'd just seen jump out of the water.

And yes, this is a true story.

My father was laughing at me and said something about how that wouldn't work, because by the time my line reached the place where the fish had jumped, the fish would be gone. "You have to wait for the fish to come to you," my father said.

And right at that moment, a fish jumped out of the water, right into our boat.

By the way, did I tell you this was a true story? Actually, I’ve told that story from time to time and I have discovered that as wonderful as that experience was for me, it was not unique.  That sort of thing does happen from time time.

But that is how most churches fish for souls.

The way most churches fish for men and women is to just sit back in our boat, or the pew, and just waiting for some fish to just jump right in on their own. We open the church doors and hope someone comes in by accident.

But successful "fishers of souls" will reach out for the people, and will offer something to attract the people. For example, an invitation to "Come to church with me sometime" will rarely work. It is too easy to say "Sure" to that and never give it another thought. Instead, invite your friend to something particular: a special event (for example, the Fourth Thursday at the Garden is coming up this week.  Or invite them to a Bible Study, a little bit of activities for the kids – they’ll come to that.

Or to the annual Picnic.  Who in their right mind would turn down food?

Or maybe your friend has a concern for the poor– invite him to go to a work day at United Against Poverty or to the soup kitchen.

One of our elders at the Session meeting on Thursday night was sharing some of her experiences at the recent Presbytery meeting.  One of the speakers said, “If you are not catching anything, change the bait.”

I’m not saying ‘don’t invite your friends to come to worship.’  Please do.  But most of the people who will come to a worship service are people who are already Christians.   I don’t care what kind of worship it is.  What attracts the unchurched are things the unchurched already enjoy – eating, fellowship, things like that.

One final bit of fishing advice (and I say final only because of time considerations - whole books of advice for anglers are out there). Be patient. No one can be successful at fishing without perseverance. If you give up after a few minutes, a few casts, without any bites or nibbles, you will never catch any fish.

I used to live in Brunswick GA and one day I took a couple of my relatives across the river to go fishing at St. Simons Island.  They were older relatives and so I carried their fishing gear to the pier.  It was a great pier and I’d fished there several times and I knew without any doubt that by the end of the day we were going to catch lots of fish.

When they got settled in at the pier, I walked back to my car to get my fishing gear.  As I turned to walk back to the pier, I saw them coming to the car. The man was very upset and said, “My wife says we won’t catch any fish here.”

I remember thinking – she’s right.  If you get in the car and drive away, you won’t catch any fish.

It takes patience.                    

 And so does evangelism.

Fishing for souls takes patience.  You gotta stick with it.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Things Might Get Messy - John 1:29-42

New Testament Lesson                                                                  John 1:29-42

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”[a]
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[b]). 42 He brought Simon[c] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[d]).

Sermon                                Things Will Get Messy            Maynard Pittendreigh

One day, way back when I was in college, one of my professors was just about to start class when his wife walked in. She went up to him and the two of them had a very brief conversation -- probably something about, don’t forget to bring home some milk and a loaf of bread. As she turned to leave so that her husband could begin the class, one of the students stopped her and began to admire what she was carrying in her arms.
A tiny baby just a few weeks old.

I’m not sure if Kathleen was trying to delay the start of what promised to be yet another very boring lecture in Philosophy 101, or if she really did want to admire the baby. But we were all thankful to Kathleen, because once she began to talk about what a beautiful baby that was, Dr. Paul Watson began to beam with pride and rather than begin his class, allowed the students to see what a fine young son he had.

But it was Kathleen herself who interrupted this mood when she said, "Ahh, there is nothing more innocent or cleaner than a tiny little baby."

Dr. Watson, his eyes red from several weeks without sleep, and his wife, with her hair all frizzy and disheveled, looked at each other and began to laugh hysterically.

They knew what Kathleen did not yet know. There is nothing innocent about babies. They are the most self centered life forms in the galaxy. When they are hungry, you’d best forget whatever you’re doing and stuff some food into them. And since what goes in, must come out, eventually you’ll find out just how dirty these babies can get.

