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May 19, 2019         Wedding Crashers?

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Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,

 The idea of today’s sermon theme is a combination between the first 2 lessons from Acts 11 and Rev.21.   The ‘holy city’ – the new Jerusalem or Zion – is the Church, God’s people, the Bride of Christ, beautifully adorned with a most precious & eternal faith in the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. This speaks of a special relationship between God & his people,    a gracious & saving relationship, a heavenly & an eternal relationship. This picture of Bridegroom & Bride, & the marriage feast of the Lamb & His kingdom is repeated in Scripture in many places; it’s a major theme. We did not hear that marriage theme in Acts 11, but I recently read a little story that fits a combination of our 2 lessons. It’s a story about a ‘wedding crasher’ == that is, an uninvited guest at a wedding.

Normal & considerate people don’t crash a wedding. Plans are made in advance, numbers are counted, caterers are paid; wedding crashers are not welcome.  For a couple in Brazil named Matheus & Marilia, they certainly were careful about their wedding invitations & invited guests. They did not expect a stray dog to crash their wedding. Dogs are dirty; a stray may be vicious & bite someone. Even invited guests don’t bring dogs to a the wedding; and certainly not some stray mutt.   Yet in October 2017, a stray dog did crash a wedding.

The couple had planned an outdoor ceremony; then a rain storm forced them under a tent;  and the storm brought in a dog.  Family members tried to shoo him away, but -persistently- he came right back. Then the mongrel did the unthinkable; he plopped right down on the bride’s long veil as she was speaking her vow, & he went to sleep. And *you know what? Surprisingly, the couple left him there.

Not all dogs are ‘canine.’ In Jesus’ day, gentiles were referred to as ‘dogs’ == undesirable, scorned, not worthy of attention. The gentiles were the general group that were not God’s historic people;  they did not grow up to know the One True God thru their parents & households. These latecomers were not allowed in certain parts of the temple. Gentiles often earned that reputation as ‘dogs’ as they chased after false gods, and lived by corrupt morals.

Samaritans were just as bad, because they were the offspring of mixed marriages of Jews & gentiles, who should’ve known better than to ignore Yahweh’s Word for their faith & life.

They corrupted the faith = ignoring God’s command to circumcise, & to offer proper sacrifices; they ignored other doctrines & ways of living. All non-Jews were considered heathen, loathsome, & outsiders. You might remember that Jesus even used this term ‘dog’ once, to make the important point that we are going to make today. It’s in Matt.15.

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So, Jesus used the derogatory term-of-the-day, and praised this woman’s faith & granted her prayerful request in order to make this point: God’s gracious salvation extends to ALL people; even to dirty gentile dogs. Peter, & much of the very early NT Church in Acts, had yet to learn this important lesson of the kingdom of God. Which is where we come-in at Acts11. The gentile-dogs were crashing the wedding feast of Christ and His bride, the Church.

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So, there wasn’t much love between Jews and gentiles. This is why the word of the Lord to Peter had to be strong & clear. The Lord gave Peter a particular vision (in chpt.10). As a result, Peter had gone to the home of a Roman centurion named Cornelius, had preached Jesus as Christ & God & Savior of mankind; and Cornelius & his household believed the Word of God, they were baptized into Jesus, and the Holy Spirit came upon them like a second Pentecost. It was shocking;   undesirable dogs were crashing the wedding-of-all-weddings == the eternal union of God with His people. This meant dirty Roman pagan gentiles could be part of the salvation wedding of Jesus and His Bride, the Church.

It shouldn’t have been so surprising, tho. Recall what God said to Abram: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” That is, nations beyond the Hebrews; all those cultures & languages & people-groups that descended from Noah, but were split up at the Tower of Babel. (Gen 17:5). Old Simeon in the temple held baby Jesus, and praised God that His Messiah was for all people; a promise heard a number of times in Isaiah. He was a light for the gentiles, and the glory of Israel.

Here, Bible students would be reminded of the parable involving a wedding feast. That’s in Matt.22. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.”

Those first invited were the Jews, who had many excuses for not responding to God,

or to his only begotten Son as Messiah.   So, the king said, “the wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go -therefore- to the main roads, and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’  And those servants went out into the roads, and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”

Yes, the parable is spoken against the unbelieving Jews, and in favor of the believing gentiles. But *could God’s wonderful wedding feast be open to stray & unclean dogs?

*Did Peter wrongly given what is holy to the dogs, and cast pearls before swine?   No wonder Peter was sharply criticized, and summoned before the leaders in Jerusalem to give an account of this shocking action.

