Pastor’s pondering

One of our Parish Bible studies has slowly been working our way through Acts.  I say slowly because, as much as we think we know about what happened in the early church, the more we reread this book of the Bible, the more we discover.  And the more we discover, the more we come to realize that today’s church has a lot to learn from our faith’s humble beginnings.

One such example can be found in Acts chapter 10.  Now, most people recognize this from what many Bibles entitle “Peter and Cornelius,” Peter’s encounter with the Roman centurion.  However, what intrigued me the most was Peter’s vision.  For a quick synopsis, Peter has a vision (three times in a row, in fact) wherein a large sheet falls form heaven holding all sorts of what the Jews consider unclean animals.  A voice tells him to eat of these creatures, to which Peter refuses.  Then the voice says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15, NRSV), or “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (NIV). 

Now, this is revolutionary stuff!  Peter’s entire life and for all the generations before him, these creatures were considered unclean, impure, unrighteous, or any other word you want to insert here meaning that he was to go nowhere near them, let alone touch them.  Yet, the voice from heaven says, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”  God made it, so it’s good.  After all, that is what God said about everything made in all of Creation, right?  Recall for a moment how often the Creation story in Genesis proclaims that God looked upon what had been made and saw “that it was good” (i.e. – Gen 1:12, 21, 25, 31, NRSV).

Now, perhaps, like you, initially Peter was “puzzled about what to make of the vision he had seen” (Acts 10:17).  It is counterintuitive, going against the Law and all that he had ever known.  However, after an encounter with some visitors to the place where he was staying (who were sent to take him to meet with Cornelius), Peter utters some very profound words for us to remember – “God shows no partiality” (v. 34).  In a complete reversal of everything he had been taught, due to a revelation from God, Peter had come to the realization that the Gentiles were no different than the Jews.  He could see that God had made both of them in the same way, and that Jesus had died on the cross for the whole world, not just one group of people.  Later, he reports this revelation to the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 11), and many years later reminds the growing Church of this imperative for ministry during the First Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15).  So, it must be pretty important for us to remember, right?

So, then, why are we so divided today?  Why are there divisions, factions, cliques, clubs, parties and the like which all seem to declare, “If you are not with us then you are against us!”  Why does one group think they are right and everyone else have it wrong?  Why does this happen in the world?  Why does this happen in the church? 

Every generation seems to find something to consider its enemy.  Just in my own years, looking back over time, I’ve watched as we have contended with – Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyans, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, Kim Jung Un and the North Koreans, and Vladmir Putin and the Russians.  Yet, while these international conflicts can bear burdens close to home, here in the U.S. we’ve contended with many of our own internal issues, too, over the decades.  How long did it take for women to have equal rights as men?  What about African Americans to be considered equal as those of Caucasian descent?  Or how about the millions of Mexican and Latin American immigrants seeking refuge, asylum, or just a better way of life within our borders?  When will we learn our lesson? When will we understand what Peter saw in that vision?  What God has made is not evil.  It is not corrupt.  It is not unclean, impure, or unrighteous.  What God made is a human being, a part of all Creation.  When will we stop seeing enemies just because someone is another color, race, creed, culture, gender, sexual identity, nationality, of another socio-economic status, or simply sees themselves as something other than what we do?

Before he would be betrayed and turned over to be crucified, Jesus talked with God, praying these words: “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, NRSVUE).  That the world may be one – wouldn’t that be something?  One in Jesus Christ – The One who saw no one he didn’t love.  The One who ate with sinners and the worst outcasts of society.  The One who willingly died for all these, that we all might be one in and through him.

Perhaps we all need to ponder that a little further today and every day.

                                                Always pondering,

                                                Pastor Steve

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