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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Today’s Reading | Acts 11:1–18

Now the apostles and the believers 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.” (NRSV)

I don’t hate Leviticus. It’s some of the dullest reading on the planet, but I don’t hate it. It’s a code of conduct for a nomadic people in the Bronze Age, trying to survive and keep their identity in a hostile environment. In the event of a zombie apocalypse and the total collapse of civilization as we know it, who knows, maybe we’ll need those laws again.

(Um, your devotion isn’t on Leviticus.)

Yes, it is. Let me finish.

In this chapter of Acts, Peter—good God-fearing Peter—is commanded in a dream to chow down on stuff that a good observant Jew wouldn’t touch. Rattlesnake chili. Shrimp scampi. Bacon croquettes wrapped in bacon and deep-fried in bacon fat. A cornucopia of deliciousness, but Peter, knowing the Law as set down in Leviticus, won’t touch it. And the voice from heaven says, “God says it’s clean, so don’t you say it’s dirty.”

Three times this happens (Peter’s probably a little sensitive to things that happen three times), and then he’s awakened by the arrival of three guys from Caesarea, the Roman provincial capital. Gentiles. And there’s that voice again, telling him to go with them and make no distinction between himself and them. Make no distinction.

Leviticus is about making distinctions, about separating an “us” from a “them,” about defining the “us” as God’s people and the “them” as, well, not. And people use that book as a kind of club, to beat people into submission, usually to a particular interpretation that ignores the parts of Leviticus that it finds inconvenient.

But we are commanded to go along with these “others” and make no distinction between ourselves and them. In the eyes of God, there are no “ins” and “outs.” There are only people, who are loved.

Lord, we are all travelers on a journey, each traveling a path that leads to you. Let that part of you that dwells in us recognize that part of you that dwells in others, so that we may greet each other as we go along together. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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