God doesn’t play favorites. We have heard that said from as far back as we can remember. God treats us all the same. That is what Peter is telling the Roman soldier Cornelius. ‘If you do well, believe in him you will have forgiveness of your sins.’ We United Methodist believe that God loves everyone equally. God doesn’t love Americans more than Germans, and he doesn’t love the French less than he loves the Koreans. We believe that salvation is open and available to everyone.
But throughout the Old Testament, God chose Jacob over Esau, Abraham over everyone else, the nation of Israel over all other nations. Isn’t that playing favorites? So, how can Peter say that God doesn’t play favorites?
Abraham, Israel and all the others were chosen to do one thing: to be tellers of God’s story. Israel was not the largest, most powerful nation in the world but they were to be God’s story teller. The story they were to tell was how God loved humanity and wanted humanity to love God in return. The prophet’s main mission was to get Israel back on track to tell God’s story. Thought all the prophetic books Israel was told to be a light to the gentiles and a light to the nations. The point to Jonah was not that a whale could swallow a man, but that God loved the people of Nineveh as much as he loved anyone else.
When a choice is made and it is re-enforced as much as it was in Israel, it becomes a source of pride and that pride leads to excluding all who are not part of the original group. God’s calling was a servants calling. It was to serve the world as God’s servant.
You see, God’s choice of Israel had one purpose; it was to get us to the moment when the Messiah would come. Israel was to witness to the world that God was active and loving and wanted to undo all that had been done by sin. Israel by their law, lifestyle and service was to prepare the world for the arrival of the savior. Even though Israel proved hard to deal with, God stayed with them because he had made a promise to Abraham and God always keeps faith.
So, now here we are centuries later and Peter is standing in front of a group of Roman soldiers telling them that God is not a favorite player, that if someone does right and believes; that person will know salvation.
The most amazing thing happens; Cornelius and his family are converted and Peter goes and reports that to the ‘pillars of the church’ and he gets in trouble. ‘Why, they are gentiles, not Jewish like us.’ Even the early Christians were caught up in the idea that it is only for us. But this episode begins to turn the tide and the early Christians began to see that Peter was right. God does not play favorites. God’s love is a universal love. It does not know ethic, national, or other kinds of boundaries.
It is true; God does call certain people to do certain things. But that calling is always to point to the wider calling that God loves, cares for, and wants to redeem the entire human race. That calling is not privilege, but to service. When it becomes about privilege, we have forgotten the purpose of the call.
I think it is an unfortunate choice of words when Paul, quoting Malachi 1:2-3, that God loves Jacob and hates Esau. Hate is a sin, even in the OT, (Lev. 19:17; Deut. 19:11). This gives the impression to some that God actually hates people. The context is that God chose Jacob and not Esau.
Peter was right, God does not play favorites. God’s call through the people he called to be the story tellers goes out to everyone.
You and I are called to be the story tellers. God’s call of you and I is to service not privilege.
MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2008. Mystery. Ephesians 3:1-11. Most people like them. Is it Col. Mustard in the library with the candlestick, as in the game Clue? God’s mystery is not something that can be figured out like Sherlock Holmes, but has to be revealed. God’s mystery is that Jews and Gentiles, through the gospel, are joint heirs in the promise of Christ. It is ‘through the church’ that this mystery is to be made known. Are we letting people in on the secret? It is really now, an open secret, but are we being God’s story tellers?
TUESDAY, JANUARY 15, 2008. In Acts 8:26-35 Phillip is being God’s story teller to an Ethiopian. The Ethiopian ask him a question about the person Isaiah is talking about. Taking that verse, Phillip tells him God’s story. Notice that Phillip was a ‘server’ (diakonos) not an apostle. Yet, he was called upon to be the story teller. God’s call to all of us is that it doesn’t take a great theological education, but a willingness to be for someone the teller of God’s story.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2008. In Sunday’s reading the gist of God’s story is told in verses 34-43. God sent Jesus; he went about healing and doing good; he was killed on the cross, raised by God, seen by witnesses and bring forgiveness to those who believe in him. That is essence is the story. Kind of reminds us of the Creed doesn’t it? The Creed can be a jumping off point into the story of God. Don’t recite the creed thinking that is enough, but use it as a way to begin.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 17, 2008. If we were to ask 100 people what is most needed in the telling of God’s story, we might get 100 different answers. Some want to talk about heaven; some hell; some would want to talk about something else. What I think is needed most, is telling someone what difference the story has made in your life! If they can’t see that it makes a difference, heaven and hell really don’t matter too much. What does the story mean to you?
FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2008. What was the most important news story in 2007? It wasn’t Brittany, or Lindsay, or even Donald. The most important news story of 2007 will be the same news story of 2008 and it is: that in the resurrection of Jesus, God has acted to redeem and restore us all. Now that is an EXTRA!