Home-Style Godliness   |           Acts 10: 34-43 |           January 13, 2008
 
 
SSRI. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. 
 
That's right. They are called SSRIs, and they are a class of drugs like Prozac, and they are being prescribed increasingly for children. 
 
Mary Crowley writes, "A decade after depressed adults started listening to Prozac, a generation of children is tuning in .... According to the research firm IMS America, children age 6 to 18 received 735,000 SSRI prescriptions in 1996 - an increase of 80 percent in just two years. Looking at those numbers, some experts worry that we have embarked on a large and dangerous experiment.

 

Others applaud the trend as our best hope of saving children from lives of despair" ("Do Kids Need Prozac?" Newsweek, October 20, 1997). One 7-year-old describes his life when an unexpected depression settled on him. "I lost interest in everything. I just sat in my room and thought about how horrible life was." These are not thoughts kids should be having at 7 years of age!

 

Does the gospel have anything to say to this situation? Can Christian homes be places where the joy of the Lord fills the nooks and crannies of every room with a sense of hope and purpose? Do our children find unconscious, automatic confessions of faith easy to make? Do we?

 

Do we think of ourselves as "godly"? Are we building a "godly" family? Or does that title sound too quaint, or old-fashioned, to apply to our busy, complex 21st-century lives? 
 
Today's reading in Acts offers some insights. Peter's speech in our text claims that God deems all God-fearing (i.e., godly) people equally acceptable in God's eyes regardless of race, nationality, status, gender or age. However, just because God is not "partial" among the godly does not mean that God is not particular about the behavior of the godly. For a household to live in a state of "godliness" is to exhibit certain telltale signs of God's presence. 
 
The God-fearing Gentile Cornelius is described as "devout" and as one who "gave alms generously" and "prayed constantly" (Acts 10:2). As Peter speaks to Cornelius' household, his words reveal more of what it means to be a “god-fearing" household. By examining today’s text, we can glean four ways of being a God-fearing household, or what we are calling home-style godliness. 
 
1. Desire God.  The first thing we glean is Cornelius’s desire for God. Does your household desire God above all else? Is pleasing God the one desire of your heart as a family of faith? 
 
There is a book out of advice kids would give to parents if they were asked about how to raise kids. It has a wonderful subtitle: Instructions on Raising the Perfect Parent (J.S. Salt, compiler, Always Kiss Me Good Night: Instructions on Raising the Perfect Parent (
New York
: Three Rivers Press, 1997). Here are some of the things kids are saying about raising the perfect parent. 
 
Come home early. -Slava 
 
Love me for what I am. -Ethan, 10 

Be proud of me even if I didn't get all the answers correct. -Sachi, 10 
  
If you get mad at me remember to forgive me. -Suzanne 
 
One youth, who had gotten into trouble, said this to his high-school counselor: "You know what I am? I'm a comma. When I talk to my dad, he'll say something, and then when I start to talk, he makes me a comma. He doesn't interrupt me, but when I'm finished talking, he starts in right where he left off. It's as if I didn't say anything!" (As quoted by Russell E. Mase in "Love People, Use Things," May 3, 1998, Naples, Florida.) 
 
Ever know what it is like to be reduced to a comma, a pause in someone else's speech? How many times do our lives make God feel like a comma? 

Do you hear it? Over and over again, these kids are saying in a variety of ways: Am I special to you? Show me. Do you desire me in your life? Show me. Do you love me like you say you do? Show me. 
 
Christians have the Perfect Parent: God the Father. Do we desire God in our family life? Is God special to this home? Does this household truly love God as we say we do? Then where's the proof? How much time do we as a family actually spend together desiring God and worshiping God? 
 
2.         Proclaim God. The second thing we can glean is that home-style godliness leads to proclaiming God with our lives. This is what Peter is doing before Cornelius' household. To be "godly" is to proclaim the message that Jesus' own presence preached to the world: "peace by Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all" (v. 36). Home-style godliness proclaims Jesus as risen Lord in a variety of ways. 
 
Unfortunately, we have psychologized the gospel, says William Willimon of
Duke University, "turned it into a feeling, transformed the kingdom of God
into a mood." We have deluded ourselves into thinking that the Messiah is the great cosmic affirmer of everything we hold dear and of all our illusions. But Hans Küng reminds us: 
 
"We are to preach metanoia (a transforming gospel). We must entice people from the world to God. We are not to shut ourselves off from the world in a spirit of asceticism, but to live in the everyday world inspired by the radical obedience that is demanded by the love of God. The church must be reformed again and again, converted again and again in each day in order that it may fulfill its task." 
 