Kathleen, however, was totally confused about this laughter. She’d never had to care for a baby. She never had to care for a younger brother or sister. Her impression of babies came from playing with plastic dolls as a child, and from simply admiring babies for a few moments while they are cleaned and bathed and well fed and available for public viewing.

Dr. Watson tried to explain to Kathleen how much trouble this baby was. He spoke with the voice of experience, having two other boys already. He talked about how they get sick, how they fight, how they cost so much, how stressful being a parent is.

But Kathleen in her naive idealistic view of the world did not understand. She looked as if Dr. Watson had spoken heresy, and finally asked, "If babies are that much trouble, why did you have children in the first place?"

And then Dr. Watson said the only thing I still remember from his Philosophy 101 class. "Young lady, you don’t have any idea what life is all about. And you won’t begin to know the meaning of life until you hold your own baby child in your arms, flesh of your flesh, and blood of your blood, and then that tiny little baby looks up at you, and with great gusto, vomits into your shirt pocket."

What Dr. Watson was trying to explain to Kathleen was not that children are a lot of trouble, even though they are. He was trying to convey to her that while they are a lot of trouble, they are worth it.

In life, we have often forgotten that the things that are most important, are often the most trouble, require the greatest work, and demand the most sacrifice. This is true with children. It is also true of marriage, career, and most of all it is true of spirituality.

We isolate ourselves from the messiness of life.
We like everything to be clean and sanitary. We want the joys of life, without the pain. We want to the pleasures of life, without the work. We want to enjoy the accomplishments, without learning from the failures.

It is as if we would want the biography of our life to have a strip of paper around it that reads, "Sanitized for your protection."

If I had to point to the one great flaw of our nation, it is that we have forgotten the value of sacrifice.

When I talk to some of our youth group members, they will occasionally talk of their dreams to make something of themselves. A noble desire. A few years ago, I had a young teenager share with me an essay in which he wrote in barely legible handwriting and with grammar that was poorly constructed, "Someday, I hope to be somebody. I want to be an NBA star and play basketball and make commercials. But I know this will be hard and I might not make it. So if I can’t get into the NBA, I might just be a doctor instead."

Now, we can laugh or smile at those naive statements, but the sadness of that essay is that this young man did not see the need for the sacrifice. He would play basketball, but only for the joy of it. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but if you want to play on a team you have to sacrifice. You have to devote hours to practice. You have to submit to the directions of the coach. You have to exercise your body. He did none of that. And as for settling for just being a doctor, the grades weren’t there -- not because he didn’t have the ability, but rather, because he didn’t make the sacrifice and devote himself to study.

Many people would like to win the lottery. Come to think of it, who wouldn’t want to win the lottery? But the problem with that desire is that it is symptomatic of how we no longer want to make the sacrifice. The lottery enables us to dream of becoming wealthy without making any sacrifice, or taking any risks.

But Dr. Watson was right. You really do learn something about life when you hold your baby in your arms and you watch your child throw up into your shirt pocket.

Life, and the things that matter in life, come at a cost. It is not always clean. It’s not always easy. Sometimes things get messy. In the things of life that matter, we have forgotten the value of sacrifice.

But sacrifice is central to the Christian experience. Jesus, in fact, is the great sacrifice made for our behalf. The first letter of John says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

In our New Testament lesson for today, it is John the Baptist who is the first to introduce Jesus to the world as being the Messiah. John could have called Jesus many things, including Messiah, Christ, Son of God, Savior. But what John calls him, is "Lamb of God."

The first time the Baptist sees Jesus in the Gospel of John he tells his disciples, "Look. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." John baptized Jesus and the next day he sees Jesus again and repeats to his disciples, "Look, the Lamb of God."

To call Jesus "the Lamb of God," is to call Him something that is not so clean and tidy as "Son of God," or "Savior." Because it realizes that things in life that matter most come with a cost. In the things of life that matter, we have forgotten the value of sacrifice.