All of this is what the Jews were thinking. They said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”  Of course, they knew that Jesus was found eating & talking with tax collectors & prostitutes; but those were just exceptions to the rule. So they were wondering by what authority would Peter mix-in with all those unclean people, and then offer to them this most precious & heavenly invitation. And then Peter explained what he had learned from God.

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We can get caught-up in the same mindset as those questioning Peter. We are ‘gentiles’, and have known from childhood that God’s Savior & forgiveness is for all people; that there is no distinction of God’s salvation between Jew & gentile, slave or free, male or female; Jesus saves all. And yet, our thinking doesn’t always follow that good pattern.  *What about those who don’t look like us, or speak our language well; *do we think they don’t have an invitation among us? Have you ever seen a prostitute & think that she’s a lost cause; OR did you think that the kingdom of God is just as open to her as it to us?

What about other ‘sinners’ == you know, those with a history of being /an addict, /a criminal, /who’ve had an abusive past with a spouse or their children? What about your ex- husband, ex-girlfriend, ex-friend?   What about those who didn’t grow up in a church-going home, and have no clue what to do when they come into an established church with their misconceptions about being a Christian, or being a Lutheran? Are they welcome? OR do we think of them as ‘wedding crashers’ who are uninvited, undeserving, and are disturbing our nice gathering?

Of course, I’m not talking about tolerating anyone’s sin, & willing immorality, without a clear sign of humble repentance, and turning away from anything the Bible identifies as sin & wrong. The Bible has lists of sinful behaviors we must ALL turn away from. But when God turns a person to Himself, and into a repentance that leads to Christ & to life, *should we still treat them like dog? Not according to Peter’s vision.

What about those who grew up Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist? What about those who have been taught to ignore their natural biology, and to be caught up in the sin of same-sex attraction; or those who are confused because our public schools are teaching that boys can change to be girls, or girls can change to be boys?   Has God invited them, or are they wedding crashers?   We don’t call them ‘dogs’ nowadays, but we might treat them like that, even if its just in our own minds. Peter’s vision teaches you & me today.  Everyone whom God turns away from the world, & away from sin, and draws them to His Son, & into His Church, is not a ‘wedding crasher’; they have His invitation = along with us. God’s gracious salvation extends to each humble stray, to Jew & to gentile.

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Peter had to accept God’s changing of his mind. God has included the all ‘gentiles’ on His guest list; here was room in heaven for them; for all who will hear the word, humbly repent of their sin, and gladly trust Jesus =who came in the flesh, with his death & resurrection for them. So, Peter did some explaining.  He told the other leaders about his vision, & gave the evidence of Cornelius and his household, and they leaders were convinced.

So, as we heard, “They glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’ ” This news shook up the world back then, and keeps shaking up the hearts & minds of those who have not been careful to see their own bias.

The promise is in Galatians 3: “You are all sons of God, thru faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

The same idea is in Rom.10: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ ”

Our faith knows that Christ died for all; the sins of the whole world were nailed to the cross; there is no ‘us’ & ‘them’, there is only repentance & believing OR unrepentance & non-believing.  Of course, there are other Biblical lines of separation between groups who may twist or ignore parts of God’s Word. So, there are distinctions between true teaching & false teaching; but there is no distinction between who God is inviting to repent & believe in His Son, the only Lord & Savior, Jesus.  To God, salvation is open to all.

We will always be tempted to see differences in people; people we don’t know, those that of a different culture or language; OR those grew up in a different religion, or with no religion at all; & those who have had a very dark past with terrible sins. We’ll be tempted to say ‘who invited you?’ That would not be a good or right question.

What would God have us do with these outsiders?  It’s simple, but not easy. We do not accept what is wrong or sin, and call it right or acceptable. But we believe that Jesus died for them just as for us so that they would not stay in unbelief & sin. We want to treat them like we would want to be treated. They are invited; they are included in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

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What happened in Brazil after that day of the wedding crasher? As the ceremony ended, and that uninvited dog was shooed once more off the brides veil, the reception went on as planned.  When everything was over, the couple wondered about that dog who had come to their wedding.   Some days later, they came across him again. They cleaned him up, adopted him, and named him Snoop.

*Who would have thought that the Lord would find US, clean us up, and adopt us into his family?  *Who would have thought that the Lord would give US a place at His table, and make a Rev.21 promise to us that includes the wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom?

*Who would have thought that God would have in His heart a love for all strays?

But, that’s the gospel’s message; and there is plenty room for ALL whom He invites.

Amen.