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Barriers, Boundaries and Bread

Scripture and reflection

Easter 5, Common Lectinonary Year C

Acts 11:1-17

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

audio file

Acts is an action movie in print.
Luke rushes from one thing to the next,
panning over the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean
to zoom quickly in on one amazing, often miraculous,
Resurrection act of one apostle,
before moving on to the next with barely a breath or reflection.
But this passage, in the 11th chapter of Acts,
is one where Luke hits the re-wind button,
and has Simon Peter re-tell one such Resurrection Act,
after it’s happened, to those who hadn’t seen it,
but had heard about it.

Today we’re going to midrash this story together;
if Luke can hit re-wind, we can hit the pause button,
so we can figure out what’s going on,
and what it might mean for us too.

So Martha will be our Gospeller Luke, telling the tale,
and I’ll be the Attenborough commentary voiceover, explaining the action.
We’ll also invite people to do the action, mime style too,
and the resurrection act happens in a number of scenes.

Cast Scene 1
Centurion Cornelius + family

Just listen to what Martha/Luke says, and act it out.

A story, a Story,
Let it come let it go.

In Caesarea lived a Roman Centurion, Cornelius was his name;
Cornelius was curious about the God of Israel and he’d heard stories about a Rabbi from Nazareth, and in his prayers –conversations with this God-
he’d been told about Peter, who was in Joppa, on the coast.
In his prayers he was told to send for Peter to come to his house.
Being a Centurion, he sent some soldiers to go get Peter.

Now, it took an angel of God to convince Peter to go with the Roman soldiers!
When he got there, Cornelius invited Peter to teach him and his household all about Jesus. Which he did. He sat and ate a meal with them, and when they heard Peter speak of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection from death,
Cornelius knew he was hearing Good News from God, and so he asked that he and his family be baptized and received into the community of believers.

Does that sound simple and straightforward enough?
To us, yes, but it wasn’t! For two reasons:
a) Roman soldiers were enemies of the occupied Jewish people of Judea. There was no love lost on either side!
b) Torah, as it was interpreted in those days, prohibited any interaction between the occupiers and the Jews. It was inconceivable that Peter would go anywhere near a Roman household, much less eat with them, or touch them, or share a religious rite with them!

We’ll move on to the next scene
Jerusalem believers

Now, when the community of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem got news of Peter’s latest resurrection act of inviting Roman Centurions and their households into the fellowship of believers, they were deeply concerned, and so they summoned Peter to them, and criticized him, saying,
“Why on earth would you even go to uncircumcised foreigners, and eat with them?!!”

And this is Peter’s answer,
“Well, I was in the city of Joppa, and I was praying to God. It was while I was praying that I saw a vision from God. In it, God was showing me something I’d never have seen on my own.

Let’s just hit the pause button for a moment and consider this praying to God thing. Cornelius did, and now Peter is. It’s a significant part of this story: two people consciously, deliberately deciding to turn their God Wifi on, to become aware of God, to be open to God speaking or playing videos in our soul to inspire us to live our lives ‘wifi connected’ to God and God’s Dream. For some it’s a daily act of practising gratitude, or of praying for others, or of planning a day so that it is filled with opportunities to share God’s care. Now, back to Peter’s wifi God vision, to see what it was.

(We need people to lower the blanket and put on the food stuffs)

The vision was this:
There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners, right in front of me. As I looked at it closely, I saw on it, four-footed, cloven-hoofed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air, and even a giraffe (that’s artist’s license!)

We may not quite get what’s up with this vision of creatures laid out on a big picnic cloth; but the creatures on it were things that Peter as a faithful Jew, would have considered to be non-Kosher, forbidden for him to eat: shrimp, fowl, snakes… It would be like us seeing food we’ve never eaten (or don’t like!) – broccoli, insects, tripe, offal, raw meat or kambuja…(what else).
This wasn’t a lovely feast, but everything Peter would have been horrified with.
Back to Peter.

Then I heard a voice, saying to me “Get up, Peter; take and eat.’ But I replied, “What? Absolutely not! Holy One! I’m a faithful man, I’ve never eaten anything forbidden by Torah, I wouldn’t dream of eating unclean food!”
The voice answered me from heaven. “Peter, don’t you call unclean what God has declared to be clean!”
I confess to you that it took three times for me to get, and to accept, what God in this prayer-vision was telling me.
God’s Dream was too big for just the people of Israel.

And it was just at that moment that these Roman soldiers arrived from Caesarea, from the Roman Centurion. I was still being amazed at this vision, and I didn’t immediately see the connection.
I was going to refuse their request for me to go with them, until God’s Spirit blew in to me, all fire and wind and light, and told me to go with them, and to not set up barriers between us, and them (these Romans). Then I got it: ahhhh!
Food for all God’s people, even those who don’t eat like us Jews! God’s Dream is too big for just the people of Israel!

Now there’s a verse in Scripture! God’s Spirit tells Peter not to set up a faith barrier between ‘them and us!’
We’ve seen what happens here at Cedar Park when we opened up F4 to “not just us”
Last week I caught a glimpse of this vision too; being with Christians from many different countries who worship in very different ways, with different ways of speaking and praying and singing… but when we deliberately chose to ‘act’ together in worship, in meal fellowship, in an act of service and public witness at the State legislature, and in providing a meal for the homeless, all in the name of one Jesus Christ, I got this verse in a whole new way.) Let’s get back to Peter:

So, at the urging of God’s Spirit, I and six others* (recruit) of our community went with the Romans to the Centurion’s house in Caesarea. And yes, we crossed their threshold, and we went into the Roman’s house.
I can tell you I was shocked when I discovered that it was our God who had inspired this Roman to send for me so that I could speak to him about Jesus.

I was even more surprised when,
as I told them the good news of Jesus the Christ,
the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just like She had upon us at the beginning!!

It all began to make amazing sense! I remembered what Jesus had said—you remember? He said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
And then I thought, “If God gave them the same gift of the Spirit that had been given to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who was I to hinder God?”

And this is the witness of the early Church
Thanks be to God.

“Who was I to get in God’s way?”
That is the question that every generation of people in synagogues and mosques and churches must ask themselves isn’t it? So often we try to shrink God’s Dream down to something that works for us, but not others. When we think that only our way of being faithful is the right way, we end up making God and her Dream way too small, too limited.
For centuries Catholics and Protestants would consider each other enemies, and “unclean”,
but… down comes this vision of Peter’s to remind us that God’s banquet of blessing ignores those barriers; it is for all.
Or those barriers we’ve put up so often, between God’s Abrahamic siblings, Jews and Muslims. Or between religious and non-religious.
Down comes Peter’s vision to remind us, that the banquet of God’s blessing doesn’t care one iota about the boundaries or the barriers we put up.
And we break bread, challah, wafers, pita together and know it to be true.

Look at these images:
This vision of Peter’s is real, it’s as real as communion at the Mexican border, where US bishops celebrated mass and passed the bread through the wall.
It’s as real as sharing meals on Friday evening.
It’s as real as meals on wheels,
as food in the comfort food freezer for anyone.
And thanks be to God, Peter, got it,
And Luke told it, not once but twice,
So we can get it too.

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