Throughout the Bible, lambs are mentioned several times.

The first mention is probably in Genesis when Abraham takes his only son, Isaac, to the mountains to worship God. Abraham is under the impression that God wants him to sacrifice his son Isaac in this act of worship, but the father has not yet told Isaac of this. Isaac looks around and takes inventory. Let me see, we’ve got rope for the lamb. We’ve got wood for the fire to burn the lamb. We’ve got the knife to kill the lamb. "Father?"

"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.

"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22)

And as the story goes, as Abraham is about to thrust the knife into his son, an angel stops him. Off to the side is a lamb, caught in the bushes. God himself has provided the sacrifice. Behold. The Lamb of God.

In the history of Moses and the Israelites, there is a very exciting moment when God is going to send the most terrible plague of all on Egypt. The first born sons will die -- the first born of Egypt that is. Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb." (Exodus 12)
Then they took the blood of the sacrificial lambs and put some on the door posts of their homes as a symbol that within this house lived a family of God.

John the Baptist was probably remembering these stories from the Old Testament when he looked at Jesus and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."

Most of all, he may have been remembering what the prophet Isaiah had said about the coming Messiah, "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter." (Isaiah 53:7)

So when John sees Jesus, he does not say, "Look, here is your Savior." Nor does he say, "Behold, the Son of God." Instead, he says, "The Lamb of God." A reminder that Jesus has come to pay a terrible price. In the things of life that matter, we have forgotten the value of sacrifice. And sacrifice is central to the meaning of the Gospel. As the first letter of John says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

In other words, Jesus made a great sacrifice for us, we in turn should be willing to make sacrifices for others.

Perhaps the reason many marriages fail today is that we have lost the willingness to sacrifice for others, even our spouses.

In the wedding service, men and women take vows "to love each other for better for worse, in sickness and in health, in plenty and want." That’s what they say, but that is not what they mean. So often, the vows in their heart are not those that are on their lips. Their wedding vows are simply to love each other, for better... in health, and in plenty.

But talk to any couple who have been successfully married for 30, 40 or 50 years. Listen to their stories. Sometimes, they will talk about the wonderful vacation to Paris, or the great house they lived in. But listen carefully to their stories. Most of them are about how tough it was. They fondly remember their poverty when they had to work hard to buy their next meal. They affectionately remember their first apartment that could fit into their present day bedroom in which the air conditioner never worked, the roof leaked, and only one eye on the stove would heat up. They remember staying up all night with their children during the flu season. They remember being there for each other at times of trouble.

It is the sacrifices they made for each other that make their love that much stronger.

It is the same in friendship, our career, and even our church. Years ago, President John Kennedy said at his inaugural, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." But now, over 30 years later, we ask what our country can do for us, what our church can do for us, what our career can do for us, what our community can do for us. In stead, we should have been asking, "what can we do for them?"

In the movie, Marvin’s Room, Dianne Keaton plays a woman who has cared for her ailing father during the last years of his life. She has made sacrifices for others while her sister, played by Meryl Streep left home long ago so she could live her own life. Now, years later, the sister played by Dianne Keaton is dying of cancer and she calls upon the help of her sister. In a key scene in the movie, Dianne Keaton reflects on her life with great satisfaction. She tells her sister, "I’m so lucky. I’m so lucky. I’ve had so much love in my life."

Meryl Streep comforts her sister by agreeing, "Yes indeed, you’ve had so many people love you."

Dianne looks at her sister with sincere surprise. "No, that’s not what I mean. I’m lucky because I’ve been able to give so much love."

It is in making sacrifices out of love for others that Dianne Keaton’s character’s life found fulfillment.

Life without sacrifice is without meaning. And love without a cost is worthless. But sacrifice is central to the meaning of the Gospel. As the first letter of John says, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."

