I think I have said before that this part of Acts is my favorite part of scripture. Some may also know that I went to seminary in the South.
The practice of Christianity in the South is a little bit different than it is in NEPA. Folks want to know your conversion story. They will buy you a cup of coffee and ask you about how you came to Christ. It matters. They’ll ask you what your favorite scriptures are.
This are different up here. I first learned this when I was the associate pastor at Shavertown UMC, and was teaching confirmation. I sat them down in class one day and told them that I would teach them how to respond when someone approached them in school about whether they were saved. It was a common question to ask in rural Texas, and I just thought it was a common thing.
They looked at me like I had two heads. That had never happened to them, and in fact, they found it hard to imagine.
When we talk about scriptures that guide us, it’s an easier conversation there than here. But when I am asked that question, this part of Acts, 10 and 11, are what I say.
Chapter 11 is the report of Peter to the Jerusalem folks, the leaders. No one had approved Peter going and baptizing gentiles, no one had discussed it, and yet he’d gone and done it. He needed to share why. Chapter 11 is that explanation.
Peter had been up on the roof of a house in Joppa, getting fresh air and praying, when in that prayer time, he has a vision. In that vision, a sheet of some sort descends from the sky, and on this sheet are all matter of animals, and birds, and lizards, and such. The subtext is that this sheet is filled with all of the animals on earth, and that means there are both clean and unclean animals, there. We know this mainly because there is Peter responding to the visions’ voice saying “kill and eat” by saying “I cannot eat, Lord, I am observant.”
So, to help us understand what it is that on that sheet, let’s put it into our understanding, by saying what it is that modern observant Jews can’t eat.
Baby back ribs.
This gives us an idea about what might be there for Peter, and what he is saying by denying the voice.
The next line is the important line, the reason for the vision; “what I have created, you will not call profane.”
It is said three times, and then the sheet rolls back into the sky, and immediately there is a knock on the downstairs door.
The men at the door are the emissaries of Cornelius, a Roman commander, who has been told by an angel to send to Joppa and bring Peter back to his house.
And there’s Peter, in that house, having just had this vision, now receiving the dirtiest of the dirty. Not just gentiles, but also officials of the occupation force that is subjugating his country.
And Peter says ok.
At Cornelius’ house, Peter meets everyone, and he begins to go into his sermon, the Holy Spirit descends on the people, just like it did as described in the 2nd chapter of Acts, when tongues as of blue fire flicker over the heads of the believers, and a great wind blows.
This is very important to notice-the same exact event has happened now to gentiles, not just the Jews.
Up until now, the people who follow Jesus have almost entirely been people who define themselves in separation. They separate themselves, by food, by gentile, by sex.
But in this moment, God has destroyed those lines. And Peter has listened to the Holy Spirit, though he is surely not comfortable. But now he has to go explain what happened.
He does, and they “settle down”. They understand. They didn’t expect it, but now the word of Jesus is to be extended to the whole world, no exceptions. There is no one who should be considered exempt from the love of God.
Which means there is no place for prejudice in the Christian faith. There is no place for gossip. We are all alike, we are equally loved by God.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, our heart expands, our prejudices disappear.
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we truly see each and every person around us, the person in line at the grocery store, the person who honks their horn as soon as the light turns green, even though they are like 4 cars back (I hate that!). Even that person has the spark of God within them. (Darn it).
All whom we meet, all whom we know. All whom we don’t know. All whom we hate. The people who have hurt us, the people who have destroyed our families, the people who set off bombs at marathons: All are eligible for the love of God.
The gentle and easy way to say it is Olly Olly Oxen Free. Everybody’s out can come in.
A spiritual discipline for Christian spiritual growth, is to identify whom it is you don’t want in your life, and realize that that little part of us, the one that resents, resists, and shuns, is NOT Christ like. And to work on it.
That is who we are. We are people in progress. This is who we are supposed to be. We all have our prejudices, we all have our biases. To grow in Christ is to name them and to work on them.
To truly be able to say “what God has created, let no one call profane.”