She was fourteen. You all know the rocky terrain of being fourteen. It is mountainous and wooded and hard to find your way. It’s the place between childhood and adulthood. Not old enough to drive a car, but too old to look cool riding a bicycle. Too young to be out on your own, but too old to hang out with your parents at the mall. Fourteen is tough terrain to try and navigate. You need to fit in. You want to fit in. Where you fit in is of greatest importance to a fourteen year old.
Serena just happened to be fourteen. She was a great kid. She did her homework. Attended dance class. Prayed for the right boys to call and ask her to the “Sweetheart’s Dance.” She was in church most every Sunday…even when she had to walk the four blocks from her house to get there.
In Serena’s youth group there were all kinds of kids. They were around her age and trying to find their place in the world just like Serena. Most of the girls in Serena’s youth group were nice girls, but she really wanted to fit in with the girls who were in the popular crowd at school. Serena was pretty, smart, and had a smile like Julia Roberts. Even with all of that going for her, the popular girls at her school never made room for her to fit in. From time to time Serena would find a friend whose friend was in the popular group, but that was about as close as she ever got to the “in crowd.”
Serena tried to stay away from anyone who would lessen her chances of ever finding a home with the popular girls. She definitely didn’t want to be seen with the skater girls, the “hoochie mommas,” or girls that smoked dope.
One winter Serena was getting ready to go on the ski trip with her youth group at church. The Youth Pastor was going to assign four girls to a room for the four-day trip. Serena prayed that she would be put in the right room…the room where Natalie Jones, Jill Abernathy, and Katie Henson would be staying. Those girls had it going on. Everyone loved them. They were cheerleaders. Katie was the football queen last season. Jill’s parents had the most beautiful house in the city. If Serena could make it into their room she knew that she might finally get her big break.
When the kids and parents met to get their list of things to pack for the trip and their room assignments Serena was as nervous as a mouse at a cat convention. She crossed her fingers while she prayed hoping that one would work. When the Youth Pastor passed out the room assignments Serena’s heart sunk. Not only was she not in the room with the three PGOC’s (Popular Girls on Campus), but she was in the room with LaDonna McGar. LaDonna was the President of the Star Trek Fan Club at John F. Kennedy Middle School. She dressed the part. She looked the part. She was asked to pray at youth group one night and ended her prayer, “Beam us up Lord!” Serena was sick!
Serena told her mom that she wasn’t going. She couldn’t be seen with LaDonna McGar…it would ruin her reputation and any chance she ever had of fitting in at school. Serena’s mom and dad told her that she had signed-up, they had paid-up, and she might as well pack-up because she was going. They said, “You should give LaDonna a chance. She’s at church every Sunday, her parents are wonderful people, and you never know – you might have more in common with her than you think.” Serena couldn’t believe that her parents could be so cruel.
When the kids arrived at the lodge they unpacked their belongings and had some free time. The girls in Serena’s room were listening to some music and rearranging the room, but Serena kept everyone at arm’s length.
The next day the kids skied all day and after supper they gathered at the Lodge for devotions before going to bed. After the devotion was over they went back to their room to discuss the talk and answer some questions they had been given. All of the girls talked, except Serena. Serena listened and she heard things from LaDonna that she never imagined she could be feeling. LaDonna was lonely. She had been hurt. Her Star Trek uniforms and weird conversation style were ways to keep people away from her so that she wouldn’t be hurt any more.
By the end of the trip LaDonna and Serena were skiing with one another. Serena had loosened up. LaDonna made her laugh. They prayed for one another. Serena saw in LaDonna some of the same insecurities and feelings that she felt on a daily basis. On the last night the kids were packing before their final devotion and Serena told LaDonna, “I have to ask you to forgive me.” LaDonna said, “What are you talking about?” Serena said, “I almost didn’t come on the trip because I was going to have to stay in your room. I thought that being around you would ruin my chances of fitting in with the popular girls. I didn’t even know you. I’m sorry.” LaDonna accepted Serena’s apology and the two girls hugged each other.
When they got back home Christmas Break was over and they went back to school. The first day back Serena went to the cafeteria, got her food, and sat down to eat. About five minutes later, LaDonna walked in looking like Dr. Spock. She got her food and walked straight towards Serena. Serena began to have a hot flash. When LaDonna sat down and said, “Hi” – Serena nervously said, “Hi” under her breath. She quickly finished her food and said, “Gotta go.” She couldn’t believe that LaDonna had actually sat down at her table.
The next Sunday at youth group Serena was talking to some kids and LaDonna walked into the classroom. When she saw LaDonna she waved and walked towards her to give her a hug. LaDonna said, “Serena, why am I good enough to be your friend at youth group, but not good enough to be your friend at school?” and then she walked away. Serena was crushed. She knew she was wrong. She knew that LaDonna knew she had been snubbed. She felt so small. That night Serena prayed and asked God to forgive her and give her the courage to be LaDonna’s full-time friend.
