Summary: To be able to break away from tightly held beliefs, there has to be a conversion of the heart and mind
Losing my Religion
After several years of trying to bring about change from the inside, former President Jimmy Carter announced that he’s severing his ties with the Southern Baptist church over its treatment of women. “I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me….So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service….. The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable…. The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths.”
To be able to break away from tightly held beliefs, there has to be a conversion of the heart and mind. We’ve been talking about conversions this month and today we’re going to look the conversion of the Apostle Peter. Up until this time, followers of Jesus were Jews and they saw the focus of Jesus' ministry to be the Jews. Gentiles were not considered worthy of being saved. Peter held these beliefs until he had the vision recorded in our Scripture today. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them." Peter then tells them about his vision and what God said of the Gentiles, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." A conversion had taken place and now Peter saw that Jesus came not just for the Jews but for all God’s children. The first conversion that Peter experiences is from his religious traditions. Likewise, we have some traditions in our life we think are Christian, that we have to be converted from because they are American, not Christian. Many times we have traditions because we’ve always done them but we don’t know their origin, meaning or purpose.
There’s a small-town church in upstate New York who had the same rector for over 35 years. He was loved by the church and the community. After he retired, he was replaced by a young priest. It was his first parish so he had a great desire to do well. After several weeks he began to perceive that the people were upset at him. He was troubled. Eventually he called aside one of the lay leaders of the church and said, "I don’t know what’s wrong, but I have a feeling that there’s something wrong." The man said, "Well, Father, that’s true. I hate to say it, but it’s the way you do the Communion service." "The way I do the Communion service? What do you mean?" "Well, it’s not so much what you do as what you leave out." "I don’t think I leave out anything from the Communion service." "Oh yes, you do. Just before our previous rector administered the chalice and wine to the people, he’d always go over and touch the radiator. And, then, he would--" "Touch the radiator? I never heard of that liturgical tradition." So the younger rector called his predecessor. He said, "I haven’t even been here a month, and I’m in trouble." "In trouble? Why?" "Well, it’s something to do with touching the radiator. Could that be possible? Did you do that?" "Oh yes, I did. Always before I administered the elements, I touched the radiator to discharge the static electricity so I wouldn’t shock them." For over 35 years, the people of his congregation had thought that was a part of the Holy Communion. Traditions get started, and people endure them for a long time and they begin to mix them up with obedience to God.
The second conversion is from religion to relationship. To understand that, we’re going to contrast two mountains. The first is Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the law of God, the Ten Commandments. The second is Calvary where Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world to reconcile us to God and one another. Mt. Sinai is about the law, which says a person's acceptance by God is based on their ability to keep all of God’s rules and regulations. Religion is based on law. It’s about trying to live your life by the law. If you are not faithful, you will suffer the consequences and that is judgment. This is why the crowd who brought the woman caught in the act of adultery was calling for her to be stoned. Because the law said she deserved it for violating the law.