The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r163.htm


s163a16  Fifth Sunday of Easter  24/4/2016

'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’    ‘Ἃ ὁ θεὸς ἐκαθάρισεν σὺ μὴ κοίνου.’   Acts 11:9 and from Revelation: ‘See, I am making all things new.’  Rev 21:5

We make things new by not labelling things profane.   Let me repeat: WE are called to make all things new, and WE do this by refusing to call anything or anyone profane.

The word κοίνου is well known by Greek scholars for the whole of the New Testament is written in Koine Greek - common Greek - it is the language, not of Temple, synagogue, church or mosque, but of ordinary people.   So I wonder if this is not better translated: ‘what God has called sacred we must not label secular’.  

There have been lots of attempts to translate the scriptures into everyday language.   Scholars like William Barclay and the authors of the Good News Bible have brought the texts to life in everyday language, speaking to many people.   Before we pooh-pooh these attempts; of course they follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther (1) and in English, William Tyndale (2) without whom we would still be having to learn Latin.  Unfortunately this has sometimes meant the beloved poetry of the familiar King James Version has been lost but one wonders if the poetry actually is in the original Greek text or is the work of Tyndale and his successors! 

Unfortunately so often the church spends her energy on proclaiming how special she is, and therefore how desirable it is for others who are not so special, to join us.   We strive to communicate to others the beauty of the building, of the liturgy, the elegant completeness of our scriptural interpretation, the soundness of our theology.   Do we not see the implication that when we do this we imply that others are less special, and if not unclean, somewhat common?

But this is nothing new.  Perhaps it is St Paul who writes: ’So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision‘ — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands .. now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.   For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.’ (3)

I point out that this injunction in Acts, ‘you must not call (others) profane’ isn’t isolated, but is in fact another step in Peter’s spiritual journey away from orthodoxy.   He is being called out of what is familiar territory to go to the house of the gentile Cornelius. (4)   So as the church we are not just to not label others secular, but to actively go and associate with the secular, and to find the sacred there.   And Peter finds a welcome in this unfamiliar gentile territory; the Holy Spirit is poured out on the household when Peter visits.   The novelty of a religion which leaves her holy huddles and is found were people are at, physically and spiritually, is the impetus for this outpouring and its divine imprimatur.

And in fact this is the same for Paul later in Acts where he is forbidden to remain in familiar territory, in technically what is called Asia, but to cross the rubicon, just south of what Australians and New Zealanders know as the Dardanelles and Gallipoli, into Europe.  (5)  Again, it is not what we may or may not believe that is important, but where we are prepared to go in blessing.   Like Peter before him, Paul finds a welcome in a devout woman who immediately asks for baptism and invites him to stay in her home. (6)

Indeed the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit comes not when the apostles speak in the sacred language of the church, but when they speak the language of the hearers. (7)

Many in the church see the real enemy being secular humanism, but this profound conversion experience for Peter as well as later for Paul, which form the bulk of the book of the Acts of the Apostles, calls this into question.

And our reading from Revelation and the text: ‘See, I am making all things new’ implies that there is nowhere that is less sacred, that the breadth of God’s sacredness is limitless, all of secular society is encompassed by God’s love, that the sacred is to be found in every nook and cranny of society.

As I reflect on our service of ‘holy communion’ I have realised that after the dismissal we are encouraged to go to morning tea and make small talk about trivialities, like what we might have for lunch, the weather or the football.   The time for talking about important things, spiritual matters, is over - all completely covered by the words in the service by the ordained minister.   And then we lament that people actually find spirituality in the preparation of food, the wonders of the seasons, the camaraderie of the local sporting match ..   Why should we be surprised?

Or as I have sometimes found, and found extremely tiresome, the conversations at morning tea turns to surreptitious pooh-pooh-ing a recent innovation the minister has introduced!   Suddenly: ‘I am making all things new’ is translated: ‘See I am making everything so as to enable the greatest number of my followers be so comfortable that it is clear that everyone else has to do the changing’!


1.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther
2.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Tyndale
3.  Ephesians 2:11-12,14
4.  Acts 10:34
5.  Acts 16:6-10 
6.  Acts 16:13-15
7.  Acts 2:4,6,8 &11