During our worship services this Easter Sunday, I got to read the lesson from Acts 10. I added a little prologue because the prescribed reading from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) begins in the middle of the story. It’s a story that’s too good, too important to skip over. In fact, I argue that it changed the church. The church is available to you and me as a result of the, well, actions from Acts 10.
[Disclosure: I’m really double dipping here. This is a post from my stint as guest blogger at The Hardest Question. It’s also a revision of my usually-weekly letter/post/thing for my congregation‘s eNewsletter. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]
With all due respect (isn’t it odd that this is probably the best way to indicate that something is about to be disrespected?) to that whole He-is-risen-indeed thing, this is the most important story to tell on Easter Day.
Of course, in order for this sermon of Peter’s to make any sense, we need to read the story that precipitated it. A story that, sadly, the RCL never has us consider. Am I the only one to whom that seems a bad idea? Maybe it’s the RCL’s way of forcing us to do some homework. You know the story; it’s the one with the…Worst…Lunch Menu…Ever.
Toads and lizards and vultures, Oh My!
Peter was staying in Joppa as the guest of Simon the tanner. Peter went up on Simon’s rooftop to pray, but was too distracted by his hunger to get much praying done. Instead, Peter had a vision. A sheet descended through a rift in the sky and on the sheet were four-footed animals, reptiles and birds. And a voice told Peter to “Get up! Kill and eat!” The only thing this missing from this menu was “and for dessert…chilled monkey brains!”
Peter, being a devout Jew, politely declined the offer. Or, you know, not so politely. “No! All my life, I’ve never eaten anything profane!” The voice responds, “What God makes clean, you must not call profane.”
This is Peter we’re talking about, so he had to see the vision three times. But then he really got it. Immediately after this vision he met with Gentiles, offered them hospitality (no word on what Simon the tanner thought about that), and traveled with them to Caesarea to meet Cornelius.
The times, they are a changin’
Upon arrival, Peter entered Cornelius’ home demonstrating just what a radical departure he’d made from, well, the self-understanding he’d had his whole life: “I have always thought it was wrong to associate with Gentiles…” (at this point I can only imagine how glad Cornelius was he’d invited Peter) “…but God has just shown me that I should no longer consider any human being unclean or profane… God accepts every person regardless of background or culture. God welcomes all who revere Him and do right.”
Eat some lizards, make friends with a Roman Centurion, declare Jesus as Lord of all people. Critics have been all over Rob Bell lately, but here’s Peter, barely awake after the gross-out dream, and already out on a whirlwind tour of radical inclusivity! I’m thinking I should do the same.
The new John 3:16?
Given how quickly we USAmerican Christians divide and denounce and declare one another heretical, could it be that we need to hear this story even more than we need to hear the all-too-familiar and all-too-comfortable Resurrection tale? Could it be we need this story to save us from our arrogance and complacency? How might it change the church, change us, change me, if Acts 10:35 was our lead-off hitter, our first responder, our top go-to text?
Those questions haunt me and I hope to explore them further. But the hardest question here is one the text asks of me: What categories am I using to judge and forbid people? Who am I excluding from the family of God? How am I subverting God’s subversion of exclusivity?