Expeditionary Church: A Feast for All
May 15, 2022 Rev. Drew Stockstill
Now the apostles and the brothers and sisters 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.”
Peter, the disciple of Jesus, had a dream. Something like a large picnic blanket coming down from heaven. The thing is, that picnic blanket was filled with food that Peter did not eat. Peter was a faithful Jewish man and the law plainly taught there were foods that were off limits: meat from animals with cloven hoofs, like pigs and camels; any shellfish, reptiles, most birds, and insects. Eating according to the Law of God is called keeping Kosher. Many of our Jewish friends abide by this law today. It’s about purity, it’s about faithfulness, it’s about tradition, and it’s about identity. This is part of what makes Jewish people unique, part of how they feel God has set them apart. It is not seen as a burden but a gift. And Peter likely felt this way when he had his vision while praying of this large sheet filled with four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air coming down from heaven and voice telling him to dig in. “Absolutely not!” says Peter.
It’s hard for us to understand fully the weight of what God is asking of Peter. It is not simply that something that was forbidden is now permissible, it is something that makes you, you are going to change. A part of your faith life is shifting, expanding, changing, a crucial part of how you live your life and your relationship with God you are now being asked to change. And the reason being is not that God has changed God’s mind about keeping kosher, per say, but that God is expanding who belongs in the family of God and God is removing barriers for those who have not been a part of this family before.
Gentiles is the general term for those who are not Jewish. In the area Peter and Jesus ministered, Gentiles would be mostly folks who worshipped the Roman gods, but around the world there were Gentiles of many faiths and cultures. They did not have laws about keeping Kosher, but maybe they had other laws and customs. Maybe they would eat bacon and birds and whatever they felt like. Maybe they had other ways of dressing, maybe they had other customs of family, maybe they had other ways of connecting to the divine and what Jesus came to show us was that God’s family is inclusive of all people. This is a major, major shift in understanding of God’s people, God’s covenant, and God’s dream for creation. Jesus showed us that he was God made flesh who came to earth to save the chosen people of Israel, that he was their long awaited Messiah, but that he was also the savior of all people. Jesus’ mission of salvation opened the community of God to people who were Jewish and Gentile, people who followed the Law given to Moses and those who had never heard of it, people who kept Kosher and people who loved a good smorgasbord. From one man and woman: Sarah and Abraham, came the Hebrew people. God was their God, they were God’s people. The Bible is full of their stories, their poetry and music, their culture and customs. And then Jesus came along and said, I’m adopting everyone else who was not born of this family.
Now they too are to be considered children of Abraham and Sarah, my people. Then Jesus ascended into heaven and left it to Peter to figure out how to make this work, but sent the Holy Spirit to do all the work of opening hearts and minds of people who did not know of this God and his son who died and rose again. The Holy Spirit working through the first followers of the Way was at work bringing new people to faith in the God of the Hebrew people. The thing is, when the Holy Spirit called people of other traditions to faith in God, God did not require them to give up everything that made them and take on all Jewish customs, instead God asked of his own people to change some of their customs to accommodate the newcomers, and their extra diets.
This is the foundation of the Christian church, the Jewish people that Jesus called to follow his Way are watching the Holy Spirit expand beyond them and their traditions and their ethnicity this new community and now there are a lot more people following The Way in their Way. And so Peter had a vision of a huge table cloth being spread out with all the foods of all these people and he’s told by God, be the host at this table, Peter, kill and eat, and welcome and include all these people. Get to know them and make a way for them to include their customs and traditions and cultures and views in God’s ever-expanding community. God said, “Do not call dirty what I have made clean.” God has made people clean, God has made diversity, God has given different gifts to different cultures all for the celebration and praise and worship of God all for the good of a vibrant and flourishing church.
God taught Peter, to teach us, that even if something is done differently it does not make it wrong, in fact, Peter teaches us that the very same Holy Spirit that leads us to faith, leads them to faith as well, and then leads us together. And that is what happens in this story, God has welcomed some Gentiles into the household of God and sends Peter to welcome them. So, Peter did as God commanded, he says, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us.” This is the expeditionary church, a church where God is out in front of us, working in peoples lives and then calling us, church, to go to them, to welcome them, to show hospitality, and to make a way for them to sit at this table, Christ’s table, without barriers, but actually finding ways to incorporate what makes them special and unique.
To say it plainly, the church is God’s vision of community. The church is God’s vision of community and that community has a lot of very different people in it, people from different back grounds, with different histories, and different beliefs, and different values, and different traditions, and different ways of worshipping, and different types of foods they enjoy, and different ways of speaking, and different types of art and music and dressing. God made the world with all this diversity, all these differences and then created the church as the place for all people to come together as one, to fellowship as one, to sit at one table, to worship one God, creator and savior of us all.
It’s a beautiful vision, unity of all people, but it’s never been easy. Peter’s response at first is, “No!” He must be thinking, “That’s not who I am. That’s not the way we do things. It’s fine if they do that, but not me.” When some of his fellow followers of the Way find out he’s been ministering to and eating with Gentiles they criticize him. It’s never been easy for the church to find that balance between honoring many different traditions while also finding unity, but this has been God’s vision for the world, to come together, not in spite of our differences, but with them and find a way to grow closer to each other and closer to God in worship and in living life together. That is a mark of the church, a diverse community with diverse expressions living and worshiping a God of diverse persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we are blessed, Christ Lutheran, to resemble this dream of God in many ways. We are a people with various backgrounds, and cultures, with different expressions of family and work and daily living, we have various and unique cognitions and gifts and interests and ways of relating to and thinking about God, but God is the one who has baptized us all with the one Holy Spirit and led us into one holy family moving together for a time along the way of Jesus. That is why I sincerely thank you each week for coming here, because we all have given up something of our culture, expectations, preferred ways of doing things, like Peter, in order to be in a place that cherishes uniqueness. This is a community curated by God.
That’s is what this passage in Acts teaches us. That the church is a community of curated by God and it’s a most eclectic sampling. Can you imagine if God shared his Spotify playlist with us? I can imagine, because I’ve worshipped God among five or six different tribes in Kenya, I’ve worshipped God in Mexico, and I’ve worshipped God in Germany, and I’ve worshipped God in Ethiopia, and I’ve worshipped God in the UK, and I’ve worshipped God in France, and I’ve worshipped God in Catholic mass, and I’ve worshipped God in the silence of a Friends meeting, and I’ve worshipped God in a huge nondenominational church, and Korean American churches, and African churches in America, and I’ve worshipped God in Methodist, and AME, and Presbyterian, and Episcopal, and Baptist, and UCC, and Old Regular Baptist, and Brethren, and Mennonite, and I’ve worshipped God in synagogues and at the table set by Jewish friends and I’ve worshipped God in enough ways to know, it’s just so true what King David said, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”
I heard there was another mass shooting. It is the unrepentant sin of America, this gun violence. 10 dead in Buffalo. They were shopping for groceries, thinking about setting tables, feeding family, maybe picking somethings up for the local food pantry. And this terrorist, this sin blinded racist child of God, went after people of color. The day before a series of shootings in Koreatown in Dallas, that’s being investigated as a hate crime. It is an abomination, a curse against God this kind of racism, and division, and violent hatred. And thoughts and prayers must become action. But this here, this here worship of God with a commitment to each other and for the healing
of this broken world, this here is not small thing. In fact it is God’s choice that the church following the Way of Jesus is the primary source of redeeming and transforming this sin into grace, this pain into healing, this mourning into joy, this profane world into the Kingdom of God. So I say again, thank you for being here, and for giving us hope. Amen.