Beloved, today Peter has his mind blown…..Pow!
God says: I am doing a new thing….and folks, God ain’t jokin….
You see, Peter had been taught by religious leaders that some things to eat are holy and some are not;
That some places and activities are sacred and some are not;
Peter had been taught to only associate with certain people---believing that some people have God’s favor and some do not.
And then the truth of God’s plan and dream break into Peter’s life and this truth about how God really desires us to live, well, this Truth is radically different from what Peter has been taught---what Peter has held as his beliefs---and this new understanding of God’s truth and love turns Peter’s world on its head. (Pow!)
So Peter responds: Who am I that I should hinder God?
To “hinder” means to prevent, to slow down, to put up a barrier…
Beloved, we cannot stop God. No one can. Nothing can. Easter proclaims that there is no power stronger or more enduring than God’s love. None. Not death. Not hate. Not violence. Not fear. Ultimately, love wins. And Beloved, when the church is truly the church……..then Presently, love wins.
But, let’s get real: we all know that we CAN prevent love; we can slow down love; we can put up barriers to love; we CAN hinder love. If we were in Peter’s situation, we might find ourselves saying: Wait! What? The Holy Spirit pours down on THOSE people? The Holy Spirit is in THAT place? The Holy Spirit is participating where exactly? Over there? Nah….can’t be…..
Again, sound familiar? Let me show you a short video…..
Beloved, as the church we are those couples in that commercial and God is calling us to be bold….to put ourselves into the midst of the stranger, what we might term as the “other”……God doesn’t call us to simply welcome the stranger…..God calls us to go out.
In fact, the Greek word for church “ek klesia” means the gathering, but it also means the ones called to go out. We are both the gathered and the sent…..sent to go out because the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place…….yes, poured out on over THOSE people and in THAT place….and we are called to go and participate in that work, with those people, and to go to the places the Holy Spirit is working and moving out in the neighborhood and in our world.
And let’s be honest with ourselves, many of us have a problem with the term the “other.” Because we believe that in Christ there is no us and them, there is only us. And this is true; I have often preached it, but it is more nuanced than this. This weekend, John Herder, MaryJo Laube and I had the pleasure of attending Synod Assembly, and we heard a fantastic speaker, Pastor Sunitha Mortha, an ELCA pastor who is from India, and she shared a wisdom from the theologian Miroslav Volf that I want to share with you today:
In the Body of Christ, what is removed is the HOSTILITY toward difference…..not the difference itself.
We have differences as the Body of Christ; we have differences as the human race. God doesn’t desire to erase those differences; God created those differences. What God desires, what God calls us to do, is to remove the hostility toward the difference….hostility that is often grounded in fear. Fear because our truth is that we don’t really want to believe the “other” is created in the imago dei---that same image of God in which we are created.
Because if we believe that God created all of humanity and God loves all of humanity….if we believe that God loves all of Creation and desires its vitality…….. what implications do these beliefs have on how we live? How we exercise our spending power? What does it mean for the systems and legislation we support? What implications does this have for how we treat the immigrant, the refugee, the one of different faith, the female, the mentally unhealthy, the black, the brown, the indigenous?
Beloved, who are we that we should hinder God?
And when the Holy Spirit knocks us on our head as she did to Peter in today’s reading-----then the wideness of God’s mercy blows a hole into our worldview.
And this is exactly what we need to happen…..we need our understandings to be blown open so that we can become vulnerable enough to receive God’s love, but also so that we can become vulnerable enough to share God’s love.
But for that to happen, like Peter we have some work to do. First, we must unlearn some things we have learned. Even as the Church, maybe especially as the Church. The Church hasn’t always gotten it right, and I am pretty sure we will continue to get it wrong from time to time. But, like Peter, can we be open to a new thing? Can we hold our learning with a bit of lightness so that there is room for the Holy Spirit to continue to work….on us? And for us? And through us?
Secondly, like Peter, we are called to deep listening. We are to deeply listen to those who don’t see and know the world as we do. And we are to listen without the assumption that our way is the best way or the only way or the right way. It is a way. But there are others: Other ways with richness and goodness and beauty. Beloved, listening to the other is listening to the Body of Christ. A part of the Body that may look differently or sound differently or believe differently than us. Rather than listening with judgment, can we move from curiousity? Like Mary, can we sit at their feet and learn?
For then we will hear and see, like Peter and anyone else in Scripture who is paying attention, that God works on the margins; God works on the edges. God comes to the least expected and into the midst of the most unexpected places---shining grace, mercy, jaw-dropping love and life-giving restoration.
Nick and Allison, this is the journey, this is the life, that Tatumn and Jersey are joining today. Not because before today they weren’t God’s children but because today, as their parents, you are saying YES to God’s claim on them and on you. This is a journey of learning and unlearning, learning and re-learning, a journey of deep listening, recalculating, returning and turning. A journey in which we learn to expect the unexpected because God’s grace is always at the center and is the ground on which we stand.
And from this grace-filled center, as we continue to allow our minds and hearts to be blown wide open by God’s audacious love, we hear God calling us to new people, new places, new situations and new understandings; God calling us into the only mission that matters: At-One-Ment. Unity with God and Unity with all people for that is how Creation flourishes. This is how Creation becomes sustainable. Oneness. Through Love. Love that is the working toward the vitality of all created things and all people.
Today, Swain family, we promise to accompany you all----in mutuality. We won’t always get it right. We will probably even disappoint you from time to time. But, we promise to stay at the table with you---to remain committed to you, to Tatumn and Jersey, and to one another. We promise to gather in worship, study and service that will break our hearts and minds open so that we can hear God’s dream and we can see where and how God is already at work. We promise to remain open to learning and unlearning, to deep listening, to expecting to find God on the edges, at the margin, in the most unexpected faces and places.
As Henri Nouwen wrote: To pray…..to listen to the voice of the One who calls us “Beloved” is to learn that that voice excludes no one.”
Beloved, the Holy Spirit is being poured out all over the place. What do you say? Let’s get drenched.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.