The “Serena Syndrome” is not confined to teenagers trying to make it with the “in crowd.” We all suffer from wanting to fit in, find our place, and giving in to pressures to be with the “right” people.
In our Scripture for today we see one of the Apostles, the “Rock” of the Apostles, caving in to pressure and being reprimanded for his hypocrisy. Let’s take a look at Galatians 2:11-14.
11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:11-14 NIV)
When we last got together we found Paul making a trip to Jerusalem to see the three pillars of the mother church. Now, in our next section, one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church, Peter, has made a trip to Antioch, a city much different than the Jewish city of Jerusalem.
Antioch, during Paul’s day, was the third largest city in the Roman Empire with more than 500,000 citizens. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria and was called the “Rome of the East” by many of the Roman Emperors. The city was largely non-Jewish although there were about 65,000 Jews who called Antioch home during Paul’s day. The majority of the people spoke Greek and not Hebrew like Jerusalem. Gentiles were the driving force of the city in every arena of life while the Jews were just tolerated for the most part.
Just ten years before the incident we are reading about today, the Roman Emperor, Caligula, (37-41 A.D.) led a violent attack against the Jews who lived in Antioch. Many Jews were killed and their synagogues were burned.
The Christian church in Antioch was thriving during Paul’s day. As a matter of fact, Antioch was the first place where the followers of Jesus were called “Christians.” (Acts 11:26) The word was used in a derogatory way by some of the folks in Antioch, but for the Christians, to be identified with Jesus was an honor.
Barnabas, Paul’s closest friend, was the first pastor of the flock in Antioch after the Gospel had spread beyond Jerusalem following the persecution of Stephen. Turn with me to Acts 11 and let’s read about what happened.
19Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. 22News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. 25Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. (Acts 11:19-26 NIV)
Paul knew the folks of Antioch. He had seen the Gospel take root in the hearts of many Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had led Bible studies and watched the church grow beyond anything they could have ever imagined. Word must have gotten out because Peter decided to take a trip to Antioch to see what was happening.
Peter had been in Antioch for a while when the incident we read about in Galatians 2 took place. Although it was unlawful for a Jew to eat with Gentiles, Peter had been shown by God that the food the Jews refused to eat was really good because God had made it. Turn with me to Acts 10:9 and let’s read about Peter’s vision.
9About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14″Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16 NIV)
Peter couldn’t believe it! There was pork loin, BBQ rabbit, shrimp cocktail, alligator steaks, and camel crepes in the big sheet that was let down for Peter to feast upon. Peter said, “No!” but God said, “How dare you?” God was preparing Peter for his trip to Antioch so that Peter would know that it’s not what we eat, but Who we trust that makes us right with God!
After Peter’s trip to Cornelius’ house he went back to Jerusalem. The men of the church had heard the news that Peter had been socializing with Gentiles and when he arrived in Jerusalem they were waiting on him. Turn to Acts 11:1-3 and let’s read about it.
1The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” (Acts 11:1-3 NIV)
Peter stood up to the men and told them what had happened and how God had moved upon the Gentiles in a way that no Jew could dismiss. Peter said,
15″As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:15-17 NIV)
Do you know what happened to Peter? Peter was converted! He chose to believe that God is at work rather than trust in the customs, traditions, and rituals of his church. Peter’s experience prepared him to go to Antioch and to freely fellowship with all of the brothers and sisters there in the church.
When Peter arrived in Antioch he went to the “pot luck” dinner following services on the first Sunday. The good Greek women had been working the night before preparing for the dinner. They brought food for an army. There were all kinds of food. Food Peter had never eaten in his life. Paul winked at Peter from across the serving line, raised a ham sandwich, and said, “Dig in!” Peter hesitantly loaded his plate and sat down next to Paul. He said, “Are you sure?” Paul turned, put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, and said, “It’s His grace and not the grub that saves us my brother. Enjoy!”
The church in Antioch was much like Britton Christian Church – they ate together every opportunity they had. Peter began to smile more, he relaxed, and met some wonderful new brothers and sisters in Christ at the noon meals. Then it happened. One day some men from the church in Jerusalem showed up at the “pot luck.” Paul writes in Galatians,
12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:12 NIV)
Peter became afraid. What would they think about him? What they tell James when they got back to Jerusalem? Would he be ruined back at the office? All of these thoughts ran through Peter’s mind and he slowly pushed his plate away from in front of him. Peter lost his smile. Peter lost his joy. He turned his back on his new friends.
We are much like Peter aren’t we? When was the last time fear tainted your faith? When was the last time fear caused you to shrink away from what was right so that you could avoid discomfort? When was the last time fear led you to push away people that God had led into your life? Discomfort, distress, fear, and embarrassment will always leave us looking back with remorse and regret. Serena regretted how she treated LaDonna. Peter was remorseful over his cowardice.
