Text: Acts 10
How many of you have read, “Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal”? Laura brought the book back from Indiana, taken from her dad’s bookshelf. I haven’t finished the book, but only read the opening lines. And boy, do those opening lines speak to this morning’s passage from Acts. Here is Biff, sharing his first encounter with Jesus:
“The first time I saw the man who would save the world he was sitting near the central wall in Nazareth with a lizard hanging out of his mouth. Just the tail end and hind legs were visible on the outside; the head and forelegs were halfway down the hatch. He was six, like me, and his beard had not come in fully, so he didn’t look much like the pictures you’ve seen of him. His eyes were like dark honey, and they smiled at me out of a mop of blue-black cures that framed his face. There was a light older than Moses in those eyes
‘Unclean! Unclean!’ I screamed, pointing at the boy, so my mother would see that I knew the Law, but she ignored me, as did all the other mothers who were filling their jars at the well.”
“Unclean! Unclean!” Peter’s mind must have screamed as he woke up on that roof top after having the visions of the creatures, reptiles, and birds that he had grown up being told a good Jewish boy should never touch, let alone eat. They were only allowed to eat animals which chewed their cuds and whose hoofs were cloven. But in his vision lizards and pigs and other creepy-crawlies paraded around him and God then ordered him to eat them. Peter was shocked and protested that he had never eaten anything that was unclean. But three times God told him to kill and eat. Why would God tell him that he should eat these things that God had told Moses were unfit for His people?
“Unclean! Unclean!” were the first thoughts that went though his mind as he looked down from the roof and saw the men at the gate calling out for him. He could tell these men were not Jewish by the way there were dressed. One of them even had the uniform of a Roman soldier! He was not supposed to even associate with men like this and if he did, he had an entire purification rite he had to go through. But speak to them he did, and he learned they were sent from Cornelius in Caesarea, that pagan, Roman, unclean city built in the midst of the Jewish heartland to keep the locals under control. It was even named after the Roman Emperor, who expected his subjects to bow down to him as though he was a god.
And every pore of his body screamed, “unclean! unclean!” as he entered Cornelius’ home. He had been told from the men he traveled with that Cornelius was a God-fearer, a Gentile who had attached himself to the Jewish religion and attended the synagogue, but did not go as far to be circumcised or fully embrace the Law. When Cornelius met him at the door, he had to wonder if Peter would cross the threshold, because even with all the Jews he knew from the synagogue, none had entered his home. The house smelled of foods that Peter had never smelled before, there were sights there he had never seen before. This was the first time in his life that Peter had stepped foot into a Gentile home and every Jewish bone in his body wanted him to run away from what he was encountering.
But all this time, someone was whispering to Peter. All this time, someone was pushing him, preparing him. His mind and body were crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” but his heart was hearing, “Redeemed! Redeemed!” During his vision on the roof top, Peter was being prepared for the visitors who would come. In that trance, the Holy Spirit began working on Peter to unlearn the habits and traditions of a lifetime. If this vision was really from God, then neither Peter nor Cornelius could ever live their lives the same. Cornelius was no longer an outsider. Peter had to make sense of things again, but he was in the midst of a wonderful new thing that God had begun in his midst.
And Peter shared the simple message that he was learning about God: God shows no partiality and God’s peace is found in the one he sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived his life in the light of the Holy Spirit, reaching out and sharing God’s peace and grace with others. Though innocent, he was put to death and on that first Easter morning, God raised him from the dead and made him Lord of heaven and earth. That was all Cornelius needed to know. Without any fanfare or special ceremony, he and his family and friends were filled with the Holy Spirit and were baptized.
And it was in this moment with Cornelius and his family that Peter was continuing to learn how vast the power of the resurrection was and is. In the beginning, God created, he created the beasts of the air, sea, and land, he created man and woman in his image, and he declared them all very good. But they fell, spinning out of control until death had the final say in life. On Easter, death no longer had final say and in the resurrection, God re-created his creation. All creation was redeemed and made new in Christ. The deeper that Peter plunged into the truth that is found in Christ, the more he realized the boundaries humanity had created, God had erased and the brokenness found in humanity and in creation was healed and made whole.
Jesus himself makes this known after the resurrection. Jesus appeared on Easter morning first to women and then to those who had betrayed and denied him. It wasn’t long until he appeared to one who was persecuting his followers and through the centuries he has appeared to every sort of person, from redneck uneducated yahoo to those sitting in the thrones of power. And to each he says, “I died for you.” To each he offers God’s love, grace, and peace. And on Easter, the good news of God’s grace flowed out of the tomb to everyone and everything. No one is separated from God’s love by anything at all. As the one who persecuted the church, Paul, later wrote, “there is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Now the church was given this wonderful gift of unity in Christ and equality before God, but we don’t always get it right. One of our pastor friends said he was at a meeting with a group of pastors and the invitation that was given by the host was easy enough: Pray for the pastor on your right. Well, one pastor couldn’t do it because the man on his right wasn’t part of his church, not the right kind of Christian. For some it is natural to believe that unless a person is baptized in a certain way, he is not baptized at all; or that unless she receives communion in the right form, she hasn’t received communion. We end up using the very means of grace that God gave us to bring people together as tools to separate others out of fellowship. The Holy Spirit must sigh deeply when her name is used to separate people when she was given to bring them together. We must pray that every time that we hear that little voice, “Unclean!” we invite the Holy Spirit to whisper to our hearts, “Redeemed!”
Friends, God in Christ redeemed all of his creation. God did it in love and he did it for everyone. He did it for you, for me, and for us. Therein lies the power. It is a power that never stops bringing things and people together that no one would ever image together. And we are called to share in that power and we only have it because of the unity we are given in Christ Jesus. And He is Lord of all; no boundaries, no distinctions, no differences. May it be so. Amen.