I was raised in a religious denomination that had no concept of the lectionary or the Christian calendar. Sunday’s Scripture was based on whatever the minister was thinking about that week. Once I started to attend a church rich in liturgical fervor, I fell in love with the rituals, holidays, and lectionary. I love the lectionary because every three years, a congregation will hear the majority of Scripture and it presents good challenges to the preacher for that week. For now, I regularly attend a United Methodist that is quiet liberal with their use of the lectionary so when it is used, I get very excited. For the first lesson this past weekend it is one of my favorite texts in Acts because God talks back and to help Peter interpret the vision.
Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:1-18
These verses speak highly of inclusion. John Dominic Crossan wrote in his autobiography, A Long Way from the Tipperary, that if Jesus is to the right of the God then that means that God is to the left of Jesus. Crossan clearly making a political joke, but one that seems accurate of the overall picture of God in Scripture. God is for the outcast, marginalized, forgotten, but God is also trying to push the oppressor into love. Thus making God a Leftist beyond Leftist.
Peter’s vision spoke of the inclusion of the Gentiles and just in its infancy stage for the followers of the Way. This is radical, but not rare for God since hints came as early as the prophet Micah who declared that God will be praised even by the Gentiles. These new converts do not need to be circumcised, but baptized. The text reads that Peter remembers the early words of the Jesus that all shall be baptized by God’s Spirit.
If we take this text to its radical end it means that God’s love is for all and in all. God tells Peter “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” God thus broadens who’s in and who’s out, meaning all are in! Yet, even if this is true theologically, which I believe to be very much so, our social constructions point us in other directions.
Since the Boston Bombings, the Right Wing has upped their anti-Islam rhetoric. Republicans made a statement immediately after the suspect was found that the FBI and other law enforcement should keep a closer eye on Muslims and their mosques. First, there is no need to create fear in a group where no fear is typically found. I should know, I live in an area in West Philly that is mostly made up of Muslims and we all live peacefully together. Second, have we forgotten our past of putting Japanese and Asian Americans into work camps during WWII. Are we heading back to that? I sure hope not! What we need is love for those we have silenced and fear.
The way we move forward is through relationships. These are always uncomfortable at first, but like most things we get use to them and feel comfortable. May we be like God and include all people. We should see others as sacred as we believe ourselves to be.