It’s been a long time since I was in that class room in college. The last time I saw Dr. Watson was during my senior year. He was trying desperately to sell his new three month old car. I asked about it. It was just a few months old, but the price was incredibly low. I thought about buying the car. He promised it ran great, but he did not look thrilled when I asked to test drive it.

We got into the car and I sat behind the wheel. I was just about to turn on the ignition. "What is that smell?!?" I asked.

Sheepishly, Dr. Watson told me the story. His wife had taken the children to the grocery store. The youngest seemed to be playing quietly, because from time to time she could hear the child say, "Ball. Ball. Ball."

She assumed she had a ball in his hand, but just as she was about to turn into the drive way of her home, she looked in her rear view mirror. That young child we had all admired in class was sitting in the back, right next to a bag of groceries. On top of the bags was a cartoon of eggs. The child had taken them one by one out of the cartoon, and after looking at it and saying, "ball" had dropped the egg onto the carpet of the floorboard. There was one egg left, and the wife was unable to reach it before it, too, was dropped onto the floor, where it cracked and joined the other eggs.

I handed the keys back to my professor. "Must be hard to sell a car that smells like rotten eggs. How do you put up with your kids?" I asked.

"Sometimes it’s hard," he admitted. "But it’s worth it."

As for Kathleen, she never married and never gave birth to children. But I read an article about her in Good Housekeeping a few years ago about the child she had adopted. It was not the innocent or clean baby she dreamed of when we were in college. The child was severely disabled. He was mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, and physically he was unable to control his own body and even as a teenager continued to wear diapers. Caring for him had become a full time job. Kathleen was a minister and had taken a tiny little church where she lived in a small house owned by the church, and where she received a tiny salary for the pastoral care she provided her little church.

Most of her life, however, was wrapped around the care and nurture of this child, who was so different from the child she dreamed of so long ago.

In the article, the interviewer had asked, "How did you come to adopt this child?"

Kathleen talked about her early years of ministry in which she founded and operated a ministry to the homeless and the poor and the victims of abuse. She said, "One day, a mother placed this child in my arms and said, ’Here, you take him. I can’t deal with this any more.’ The mother walked away before I could say anything. We work very closely with state agencies and so the state let us take care of the child while they tried in vain to locate the mother or some other relative. Then one day, I was holding the child and I felt such love for him. He was so sweet, so innocent. He’d just had a bath and he had that clean baby smell. Then he did something that made me realize how much I really loved this child."

"What did he do," the interviewer asked.

"He threw up in my shirt pocket," she said. "And it didn’t bother me a bit."

Love demands sacrifice. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God. He has paid the ultimate sacrifice in his love for us. Can’t we therefore learn to make some sacrifices for him and for his children around us.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Table Manners - Acts 10:11-21, 34-36

Acts 10:11-21, 34-36

11 He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” 15 The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
17 Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18 They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three[a] men are searching for you. 20 Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?”


34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all.

Sermon                                      Table Manners                 Maynard Pittendreigh

When I was growing up, my family got together for big dinners all the time.

We ate in different homes, and every one of them was different.

At my sister’s house, she was young and newly married, so we would sit at individual TV trays and eat frozen dinners.

At my grandmother’s house, we always ate using her china and her silver.

But the one I loved most was Aunt Mattie’s house.  It was great.  She and Uncle Roy were farmers and lived in the country and their food was freshly grown.

Now, one thing about Aunt Mattie is that she could talk up a storm.  And one day we all sat down at the table to eat, and Aunt Mattie is going on and on about something and not one of us was paying her one bit of attention.

We are all waiting for her to stop talking so we could have the blessing and start eating.

Uncle Roy finally had enough of it and started praying.

Aunt Mattie kept talking.

Uncle Roy’s prayer started with, “Dear God!  Thank you for the food that is on this table.  It gives me hope that my wife will start entin’ and stop talkin’.”

Aunt Mattie kept talking throughout the whole prayer.

We started eating. And the food was great, and we all grew silent.  Even Aunt Mattie stopped talking.

