Music Sunday 6 June 2021
In today’s scripture, Peter essentially has his concept of the Law – that he has based his life on – turned on its head.
Levitical teaching around the foods he eats and who he should eat with and associate with are disrupted.
Was he wrong to hold to certain dietary practices? No. But to use them to exclude others from a relationship with God or to declare them unworthy of God is wrong.
At least, that is one of the things I hear in today’s scripture.
It has a profound impact on Peter. He retells the story a little later in Acts when speaking with other religious leaders about his change of heart regarding gentiles.
“What God has made clean; you must not call profane.”
The knowledge that immediately following this vision, Peter is directed to visit a Roman Centurion; a foreigner, a gentile, and part of the army occupying his country; makes clear this vision is about more than food. And Peter gets it.
What God has made clean.
Religious observances: practices we hold on to in order to bring ourselves closer to God or to focus our hearts and minds on our relationship with God are for us. They are not intended to be tools to exclude or to judge others.
For a very long time, the church has picked at a very few scriptures to set up a great many rules around sexuality. Sexual identity and gender have become a means to control and to exclude. To inflict incredible harm on a great many people in our world. I could talk about the urge to create a uniform world of sameness. A world that denies the incredible beauty and diversity that God created; but I think you have heard that from me in the past.
Yvette Flunder, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, spoke on this passage at the Festival of Homiletics a few weeks ago. She spoke of the work Cornelius does in reaching out and inviting Peter to his home. Of listening to Peter and speaking with him. She speaks as a woman of colour and as bishop of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. She noted that she finds it tiring to keep having to do Cornelius’ work.
I can only begin to appreciate the effort needed to continually explain and justify your identity and existence to people you hope will not hate you.
Apart from the vision, I want to focus on another part of this scripture. God directs Peter to go and meet and stay with Cornelius. To get to know this gentle, who is just about everything he has been taught to despise. We are told that Cornelius fears God and makes a point of being a generous and kind person.
But he is still a gentile. He is still a powerful Roman soldier in an occupying army.
And Peter is told to go to him. To get to know him.
Peter is not told to tolerate him; to grudgingly accept that Cornelius is alive and part of his community. Peter is directed to get to know Cornelius. To hear his story. And he is to share his story; to share the good news of Christ with this man. This fellow human being, whom he has essentially been told is a beloved child of God.
Peter’s life is one of shifts in perspective. Of suddenly learning a bit more of how God works in the world. He suddenly goes from being a fisherman to being a disciple of Jesus. He witnesses the divinity of Jesus, and soon after learns of his capacity to act out of fear; denying his relationship with Christ.
And now he learns that God’s spirit is capable yet again of shifting of how he experiences the law that has guided his relationship with God for his entire life.
God desires to be in relationship with all of creation. We are not put here to be gate keepers, determining who is appropriate or who best follows a set of rules. We are called to love one another. To live lives of love and compassion; to seek justice for our fellow human beings. To marvel at the beauty of the world God created and celebrate its diversity.
It can be tiring work, whether we find ourselves to be Peter or Cornelius. Needing to welcome those who have hated us or ignored us, or to process yet another shift in perspective in a rapidly changing world.
But through all of this, as noted in this scripture, is the work of God’s spirit. Inspiring, directing and strengthening both Peter and Cornelius.
Sometimes all we can do is trust the spirit and respond with courage and with love, celebrating this amazing world God has created.
Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789