Acts -10:9-23 About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. n it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying,“Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven. Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging.
********************************************************************************** When I was a teenager thought I lived a double life. There was a part of me that was a church going good girl who was in the youth group and sang in the choir and did Bible Study… in school I was involved in all the right activities and got good grades and rarely got in trouble… rarely. While I was in this life, I hung out with church kids and listened to Broadway show tunes and classical music…I wrote God poems and went to Jesus festivals…
But then there was this second part; the “out of church,” not so-good girl… one the one that partied, and dressed in ripped jeans and skipped girl scouts… the part that participated in “non-Christian” activities, or hung out with “other kids” and listened to rock music and did things that the church taught me were “sinful”or “evil” …that needed to be removed from my life or at the very least confessed so that I could be forgiven, so I could get back to being “right” with God.
Now…in both these parts of my life there were two constants… the first was, that I was still me. I didn’t flip personalities like flipping over a record… (who even remembers flipping a record?) In the Christian part of my life, and in the non-Christian part of my life, I was the same person… so whether I was “sinning” or “soul saving” I still felt like the same person.
The second constant was God… that whether I was in what I called, “acceptable” mode, or “unacceptable” mode, God was still there with me. But I was taught, of course, that when I was in “acceptable” mode, God was pleased and smiling, and when I was in “unacceptable” mode, God was disappointed in me and shaking his head, and marking it off in some book with a deep sigh. And then I felt I had to work hard to get God smiling again…
And as I got older it didn’t get any better. I had studied the scriptures, and I reinforced the rules for right living, and I chose a path-that I was going to act like a Christian, and in my world that meant there were a clear cut list of things I could do, and an even bigger list of things I couldn’t do. And so I kept myself separate from the things that could tempt me into the things on the “don’t do” list… and I tried as best I could to keep the “do” list.
And when I slipped up, I dealt with feeling unacceptable and guilty, and when I didn’t slip up I felt really great about myself. I liked to see God smile.
Peter and the early followers of the Way, soon to be called Christians, also had set rules of what was acceptable and not acceptable to God. They had also been taught by their church… the scriptures and the teachers in the temple, what they should do and what they shouldn’t, who they should hang out with and who they shouldn’t, how they should worship and how they shouldn’t… and when they slipped up, they dealt with feeling unacceptable and when they didn’t slip up they felt great about themselves. They also worked hard to get God to smile again…
It’s a lot of work to be in the God thing, isn’t it? It’s exhausting. No wonder people aren’t in… that they look at religion and say no thanks… who can take the pressure? And for the first century Jews it was even worse, because they were still living under all of the Old Testament rules, and at the same time, trying to live out the great Commission… “Go and spread the gospel to the whole world and make disciples…”
Peter had been very busy trying to keep up and doing what the Lord had commanded… he was traveling and preaching and teaching and healing and had even brought a woman back to life.
But Peter was also under the impression, as were most of the followers of the Way, that the birth of Christianity was the fulfillment of being Jewish; in other words, that the Messiah had come and had brought salvation to the Jewish people, and that it was for the Jewish people alone. Jews were “in”… everyone else was “out.”
In Peter’s mind it had to be that way, because the Jewish people were the ones waiting for it… they were the only ones who knew the rules… they were the ones to whom God had given the law… they were the ones God had chosen… and Peter was psyched to spread that good news to Jews everywhere!
So, one day while he is staying at a friend’s house, he downloads a few hours full of Beethoven and of course the soundtrack to A Chorus Line onto his IPOD and goes out onto the deck to have some prayer time… and after a while, he starts getting hungry… and he calls down to the kitchen to make him something to eat. Now, like any devout and orthodox person, he had a very strict diet. There were things that he could eat, and things that were strictly forbidden. And as he waits for lunch to be prepared, he reclines in his anti-gravity chair and falls into a half sleep… and he has a vision…
Peter sees something like a sheet being lowered out of the sky… and the sheet lands next to him… and on it, is a buffet… a banquet, but they were things that Peter was forbidden to eat…everything from sausage & peppers to shrimp scampi to calamari… and the voice of God says to him… "Peter… Go ahead… Mangia! Mangia! (You didn’t know God was Italian?)
And Peter is horrified… “No way Lord… no way! I have never eaten any of this stuff… I would never eat this stuff… it’s against my… I mean, it’s against our religion! It’s sinful! It’s unacceptable! And eating it would make ME unacceptable… I can’t deal with that.”
And God answers… “Ehhh… Don’t call what I’ve made acceptable, unacceptable… I made it all myself- from scratch… È tutto buono... it's all good!" And you know how when you are dreaming something, it kind of repeats over and over… for Peter it repeats three times… a slow learner I guess… but when he wakes up and he’s confused. You can’t blame him. His world just got turned upside down. His whole list of do’s and don’ts and what made him acceptable or not acceptable or good or not good, was fried. (or broiled... either way)
But if that’s not enough, while he’s still confused God tells him some men will be coming to bring him to the house of another follower of the Way… but not a Jewish believer… to a Gentile…. And God knows this is also something that is on Peter’s “don’t” list, so God adds, “Pete… Don’t hesitate... don’t try to think about it right now, don’t try to figure it out… just go…”
Now… things stay fuzzy for a while for poor Peter, and that’s understandable, but what he eventually comes to realize is that the good news that he has been sent to preach is not just for Jews, but for everyone, and God’s acceptance of human begins has nothing to do with ethnic background or gender or following a list of rules and do’s and don’ts. And that regardless of who or what he had thought was acceptable or unacceptable, or who he thought was “out” or “in”, that in God’s eyes, we’re all acceptable… we’re all “in.”
Can you begin to swallow that? That regardless of who you are, what you’ve done, what you think, what you continue to do… that there is no “good” or “bad” mode as far as God is concerned? That you are always acceptable?
And, what’s more, that while we’re doing those things that we think are “unclean” or sinful, or evil, while we are purposely trying to be“non-religious” or rebellious, or just plain bad, we’re STILL acceptable… we’re still loved just as much…
And here’s the most beautiful part….That God never stops trying to tell us that we are ok- that we are “in”…exactly as we are… and so God speaks to us through everything we do, through everyone we encounter, through everything we hear. In everything, God is there… and God is smiling… I know it may not make sense… I know it’s fuzzy… It’s hard to get rid of the double life concept… and even harder to let go of the rules and lists…. Because if all our rules go down the drain, then what? We need them to keep us in line, don’t we? To make us treat each other right?
This threat of God getting disappointed in us, and angry when we misbehave and possibly even throwing us into a pit of eternal fire is a good motivator for us to do the right thing and treat each other well… except for one thing. Jesus never motivated anyone by fear.
For Jesus, it was all about love... it was all about inclusion, it was all about acceptance… and the good news that Jesus tells us to share is only this… Love each other… love yourself… love God…because God loves you. And there is nothing that you can do… nothing you can do… to make God love you more than God does right now.
And then flip the record over… that there is nothing you can do…. nothing you can do… to make God love you less… That no matter what you think, or what you’ve been told… God loves you as you are… you’re accepted as you are, you’re adored as you are… God offers you a banquet of love that is yours for the taking, as you are… you’re always “in”… mangia!