Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s report to the church at Jerusalem on why he ate with the uncircumcised. His vision.
Psalm 148 – Praise the Lord mountains and hills, cattle and bugs, men and women, young and old.
Revelation 21:1-6 – New heaven. New Earth. New Jerusalem. Wipe tears from every eye. Death will be no more.
John 13:31-35 – Little children, I am with you only a little longer. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
- March 27, 2016 – RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD: Acts 10:34-43 – Peter’s sermon: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day. We are witnesses.
- April 3, 2016 – Easter 2C: Acts 5:27-32 – Peter to the high priest: The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand. We are witnesses.
- April 10, 2016 – Easter 3C: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) – Saul’s conversion.
- April 17, 2016 – Easter 4C: Acts 9:36-43 – Peter’s resuscitation of Tabitha in Joppa.
- April 24, 2016 – Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s vision and eating with the uncircumcised.
- May 1, 2016 – Easter 6C: Acts 16:9-15 –Paul’s vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come to Macedonia and help us.” The gospel enters Europe.
- Thursday, May 5, 2016 or Sunday, May 8, 2016 – ASCENSION OF OUR LORD: Acts 1:1-11– Jesus is lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Note: May 8 is also Mother’s Day in 2016.
- May 15, 2016 – PENTECOST: Acts 2:1-21 – Day of Pentecost. Roaring wind and tongues of flame.
Continuing our focus on the first lesson, this week we have Peter’s vision, which featured a sheet with unclean food and God’s command to eat it. Here’s the text, from Acts 11:
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 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?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This is a retelling of the vision that was described in the previous chapter. The vision preceded Cornelius’ arrival, preparing Peter for the moment. Peter preaches (once again), “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.” The gospel and the church will be open to non-Jewish believers. The resurrection has changed the way Gentiles relate to Jews. Faith in Christ brings down walls. If your faith is building walls, you’re probably not doing it right.
Pastor Robert Deffinbaugh from Richardson, Texas, says Peter is called on the carpet. His reluctance to fellowship with Gentiles, his suspicious view of them as being other, “heterodox,” unworthy, has nothing to do with the kingdom of God that is breaking into the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God challenges Peter’s worldview. Like Paul, he must have a conversion. He will have to be born again… again.
For those who remained in Jerusalem, Peter’s methods may seem a bit unorthodox. Those who remained cloistered in Jerusalem may not have been ready to see what the Spirit is doing. Those who remain cloistered in a Christendom view of the church may not be able to see what the Spirit is doing today. I often find that missionaries, who have to think on their feet, are often misunderstood when they return. Arabic Christians proclaim the same message we have heard from extremists: الله أكبر, alllah ‘akbar.
The words mean, “God is great.” They are the same words we pray at the table, “God is great, God is good, let us thank God for our food.” The Arabic word for God is “Allah.” Christians in Arabic countries pray to Allah every day. There is no other way to say God. For those at home, this may sound strange, foreign. But to those in the mission field, these are familiar words and images.
I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Sometimes we have to get out of our bubble to see what God is up to. This is why we encourage retreats and immersions so passionately. Not just because others elsewhere will be blessed by your presence, but because getting out of your bubble is one of the best ways to spark your faith. One might even say it is crucial. Jesus went into the wilderness, as did Paul. Once Peter got out of Judea, stuff began to happen. When we enter liminal space, we become more attuned to the divine.
At this point, the Holy Spirit fell on them all. Peter decided he might as well baptize them, since they clearly already have the Holy Spirit. Can we get on board with what God is doing, or are we going to demand God get on board with what we’re doing?
At the outset of chapter 11, Peter has returned from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where he is questioned by “the circumcised believers.” They are astonished that he ate with them. He disobeyed the Torah. For Peter, it must have seemed strange, leaving behind what he had been taught by his parents since he was a child.
Nevertheless, it is curious the Jewish Christians would criticize Peter for hanging out with uncircumcised men and eating with them, when this is precisely what Jesus had done. Jesus’ ministry can be characterized as eating with tax collectors and sinners – commensality. Jesus was also known to relax some of the Levitical codes. His disciples did not fast at the appropriate times. They picked heads of wheat on the Sabbath. And then there is this:
In Mark 7:14-23 Jesus said,
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Jesus’ faith is not moralistic legalism. Christianity is not meticulously keeping a list of dos and don’ts. Christianity is being in a trusting relationship with God in Christ, then being led by the Spirit. The implications of this are just beginning to dawn upon the church. A window of awareness will open, then shut again within a few decades.
For Peter, the proof is in the free gift of the Holy Spirit. “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?” When they heard this, they were silenced.
What if this was our litmus test as well? Rather than lifting proof texts out of the Scriptures, what if we ate with all those we consider sinners or unclean, entering into relationship, and watching to see what the Spirit does?
Christ is for the outsiders as well or those we in the church often consider outsiders. In the 80’s and 90’s, I saw more compassion from those who had been ousted from the church toward those living with HIV and AIDS, than from those inside the church. The true church does not consist of those on the membership rolls of mainline congregations. The church is that community of all who are “in Christ,” whether the church recognizes it or not.
Those who seek to follow the self-emptying way of Christ need one another. They need a community. That community is the church. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name…”