And after dinner Aunt Mattie finally asked, “Did we remember to pray and give thanks?”

Christians give thanks at mealtime.  It is a great tradition to pause for prayer and give thanks before eating.

In the Christian family, it is good table manners to pray before a meal.

In this morning’s New Testament lesson, I want to move us through the vision that Peter has and to think about some common table manners that can give us some spiritual insights.

And the first one comes straight from my Uncle Roy – WE SHOULD GIVE THANKS FOR WHAT WE RECEIVE FROM GOD.

Look at Peter in the New Testament Lesson.  He has a vision in which he sees food, but the food is a symbol of something else.  The vision is not really about food.  It is about people – and the kinds of people that God wants in His family.

And God wants us to receive and give thanks for all of the different types of people in His family.

Peter was Jewish. In the beginning, all Christians were Jews.  Jesus was a Jew.  Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish and Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah.  Peter thought in terms of Christ coming only for the Jews.  It was hard for him to think beyond that limited view and to think of something new – and that is what this vision is all about.

It is a lot like thinking of Christianity as being ONLY for Whites, or ONLY for African Americans, or ONLY for English speaking people.

Peter thought that Christ was for the Jewish people, maybe for a few Gentiles or non-Jews, but he really thought early on that Christ was primarily to be for the Jews.

God challenges that way of thinking and encourages Peter to change.  And God does this in a vision in which Peter sees all these different kinds of food.

Peter, even as a Christian, retained his Jewish culture and law.  And people of that culture were bound by dietary laws from the Old Testament that Christians today are not bound by.  In the Old Testament, there was a long list of food that was considered unclean, and that should not be eaten.

In Leviticus 11, we can read about this list.

The camel, the rabbit, the pig – all unclean.

The vulture, the eagle, the owl, the hawk, the bat – all unclean.

All insects were unclean – except locus, crickets and grasshoppers!

The weasel, the rat and the lizard – all unclean.

And Peter wanted to be obedient to these religious rules.

In our New Testament Lesson, Peter is hungry, and he is waiting for the meal to be prepared, and he dreams about food.

In his dream, he sees something like a tablecloth being brought down from heaven, and on the cloth are all sorts of food, including some of the food that is on the list of unacceptable, unclean food.

Peter refuses to eat what is before him, insisting that he would never eat anything unclean.  And then the Almighty reminds him that God makes the rules and he is to eat what’s on his plate!  In his vision, Peter is told, “Don’t call anything unclean that God has made clean.”

Peter is trying to understand this vision when he receives an invitation to visit a Gentile named Cornelius.  And he begins to understand his vision.  The vision is not about food– it is about people.

In the same way that Peter tried to reject certain types of food in his Vision – Peter – and all of us – often reject certain types of people.

Are we ready and willing for anyone to come into this church?

Do we always give thanks to God for the people He sends to be with us in church?

Sometimes people feel uncomfortable with certain folks coming to church.  It might be a matter of race.  Or it might be economics – the uncomfortable feeling of being near someone who is too poor or too rich.  It might be the differences of educational levels.  Maybe they are too conservative or too liberal.  It may be sexual orientation.  It may be racial. 

How many times do we make distinctions about the people God wants us to let into our lives.

The point of this Vision of Peter’s is that the first Christians, who were all Jews, should welcome EVERYONE into the fellowship of Christians – even the Gentiles.  And thank God – because we are Gentiles.

And in the same way, we need to welcome everyone into the Kingdom of God and into this church.

We should give thanks to God for whomever He brings into this church.

It is good table manners to give thanks to God for whatever he puts on our plate at the table – it is good spiritual manners to give thanks to God for whomever he leads through those doors.


The old classic book "To Kill A Mockingbird" a story is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout.  One evening, one of her classmates named Walter Cunningham joins her family at the table for a meal.  Suddenly, Walter asks if there is any molasses in the house.  The father of the house, Atticus Finch, asks the family’s servant to bring the syrup. 

