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.