Not Peter's Vision, but God's ...
“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”
(Acts 10:15b, NIV).
Peter had a vision while sitting on a rooftop in Joppa. At least that’s how we say it.
Really, he received a vision from God.
You know the story… A sheet comes down filled with “unclean” animals and Peter is told to “Kill and eat,” but his ingrained societal mores prevent him from accepting God’s offer to meet his needs. Then God reminds him just who is talking and whose values are most important.
“Do not call unclean what I have made clean!” God says. Or something there abouts… translations vary, of course!
And for some, the message was a reversal of long-held religious laws that had become not just legal requirements for the Jewish “nation”, but also core values of that culture.
But God had a different idea… to redeem what God, God’s own self, had made before it had become spoiled by humanity’s flawed choices and desires. God, who had originally made them, made them clean… pure… whole… worthy to use in worship – to be offered as gifts to God once again.
And the message was not so much about the animals that could be used as food or gifts to God, but about the people who were about to knock on the door… people who Peter’s culture and his religion told him were unclean and morally inferior like the dogs who roamed the street and ate whatever they could find for sustenance… road kill – the remnants of the chosen one’s meals – even eating the droppings of other animals. To be clear, the “gentile” people didn’t actually do this… their hygiene and eating habits were much like those of the Jew. But their religion, their philosophies of life and the truths that they put their faith in were different than those of the Jewish chosen people and therefore the Jewish people likened them to the dogs of the street. In the minds of the Jews, God could not, would not use them… just like Green Eggs and Ham!
And Peter was, of course, Jewish.
But God had other ideas.
And so did Jesus, who was after all the human incarnation of God’s own self.
“Do not call unclean, that which I have made clean!”
And so, Peter welcomed Cornelius’ party at the door and went with them to tell this Gentile household the Good News of God’s love for us. He told them about their opportunity to connect with and relate to a loving God in the world and God’s promise through Jesus to prepare a place for them in the Kingdom of God that is already present but not yet fulfilled.
How beautiful that vision is and for most of us in the United States, how important the message is. After all, despite our American cultural bias and mythology that we are a “chosen nation,” most of us are not in fact descendants even of the ancient Hebrews even indirectly. In their eyes, we would be Gentiles.
Still, like Peter, there are those in our life, in our culture, in our spheres of relationship that we believe to be unclean, unredeemable, unable to be welcomed at our table which we claim to be “The Lord’s Table.” Who those people are varies, however.
For some it may be people who have alternative sexual orientations and are unwilling to conform to the expectations of our Biblical understanding (whether that Biblical understanding is a traditional view or an alternative view). From many of us, to fail to align with our understanding, whatever it may be, makes the others “unclean”.
For others, it may be a philosophical difference of opinion. Most of us would agree that life is sacred and every life contains some spark of God’s image within us; the “imago dei.” We just don’t agree when that spark becomes real. For some, it is at conception, for others at the first breath and for still others at some point in between. Yet too often, our perspective on this unknowable question either makes us redeemable or irredeemable in the eyes of others.
And for still others the issue is what is the best stewardship of earth… or the proper way to handle our economics… or…. well, you get the picture.
Our worthiness or unworthiness no longer is solely about one’s race, heritage or ethnicity but about so money things that cause someone to be different from us.
And God’s vision remains unchanged.
“Do not call unclean, that which I have made clean.”
Or in other words, “Do not refuse to accept the one for whom I died, even if they don’t meet your own limited standards for being loveable. I died for all.”
It wasn’t Peter’s vision: It was God’s. And it is still God’s vision; that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Lord, help us to live out God’s vision even today.
Lord, it was not Peter’s vision but Yours … so teach me to love those whom I believe to be unlovable, to serve those who I believe to be unworthy, to become as Christ to those who have yet to experience your love. Amen..
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains