Dorhauer: Recreate church in image of God, who shows no partiality


The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, delivers his sermon, “Who is God, and Who are We Because of God?” on Sunday in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“On Sunday I said that John Dominic Crossan called Psalm 82 the center of faith. I think that Acts 10:34 is the most important Scripture. It has been formative for my ministry,” said the Rev. John C. Dorhauer. He preached at the 9 a.m. Aug. 24 worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “No Partiality,” and the Scripture reading was Acts 10:34.

Dorhauer said, “I wish this Scripture had the impact on us that it had on the disciples. This verse planted the DNA in the first generation of the church. The Holy Spirit would not absent herself from the first conflict of the church.”

Peter the Apostle, in Acts 10:34, said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.” He was in the middle between James and the Council of Jerusalem — who believed that all male Christians must follow the law and be circumcised before they were baptized — and Paul, who believed that through Jesus death on the cross, the law no longer had the power to make humans right with God, and circumcision was unnecessary in order to be baptized. Just love God and love your neighbor.

“How did Peter get from waffling on the issue to landing on one side?” Dorhauer asked. “He landed and was dragged back to Jerusalem by James to defend himself. If you doubt how important this is, it is in the canon because they feared the church would regress and that would not serve the mission well.”

Following Jesus was not enough, and at the Last Supper he told the disciples it was an advantage for him to leave them. If he did not go, the Advocate would not come and the church would be without the Spirit. After all they had experienced with Jesus — the preaching, the healings, the crucifixion — the disciples were hemmed into an upper room until the Spirit came upon them.

Peter was in Cesarea and a man named Cornelius sent a servant to ask Peter to come and preach to his family. Because Cornelius was a Gentile, he was considered unclean and Peter would have become unclean if he accepted the invitation. Peter was unsure about whether to accept the invitation.

“He took a nap, and in a dream he saw animals falling from heaven and he heard a voice say, ‘Take, kill and eat,’ ” Dorhauer said. “Peter saw that all the animals were considered unclean according to the law. The voice said to him, ‘Who are you to tell me what is clean and what is unclean?’ ”

He continued, “We all know that the voice is God, and it is God’s law that Peter knew. He had already been tested and failed, and he did not want to fail this test. Peter had this dream three times, and when he woke up he was confused.”

The voice stayed in Peter’s ear when the servant came to take him to Cornelius’ house. “God keeps saying, ‘Don’t tell me what is clean and what is unclean,’ ” Dorhauer said. “He is wondering if he should even be there and what he would say.” After Peter heard what Cornelius had to say, he replied, “Truly, God shows no partiality.”

While Peter was still preaching, the Holy Spirit came and touched even the Gentiles. “While the church was deliberating, the Holy Spirit showed up, even on the Gentiles,” Dorhauer said. “And the Holy Spirit showed up before they were baptized. Every other time the Holy Spirit came after baptism. The Holy Spirit was not risking anything, and Peter stopped preaching and they went to the water and all were baptized. God shows no partiality.”

Peter was not known for his brilliance, but he had to get it right and face the council. They asked if it was true that he had gone to Cornelius’ house and he said yes. “They asked him if he had said God shows no partiality,’’ Dorhauer said. “Peter said, ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’ In other words, your quarrel is not with me; take it up with a higher authority.”

The question is, can you accept the God who already shows no partiality? The church that accepts less has a problem. “There was so much at stake; they had to get it right and they had to put the story in the canon,” Dorhauer said to the congregation. “We know that we tend to get things wrong, so they put it in the canon.”

He continued, “We fall short, and tell those on the other side that they are not welcome here; (that) they are unclean and not welcome before the Creator. So the Holy Spirit showed up, and you and I have the challenge and joy of recreating the church in the likeness of the God who shows no partiality.”

Dorhauer said that in his position as president of the United Church of Christ, people ask him how they can ordain lesbian and gay people. “We have been ordaining lesbian and gay people since 1972. But I tell people I don’t ordain lesbian and gay people. I ordain people in whom the gifts of the Holy Spirit are evident. If you have a problem with that, take it to a higher authority. Every day it is my delight to recreate the church in the image of God who shows no partiality.” 

The Rev. David Shirey presided. Julie Peebles, senior minister of Congregational UCC in Greensboro, North Carolina, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Psalm 33,” by Emma Lou Diemer, played by Joshua Stafford, Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music. Members of the Motet Choir sang “If I Forget, Yet God Remembers,” with music by Daniel Pederson and words by Robert Browning. The postude was “Improvisation Veni Creator Spiritus.” The Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provides support for this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : morning worshipmorning worship recapResiliencerev. john c. dorhauerweek nine

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.