 Moreover, we too must be reformed again and again in our personal lives.

 

Consider Monty and Brandi Whitaker of Anaheim, California. Their work involves ministry in parks, prisons and nursing homes. Moreover, they do it as a family. "Rather than leaving their three children behind with a sitter in order to participate in these outreach ministries, they decided to take them along. That way, the children would not begin to think of the church as something that took their parents away from them, and moreover, it could prepare them for future ministries of their own" (Current Thoughts & Trends, September 10, 1998, 10). 
 
3.         Serve God. Another aspect of home-style godliness is serving God. Peter's speech makes it clear that to be "godly" is more than a state of mind. It is a mode of action. As he describes Jesus' ministry, Peter focuses not only on Jesus' identity but also on the power of his actions. Jesus went about "doing good and healing." This was the way God's anointing of Jesus "with the Holy Spirit and with power" was first demonstrated to this world. 
 
"Doing good" doesn't sound very dramatic. We tell our kids to "do good" in school. We tell our coworkers to "do good" at their jobs. We root for our favorite football team to "do good" in the playoffs. So what kind of "doing good" translates into "godliness"? 
 
Note how Peter's words "doing good" are coupled with "healing." Actions for good are identifiable because they naturally bring about some sort of healing, some kind of transformation. 
 
Jesus imparted both physical and spiritual healing as he traveled about "doing good." Cornelius helped heal hunger pangs and humiliation pains by generously giving alms to the poor. We all have the power to heal just as we all have the power to "do good." One supernaturally leads to the other.

 
Home-style godliness at its best means that we take what God has revealed to us and immediately put it into practice. Guided by Christ, it is up to us to put our faith into practice. 
 
If God shows us that we have behaved unjustly, then we need to start behaving justly. If God shows us that we have been racist, then we need to shine the light on our racism and give it the boot. 
 
If God shows us that we are shutting out some that he includes in, then we need to move to where God is. In each case, we need to act ourselves on what God has shown us. In this sense, religion is always a type of home-style godliness. 

4.         Eat with God. The fourth thing we glean is the importance of table fellowship. (Verse 41) He (Jesus) was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. One of the most remarkable events Peter's proclamation confesses is also one of the commonplace - the disciples "ate and drank" with the risen Christ.

 

If our homes are to be godly households, we are called to do no less. Does Jesus join you at your table every day? Do you join each other at your family table every day? Do you behave as if Jesus, waiting for another helping of potatoes, were seated right between your 4-year-old flinging his peas and your 13-year-old still wearing her headphones?
 
In Acts
2:42 we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Traditionally, the breaking of bread was part of a complete meal.

 

Home-style godliness means desiring God, proclaiming God, serving God, and eating with God Our social and economic structure may not allow us to live quite as the early disciples did, but it is important for us to be aware of the reality of Christ’s presence with us.

 

 

All four of these godly traits move outward from the inward. We tend to want to interiorize godliness - making it an attitude or feeling that must be nurtured and maintained deep down in our hearts. However, God-fearing, biblical godliness is brought out and exposed to the blinding, bleaching daylight glare of real world, everyday demands, and disasters. Home-style godliness prepares us for our tasks and interactions in the world beyond our doorsteps 
 
James Dobson, who I don’t often agree with, has popularized the phrase "Focus on the Family." He urges parents to create within the safety of their four walls a hallowed, sanctified space that stands beyond the reach of the worldly spiritual pollution that has poisoned "the air out there."

 
The real focus of the family, however, is not family. It is God. This is home-style godliness. The focus is outward, not inward. In the biblical model of godliness, we are called to raise up our households and our children to serve. Our ability to be hospitable and in service to others begins at home. We are then called to rise up from our own table and offer hospitality to strangers, to those who live and work and suffer and struggle outside the comfortable confines of a "godly" home.

Using Peter as a model, we who follow Jesus today do well to remain open to the idea that God does original things, and that we may be called as agents of change. And sometimes, like Peter, to our surprise and chagrin, it is the agent who needs to change. 
 
God provides the tools and the inspiration. 
 
Christ provides the example. 
 
But the hands-on work is up to us. 

 

Amen.

 

Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 

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