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  • Adam Schell

Shift In Spirit




There are certain stories that we've all been told since we were kids. Our parents told them to us, their parents told them to them, and we tell them to our kids. Like the story of "The Three Little Pigs." Now, I’m sure that you remember the story of the three little pigs. But even though you’ve probably heard this story or told this story more times than you can remember...I hope you don’t mind if I tell it again.


And since we all know how every good fairy tale begins, I know I have to start the story of the three little pigs the right way. So, once upon a time, there were three little pigs who were all building their own homes. The first little pig decided to build his house out of straw. The second little pig decided to build his house out of sticks. And the third little pig decided to build his house out of bricks.


Well, the three little pigs got to work. And it didn't take long for the first little pig to finish his house since it was only made out of straw. And it didn't take long for the second little pig to finish his house since it was only made out of sticks. So the first little pig and the second little pig spent their day singing and dancing while the third little pig worked, and worked, and worked to build his house out of brick.


Now, it wasn't long after all three little pigs finished building their houses that the big, bad wolf came along. And that big, bad wolf went to the first little pig’s house, and he said? "Little pig, little pig, let me in." And do you remember how the little pig replied? He said, "Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin."


So the big, bad wolf told the little pig, "Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."


Now, I’m going to pause right here for just a second because I know that there are a couple of variations in the story at this point. One of them has the first little pig fleeing to safety at his brothers’ houses, and the other has the wolf ending up with a ham dinner. But since we're in church we're going to go with the more child-friendly version.


So the wolf blew down the house, and the first little pig ran off wee, wee, wee, wee all the way to the second little pig’s house. And then the same thing happens all over again. The big, bad wolf comes. He says, "Little pig, little pig let me in." But the second pig tells him, "Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin." "Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."


And the two little pigs scamper off to the third little pig’s house. And we go through the whole thing again. The big, bad wolf comes along and says, "Little pig, little pig, let me in." The third little pig replies, "Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin." So the wolf says, "Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in."


But this time the big, bad wolf couldn't do it. He couldn’t blow the third little pig’s house in. And again there are a few different endings to this story, but I think it's sufficient to say that nothing good happened to the big, bad wolf, and the three little pigs lived like all the other good guys do at the end of fairy tales. They lived...happily ever after.


Now, again, this story has been passed down for generations. Our parents told this story to us, their parents told this story to them, and we tell this story to our kids. And the story of the Three Little Pigs has been passed down for generations for at least a few different reasons.


The first reason is that it’s just a fun story to tell. I mean, I heard the way that those of you who are worshiping with us in person reacted when I broke out my big, bad wolf voice and my little pig voice. But that’s not the only reason why we’ve told this story for generations.


We’ve also told this story for generations because it teaches our children a lesson, or as we often put it, there is a moral to this story. And the moral of "The Three Little Pigs" is essentially that we should always do things the right way, not the quick way. And that’s an important lesson that we want our kids to learn early on in their lives because we don’t want them rushing through their chores or through their homework. We want them to learn to take their time and do things right.


But stories like "The Three Little Pigs" don't just teach straightforward lessons that we want to pass on to our kids. And that brings me to the third reason why we’ve been telling the story of the Three Little Pigs for generations. We’ve been telling this story for generations because stories also have the power to help us understand complex and abstract concepts that can be difficult to grasp…like the fact that our actions have consequences.


Now, the idea that our actions have consequences isn’t an easy concept to teach our kids. It’s why so many of us ended up touching a hot burner on the stove when we were little. It didn’t matter how many times our parents tried to tell us that we’d burn our fingers if we touched a hot stove, we didn’t understand that our actions would have consequences…until we touched that hot stove for ourselves.


But by telling our kids a story, like the story of the Three Little Pigs, our kids can start to learn about consequences. Our kids can see that two of the pigs decided to build their houses quickly and because of that, the big, bad wolf was able to blow those houses over.


So we tell stories because stories help us understand complex concepts that can be difficult to grasp. Or to put it another way, stories have a way of making the complex simple.

Stories have a way of making the complex simple.

And that’s why we started a new series of sermons last week called “Ghost Stories.” Now, I know that when a lot of us hear the words “Ghost Stories” we think about stories about spooky specters that we tell around campfires. But that’s not what we’re talking about in this series. In this series, we’re taking a closer look at stories about what the King James Version of the Bible calls the Holy Ghost.


But when the King James Version of the Bible was written more than 400 years ago, the word ghost didn’t mean the same thing it does today. When the King James Version of the Bible was first written, the word ghost referred to the living essence of a being, something that we would more commonly refer to as someone’s spirit today. So throughout this series, we’re taking a closer look at stories about the Holy Spirit to see what these stories can teach us about who the Holy Spirit is and how the Holy Spirit works in our world and in our lives.


And one story that teaches us a great deal about the Holy Spirit is the story of Peter and Cornelius, which is found in Acts 10. So, if you have a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone go ahead and open it to Acts 10. But before we dig deeper into this story, I need to give you a little background information.


In the early church, most followers of Jesus were still Jewish. And even though they believed in Jesus, they still observed Jewish laws and customs. They saw Jesus as the Messiah for the people of Israel, not the Savior of the whole world. So believing Jesus was the Son of God for these early Jewish Christians didn’t mean they felt called to share the good news of Jesus with non-Jewish people, who are referred to as Gentiles.


