May 12, 2019
Acts 10 1-17, 34-48
The church from the beginning of time and who knows how much longer has wrestled with the question of who is a proper disciple of Christ. From the question that arises out of Acts chapter 10, through the question of whether or not the various branches of Christianity were valid before the Council of Nicea, through the Catholic Church to the various protestant denominations, and even to the point of who is good enough to be a member of a local church. Whether or not we wish to admit it, we still struggle with the question of who is in and who is not. Who is good enough to be a Christian and who needs fix something first.
At its core the question revolves around tradition and remaining comfortable with the status quo. A couple weeks ago we heard out of Matthew the commission for the disciples to go forth and make disciples of all nations, but up to this point in Acts they haven’t figured out the policies and procedures of how to do so. They haven’t figured out the ins and outs of how to make disciples of all nations, because they are entirely wrapped up in their identity as Jewish followers of Christ. That’s all they have known up to this point.
They hadn’t gone through the whole process of figuring out who got keys to the building or to the supply cabinets. They hadn’t set up the procedures for church membership They hadn’t started looking beyond their own community to see how they would have to change. They hadn’t done the work for growth, but the spirit was growing restless.
The struggle was about whether or not someone had to first be a Jew in order to be a Christian. So far everyone who had been baptized had first been a Jew and not Gentile. There isn’t any indication on if the early apostles had considered or talked about how to create disciples out of Gentiles. Someone who is not Jewish. Someone who was not a part of the core community. So they left it up to the Gentiles to take care of their stuff first and once everything gets sorted then they can be baptized.
That is until the spirit decided to intervene and give Peter a push. Beginning with Peter’s vision on the roof top that highlighted the the perceived conflict of clean vs unclean, Kosher vs non-kosher, that Peter along with the rest of the disciples needed to wrestle with. It was that very struggle that had possibly held them back in bringing Gentiles into the fold. The strong sense that those who were not Jewish were unclean according to scripture and thus needed to be cleansed first. Yet Peter is led by the Spirit to go to Cornelius’ house where as he preaches before the gathered crowd something special happens.
He is led by the spirit into an uncomfortable situation and place. A place that up this this point he had vowed would never happen because they were “unclean.” It wasn’t proper and yet the spirit was leading him and he followed. And he preached…until the spirit breaks in once more.
The spirit descends upon the Gentiles and they exhibit gifts of the Spirit even though they were Gentiles, and even though they had not been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. And after witnessing the work of the divine they see no reason why these Gentiles should not be baptized. And that is the argument that Peter and the other believers took back to the other Apostles in Jerusalem.
All the other apostles wanted an explanation of why Peter baptized the Gentiles and his response was, the spirit moved first. Up to this point they hadn’t seen the spirit move first. In Acts 2 the Spirit descended upon the disciples, and they went forth preaching and baptizing the crowds. After which the Spirit descended upon the crowds who had been baptized.
This was new territory, and the question went from how do Gentiles become followers of Christ to, how can we deny what the spirit has done and place any barrier in the way that the spirit has descended upon.
If you know anything of the history of the church even in the past 50 years you know that the church hasn’t gotten any better with responding to those places that the spirit has moved. In calling women into places of leadership of the church as deacons, elders and as clergy. Recognizing those with disabilities as full members of the community rather than individuals to be segregated somewhere else or off to the side to be invisible. Or in recognizing the spiritual gifts present in those of the LGBTQIA community. Or even seeing the homeless as equals in faith.
It all comes down to recognizing those places in which the spirit is leading us out of the comforts of tradition, and our own conclaves of comfort towards something bigger and better. Something that embodies the full kingdom of God not just our little part of it.
For the past week or so, when thinking about how tight we hold onto the keys to the kingdom, declaring who is in and who is out, I am reminded of imagery from several different church women’s groups. And I will preface this as it is not a general statement of all women’s groups but a selection out of my own experience. Where the group had their own table cloths, and or dishes that no one else was to touch, without permission. Yes there was good reason for there to be control over those supplies, and yet it reminds me too much of how we try to control who is in the community and who still needs work. Who needs special permission to enter into the gates and who can just freely enter.
Yet as the scriptures continue to remind us, the spirit will move where the spirit moves, and who are we to stand in the way of the work of the divine.