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God Has No Witness Protection Plan
a sermon based on Acts 10:34-43
by Rev. Randy Quinn

In many ways, it seems as though there is no reason to preach today. We’ve all heard the story before. We know resurrection. In fact, our worship centers around this core theme year 'round-the celebration of Easter is always in season. It is THE story of the Christian faith. All else palls in comparison, even Christmas. Not only that, some of you were at the sunrise service this morning and have already heard one sermon today!

Maybe that is why this is such an appropriate passage for today. Like us, Peter knew the story. He had told it before. He was an eyewitness to it! Yet here he is, ten years later recounting the events of Jesus' life once again.

A lot had happened in those ten years, but the story of Jesus had not changed. It was the same message Peter was proclaiming on Pentecost, it was the same message he had preached in the synagogues hundreds of times before. But this is a different circumstance. It is a very different place.

In our text for today, Peter is at the house of Cornelius. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion who had received a vision. In his vision, Cornelius was told to send for Peter. And so he did. (See Acts 10:1-8) At about the same time, Peter was up on the roof, praying. It was almost lunchtime, so he asked someone to prepare a meal for him. While he was waiting for his lunch, he had a vision. In his vision, Peter saw a tablecloth come down from heaven filled with non-kosher food. Then he heard a voice telling him to eat. Peter was more than a little reluctant to eat it, since he was a Jew and Jews didn't eat those things.

This happened not once, not twice, but three times! (See Acts 10:9-16) While he was still puzzling over his vision, the Spirit spoke to him and told him that the servants of Cornelius were coming to meet him. When they arrived, and asked Peter to go with them, he went, not knowing exactly what was going to happen. (See Acts 10:17-24)

It’s easy for us to forget that outsiders to the faith saw the early Church as a Jewish movement. The Christians themselves saw themselves as Jews first, Jews who happened to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, the first to be raised from the dead. They had drawn clear lines that had excluded gentiles like Cornelius.

It was that particular aspect of the Christian faith Cornelius was challenging. He explained to Peter what had happened in his vision and then asked Peter to tell them what God had to say about it. Peter has been put on the spot and asked to make a statement. It would be a statement that would change the nature of the entire church. It would set a precedent for all other Christians in all future generations.

While I was in college, I received my one and only subpoena to appear in court. The subpoena said I was to appear and testify in a case relating to a person whose name I didn't recognize. I had no idea why I was being asked to appear. I honestly had no idea why my name was on this legal document, but I knew I must appear in the courtroom on a particular day at a specific time.

When I arrived, a man walked up to me and explained what was going on. He reminded me about an incident that took place over a year earlier. I had been working at a gas station in Seattle one night when a man told me to open the money drawer and give him the cash in it. He had also threatened me with bodily harm if I tried anything funny. I can still remember the scene as I stood there. He had his hands on my shoulders and was looking down on me. I was staring into his mouth - and the funny mustache he had. (It was on the bottom lip rather than the top lip.) How I managed to keep my composure I don’t know. But I did.

But when I gave the police my statement, I was so afraid of the man that I worried what would happen if he found out I had called them. And what if they didn’t find him? I really had hoped there would be a ‘witness protection plan’ in place so this man wouldn’t come back and follow through on his threats.

Fortunately, within a few short hours the police arrested a man who fit the description I had given them, complete with the "mustache" on his lower lip. That man was now being tried. And I was the only witness the prosecutors had.

I swallowed hard. My heart began to race again as I wondered what the man would do to me if he saw me again. Then reality set in. As strong an image as he made on me that night, I thought I would always recognize him. But he had shaved off his "mustache". He was now wearing glasses. I couldn't honestly say that I was certain he was the same man. The case against the man whose name was on my subpoena was dropped because after a year, I had forgotten enough details of this man to identify him.

In many ways, Peter's appearance before Cornelius is like a court appearance. He is being called on to make a testimony. Unlike me, however, Peter remembered the details. He remembered everything from the time of John the Baptist to the day he looked into the empty tomb himself.

Easter had come into his life in such a way that he had been changed dramatically. Resurrection brought more than just new life for Jesus; it created a whole new world for Peter as well. And Easter was continuing to happen to him as he continued to realize what it meant.

Even in this sermon of Peter's, he has another realization about the resurrection - it isn’t just for Jews but for all people. Peter simply and profoundly proclaims, "Jesus is Lord of all" (v 36). Easter continues to happen in his life. Every day is a day of resurrection. Every event is a new sign of God's power to change the world.

That’s why we are witnesses, too. We are the witnesses of resurrection today. We may not be eye witnesses, but we are witnesses nonetheless. You and I are witnesses of the resurrection. We have seen it happen in our lives. We know what can happen when we experience salvation. We know what can happen when someone gives their life to God.

We are witnesses. We are the ones who can look around us and see lilies blooming and know that life does come from the dead. We can see the trees budding and know that spring has arrived. We are witnesses to these things. And we are called upon to witness to our faith, whether we want to or not because God has no Witness Protection Plan. You may never receive a subpoena like I did, but we will all be called upon to testify - either in word or in deed.


Sometimes that subpoena will come in simple and unassuming forms:

a hug given to someone in grief.

answering your neighbor’s question when they ask why you go to church.

a kind act in a grocery store.

Then there are times when that subpoena will test both your courage and your conviction:

standing with someone who has been falsely accused of wrong.

welcoming an estranged family member into your home.

entering a conversation at the store or the post office when you know that truth is being ignored.

When those opportunities arise, let's be like Peter. Let's continue to find and proclaim new resurrection experiences. Let's be bold when called upon and name what we know to be the truth.

Let's remember the Easter story, not just as a matter of historical fact, but an experience that has transformed and is transforming us and our world. Let's let the resurrection so influence and affect our lives that every thing we do is a testimony of our faith in God.

God has no witness protection plan. If we have experienced resurrection, we must proclaim it when called upon to testify. Let's not be like I was in the courtroom. Let's not allow the story to become old and stale and meaningless because we can’t remember the details.

Let's instead proclaim with Peter that we know what happened then and we know what is happening today. Let’s not be afraid to be witnesses for today. Amen.