And Peter was no exception. As a devout Jew, Peter avoided contact with Gentiles, whom Jews considered unclean. Peter believed his mission was to the Jews, not the Gentiles. So, at the beginning of Acts 10, Peter believes that God’s love is limited.

Peter believes that God’s love is limited.

But in Acts 10, God is going to challenge Peter’s assumptions through the Holy Spirit.


So in Acts 10, we’re introduced to a man named Cornelius. And Cornelius is a Roman centurion who was what Jews called a “God-fearer.” That meant that Cornelius believed in God but had not fully converted to Judaism. And Cornelius has a vision telling him to find Peter. 


At the same time, Peter has a vision of animals where he sees all these different animals that the Jewish law taught were unclean. And, in this vision, God tells Peter to kill and eat these animals. But Peter objects. He says that he’s a good Jew and that he has never let anything unclean pass his lips. But in Acts 10:15, God tells Peter:


“Never consider unclean what God has made pure.”


Acts 10:15 (Common English Bible)


So as Peter is pondering this vision, messengers arrive from Cornelius asking Peter to come speak with him. Now typically, Peter would have refused this request from a Gentile. But this is where the Holy Spirit comes into the story. So let’s take a look at Acts 10 together and see what happens. We’ll start reading in verse 19, where we’re told:


19 While Peter was brooding over the vision, the Spirit interrupted him, “Look! Three people are looking for you. 20 Go downstairs. Don’t ask questions; just go with them because I have sent them.”


Acts 10:19-20 (Common English Bible)


Peter still doesn’t fully understand what’s happening. But the Holy Spirit is opening his heart and mind to something new. So Peter agrees to enter a Gentile home, which Jewish law prohibited. When he arrives, Cornelius shares his vision and eagerly listens as Peter tells him about Jesus.


As Peter is preaching the gospel, something incredible happens. Picking back up in verse 44, we’re told:


44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God.


Acts 10:44-46 (Common English Bible)


The Holy Spirit filled everyone in Cornelius’ house, even though they were Gentiles, just like the Holy Spirit had filled all of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter and the other Jewish believers he brought with him were stunned. So in response, in verses 47-48, Peter declares:


47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.


Acts 10:47-48 (Common English Bible)


This is a monumental moment. At the beginning of this story, Peter thought that God’s love was limited to certain people, but by the end of the story, Peter has learned there are no limits to God’s love.

There are no limits to God’s love.

And this changes the story of our faith forever. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius opens up the doors for the good news of Jesus to be shared with everyone.


Now, I said a little earlier on in this sermon that we tell stories because stories have a way of making the complex simple. And that’s what the story of Peter and Cornelius does for us. The story of Peter and Cornelius makes it a lot easier for us to understand who the Holy Spirit is and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives.


When we first meet Peter in this story, he’s behaving like everyone else in all of Israel. Peter has always been taught that Gentiles are unclean. And if Peter interacted with people who were unclean then he would become unclean and he would not be allowed into the presence of God.


But even though Peter had been told his entire life that if he interacted with unclean people then God would want nothing to do with him, Jesus showed him that wasn’t true. Jesus ate with tax collectors and people that society deemed to be sinners. Jesus healed a Roman soldier’s servant and a Canaanite woman’s daughter. Jesus sat down at a well and talked with a Samaritan woman about the kingdom of God. Jesus laid his hands upon lepers, and the blind, the mute, and the def to heal them. Jesus even touched the dead to raise them to life.


Time and time again, Jesus went to people that the Jews considered to be unclean. But that didn’t make Jesus unclean. That didn’t separate Jesus from God…it actually brought all the people Jesus was ministering to closer to God. 


So when we read about Peter’s initial thoughts about visiting a Gentile like Cornelius, it’s easy to see that Peter isn’t acting like Jesus. But that’s what we as followers of Jesus are supposed to do. We’re supposed to act like Jesus. We’re supposed to become more like Jesus.


In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us that we are to, “be imitators of Christ.” And that’s part of the work the Holy Spirit does for us. The Holy Spirit works inside of us so that we can become more like Jesus.

The Holy Spirit works inside us so that we can become more like Jesus.

That’s what the Holy Spirit does for Peter in this story. The Holy Spirit works inside of Peter and the Spirit transforms the way that Peter thinks about people like Cornelius. The Holy Spirit causes Peter to stop looking down on people like Cornelius, and the Spirit causes Peter to love Cornelius the way that Jesus loves us all.


And the Holy Spirit does the same thing in our lives. When we’re not acting like Jesus, the Spirit works to make us more like Jesus.

When we’re not acting like Jesus, the Spirit works to make us more like Jesus.

Now, we’ll dig a little deeper into how the Holy Spirit works to make us more like Jesus next week. But for now, we need to realize that we aren’t perfect. We all mess up. We all make mistakes. But as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t resign ourselves to being imperfect people. We’re supposed to be imitators of Christ, so we should always want to become more like Jesus in every area and aspect of our lives.


But we can’t do that on our own. If we’re going to become more like Jesus, we need some help. And that’s part of what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit lives inside of you and is always at work in your heart and mind. The Holy Spirit is always trying to make you more like Jesus. So be open to the work the Spirit wants to do in you.

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