Paul goes on to tell us that Peter’s hypocrisy spread like gangrene to others who were at the meal. Paul writes,
13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:13 NIV)
” Even Barnabas was led astray.” Can you hear the heartache of Paul in those five little words? Barnabas was his buddy. They had fought battles together — shoulder-to-shoulder. The naysayers were constantly nagging, but they had never divided the dynamic duo. When Peter withdrew, Barnabas withdrew with him leaving Paul standing all alone.
Standing alone is a lonely place. Standing alone is uncomfortable. Standing alone is almost intolerable, unbearable, and impossible. You can go all the way back to the Garden and see that it’s not good to be alone…unless you are standing for God. Stephen stood alone and was stoned to death. Jesus stood alone and was hung on a cross. Now Paul stood alone…what would he do? Paul writes,
14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? (Galatians 2:14 NIV)
Paul confronted Peter and the course of church history was changed forever. That may sound like a mighty big statement to you, but the Father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther wrote,
In the matter referred to in Galatians 2, Peter not only went astray but committed a great sin; and if Paul had not resisted him, all the believing Gentiles would have been made to accept circumcision and keep the law. The believing Jews also would have been confirmed in their opinion that observing the law was necessary for salvation. In this way they would got the law back instead of the Gospel, Moses instead of Christ. (Martin Luther, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Galatians, pg. 79)
One standing alone can change the course of history! I’m so glad that Paul was willing to stand alone and confront Peter about his hypocrisy. Paul set a precedent for us who are called to stand today.
There are many folks today who would choose to stand with Peter, Barnabas, and those from Jerusalem who called for separation rather than integration. We allow so many difference to separate us today: race, class, gender, age, denominational affiliation, and the list goes on and on. Those who want to keep things neat, orderly, and separate find a thousand and one reasons to justify their theories.
Even in the Church we find professionals, authorities, teaching that churches will grow best when they are comprised and consist of homogeneous groups. For those of you like me who work with a fourth grade vocabulary, “homogeneous” means, “all the same.” White folks need to worship with white folks, black folks with black folks, etc. Younger folks need to worship together. Upper class and lower class need to have their own places of worship as well. The reason given for these tested and proven approaches to church growth is that people are more comfortable around folks who are like them.
The only problem with this approach that is being used all over the nation to build churches is that it isn’t biblical. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,
9I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:9-11 NIV)
Jesus prayed that we would be one. We are not one today. Dr. Tony Evans, the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in South Oak Cliff, Texas once said, “11:00 am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America.” We are not one because we’ve been listening to the church growth gurus instead of listening to Jesus. We are not one because we’ve listened to our craving for comfort rather than listening for the voice of Jesus. We are not one because we want to be with our “kind” whatever kind that may be.
11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13 NIV)
Later in Galatians, Paul told the folks in Galatia that there is no difference between people who are in Christ. Read with me from Galatians 3:26.
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
The proponents of keeping people separated for the better good of the whole say that separation is written into nature. “Birds of a feather flock together.” You don’t see packs of dogs and cats roaming the neighborhood. Fish swim in schools…segregated schools! Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix. They are right. Oil and water don’t mix by themselves, but if you introduce an emulsifier into the mixture then oil and water mixed with some other items from your kitchen can make the most wonderful mayonnaise you’ve ever tasted.
You see, an emulsifier has a unique quality to it that brings together things that don’t mix. I did a little reading this past week so that I could explain this process correctly. Let me share with you what I found.
The smoothness and homogeneity of many foodstuffs are central to their appeal. Take mayonnaise or ice cream; if we find globs of oil separating out of mayonnaise sauce or chunks of ice in ice cream, we feel that something has gone wrong. But such smoothness doesn’t happen ‘naturally’; it is a result of the process of emulsification, in which the two great legendary incompatibles; oil and water; are persuaded to resolve their differences. An emulsifier is a molecule with one oil-friendly end and one water-friendly. In this way droplets of oil are surrounded by the emulsifier molecule, with the oil core hidden by the water-friendly tails of the emulsifier.
The emulsification process in mayonnaise is possible only because of the presence of egg yolks. The yolks bring the soy oil and water together and make a wonderful new creation.
There are very real differences among all of us this morning. Older people and teenagers are different in many ways. Hispanic folks are different in some ways from black folks who are different from Asians or whites. The daily concerns of those who are poor among us are different in some respects from those who are wealthy and attending BCC. The analytical are different from the artsy. With all of our differences we are tempted to withdraw from one another and seek out our own “kind.” Hold on just a minute my friend. There is One greater than our differences. God has sent a Heavenly Emulsifier into our midst! The Holy Spirit binds us together in a mixture called the Body of Christ and makes a beautiful new creation!
Our salvation does not come because we belong to any group other than the Body of Christ! We must be willing to stand for the truth of Scripture, stand for the unity of the Body, and stand for the cause of Christ. Won’t you take your stand today? Turn to Jesus as your source of salvation and hope.