Easter for Them? 5th Sunday of Easter

Written by Joel on May 2nd, 2010

May 2, 2010
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 11:1-18

Notes:

Ann Nichols is a missionary to Zambia, a country in Southern Africa. She writes about her first home visit in a Global Ministries update letter. She has always vowed to eat whatever has been offered to her. This is especially important when families with limited resources prepare food specifically for guests like missionaries. She has eaten guinea pig, a hundred year old egg, roasted goat, and millet drink. But on her first visit to a Zambian home she was faced with a basket of worms. She suggests holding your breath if a strange food has a strong odor. But, she says, the roasted caterpillars looked like roasted caterpillars. They didn’t smell, but the chewy texture and the very idea of eating a worm was too much for her. She managed to get half of one down, but that was her limit. Thankfully she only put two on her plate.

In the Acts text Peter shares his own missionary encounter with his home church. Which is a bit strange when we think about it. In the opening of Acts, during his ascension, Christ commissions the believers to go out and be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But there were believers who stayed behind in Judea. Peter heard this call and went to the ends of the earth, even to the Gentiles. To Caesarea to be exact.

Caesarea was a large Roman capital city and was a major port. It had all the major amenities of a pagan Roman city including theaters, temples to multiple gods and even a grand temple devoted to Caesar Augustus. It wasn’t a Jewish city, and certainly not a Christian city. Maybe not so unlike our modern cities – which have limited Christian influence.

In the middle of Peter’s report, the believers in Judea openly criticize him. They say “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” I thought this was kind of strange when I first read it. Were these believers criticizing Peter for being an evangelist? But take a close look at the criticism. They didn’t say “Peter, what were you doing spreading the gospel to Gentiles?” They weren’t even offended that Gentiles accepted Jesus. The criticism was “Why did you go in the home and eat with Gentiles?” This may be a bit difficult for us modern readers to understand. Whats the big deal we might ask, he just had a meal with them. But Peter was a Jew and eating with Gentiles was really a big deal.

He recalls a vision he had in which a sheet came down from heaven with all sorts of nasty food in it – or at least unclean, non-kosher food. And God said get up, kill and eat. This would have been quite strange for Peter to go to a Gentile house that did not keep kosher. It may be difficult for us to understand the importance of kosher – sometimes they sound like silly unnecessary laws. For example kosher forbids Jews from eating meat with blood in it, or a certain part of an animals leg; it also forbids eating certain animals. But each of these rules points to prayer. Jews couldn’t eat meat with blood because blood was used in ritual sacrifice, they couldn’t eat a certain part of the leg because they remember Jacob wrestling with God and striking him on that part of the leg. Jews could only eat animals that were acceptable for sacrifice. You see, kosher pointed to prayer, which pointed to God. Everything, down to the way they ate, pointed to God as a prayer. Think of it this way. I normally pray for my food, but sometimes when I am out at restaurants or with friends or certain family members I may refrain. And it feels strange, like I am giving up just a little bit about who I am for the sake of the other. That is sort of what it would have been like for Peter to go and eat with a Gentile and not observe kosher, but in a much bigger way. The Jewish people have been keeping these laws and rules for thousands and thousands of years and in the eyes of the believers back home Peter just abandoned that history.

My grandfather was a very proud United Auto Worker, for those of you who may not know UAW folks work on American cars, and they are very proud to work on American cars. He worked for GM for maybe 30 or 40 years before he retired. Granddad always told us that every time someone bought a foreign car, GM laid off 10 employees. Imagine how he felt when he found out that my dad bought a Toyota pick up truck. He was devastated, he was angry, and he felt betrayed. He gave me dad the silent treatment for several years following the truck purchase. He remembered that up till the day he died. For Peter to give up kosher and eat with a Gentile would have been somewhat like this kind of family betrayal in the eyes of the Jews back home.

But Peter listened to God when he called him to spread the good news outside the box. Peter didn’t say “Okay Lord, I will go preach the good news – but only to people like myself.” He didn’t say “Okay Lord, I will go and preach to people different than me – but don’t make me eat with them!” He didn’t say “Okay Lord, I will ever go to them – but don’t change me!” We normally think of evangelism as changing the non-believers, but how strange is it that here evangelism actually changes the evangelist!

This story raises some interesting challenges and questions for us. I do not believe that this is only a history lesson. I believe that God continues to call his church outside of their comfort zones – to go to those most unlike ourselves. How might we be called outside of our boxes today? Where is God at work in our communities? Where is God at work in people not like us? What if (fill in the blank) group of people came to accept the good news, here in Timberville? What if democrats, republicans, hippies, punk teenagers, people from the trailer park, people with a different skin color than ourselves, those who speak a different language…what if people like that accepted the good news? What would be the same for us? What would be different? How might we be called to welcome them? And how might we be called to change, like Peter?

Perhaps the most important question of all; as Peter is retelling the story to the believers back in Jerusalem he observes that the Gentiles accepted God just as we have, and if God does it – who are we to hinder God? How can we hinder God? – We can’t.


 

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