There is a line in chapter 10 of Acts, when Peter is in the home of a man called Cornelius, trying to figure out why he is there and what he is going to do. And he is talking to Cornelius about God and Peter says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone from every nation who fear him and do what is right,”
God does not show favoritism.
We encounter Peter today explaining to some people in his community why he went to that house and ate with people who were not like him or like them. He tells them about the dream that he had, a dream that would actually, likely have been closer to a nightmare for a Jewish man who abided by food laws. But he went to the house and he sat with the people there and ate with them.
I have been sitting with the book of Acts a lot lately thanks to Morning Prayer. I’m not sure that I’ve ever spent all that much time with this book. I think I found it confusing and hard, because it seems to be all about the crew that follows Jesus trying to tell their story and have others follow too. And I grew up in a time when we did not do that. We, the mainline denomination did not talk about our faith or why we went to church, lest someone think we were trying to convert them, which we most certainly were not – because we did not do that.
We just quietly went to church, went to youth conferences, went to youth group but, we, the children the of mainline denominations did not talk openly about our faith. Ever. Except to each other.
So Acts is uncomfortable. These guys, responding to dreams and getting up and telling their story of faith and being persecuted for it (which by the way is largely what I envisioned would happen should I talk about by faith at school or with friends). That is what the kids who went to the non-denominational group did, or the Baptists or the kids in the Christian club at school.
And if I’m honest I will tell you that I was a little bit jealous of them. Those people who could articulate their faith and talk about what they believed and why, out loud. That group who held Bible studies and a closeness to God that I could not seem to muster.
I went to school with kids who were Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh. I was the only white girl in my hallway of lockers in grade 11. But we never really talked about faith in my circle of friends. It was something we did on our own time. So I never grew up with a bias about one faith tradition over another being better, except in my own tradition. Which is interesting.
I never thought that there was any problem with gay or Jewish or Buddhist – but I was really uncomfortable with the more evangelical members of my own faith.
The people who I seemed to feel were most not like me were the ones who followed the same Jesus I did.
I am certain that this has impacted how long it has taken me to be comfortable in my orders. On the school grounds, as a parent I would dread other parents asking me what I did. When I was first ordained or in school I tried very hard just to change the subject, carting with me all of the baggage that I packed as a youth.
As I read this passage and as I read the bit before, I was thinking about who I consider ‘other’, who I tend to have the most bias about.
Peter has a dream about eating foods that would have been considered unclean in his own tradition – three times. And he hears this as a charge to get up and head out and eat with people not like himself. ‘The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them.’, he says.
Now of course we are talking about Jewish and Christian here – but thinking about our own bias, about those with whom we assume that we have nothing in common. Mine is with people who read the very same scripture as me and come out completely differently.
And I am curious about that.
A voice tells Peter, do not call anything impure that God has made clean. And I find myself wishing for a dream that would make it all very clear to me just want is meant by that.
Because do we have clean and unclean anymore?
Other than the lines that we have created for ourselves?
And there are some things that for me are a non-starter, for example I am simply not willing to engage in a conversation that debates the sanctity of same gendered relationships. I am not willing to defend my right as a woman to be in leadership in the church and so I realize that just by staking those two claims there are some who would not be willing to be in conversation with me.
I get that.
But what I am wondering about here is my own willingness to engage in conversations with them. And my own ability to claim the Jesus that I follow outside of these walls. I’m not talking about ‘them’ here, I am talking about ‘me’. I can’t control anyone but me and my own actions. And it is exceptional to me that Peter has his dream and then gets up and goes, despite his concerns about food or whatever.
Because we are all made of the stuff of God. And we all have a want to be right. And God seems to say over and over again, ‘Get over yourself’ Jesus is constantly hanging out with the wrong people, all through the Gospels. He is persistent about not following any human made rules about who is in and who is out. Jesus seems to constantly push us; the readers, towards understanding that there is no ‘us and them’, despite what we would prefer.
Peter says, ‘I now realize that God does not show favoritism’. Damn, I say. But why not? The very human part of me really wants to be on the side of the favorites.
I wonder how you hear this story about Peter’s dream about clean and unclean foods. And I wonder what that would look like for us today?
Alisdair came and preached at St. Brigids a few weeks ago and he had us thinking about ‘othering’ – you know when we put each other in the ‘other’ box so that you are different from me.
In the book of Acts, Peter seems to be pretty consistently pushed out of this want to ‘other’. Rather he is called to engage.
What I take from this book is really that in following Jesus, I cannot live with an unwillingness to engage those who are not like me. I have to live with an openness to receive my neighbour as beloved of God. Even if they read the scriptures differently from me. Even if I don’t agree with what they say about people that I love. As I said, I think that it can be important to have clarity about things that we are not willing to debate for the protection of ourselves and the people that we love. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t engage. Even in a church that can be very slow to act on things that we feel passionately about.
‘So, (Peter says) if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” But man, I want to say to Peter, if they believe the wrong things, couldn’t God use a little opposition?
And of course that is the problem with humans. We want to oppose God and push against this whole ‘all are welcome’ thing that God seems to have going on. Because we do oppose God when we choose to be closed to each other.
My experience has been that it can be easier for us to engage those who are clearly different from us than those who might look a little bit the same or who read the same scriptures, but come out with very different understandings.
This week, The Dean Peter Elliot shared a reflection on the recent meeting of the Anglican consultative council and his thoughts about the upcoming debate at general council on the marriage cannon. And he was and is wise and diplomatic. It’s really good for me to have people like him around. I can too quickly move to angry and frustrated and closed.
I too believe that we must affirm the experience that we have in this Diocese of the inclusion of the LGBTQI community, there is no questions for me on this. And it turns out that even within our own denomination there is not agreement on certain issues. We know this, but there are times in our life together when this becomes more clear than others. T
his is one of those times. Discussions around the marriage cannon are hard and frustrating for many of us in a church that does not change fast enough or for those of us who would not have it change at all, depending on where you stand. And our church seeks to hold all of us within its bounds. So, sometimes ‘other’ is within my own tribe.
What this reading of Acts forces me to do is to affirm my experience of the whole people of God and to be open to the fact that the whole people of God are not just the people that I love best or the ones with whom I agree.
God does not have favorites, though if I am honest, I sort of wish she did and of course they would look and believe just like me and that is of course, the danger.