The book says, “Walter poured syrup on his vegetables and meat with a generous hand.  He would probably have poured it into his milk glass had I not asked what the sam hill he was doing.  Walter put his hands in his lap and ducked his head.  Atticus shook his head at me and I said, ‘But he’s gone and drowned his dinner in syrup.  He’s poured it all over everything.’

“It was then that Calpurnia requested my presence in the kitchen.  She was furious, and when she was furious Calpurnia’s grammar became erratic.  She squinted down at me and said, “There’s some folks who don’t eat like us, but you ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table.  That boy’s yo’ comp’ny, and if he wants to eat up the tablecloth, you let him.  You hear?

That’s when the young girl protests and says, “He ain’t company.  He’s just a Cunningham.” – which is to say, “He’s different.”

“Hush your mouth,” the woman says.  “Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house is yo’ company!”

When we have company at our dinner table, it is good table manners to accept them as they are.

It is good spiritual manners to accept guests in our church as they are.

We live in a nation that is becoming more and more multi-cultural, and our churches are becoming more and more multi-cultural.  It will either happen quickly or slowly, but it will happen.  And we will see people in our churches – including Grace Covenant – who do things differently.  Sometimes they do things better – sometimes not.  Mostly their ways are not better or worse – they are just different from us and we are different from them.

And we just need to respect and accept whoever comes to God’s Table, who comes to God’s fellowship.

When we ignore or treat badly people who have not yet received Christ we are failing to follow Christ’s model.

Jesus did it properly. He went to the homes of publicans and sinners and ate with them. The whole time the "super-righteous" were scorning Him for keeping company with sinners. He replied, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." (Luke 5:31,32)

You can’t always choose the people God sends into your life with whom He wants you to share the Good News.

We can’t just choose folks who dress like us and talk like us and look like us and act like us. THE GOOD NEWS IS FOR EVERYBODY - WHETHER THEY’RE LIKE US OR NOT!  And we need to accept them as the Almighty has already accepted them.

Third table manner: DON’T HOG THE FOOD!

We all have different experiences at family meals. My first roommate in college had terrible table manners, and I guess he realized that people had noticed his lack of manners.  He explained that he had 11 brothers and sisters. He said, “If I didn’t act fast and grab a biscuit, there might not be one left for me.  And if I didn’t yank my hand back quickly enough, somebody my grab my hand thinking it was a biscuit and take a bite out of it!”

Everybody is hungry for the Good News about Jesus! Some folks just don’t know that’s what they’re hungry for. They know they’re hungry. They try to satisfy their hunger with a million different ways.  But only Christ satisfies.

Do you remember a time when you were hungry and searching for God?  Do you remember wondering "where did I come from?"

"Why am I here?"

“What is my purpose in life?”

Don’t be like my old college roommate – don’t hog the food. There is plenty to go around!  We need to be sharing the spiritual food that God gives us with those who out there, in the world, who are spiritually hungry.

How many of us have been willing to share the Good News of Christ with others, and how many of us just sit back and expect someone else to do the sharing? 

Some of you who are friends with me on Facebook have heard what I am about to say, but many of you have not.
I am the Outreach Coordinator for a national astronomy organization and part of my role is to approve awards that honor those who do significant outreach for the hobby of astronomy. A few nights ago I signed over 50 award certificates. Together these award recipients have put in over 9,000 volunteer hours at various events around the country in which over 340,000 people participated. Many of those attending had their first glimpse through a telescope.

So here's the thing - can I get 50 Christians to collectively put in 9,000 volunteer hours to reach 340,000 for Christ?

If everyone who attends both the first and second worship services today put in the kind of time sharing Christ as my partners in astronomy spent sharing their love of space, we would reach out to almost 2 million people!!! 

Now I’m not asking you to reach 2 million people.  I’m asking you to reach out to the folks you know personally.  Let them see Christ in you.  Let them know that this is a church that would welcome them. 

We have the spiritual food of Christ.  It would be bad table manners if we hogged Christ only for ourselves.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.