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Moment to Movement: Mission Welcome

Acts 11:1-1811:1 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.11:2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him,11:3 saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?"11:4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying,11:5 "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.11:6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air.11:7 I also heard a voice saying to me, 'Get up, Peter; kill and eat.'11:8 But I replied, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.'11:9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane.'11:10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.11:11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were.11:12 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.11:13 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;11:14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.'11:15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning.11:16 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.'11:17 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?"11:18 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."

John 13:31-3513:31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

THE POINT: A reconciling God is faithfully shifting boundaries.

  • In many ways, our text today is a complimentary text to last week. And our gospel passage is even a call back from a couple weeks ago, although paired with a different complimentary text, which is where we'll spend most of our time.
  • But to start, it's probably helpful to consider what's on the menu.
    • Lev 11
      • Meat was restricted: couldn't eat camel, rabbits, bigs
      • Birds of prey were forbidden, as well as those that fed on carrion.
      • No shellfish or fish that had fins but no scales could be eaten
      • Nothing that crawled on the ground could be eaten, and if they fell or touched pots or ovens, they needed to be broken.
    • This would be something that as a people who were still faithfully Jewish, each of the disciples would have known, and it would have been in place for multiple centuries.
    • There are a lot of reasons for these laws - many that make commons sense (health, etc), but really, many of these laws were meant to define God's chosen as a special group of people. It traces itself into identity.
  • So you can understand how this story in Acts might come as a bit of a shock, and why there would be a healthy dose of criticism from folks who had been bound by tradition for over half a millennia. And their concern wasn't about baptism, but it was about Peter's association at all
    • But notice Peter's journey:
      • He begins by prayer - seeking discernment. Joppa is still a port city, so one can imagine people from all over the Mediterranean would be there.
      • And he finds himself caught in a vision that directly challenges the long term cultural norms of him and his people
      • Then immediately afterwards, he has the chance to test out this change.
        • He is still leaning on discernment - this time from the Spirit, encouraging him to make no distinctions.
        • And moreover, he follows the Spirit's lead for expansion. In the Gk, the word for "distinction" can also have a sense of hesitation - holding back because of insecurity. But he goes.
        • He's present, in such a low-risk way, truly: he just eats and speaks with others. But it has major implications for the nascent church.
    • When he finishes, I think the final conversation is what truly turns this conversation around
      • "If 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?"
      • Then the others reply that God has given even to the Gentiles metanoia - reconsideration.
        • But that metanoia isn't just for the Gentiles here, but it seems for the apostles as well.
        • There is now new life in church later - immediately after this, we witness the start of the first truly mixed Jew and Gentile congregation in Antioch.
  • I think it's so easy for us to spend time getting caught up in Peter's point - who are we that we think that we could hinder God? There's always a rabbit hole of guilt and frustration there.
  • But I wonder instead what it's like to consider more the silence and the praise.
  • Clearly, we have a vision: What Jesus gives us in John 13 is a vision of agape, deep love to one another.
    • While the disciples would not have had the visibility of a movement like in Acts 11, we can.
    • What kind of boundaries can that agape love transgress? I think about that a lot as we continue to live in a world that digs its heels in about broken human traditions that span even less time yet with greater recalcitrance. At what point is there discernment from the Spirit that invites us not to hesitate because of insecurity and just go to be with?
  • There is a bifold praise here, then, should we be willing to transgress those boundaries we now keep even though God has broken them
    • Both for the person outside these boundaries: the Holy Spirit dancing upon them
    • But also for those who were already there: we celebrate God's expansion to another group that allows them to change their hearts and follow Christ's call to agape love themselves.
    • And lest we think that means that the only way to share that celebration is to conform - Paul is very clear in his book to the Galatians that things like circumcision of Gentiles was not necessary any longer.
  • When we consider texts like today, I don't know how else to be but to have as fully inclusive of a stance as we can.
    • I don't see that as a political statement, but as a pastoral one. If a moment truly is a movement, then it stands to reason that there are others from all over who will join along side. Folks who may not conform to earlier norms, but we can celebrate as they join us.
    • We aren't trying to shape them into a particular mold, but we all together continue to understand what metanoia is that leads us to life, to flourishing for all.
    • It may mean that we deal with some shared criticism together - and that's natural and reasonable.
    • But we have to ask ourselves if we are actively discerning God's voice, God's vision, and the Spirit's movement within us. If not, then we won't be in the Joppa's of the world to wait to be called.