‘God has no favourites’ ~ Easter Sermon of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork

Easter Sermon

preached  by the Right Reverend Paul Colton,

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork on Easter Day 2013

Acts 10.34-36

‘Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him … Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all. ’

‘God shows no partiality…’ Or as other translations put it: ‘God is no respecter of persons’; or, ‘God has no favourites.

The world is full of people – indeed religions and churches are full – of people who think that God does have favourites; that God prefers them to other people.

This is one of the aspects of the story of religion that indicts believers. Throughout history, systems, institutions, political and social edifices have been based, (perversely in the name of Christ and by reliance on biblical literalism) on the belief God prefers some to others. ‘God prefers me to you, or my way to your way.’ Jews were preferable to Gentiles; circumcised to uncircumcised; free people to slaves; men to women; our own people, to strangers and foreigners; people with property to people with no property; landowners to tenants; ruler to ruled; rich to poor; the white race to other races; straight people to gay people; adults to children; able people to disabled people, and so the list goes on of so many inequalities that are often subtly and perversely based on the idea that God favours one over the other. Within the Church we hear language used, such as ‘real’, or ‘true, Christians. To use the long ago, but still not far enough away clichés, not unique to Ireland, we’ve had Protestants believing they are more biblical and more saved than Roman Catholics; and Roman Catholics believing that theirs is a truer church than other churches.

Saint Peter, had to confront and challenge deep partialities and prejudices such as these within himself, but he came to the point where he was able to say:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him … Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all

He hadn’t always been able to say that’ and, in his day, it was a revolutionary idea. And it didn’t just stay as an idea; and he didn’t just speak the words; he actually crossed the barrier. He had his visionary experience which confronted him with an image of clean and unclean animals being lowered in front of him, and of being told to eat.  His newfound understanding was put to a practical test when he a Jew, was called to the home of the centurion Cornelius, a Gentile. Cornelius did homage at Peter’s feet, but Peter said “Please get up, I am only a mortal. myself’  Breaking a taboo, Peter went in to that house. Quite a crowd was eagerly waiting for him.  He said to them  ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.’ And the first words he spoke swept away the racial and religious prejudice of centuries:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality … Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all

He on to summarise for them the story of Jesus – one of the earliest examples of apostolic preaching: ‘they put him to death … but raised him on the third day.’

The point for us all on this Easter Day is, that Peter’s newly discovered conviction came from a life-changing encounter with the teaching of the crucified Jesus and the transforming and energising effects of his resurrection. Is that what the teaching of Jesus does to all of us who follow him?  When we proclaim that ‘Christ is risen!’ are we open to being changed and transformed in that way? Are we open to our own favouritisms, biases and partialities being turned on their head?

I truly understand that God shows no partiality … Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all

Neither race, nor any other quality that marks some as different from others may separate a person from the love of Christ.  Neither ought these qualities to separate persons from one another.  The love of God is unbounded and universal in its scope.  It’s not that there are no terms: ‘anyone who fears God … and does what is right is acceptable to God’, says Peter.  The Easter faith is universal in its scope: it is inclusive:  Jesus Christ is ‘Lord of all.’  He opens doors rather than closes them.

In this tradition, the new Pope – Pope Francis broke new ground this week too – by washing the feet of young offenders on Maundy Thursday; but not merely that, he went to them at their youth detention facility; not all of them were Roman Catholic, and not only that, contrary to Canon Law, there were two women among them; and not only that, among their number was a Muslim.

Today we are baptising Emma and Jack.  Their baptism is a reminder to us all of what we are called to be and to try to become on this journey with the risen Christ.  It is about being amazed, as Peter and the women were that first Easter morning; and being transformed by Jesus’ death and resurrection ; by his life and teaching.

Life was never the same again for the women and men of that first Easter.  Can it also change us? Indeed, shouldn’t it change us and bring us – like Peter to the point where, at Cornelius’ house,  he could say, and we today should say and live lives based on this truth?

I truly understand that God shows no partiality … Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all

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