Scripture: Acts 11:1-18
The Message – Explaining One’s Self Adapted/ credit Dr. Randy L. Hyde
When was the last time you were in a situation where you had to explain yourself? It does happen occasionally, doesn’t it?
“Honest, officer, I didn’t see that speed limit sign!”
“I know we don’t have the money, sweetheart, but the dress looked so good on me and I had my credit card.” Or “Honey, those golf clubs had my name all over them!”
“Uh, dad, I uh, I uh missed my curfew because I uh had a flat tire. Yeah, that’s it, that’s it, I had a flat tire.”
“Well, you see boss, it was like this…”
You can almost hear Ricky Ricardo saying, “Lucy, you have some splain’n to do!”
From time to time just about all of us have some explaining to do, whether it’s to a spouse, a parent, a superior, or to God. But don’t worry, it puts you in pretty good company. After all, it even happened to Simon Peter.
In the story Luke wrote is about Simon Peter. Peter has a dream in which he learns that all things God has made are good, that nothing of God’s creation can be considered unclean. It is a whole new way of thinking for Peter, for he is a devout Jew. Up to this point, Peter is of the opinion that God looks with particular favor upon the Jewish people, that other people and other races are lesser to the called and chosen people of God. In this vision, nothing more than a dream really, his entire perspective begins to change. It is a complete and utter reversal. Or, to use today’s terminology, a total about face.
Certain people have always tended to think that God is on their side. And if God is on your side, those who are not like you are not looked upon by God with the same favor as you. It makes your feelings toward those people more justified. To learn, then, that there is to be no distinction between people, especially when it comes to salvation – but also when it comes to table fellowship – is a hard, if not virtually impossible, lesson to learn. From his earliest days, Peter has been taught that his people, the Jewish people, were chosen especially by God. They have special privileges, and because of those privileges they have special responsibilities. That’s the way God intended it, and that’s the way it shall be, forever and ever, amen.
And then, all of a sudden, things change. Drastically. Completely. In fact, things are totally turned around.
But not before Peter goes to great pains to explain himself to Cornelius. He has not come to Caesarea because he necessarily wants to be there. This is what Peter first says to them.” You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile.” In other words, this isn’t just a religious conviction. It is the Jewish law of the land where Peter lives and moves and has his being. It is as inbred in him as being Up North is a part of who most of us are.
So, in the next breath, Peter says these words: “But… God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
That’s a huge step for our fisherman friend. Just to walk in the door of the home of a Gentile is a big deal, but he’s going to discover that this is just the beginning. Peter is not completely converted just yet, however. “When I was sent for,” he says, “I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me? Okay, I’m here. Now what do you want? If I’m going to have to explain myself, you have some explaining to do as well. What’s going on?”
Cornelius tells Peter his story of how he has faithfully served God. He is a man of constant prayer, a generous man who gives alms to the poor in God’s name. He and God have a personal relationship, and now God wants to really bring it home; show Cornelius how God, has chosen to bring salvation to all people. And as with Simon Peter, God appears to Cornelius in a dream.
In his vision, Cornelius is told to send for Simon Peter, who is staying in the town called Joppa. Just about the time the messengers, sent by Cornelius, are arriving in Joppa, Peter has this dream where a huge sheet comes down from heaven. “In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.” Every last one of them unclean and definitely not on the kosher list for devout Jews. He is told to kill and eat, and when he objects, he is told, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
First thing, when he gets back to Jerusalem, before he even gets a chance to say “Hi there,” they jump on him like a hungry dog on a bone. They have already gotten word of what Peter has done. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” They don’t simply refer to them as Gentiles, they remind Peter why they’re Gentiles. It is not the most flattering of descriptions… “uncircumcised men.” So, Peter tells them his story, about his vision and then his subsequent visit to Cornelius and his household.
It would have been easy – not to mention understandable – if Peter had lost his patience at this point. “Come on, guys, you know we can’t keep this story about Jesus to ourselves. There’s a whole world out there that needs to hear the good news. We need to let everybody in on our message, not just folks who are like us. Don’t you understand?”
But he doesn’t do that. He very patiently goes over his story, step-by-step, explaining carefully what happened and why, and how. It was important for his colleagues to understand, and Peter knows that old ways die hard. He knows that when you’re trying to give old, worn-out beliefs a decent burial, it’s best to take your time and go slow.
But wait a minute. This is Peter we’re talking about here. Simon Peter. He’s the one who jumped out of the boat naked to swim out to meet Jesus on the beach. He was the one who stepped out of the boat to walk on water. He was the one who promised to never forsake Jesus, but ultimately denied him three times. According to John’s gospel, Peter is the one who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant when they came to arrest Jesus. That Peter. Peter is patient? That’s not the Peter we know.
Jesus has this way, however, of changing peoples’ hearts, and the impetuous, impatient Son of Jonah is no different. He knows that what he is telling the church leaders in Jerusalem is important, so he goes really slow, explaining verse-by-verse why he did what he did and how he did it. And the world has never since been the same.
They believe what he has to say. But Luke is quite clear on this. They don’t believe Simon Peter because of his eloquence or oratorical skills. The Spirit of God is at work here, weaving God’s will in the hearts of these who for so long have believed one thing and one thing only. Behold, God is doing a new thing.
Wherever you find God, you find God doing a new thing. It is true: Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But God never stands still. God is always doing a new thing, looking for fresh ideas in sharing love and presence in our world. And God is always looking for people who are willing to journey into new and uncharted waters of the faith.
It just may be that God has a new thing in store for you, that God is wanting to do a new thing in our church. Are you ready? It may take a vision such as Peter had. Okay. Be ready for it. Be present to the Spirit of God, and you might just find God talking to you.
That brings us back to this Gentile named Cornelius. Luke makes it clear that God chose Cornelius not because he is a pious person who prays a lot and is generous with his gifts to the poor. God knows that because Cornelius prays a lot and is generous to the poor, he will be open and receptive to what God wants him to do.
How open are you to the movement of God’s Spirit in your life? The answer you give to that question just may be the next step – the next big step in your journey of faith in God.
Let us pray: Lord, find us open to your Spirit and willing to change when you ask us to do it. Plant in our hearts the desire to serve you, no matter the cost. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.