Finding a new leadoff hitter

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…WorstLunch MenuEver.

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?

Hardest Question

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?

In support of workers’ rights

Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. (‘Cause I’m all super fly Web 2.0 like that.) Anyway, most weeks, whatever I wrote for eNews also ended up here. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but now I think it is high time for full disclosure about that. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor. (Yes, there is a story behind the name. Remind me to tell it sometime…) Occasionally, when it seemed appropriate, I’ve subtitled my letter/column/post amalgamation Justice Advocate. This was one of those weeks.

We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. – ¶163B Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s right, friends; Justice Advocate returns this week in an attempt to offer you tools to aid your consideration of current events.

Why? Our Scripture and our tradition provide many reasons. Here’s just a couple:

In the Old Testament reading from last Sunday (Feb. 20), Leviticus 19, God commanded the people of Israel not to harvest their entire fields. “You shall leave the gleanings of your harvest for the poor and the alien.” And of course the lesson ends with those wonderful words that were the source of Jesus’ teaching: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A couple weeks prior (Feb. 6), we heard from the prophet Isaiah (58:1-12) admonish God’s people. Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, told them (and, we believe, us today) no matter how pious their worship, God would not hear them or respond to them because “you oppressed all your workers.”

In other words, concern for the poor and taking care of others was built right into the Law from the very start!

As for tradition, The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church, reminds us,

From its start with John Wesley, the Methodist movement has focused particular attention on the concerns of workers. Justice, dignity and equality for workers are an integral part of our social teachings and heritage. For 100 years, we have fought for a living wage in every industry and our Social Principles make clear that we believe people – not profits – should be at the heart of our economic system.

The GBCS statement on Labor and Worker Justice concludes,

As United Methodists, we are called to stand with workers – in our churches and communities – to ensure their basic rights are protected and their labor is valued.

Put all of that together and I think it is crystal clear why on Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker asking him to reconsider his attempt to remove the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Our scripture, our tradition and our Book of Discipline all demonstrate the need for workers’ rights to remain in place!

Furthermore, Wisconsin leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church of USA, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church joined Bishop Lee in that effort.

This debate among our neighbors to the north has generated a lot of media attention. Now it seems our neighbors to the east are considering a similar measure. Some of my hometown friends worry that our neighbors to the west will soon do the same. Will Illinois follow suite? We shall see…should make for an interesting spring!

Want to learn more about the intersection of Christianity, workers’ rights and budgets? Try these:

Interfaith call for a just and equitable budget

Thoughts from Sojourner’s

Religious Voices in Wisconsin from Huffington Post

Add your voice on behalf of workers’ rights with Faithful America

UPDATE: Just came across this very insightful post from Forbes’ Rick Unger further exposing just how duplicitous Wisconsin Governor Walker is being in this matter. Here’s a taste:

If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.

…While the governor of Wisconsin is busy trying to shift the blame to the workers in an effort to put an end to collective bargaining, the reality is that it was the state who punted on this – not the employees. Further, by the state employee unions agreeing to the deal proposed by Walker on their benefits (as they have despite Walker’s refusal to accept it) they are taking on much  – and possibly all – of the obligation out of their own pockets.

UPDATE 2: Today, Feb. 28, the Board of Church & Society tweeted: “What does the Church say about labor unions?” With this link on the main UMC site: Just thought I’d share the happy coincidence!